Eco-friendly Painting? Part 1

Painting and the flow state.

During the last NSW school holidays and while Greater Sydney was into its fourth month of COVID Lockdown 2.0, I painted the interior walls of my home. Coupled with some good podcasts it was a marvellous way to pass a week in home-bound productive mess-making!

Some of you may find painting a chore, but I like it! It requires my attention, but not too much. While it’s within my skill set, I need to concentrate on the tricky bits like cutting in the edges around windows, door frames and cornices. I can do it all day and lose track of time. Some days, I get a sudden pang of hunger only to realise I haven’t had lunch and it’s nearly dinner time.  I know what I have to do and how long it will take so it’s an activity with a clear goal. The new paint job looks fresh and bright and my home is looking good.  You may recognise that these parameters offer a wonderful opportunity to enter a state of flow

The idea of flow is not a new one and the concept was developed by psychology professor and happiness researcher, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the mid-1970s. If you are not familiar with flow, this TED Talk will get you up to speed. (And help you pronounce his name! Chick-sent-me-high!) 

Preparing the walls

My steps to Eco-friendly painting

Finding flow is a bit like finding the Holy Grail for happiness seekers like me but is not really what this post is meant to be about! My goal was to write about eco-friendly painting.

Before I started, I considered the best way to reduce the impact my painting would have on the environment. Even so, I seemed to be using an awful lot of plastic!! The steps I took included:

  • wrapping my brushes and rollers in plastic bags at the end of each session rather than washing them out to save water and save all that paint going down the drain. 
  • using the same plastic wrappers each time to reduce plastic use.
  • using plastic roller tray liners rather than washing the trays out each time,  again to stop water contamination. Mind you I stood in the aisle in the hardware store for a long while debating this point with myself! 
  • using more expensive paper-backed plastic drop sheets that I could re-use next time I paint rather than single-use ones. 
  • Buying wooden-handled brushes (win!) but they had synthetic bristles (lose!). A win-lose rather than a win-win
  • Using old cloth rags to wipe my hands and drips rather than “new wipes” although I still did use a whole roll of paper towel because I am not a very neat painter.

On the whole, I thought I was doing ok! High five to me!

It’s a bit smelly in here! 

With the painting finished and the mess cleared away it struck me (a little late in the piece)  that I had missed an eco-warrior opportunity.  After all, I had essentially just coated my walls with a thin film of plastic, the very thing I was trying to avoid. 

And then there was the smell!   It took the next three days, even with all the windows and doors open, to vent the fumes that lingered. Thankfully the weather was perfect; a light breeze swished through the house to chase that painty odour away. 

Although I deliberately bought a low fume, water-based paint, it still stank! I mulled over a barrage of questions. Were those fumes bad for me? Was there a more environmentally friendly non-plastic paint? Would a non-plastic based paint also be smelly?  Would it work as well? Would it be in the colour I wanted? Would I have been able to buy it in my area? Would I be able to afford it? So many questions!

Google was invented for questions such as these!

After a few hours down the painted internet rabbit hole, I came away with some answers and even more questions. The answers to the seven questions in the paragraph above are: yes, yes, yes, maybe, perhaps, no and probably not! 

The desk was too heavy for me to move, so I painted around it!

So what did I find out? Stay tuned for the answers in Part 2 in two weeks time!