Question: Hi, Lisa! I’ve recently returned to painting after seven years away, and watching your videos has made picking acrylics back up so much easier! I’m primarily an upcycling crafter and would love to bring the recycled materials aspect over to my acrylic artwork. I have many unused cardboard boxes in my house, and I was thinking of cutting them to 5×7 rectangles, applying Gesso, and using them as upcycled canvases to sell for lower prices than my canvas paintings. I plan to prime and varnish each piece as normal–the lower price would be due to the lack of canvas costs.

My question is, how does cardboard-based artwork fare in the art world? Would people actually purchase a painting on cardboard, given that it’s marketed as upcycled?

Thank you for your time! Your videos have had a great and positive impact on me as an artist!

Cheers,
Melody

 

Cardboard is not acid free. This is a HUGE deal when it comes to art supplies. I love the idea of upcycling things, heck my workbench, coffee table, and dining room table are all made from reclaimed wood by a local woodworker. I looove the concept of reusing and repurposing things (and supporting local small businesses), but art is not one area I would personally risk. Let’s look at the actual savings:

At the time that I wrote this post, the cost of a 3pack of 5×7″ Fredrix canvasboard (which is a great canvas board btw, you could go cheaper with generics) on amazon runs under $6. That is $2/piece. This is archival. Cardboard is not…at all. This means that you can’t ethically sell work completed on cardboard for much knowing it won’t last. It’s going to deteriorate too badly. Was saving $2 really worth not being able to ask what your time and artwork is really worth? You know that the work on cardboard won’t last, so you can’t sell it for the same price you would on an archival surface. Not even close!

Before you say it’s no big deal, let me tell you a little story about one of my personal regrets where I attempted to save money when I first started oil painting. I figured all linseed oil was the same. I did not do my research (in my defence this was before the days of the interwebs having all the info…yeah I’m old). Why spend tons of money for a little bottle when I could go to the hardware store and get a freaking gallon of the stuff for next to nothing?! About 6 months later, the work that I had used the hardware store linseed oil on started to yellow and have huge drops running down it (weird because they weren’t there when I painted it like that). 20 years later it kills me to know I sold a couple of those pieces. I have no way to contact those buyers and offer replacements, so they were out the $30 (or whatever I charged at the time, I really don’t remember) and probably not thrilled with me. Even though I didn’t charge much for those paintings, this is not a reputation I want to build as an artist and why now I’m so picky about the supplies that I do use. I still feel terrible about that situation.

When people buy things from you, they trust you to know what you’re doing and for the artwork to last a lifetime. I’ve even seen low-end art galleries with artwork made from newspaper and cardboard with price tags of thousands. Most buyers aren’t going to understand why this is an issue,  but the artist should. I’m not willing to do that to my customers. On a side note if you

I don’t want to discourage you from reusing your cardboard, there are tons of great crafts you can make with it, I just wouldn’t recommend using it for your fine art projects!