Laura Heck fell into a professional art career by accident. While her adventure into art and sustainability started in high school with an altered book project, she didn’t pursue an art career until recently. Her newest addition to her portfolio is an ongoing Palette Cleanse series of paintings. This series intermingles abstract art with sustainability to create textured pieces of art with recycled paint and paper.

Heck didn’t come to this sustainable art practice naturally. In fact, she had no plans to sell any of her work until she painted a portrait of her dog. Heck’s friends and family were so amazed that they began commissioning her to create similar pieces of their own dogs. “Other things were more my passion than painting dogs. I think people always want realistic, which if I could [have autonomy], I would put funky colors in there,” she explained. Her Palette Cleanse series came out of a desire to have more creativity in her art practices.

Using a putty knife, Heck used to clean off her glass paint palette and wipe the paint onto a paper towel to clean it for another use. “I realized how much waste I was creating,” she commented. Heck also realized that the paint came off the knife in interesting formations each time she swiped her knife, and she decided to try it out on a more permanent surface.

“Working at ReCreative had created that mindset in me” – to recycle and reuse materials  – Heck explained. So she found recycled fine art and watercolor paper and began experimenting with what she now calls her Palette Cleanse paintings. Each piece differs greatly from the next, even if the paint for them came from the same palette. In this process, Heck has no control over when the paint comes off the putty knife or how it smears across the page. But she adds her own touch by doodling in the spaces and shapes that present themselves to her during the process. “Before I was painting pet portraits and I was getting so burnt out – just painting realistically, not really pursuing the abstract lines and shapes that I really liked,” she commented, and her Palette Cleanse paintings allow her to fill that void.

ReCreative has had a big impact on my art journey in terms of recycling or what can be reused,” Heck added, and it shows in both her work as an artist and an art educator. As an art teacher, she starts conversations with her students about waste and discusses ways to cut back on waste by reusing what they have. Both working with ReCreative and creating her Palette Cleanse paintings, Heck explained, “has just made me more conscious in all of my decisions . . . so I think it’s important that I also share about [waste]” in her classroom.

Part of the inspiration for the Palette Cleanse paintings comes from a new wave of sustainability in art. “I’ve started to see artists create their own inks or paints that way, so I starting thinking ‘is that a way I can even further push this?'” Heck said. Now, that not only means utilizing paint that was destined for the trash, but also saving other textiles from winding up in the landfill. As a volunteer at the store, Heck said she’s “constantly thinking about what we have at ReCreative and what people are donating,” and trying to incorporate that into the series. This includes not only using paper for the base material but also trying out wood pieces, fabric, tiles and recycled magazines.

But Heck is also rethinking other parts of the series – adding thread to some pieces, and working with colored pencils and paint pens on others. She’s even experimenting with the swiping motion of the putty knife and creating pieces that exhibit a circular movement of paint on paper. “It’s really hard to challenge this idea to go bigger, because with the putty knife it just doesn’t spread it out the same way,” she explained. But she also purchased more putty knives that vary in width to make changes to the process and outcome.

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Despite the beauty and ingenuity behind the Palette Cleanse paintings, Heck has begun to worry that’s she’s creating even more waste with the series. “I have all this inventory now, what if I don’t sell it?” Heck asked. “What if I’m just continuing the cycle of trash? So that’s been something that I’m fighting with, and I don’t know how to avoid that.” Nevertheless, she recently had a show at Watercourse Foods – her first professional solo show. She added, “if anything, at least I’ve learned something about my work rather than the paper just being discarded in general, at least it’s doing some good.”

Heck doesn’t give herself enough credit. With this unique process, she has deepened the conversation surrounding waste and sustainability in the art community. And at the end of the day, she creates beautiful pieces that carry their own personalities and spark conversations on what it means to create sustainable pieces of art.

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All photography by KT Langley Photography.

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