Using sustainable materials in the carnival arts

Since 2019 Route Canal Arts and Simon Tipping has been developing a sustainable ethos in the materials, we use to create carnival costume and large processional sculptures.  Mainly looking at the possibilities of eliminating or reducing the amount of petroleum-based materials used in the carnival sector. As most of Route Canal Arts workshops takes place in primary schools and with community groups we are taking a practical look on how this will impacted on activities through developing methods in creativity using sustainable material and whether it will increase the time spent with people, increase preparation time or impact on the quality of work produced or have a substantial effect on groups of special needs.

We believe that climate change and sustainability are manifestations of cultural values. Our vision is contingent on values that recognise our place in the ecosystem.

Our values come from a deep appreciation of the world around us; some understanding of how we affect it; and a commitment to bring to it our very best.’

Julies Bicycle values

Evaluating materials in the creative process

As carnival artists we have tended to use bright colours, fibre rod and lots of shinny stuff using modern materials produced from petroleum, in the classroom they have had the benefit of being quick and easy to use to produce stunning costumes with people of all ages. Many artists are socially responsible sourcing recycled materials to use in their practice and in educational settings but unfortunately most of these are plastics which once altered invariably cannot be recycled and end up in landfill or rivers or oceans. Reducing the amount of plastics has now become a hot topic and we need as a sector to look at the implication and impact it has on our activities.

Sustainable materials are materials used throughout our consumer and industrial economy that can be produced in required volumes without depleting non-renewable resources and without disrupting the established steady-state equilibrium of the environment and key natural resource systems.

Paper, paper pulp, tissue paper and cardboard

Paper and cardboard are cheap and easily accessible materials to obtain and recycle. Idea for making large sculptural and puppet like structures, carnival masks and headdresses

Using a little bit of maths, science and a lot of hard work its possible to make a boat to hold 3 or 4 young out of paper products which will float for up to 40 minutes on water before sinking.

Bamboo cane and poles

Cardboard puppets on bamboo frames and backpacks

Rubber, rubber inner-tube and motorcycle tyres

  • True rubber comes from the rubber plant but can also be made synthetically, rubber inner-tubes can replace cable ties while motorcycle tyres can be cut up and stuck together to make outdoor sculptures

Sustainable glues and tapes

plant and animal based, rubber latex glue, biodegradable PVA, Gluten glues.

Rubber latex glue or Copydex can be used to stick textiles together or lantern making, also it’s biodegradable. It’s possible to make your own glues from food stuff found in the kitchen. (See our blog on How to make glue at home)

A group of people in a park

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Transformers, St Paul’s Secondary School, Parade of Colours, Milton Keynes. Cardboard and paper Mâché costumes

Natural fibres

plant and animal based – Hemp, organic cotton, silks

The process to make natural fibres into usable products is not always environmentally friendly.

Timber

Hardboard, MDF and plywood are manufactured with glues from unsustainable sources

Willow

Baskets, Lantern making and sculptural work. Willow can easily be grown and coppices in backgardens.

Water soluble paint and textile dyes

Bright, shinny, or fluorescent colour is the hardest to reproduce from sustainable sources, but we are working that. Most natural colour is pastel or earthy in tone. Like glue it’s possible to make your own base paint from food stuff found in the kitchen and then add colour. (See our blog on How to make your own paint at Home)

Aluminium and steel

Although aluminium and steel is not grown it’s considered sustainable as it can be melted down and refashioned again and again. Useful in making Bicycle powered vehicles, sculpture, backpacks, wire bending, frames, puppets etc.

A picture containing white, sitting, building, black

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Colourful Aluminium cans can easily be cut with scissors and used in decoration

What sustainable ethical questions should we ask before choosing materials for workshops or art projects?

  1. Are the materials used in carnival arts sustainable and environmentally friendly?
  2. Are materials from sustainable sources biodegradable or recyclable
  3. If materials used need to be from unsustainable sources what is the criteria for using them e.g. artistic merit, weight, longevity, commercial – hired out over a 10 year period.

Other considerations to think about apart from the materials used is the transportation of our King and Queen structures, costumes, masquerades, carnival bands and instruments.

Implications

  1. Will the use of Sustainable materials reduce who we are able to work with in educational environments?
  2. Are the materials easy to use and manipulate?
  3. Will using sustainable materials impact on budgets?
  4. Will using sustainable materials increase preparation and making time?
  5. Will using water-soluble products increase drying time?
Towards a Greener Carnival, 13th & 14th March 2020, a Carnival Network South Conference.

The creative design thinking will require a new dimension where the retrieval, dismantling and reuse of carnival costume and structures will be designed into the product from the beginning.

This project has been supported by Carnival Network South, The Arts Council England and Route Canal Arts.

Please feedback on this article so that we can evolve the use of sustainable materials, costume design and carnival.

A carnival day in school making carnival hats with year 3

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