Cassandra Tondro is a Ventura, California artist with a passion for exploring ways to create beautiful sustainable art using the most eco‐friendly materials available. Her paintings have been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad, and are part of many private and public collections. In addition, her work was selected for the American Embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon in conjunction with the Art in Embassies Program, sponsored by the US Department of State.
She shares the process and the secrets of her trade with Ecophiles:
I’m Casssandra Tondro, and I’m an artist with a passion for exploring ways to make art using sustainable materials. My abstract paintings are created using leftover house paint that I rescue from recycling centers before it goes to waste and my colorful leaf prints are made by steaming leaves against paper.
Why Sustainable Art?
Like many artists I was trained to use traditional materials for my art ‐‐ oils and acrylics for painting, and commercial dyes for fiber art. These products give us the bright colors that we like, but they come at a cost. They are made with synthetic pigments, plastics and chemicals that are detrimental and sometimes toxic to people and the planet.
With a growing concern about the environment, I felt uneasy using harmful materials for my art, and looked for healthier alternatives. There are currently very few nontoxic art supplies, with the exception of poster paints, colored pencils and crayons made for children. I wanted something to replace the acrylic paints I was using for my large‐scale abstract work.
In my search for a new medium, I stumbled upon leftover house paint, available for free from some recycling centers as well as numerous acquaintances and friends. Everyone has leftover house paint they want to get rid of, and once they found out that I could use it, I was inundated with paint. By repurposing leftover house paint for my art, I’m using materials that would otherwise go to waste.
Process for Creating Eco-friendly Paintings
I discovered that house paint flows beautifully, and I developed several methods of working with the paint. I pour, pull, press and drip it onto canvas. While the paint is wet, I use tools, washes of water, or my fingers to create organic designs. The paint dries slowly, and in the process of drying, serendipitous things sometimes occur, such as bubbles that pop to reveal other colors below.
By visiting recycling centers regularly, I have assembled a palette filled with unusual colors.
Once a color is gone, it is unlikely that I will find the exact color again. It’s challenging to work with the colors that I find, rather than colors of choice, but it pushes me to try color combinations I wouldn’t use otherwise. House paint comes in several finishes, including flat, satin, semi‐gloss, and eggshell that add depth and texture to the surface of my paintings.
Going Deeper Into Natural Materials
Leftover house paint is great for my paintings, but I often think about what more I can do. How can I create interesting art that is even more eco‐friendly?
I was familiar with the traditional process of using natural dyes to color cloth, and I noticed that some leaves stain the sidewalk with a print through a combination of rain and heat from the sun ‐‐ a process similar to natural dyeing.
This realization lead to the development of my leaf prints, which are created by gathering fallen leaves, pressing them against watercolor paper, and steaming a bundle of paper and leaves over simmering water for about two hours. The colors and patterns of the leaves transfer to the paper. No inks, dyes, or paints are used ‐‐ just the colors from the plants themselves.
I use this process for my colorful leaf prints on paper as well as on silk to create lovely leaf print silk scarves. And both my leaf prints and abstract paintings are used to create my line of original one‐of‐a‐kind pendant jewelry.
An Evolving Practice
My work with sustainable art making materials continues to evolve. I am presently experimenting with Earth pigments, which are essentially different colors of dirt originating from various places in the world, and soy milk used as a binder to adhere the pigments to canvas. The Earth pigments produce a more subdued color palette that is beginning to catch on in home decor.
Through my blog, newsletter, tutorials and social media, I use my art as a vehicle to introduce people to alternative art making materials, and to draw attention to issues of sustainability in the visual arts. My inspiration for this work continues to be the materials ‐‐ how can I create interesting art with the discarded and natural materials that are available to me?