Upcycling for the Environment with Leslie Espino

Upcycling for the Environment with Leslie Espino

Thank you so much, Leslie, for chatting with us about your sustainable creative practice and awesome upcycled artwork!

First, could you tell us about your professional background and how it informs your art? A little birdie told us you’re a scientist at NASA!

Thanks for the opportunity! I am an environmental scientist working at NASA. I spent years in labs developing environmental science tests and monitoring water and air quality for contamination. Because of my professional background, I am a more conscious consumer and artist. This consciousness reshaped the way I see waste. I make art from repurposed materials to show everyone that they have the power to rethink waste too.

When did you first start making art? What inspired you to start creating, and where did you learn the techniques you use today?

I started making art a few years ago to give myself a safe space. As a woman working in a STEM career, I spent my formative professional years in an environment that is notoriously unwelcoming to women and heavy with expectation. Despite escaping this environment and finding a role I love at NASA, I still experience internal expectations because I was trained this way.

Art is the space where I am free from these pressures. The only expectation I have is to explore freely and give myself the grace to make as many mistakes as it takes to master my craft.

I learned repurposing techniques by exploring and making lots of mistakes. When I messed up on a project, I would repurpose it instead of throwing it away. The environmental scientist in me loved repurposing the waste and my inner child loved playing without fear of making mistakes.

What is your main inspiration for your work?

Nature is my main inspiration. I live in a major city where there aren’t many greenspaces and this scarcity makes the existing greenspaces very special to me. To me, they represent a safe space from the noise of city life. I love using my art to recreate the plants that grow in these spaces.

What are your favorite sustainable materials to work with? Also, what are some eco-friendly materials or practices that you use and love that not everyone immediately registers as good for the planet?

I love using packaging in my artwork. Shopping bag handles, cardboard shoe inserts, product tags, business cards, tissue paper…anything really! If I had a superpower it would be the ability to look at anything and see its potential as art.

My favorite eco-friendly material is whatever I already have. If I can avoid purchasing something new by repurposing something I already have then I feel like I’ve succeeded. And when I do need to buy something, I like to go to resale shops or thrift stores to find what I need. Thrift stores are my favorite stores to find frames.

We recently gifted you some Natural Earth Paint supplies to support your art practice; how has using these sustainable materials altered your art-making process?

Making paint is a wonderfully meditative process. It allowed me to slow down and enjoy the journey. Creating art is strictly and intentionally “me time”—it is something I do for myself. Making paint just like that—it is intentional and very satisfying.

What messages do you hope to spread through your work?

I want people to see my work and be surprised it is made from trash and sustainable materials. I hope it’ll show people that they have the power to rethink trash too.

Do you have any tips for artists looking to make a positive environmental impact with their art, but aren’t sure where to start? What have the benefits been for you, and how did you make the leap to eco-friendly art-making a little easier on yourself?

Make friends with other environmentally friendly artists! Having a community to share tips and have people who are excited about eco-friendly finds has been super helpful for me. For example, my friend runs an eco-friendly clay kit business (Pottery with a Purpose). When I was looking for a new source of paint, I asked about her experiences with sustainable paints. This is what led me to Natural Earth Paint!

Finally, where can our audience see more of (or purchase!) your art?

You can purchase and view my art at my website LeslieEspinoArt.com and see what I’m currently working on via instagram and TikTok (@leslieespinoart).

Interested in learning more about Natural Earth Paint artists? Visit our Eco Artists page!
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