IN a bid to put single-use plastics to good use, an Alston artist is getting creative on the canvas.

A traditional oil painter for many years, Helen Johnson was faced with a dilemma this year when she decided she wanted to make her studio practises sustainable, and ditch the paint thinner and chemical solutions which were harmful to the environment.

But in her quest to look for more eco-friendly options, Helen ended up turning to one of the world’s biggest cause of pollution, plastic, as a new resource for her artwork.

“I am influenced and inspired everyday by the beauty of nature, so to be using products and materials which were harming our planet seemed completely at odds with my philosophy,” Helen said. “At the time I was working hard on cutting down my plastic consumption, but anyone who has attempted to do this in their own life knows just how hard it is. It just seems to get into everything.

“I wanted to put the small amount of household single-use plastic waste which I had left to a good use, and so this sparked the idea in my head of incorporating it into my art. At least then it wouldn’t end up in the ocean.”

Plastic’s long-lasting nature might be what makes it detrimental to the environment, but for Helen it’s hardy nature has proved itself useful, because it won’t fade or dissolve over the years.

Because it creeps its way into so many of our day-to-day household goods, it also meant that Helen had a wide colour palette to choose from, although she insists she will never purchase any plastic products to use in her art, and only recycles what is bought out of necessity.

Items such as non recyclable plastic shopping bags, fruit and vegetable wrapping, and packaging on household items are all used to create her plastic ‘paint’. She shreds these items down with scissors, before braiding them together and melting them down into a paste with a soldering iron.

Any plastic items which she can’t melt down, she still incorporates through collaging.

“I want my work to invite the viewer to consider where our plastic goes once we have finished with it,” Helen said. “If you look closely, you can spot text in the paintings which have come from the plastic items used. These serve as a good reminder of the detrimental effects of our consumerism. I hope that by showing my work, it helps to raise awareness of this issue, and goes towards making a positive impact.”

This month, Helen will be holding her first exhibition called ‘Living with Trees’, which will feature a range of trees, scenic landscapes, and wildlife which are native to the Tyne Valley, all of which have been created with plastic ‘paint’.

“The trees complex interweaving of the trees branches highlights the difficulties which we face in trying to disentangle ourselves from the plastics which we have become so familiar with.” she said.

The exhibition runs from August 19 to September 27 at Keswick Museum and Art Gallery in Cumbria.

Ten per cent of all profits will be donated to the Woodland Trust.