Have a seat


Concrete really is very beautiful. And you can make amazing structures from it too – the screenshot below from a simple Google Images search is testament to this. Beautiful shapes, structural strength, and a neutral colour  which allows focus on form. However, it has serious environmental issues as it produces one tonne of CO2 for every tonne of manufactured cement – the binding ingredient in concrete – explained in detail by The Green Age. Unwanted concrete used to go straight to landfill but is now crushed for gravel or aggregates as the world tries to deal with our unsustainable levels of consumption and waste. Recycling concrete still requires transport and processing, which in turn use finite resources… and why the reuse of the old concrete piers from under our house make me so happy.

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We have just raised our house. I call it the Tower in the Sky. The concrete piers that were left in the ground varied in size and appearance. Some have smooth edges and some rough. We hired a digger for the day and moved them round the block, forming garden beds and an edging to the new paving area. Around the paving area they have a second use: at 300mm high, these smooth concrete blocks make perfect resting spots. Have a seat.

Wrapped up


One of the enjoyments in receiving a gift is the feeling of suspense while undoing bows and peeling off wrapping. I rarely use gift bags for this reason; it’s not quite the same to look into the top of a bag and reach in for your treat.

When my children were younger our infinite supply of butterfly paintings on butcher’s paper became wrapping paper – bright abstract designs perfect for all occasions (I would set up pots of green, red, gold and silver at Christmas). I’ve always loved the serendipity of butterfly paintings, the beauty in the unplanned splodges and streaks of thick colour with a sprinkling of sparkles thrown in. But the children are not so enthusiastic about getting out the paint pots as regularly as they used to – their crafty exploration time is divided amongst many new endeavours.

Look a little closer.



Yes, this beautiful paper is made from the discarded pages of home magazines. It’s surprisingly difficult to find upcycling examples. I think of it as giving something a second life, but googling ‘second life’ provides a multitude of links to the online virtual world of that name. Whole Living provides us with a way to make gift wrapping bows from magazines. And Brit + Co offer some great ideas to deal with those used mags – check out the drywall (No.6)!  Australian Ethical really sums it up with their explanation of the excesses of Christmas and the implications for the environment. They actually like gift bags for that reason, they can be reused – fair point.

We all love to give gifts and we all love to receive gifts. A gift that is well chosen is so enjoyable to buy and give, and wrapping it with the same amount of thought is part of the pleasure for me. I think we can still give achieve those qualities while being green.

I would love to get a gift that looked like this.


Found objects

20160221_063827Drawing and painting I can do, but sculpture is a bit of a mystery to me. Recently I have been introduced to Ghanian, El Anatsui who designs shimmering artworks out of metal bottle tops, mostly from alcoholic drinks. I also have rediscovered Swiss-born Romanowski who creates rich assemblages from found objects. He says in Hunt and Gather: Discovering New Art, “I enjoy found object work because it’s the ultimate in recycling and I enjoy taking someone’s trash and making something interesting out of it.”

I am happy with creating two dimensional works, with years of graphic design honing that skill – and the media is so convenient: if I feel inspired, I can grab a sketchbook and some pencils, or paint from a tube. If I run out, I can buy more the next day (I live in a city). But these two artists must spend months/years collecting enough of their medium to begin and complete their work. In Romanowski’s works above (untitled), there are the everyday objects of cutlery, shoe and timber offcuts, to more difficult-to-find items such as old sheers, cleaver, sculptures, games and countless unidentifiable objects. Although his work is only viewed from the front, and more like a bas relief, I still find it difficult to imagine the designing of the piece when you rely on the pieces you find. I would love to hear about the process. Perhaps similar to one of the grandfathers of mixed media, expressionist Robert Rauschenberg. A total fave.

My Lego letterbox is my first sculptural piece from objets trouvés. Not quite art but creative nevertheless, and more designed than spontaneously combined. Not quite Rauschenberg, but a piece I will enjoy using each day when I collect my mail.

For the love of Frankie

2016-01-22 16.09.18.jpgWho doesn’t love Frankie. I received a copy as a surprise gift this month, and this magazine makes me happy. Beautiful design, uncoated stock and sweet typography are just the beginning of why Frankie brings me joy. This mag is filled with creative people who believe in designing or living sustainably. They may not express it quite in that way but that’s how I see it. Magazine editor, Jo dedicates this issue to Giving, whether that’s for a celebration (‘presents we’ve made or bought’), or for charity. Thank you Frankie for my tear-out gift wrapping/wall poster! Frankie includes one of these in each issue, and the snap taken for this post is an illustration by Ji min Yoon which forms the reverse side of the two-month wall calendar. Sometimes it’s wrapping paper on the other side of the calendar, but I always use it, and twice – once for the calendar and then for gift wrapping. Here is that idea of designing a second life into a product – not just a magazine supporting an illustrator with a poster-sized print, but a usable item.

Jeremy Williams wrote a great post yesterday about the possibility of a developed economy reaching saturation point for ‘stuff’ and has quoted IKEA’s Head of Sustainability as conceding that the west may have hit ‘peak stuff’ and ‘peak home furnishings’, with a view to sell up-cycling and maintenance of IKEA products in the future as this groundswell of enthusiasm to extend the life cycle of products takes hold.

In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy some more Frankie journalism.

Direct Marketing

Junk mailDiane MacEachern has recently written a how-to post for North Americans to decrease the amount of junk mail turning up in their letterbox. I also suffer from that problem, except I live on 5 acres and rolled up collections of inked ads are thrown into the long grass at the front of our property every week. I never take the rubber band off, I never look at the messages, I collect them after I’ve mowed and dispose of them.

When we consider the lifecycle of a product, we have to look at the entire life: for a direct mail piece let’s consider growth and harvest of trees; transport of trees to make paper; transport to printer; use of inks, water and energy for printing, distribution to homes, distribution to tip. That’s a simplistic view of course, but now overlay the real purpose of the project – a sale. CMO Council lists a whole page of varying facts about direct mail, including this one, “Direct mail — yes junk mail via snail mail — still reigns supreme, offering response rates of 1.1 to 1.4% versus 0.03% for email, 0.04% for Internet display ads…”

Diane offers some good ideas for the consumer to restrict the mail arriving, but given that “44% of direct mail is never opened” (CMO Council again), and has such low take-up rates of “1.1 t0 1.4%”, I really believe that direct mail has to be carefully considered as a means of promotion in a world where resources are precious and finite. As a graphic designer, I can be part of the solution.

Green Graphics

In Design ActivismFuad-Luke points out that graphic designers have lagged behind other creative professionals in their adaptation to green design. One of our main issues is that we are employed to produce marketing material to sell something – maybe something that you don’t want, and probably don’t need. In simplistic terms, this is different to the architect where the client does want and need a home. I had that a-ha moment recently when I almost came home with a beautifully designed, packaged and copywritten bottle of… cordial. I don’t drink cordial.

One of the aspects of new media that really excites me is the possibility for green graphic design: promotion with minimal ecological footprint. I wrote this year on my SarahHeathDesign blog about the crazy Dubsmash web platform and what happened when the public got hold of it. Dubsmashing could be a fun promotion tool (for the right product and demographic) without printing promotional material, and an aspect of Green Graphics.

We still have to sell the cordial, but maybe we can include an idea on the bottle’s second life, a way to reuse and upcycle. A way to be green.

Reuse, and extend lifecycle.

timber and glass bathroom cabinet ready for fix-upMy first post: We’re renovating four old units into a family home over the next year. The building is from the 40s and is original. Not detail-gorgeous original, just old and falling-apart original. The kitchens have a sink with underneath chipboard cupboard, and there’s a chipboard pantry. Bathrooms with (rusty) water heater in a cupboard. Get the idea?

But, my fabulous designer-friend Kate, is doing all the architectural details and she was the first to spot a couple of handsome pieces. In the spirit of Fuad-Luke I am aiming to reuse, extending the lifecycle of building materials where I can. Not only is it good for Earth, it will save some money and add to the character of the new build.

I’ll show you some of our ideas over the next year: here is a bathroom wall cabinet which needs some TLC but is made predominantly from timber and glass – and check out the etched palm trees on the glass. Perfect for Brisbane.