A Sustainable Chat with Heidi K Smith
When did you start your sustainable journey?
I have always had a strong connection to nature and an appreciation of its effects on our wellbeing. I think this has bee deeply rooted in me since childhood. I’m from Finland and have lived in the UK for several years. My grandmother lived in the countryside (where my mum is from) and we, along with lots of Finns, have a summer cottage in the same area. These two places are surrounded by the biggest lake in Finland and lots of pine forests. I spent my childhood surrounded by nature, including swimming and boating with my friends. It was, and still is, such a safe place where I felt completely free to roam around. It’s also a very tranquil place. There are plenty of other cottages nearby, but far enough apart to have your own space. I think it’s very easy to appreciate nature when it’s quiet.
In recent years I have become more and more conscious of the products I buy. I think about where they come from, the ethical side of things and the packaging. Years ago I used to get this angst in supermarkets as everything was wrapped in plastic. I tried to do what I could to avoid it, but it’s often quite difficult to find alternatives. And the situation is far from perfect still, but it’s getting better. I think the more time you spend thinking about these things, the harder it is to justify not doing your bit and using less plastic and buying more ethically made products etc. But ignorance is not bliss, and this has become more evident in the last few years. We are now facing a state of crisis with an overwhelming amount of plastic polluting the oceans, accelerating climate warming and millions of species threatened with extinction. I don’t claim to be perfectly eco, but since I have awareness for these issues, I feel that it’s my responsibility to do what I can and minimise my burden on our planet.
What changes did you make to live more sustainably?
I am constantly making changes to the way I live. I usually go to a local green grocer to get my veg instead of a supermarket as the veggies are not packed in plastic. We are also lucky to have a plastic free shop in town where you can get pasta, rice, spices, cleaning products and all sorts which really makes it so much easier to be more eco-friendly. There’s also another shop in town where you can get more eco products. They also have a great points system where you can use the points gained from your shopping towards good causes. I find this better than using points to buy more stuff for yourself.
I also avoid fast fashion, and I’m not a fan of Primark and other cheap chains. My first choice is shopping at charity shops and I find you can get really good quality clothes from there which have hardly been worn at all. I also buy from a few sustainable fashion brands and have been very happy with the quality. It definitely makes sense to pay more for quality and good brand ethics when a product has a long life.
We also swapped our car to an electric car a couple of years ago. We got a good deal on the price which made it more affordable. Electric vehicles (EV)s are taking off now more than ever which is good news for the air quality and climate in general. However, there are still things to consider, such as tyre pollution. Also, sometimes it’s better to use public transport. But things are definitely going in the right direction.
Where do you get your artist inspiration from?
I trained to be a forensic artist in 2010. Forensic art is all about aiming to identify an individual for forensic purposes by depicting their face sometimes from the details of the skull or from someone else’s’ memory (police sketches/e-fits). I figured I wanted to do something with art that helps others, and forensic art seemed to be a good fit. We studied how people from different geographical locations look different, down to the details in the skull. This is important when you’re trying to depict someone as accurately as possible. I found that fascinating. I get inspired by faces around the world, every face is unique and I never get tired of depicting the diversity of the human face. This is why I started taking private portrait commissions.
I am also keen on constantly learning about the human body and like to do anatomical and medical illustrations. I’ve started doing full figure drawings of people in exercise poses to show the movement and different muscles. I also love drawing/painting animals and take commissions for pet portraits. Pets are so important to us and the best kind of feedback for me is to know that the drawing means a lot to someone. Whether it’s of an animal friend living with them now or one that has passed away. This goes for humans too. More recently I decided to branch out to eco-themed illustration and I’m keen to partner with an eco business.
I think artwork has a unique opportunity to send a powerful message that can complement the written word and create more of an impact. I love paying attention to all the details of nature and taking nature photos to remind myself and others of the beauty around us. I also started to experiment with eco-friendly candle making. This is still work in progress…
What advice do you have for people looking for eco Christmas gifts?
Personally I love and would encourage supporting smaller businesses who care about our planet and are not so profit driven, like some of the bigger companies. I would think about all the aspects of the products you are buying and do some research on how these products are produced. It’s always a bonus if the product is available locally. What I love doing is putting together a gift package from various food products, such as jams and biscuits etc.
I think giving an experience is a good alternative to a physical gift and some people might appreciate it more. We own too much stuff and a lot of it just sits around unused. Also giving a gift that someone wants will be much more appreciated.
And shamelessly speaking for artists too. Art is often seen as just a fun hobby, but it requires some serious work and years of honing your skills. I think buying art, especially portrait commissions, makes a great personalised gift.
What are your top tips for making your Christmas more sustainable?
I tend to send mostly e-Xmas cards nowadays, and only a couple of paper ones. If I go for paper, I either make it myself or look for cards made with recycled paper and/or cards that donate to charity. I will also pay more attention to wrapping paper this year and have already bought a roll of recycled paper for it. You could also use fabric to wrap presents. It feels pointless wrapping a present with paper that is non-recyclable (i.e. using shiny paper!) just to rip it open and bin it… One year we ran out of wrapping paper and had to use newspaper. We were away from home and the only tape we could find was masking tape. So they weren’t the prettiest of gift wrappings but it was so funny!
I’m also planning on cooking lots of traditional Finnish food this Xmas because I can’t travel home to Finland… No doubt there will be lots of leftovers, so we’ll be eating Finnish food for a while..