June 25, 2024


Art Shines Through

Sustainable Paper and Fiber Art by Leslie Espino

Sustainable Paper and Fiber Art by Leslie Espino

The following article was written by artist Leslie Espino.


If I had a superpower, it would be the ability to look at any piece of trash and see its potential as art. I make sustainable art from trash to show how you have the power to rethink waste.

I started creating sustainable art by accident. Art is the safe space where I rediscovered the patience to make as many mistakes as I needed to learn my craft. In letting go of this fear of failure, I also generated stacks of failed paintings.

The creative in me was fulfilled. But the environmental scientist in me was dissatisfied.

Uncomfortable with the amount of waste I made in my pursuit of creative freedom, I started reusing these materials to test new ideas. I painted over them. I cut them. I stitched them. Luckily, the Strathmore 400 Series and Visual Journal watercolor paper I use withstood the cycles of repurposing and exploration

These scraps turned into the embroidered paper plants that are now my signature sustainable style.

Leslie Espino 3- Tongass Understory 02- Natural Earth Paints and Strathmore, Tongass Understory 02 by Leslie Espino (made with Natural Earth Paint gouache, acrylic brush pens, and Strathmore 400 Series and Visual Journal  Briston paper.

Sustainability bridged the gap between my career as an environmental scientist working at NASA and my career as an artist.

This sustainable journey is a self-propelled cycle. Once I exhausted my own materials to reuse, I began consciously purchasing new materials. I researched brands, read company environmental impact statements, looked for secondhand sources, and so on.

Paper, fiber, and paint are the main materials in my storybook-style plant artwork. For paper, I look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified papers. FSC-certified papers are made from pulp that can be traced back to the origin forests. This traceability minimizes unsustainable practices such as illegal forest harvesting or using old-growth forests for wood pulp.

Old-growth forests are an important resource against climate change. They sequester more carbon than new growth forests. The Tongass National Forest, for example, is the largest old-growth forest in the U.S., and it holds more biomass per acre than any other rain forest in the world.

An old-growth forest releases this stored carbon into the environment when it is logged. Unlike manmade carbon sequestration technology, old-growth forests already exist and require no development.

This makes old-growth forests a rare resource for climate security that already exists and requires no maintenance.

FSC-certified paper does not come from old-growth forests like the Tongass National Forest.

My quest for sustainable art supplies spurred small changes which created a meaningful lifestyle change.

For example, I now shop for more sustainable alternatives to replace single-use household items such as sponges and plastic-bottled shampoo.

In short, becoming a sustainable artist made me a sustainable consumer.

Ultimately, I want you to look at my sustainable art and be captivated by something that was once trash. I want my art to be the visual catalyst for change.

If my art can help you rethink trash, it will spark an awareness that fuels your own personal sustainability journey of small lifestyle changes.

Leslie Espino is a female environmental scientist working at NASA in Houston, Texas. She creates sustainable art because it is an open space where she is free from both external and internal expectations. As a woman working in the male-dominated disciplines of STEM and art, Leslie uses her work to explore safe spaces. Using new and repurposed fiber and paper, she creates storybook-style landscapes to recreate the world as a safe space for all. She hopes these landscapes invite the viewer to reconnect with their imagination and discover their power as a steward of their environment.