Two Australian Artists Turn Printer Ink Into a New, Sustainable Medium

"Lousy Ink" is the world's first 100% recycled artist ink.

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Jun 29 2017, 2:43am

All photography by Jessica Cockerill

Printer ink is perhaps best known as the medium of stick and pokers. But Melbourne-based street artists Oli Reade and Mike Eleven saw its potential beyond that, and found a way to use up an enormous quantity of ink salvaged from recycled printer cartridges to bring a cheap supply of artist-quality ink to the market—while at the same time doing their bit for the planet.

It was just over a year ago that Oli first arrived home to show his roommate Mike the freebie he'd scored from the recycling factory.

"My uncle who's a chemist there, he finds different ways to recycle all the stuff…he knew I was really into art, and was like: 'Hey, maybe you can use some of this ink for some of your painting,'" he tells Creators.

Lousy Ink founders Oli Reade and Mike Eleven in Oli's studio.

When the recycling factory receives discarded inkjet printer cartridges, they crush them up to remove the ink and recycle the plastic.

That leaves behind some pretty massive vats—80 000 litres in fact—of mixed-up CYMK ink, which, before Oli and Mike got their hands on it, was being treated as chemical waste and burnt off for energy. Which is about as good for the environment as it sounds.

"I remember Oli bringing it home in these little bottles," says Mike. "At first we were just thinking, sweet, we've got so much free ink."

But with more ink than any two artists could know what to do with, the pair started to think a little bigger, and Lousy Ink—one hundred per cent recycled artists' ink—was born.

Most artists' work is concerned with ethics in some shape or form, but sometimes we forget to consider the materials we're using to spread the message. As a designer by trade, Mike wanted to ensure that ethics were at the forefront of the Lousy Ink project.

Lousy Ink is contained inside recycled bottles, so the only part of it not recycled is the sticker. I guess we can forgive them for that.

"We want it to be something very involved, and use it as a vehicle to get out there, create events that bring together community," he says. "They need to be inspired enough to remember that art making should be a lot more conscious and ethical, and that can then spread out into everything else that they do."

As artists themselves, Oli and Mike have put the ethos of Lousy Ink into action by running a group exhibition at Melbourne's B-Side Gallery in March, promoting artist's work on social media, and supporting other's initiatives—such as their friend Roger's own recycled product, Dodgy Paper—to encourage a broad range of artists to consider the ethics and sustainability of their materials.

"We had a giant group show of nearly fifty artists and close to two hundred artworks," Oli says. "It was three walls top to bottom of just artwork, salon-hung so there was just art everywhere. It was really cool to see a huge variation of style, and a really interesting selection of artists who were exhibiting next to each other, ones you wouldn't normally see together."

Artworks from the Lousy Ink launch show at B-Side Gallery.

The two were thrilled to see artists taking this "lousy" waste product and turning it into something really beautiful.

Not content with selling out of their first batch of Lousy Ink in June, however, Oli and Mike are eager to find new ways of putting it to use.

"You can actually take the ink and inject it back into printer cartridges, so beyond just 2D artworks from illustrators and artists, we actually want to do a photography show, and do a whole bunch of prints of photography through a printer," Mike says.

"We bought a twenty dollar printer from GumTree and injected the ink back into it, but… we only got two zines printed before it just stopped and clogged up, and now it's broken, so there are a few more tests we've gotta do."

He says they are also hoping to see how the ink could be used in ceramics or to dye textiles.

"For us it's about getting it out there, to as many people as possible, because the more we get rid of, the better we're doing for the earth."

Find out more about Lousy Ink here.

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