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Local Artists Turn To Ink Made From Carbon Soot For Billboard Project

Feb 25, 2020

Kate Howe’s piece “Undamaged Destiny,” created for the Imagine Climate billboard project.
Credit Courtesy Kate Howe

New billboards painted by local artists using ink made from carbon soot go up around the Roaring Fork Valley Tuesday. The four billboards are part of the Imagine Climate project which aims to bring together art and science to inspire climate action.

Aspen resident Kate Howe is one of the artists who used AIR-INK, a new technology invented by tech start-up Graviky Labs that collects carbon soot from diesel tailpipe emissions and turns it into a deep black ink. Each artist received 15 pens, each containing ink made from about 12 hours of diesel engine pollution. 

Howe said the idea of using AIR-INK compelled her to take on the project. 


Artist Kate Howe
Credit Courtesy Kate Howe

“I think if we can do anything positive with the damage that we've done already,” she said, “then that's what we should be doing with the damage.”

Howe said, initially, she was drawn to how “scary” the ink was, and thought she might create an image meant to horrify the viewer. 

“But if you yell with your work, you will repel people,” she said. “I wanted to make something that says, ‘This is what we can have if we turn it around.’”

For inspiration, Howe turned to a photo taken on a recent ski trip to Japan of a ski buddy in powder up to his goggles. 

“When I got home, what I started looking at was the snow exploding away from the figure as he disrupted it,” Howe said. “So that's what I decided I was going to paint — this explosive movement that can only happen when you have good, consistent, deep snowpack.”



The source photo for “Undamaged Destiny.” Howe’s friend skis through powder in Asahidake in Northern Interior Hokkaido, Japan, in early January.
Credit Will Carlton

Howe, who has a background in art history, explained art has played a role in social movements throughout history, and it should play a part when it comes to addressing climate change. 

“Images have an enormous impact on our feelings and on our responses to things -- on our beliefs,” Howe said.

That’s the idea behind the Imagine Climate project, which is coordinated by the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency. The organization, which started in 1994, helps Roaring Fork Valley residents save energy, while cutting carbon emissions. CORE’s mission according to the website is to lead the Valley to a “carbon free, net-zero energy future.”  

Lara Whitley, CORE’s creative strategy director, said reducing carbon emissions requires more than changing technology. 

“We also have to change the culture, and Imagine Climate speaks to the culture piece,” Whitley said. “Art has a way of harnessing emotions in a way that science alone can’t, but together they’re like a superpower.”

Anirudh Sharma, co-founder of AIR-INK maker Graviky Labs, said he used to feel daunted by the enormity of confronting climate change.

 “But when you connect ideas with passion and creativity,” he said, “amazing things are possible.” 

The goal of the Climate Billboard Project is to inspire climate action, something Howe said is  achievable. 

“We just need to make sure that we are using this medium in a way that that helps us make whatever small changes we're capable of making,” she said, “or just stops us enough to say, ‘What am I doing? What can I do differently?’”


Aspen Public Radio is a media partner with CORE.