Possibly rinse brushes in water or solvent in like a plastic recyclable Gatorade bottle or something. Seal up the bottle and pack it out. dispose the inky water appropriately elsewhere (off the river).
Stick the brushes into the bottle and swirl around, or seal and shake if the hole brush and handle fit in. Maybe use like two 32 ounce Gatorade bottles. Like a pre rinse and a final rinse. Pack it out.
I've never had someone do anything more then use a sketchbook on a trip, but there is plenty to be inspired by down there.
Without being too much of a downer, I'd either commit to doing it a lot or leave it at home and take pictures of stuff that you want to paint when you get home. I find that, especially for something like a Grand Canyon trip, people often have ideas for activities like this that take up time and space and only end up doing it once or twice during the trip but lug everything down they need to do it. Realize that the paint, tools and paintings will have to get stowed somewhere safe and that the river environment can be particularly harsh on stuff. I'm definitely not saying that you shouldn't do it...just saying that, from personal experience, having the idea is easy... actually getting motivated to do it after a full day of rafting and side activities isn't always easy. I always bring too much stuff that I never use... so I just encourage you to consider if its worth it and if you'll actually do it.
While I value the water quality of the Colorado, looking at this from a different, it may be possible to get watercolor paints that are non-toxic, likely such as those that may be used for schoolchildren. I'd then think that using a gallon or two of river or creek water to clean your brushes daily would create a minimal amount of wash water. To me it seems like the effect of pouring this slowly into the river so it gets diluted by the 8,000 to 15,000 cfs likely flowing down the Colorado should be pretty low, especially when compared to the urine produced by the thousand people peeing into the river on any given day.
If you were dumping oil paints or petroleum into the river, I'd say no way, but there must be non-toxic watercolor paints on the market out there and I can't see how it would be all that bad...
I thought this was an interesting question because I saw a fantastic exhibit by a watercolorist named Tony Foster a few years ago at Denver Art Museum about a GC float where he painted a series of landscapes at mapped points. No idea what his disposal method was but some other online info suggested:
- watercolors are very low toxicity
- cobalts and cadmiums are more toxic than the rest but not very
Does seem like the rinse water volumes you're talking about are really tiny.
Lets think about this. A cup or two of water color paint rinse water in a river vs. 2,000 gallons of fertilizer and 10,000 gallons of cow shit. Decisions, decisions, decisions it is so hard to decide which is worse.
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