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How To Utilize Recycled Materials With Artistic Aim

Updated on November 9, 2017
C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S. Alexis works in an art gallery located in the Calumet region of Northwest Indiana. Come see her at One Best Life at Tinker's Attic.

This Store Sells Recycled Items With Creativity In Mind

There Are Many Artists Pulling Trash For Their Productions

There are contests going on around the globe, to inspire our youth, to partake in this art form. Helsinki Finland is going after the high school kids. The Girl Scouts USA, are talking trash with a contest of their own and, in Santa Fe they are drumming up the interest of grade school children, with a big event there. This is just to name a few. The world is doing it for our environment.

I am not alone in my way of thinking creative. Many people out there are having a blast with this creative approach to junk. I found this one guy who designed a carnival game from miscellaneous scraps recovered from the San Francisco City Dump. This game reminds me of the Rube Goldberg machines, very interesting indeed.

Speaking of The Rube, who was a sculptor, cartoonist and, writer in his time (1883-1970), he may have had the jump on all of us. His imagination and desire to make use of many different items to achieve a simple task, kept the minds of many entertained for years. There are ongoing contests, throughout the world, in honor of Rube. These creative machines are works of art in their own right.

Recycling For Fun and Creative Expression

The urge to GO GREEN is sweeping the nation and the world. It seems that everyone is thinking about our environment and wanting to, or trying to do whatever they can to make a positive impact on conservation. It is almost impossible to watch TV for more than 5 minutes without seeing a commercial or a news clip or some other form of information that is promoting this concept. Creativity is at the helm of the Green Revolution and artwork is right in the midst.

Contemporary artists are not new to this idea. Finding ways to impact the environment with artistic endeavors can be as easy as taking a close look at what other artists are doing or have already done. I have worked with materials that I found in the trash for most of my career and, I enjoy utilizing items that would otherwise wind up in the city landfill. It makes me feel good to know I am contributing, in some small way, to the problems existing in our environment.

I like the idea of making artwork out of recycled material but, there was a time when I did it because I did not have money for art supplies. Today, I try to employ my abilities toward helping the environment but, I think it is a deep-seated part of my nature, to incorporate discarded materials into my work. This is a part of the creative process that is instinctual to artists. I like making something out of nothing. I find it creatively rewarding in ways that purchased materials do not always fulfill. Not that I do not purchase art supplies because, I do.

Creatively Making Our World A Better Place To Live

Paint, glue, tape, brushes, hardware, frames and other supplies do not always come to you as needed so I would say that finishing artwork tends to require more purchased materials. The fun in seeing an item for itself and then seeing how it can be transformed into a decorative work of art is unexplainable to me. I believe that creativity, in and of itself, is what has made our world a better place to live. It only stands to reason that solving recycle problems can be achieved by utilizing cast away materials.

There is so much stuff that goes to the dump, everywhere in the world, every day. The selection of materials that can be collected and used is endless and actually, overwhelming, if you think about it. The sky is the limit and your imagination is boundless if, you let it be. Some of the things I have made from recycles are no longer identifiable as the original item while other artwork is distinguished by it's original condition. I love this form of self expression and I enjoy sharing these ideas.

Art Or Craft?

Where To Begin Designing With Recycled Items

Now that you might be interested in making your own something out of scraped material, how do you get started and where do you begin? That is the question. Another question that pops into my mind is where do we draw the line or differentiate between art and craft? I will explain my opinion, about the later question, in order to proceed to the basic question of, how to get started?

I define art as any totally unique creation, a one of a kind design. Meaning it is not reproduced in replica form, and is an entity of singular spirit. The first Corvette Stingray Automobile was a work of art. All the Corvettes made after that one, are a product of craft. "The first ", would be the simplest answer.

Originality Breeds From Found Resources

Much of what I design becomes a craft if I continue to punch out numerous reproductions that are only different in color or size. Here I have included a sample of what I am saying. I designed a fish out of a scrap of ceiling tile that was left over from installing a new ceiling in our basement. The first fish was the original work of art. The others are crafts, unless I never make another, and the three fish are kept together as a group. I used the same paint techniques and the same pattern. I define the mass production as becoming CRAFT instead of ART.

With that explained, how do I get started? I think I just have some crazy ideas or envisions of things while I am in the middle of almost living. Much of it just comes to me and I take it in. I grab a hold of some far fetched idea and I work with it. I let my imagination run and I allow myself to dream or daydream over the thought. I have honed my thinking to a point where I constantly see things as how "else" they could be. That is not to say that what I create is good, but it is a starting point. I dream it up and then I try to put it into practice. That is where my craftsmanship comes in. The years of designing and doing and experimenting have marked my mind with a lot of different ways to accomplish production from a creative standpoint. Much of what I design is based on a need to solve some sort of problem or dilemma. Below I have listed four art projects that came into being through my hands. Let's take a look at what I had to do to get started.

Four Designs From Recycled Material

I have listed here, four items made from recycled materials and found objects. These are simple and functional works of art that I made because I needed to solve a problem. Keep in mind that this is, but a fraction of all that can be done with materials you can rescue from the garbage can.

  1. Miniature Christmas Trees for holiday decorating.
  2. A dinosaur for my nephew's birthday present.
  3. A cover for an unsightly breaker box located on the bathroom wall.
  4. Native American styled medicine bag.

I needed some small trees to make a gift for one of my customers during the holidays. These cardboard cones made the perfect form and were a perfect size.
I needed some small trees to make a gift for one of my customers during the holidays. These cardboard cones made the perfect form and were a perfect size.

Cardboard Cones Transformed To Trees

This experiment turned out fine when I needed a few Christmas trees. I added a paste of sheetrock taping mud to texture the cone. The mud has the consistency of plaster. It was left over from redecorating so I did not go out and purchase anything for the final product. I used a spoon and my fingers to glob on the wet mud to give the appearance of evergreen. When it started looking somewhat like a tree I let them dry on a sheet of waxed paper.

The dried pieces were coated with a white primer and then painted with acrylic paint. I used a can of gold spray paint to add a lightly dusted gold finish. I later decorated by adding a string of colored, glass, beads, wrapped around from top to bottom but, they could be finished in many ways. Making tiny ornaments from individual beads, or even painting, little decorations, right on the tree. I sanded the rough edges at the base of each tree and cut a circle of felt to seal the cone bottom. A gold star was added to the finished treetops.They turned better than I had envisioned.

The Texture Caught My Artistic Eye

A couple years ago we decided to install a new ceiling in our basement. The final work left us with quite a bit of scrap material after cutting around the edges. Some of the pieces were a fair size but the ceiling was completed and we were about to pitch the waste. A friend was starting to put some of the larger pieces into a garbage can. I hated to see so much material being tossed. I suggested that we stack it up and save it. Maybe I could think of something to do with it later. The texture reminded me of a heavily gessoed canvas.

That winter I was working in my art studio with a young artist friend and I asked them to do a few experimental exercises on one of the scraps of ceiling tile.That was the beginning of my fun with this new found waste material. Since that first evening of experimenting I have designed and made many useful items from the scrap pile. One of my favorites is this dinosaur. Everybody gets a kick out of it and little boys are my biggest fans of these home made bones. The finished work measures about 3' x 3' and is finished with a glow in the dark acrylic.

Scraps of Acoustic Ceiling Tile Turns Into A Dinosaur For My Nephew's Birthday

What To Do With That Ugly Box On The Wall

I had to cover the gray box because I could not stand to look at it. The thing was it had to be designed so that it would be easily removable in case we had to access the breaker switches. I had little idea of what to make here so I started with a frame. I painted it the same color as the woodwork so it would blend in, instead of standing out like a sore thumb. The rest is history.

  • An old cork bulletin board for the background
  • A pair of long leather boot laces
  • Some tiny brown glass beads
  • A 1/2"x 2" board from the scrap wood pile
  • A few choice pieces of driftwood
  • Left over paint from remodeling the bathroom
  • A piece of wire coat-hanger for a hanging device
  • A woodburned snake made from a small piece of driftwood

I painted the frame and while it dried I cut the old cork down to fit the frame. Then I placed all the elements in the design to prepare for gluing. The shoelace had to be pinned in some areas using straight pins from my sewing supplies. This was so I could allow for the three dimensional affect I wanted to create with the laces. I carefully glued it all together when I finished placing everything the way I wanted it. I was not thinking as far ahead as should have been and I had some difficulty adding the hanger to the back side of the frame when I was finished. I managed with a few choice words an determination but, if I was going to do this again I would have put that hanger on first.

Old Idea, New Style, Old Sweatshirt

New Spin On Old Clothing

This was a sweatshirt sleeve before I started cutting on it. I added a shoelace of leather and some beads and feathers. I put a bell on the end that I found in a box of junk at a garage sale so, I did spend a few cents on this work. The inside of the bag is filled with treasures that represent something of my personal spirit. The Native American Medicine Bag goes contemporary. This has been a symbol in my art studio for many years. It's full of good magic, totally recycled. I have designed a few medicine bags for friends. I usually keep some discarded leather garments and purses that I can cut for such projects. Leather is pretty expensive and damaged clothing usually goes to the trash. Recycled material is a treasure to my way of thinking.

Go Dumpster Diving

Now that you see how many ways you might contribute to conservation and Going Green with your creative juices flowing, give it a try. The fun you will have is unmeasurable. The fulfillment you find is astounding, and if none of that happens and, you find you have done a belly flop, you can always trash the idea! Happy Creativity to you.


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