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Making art and maps out of old license plates.

Updated on February 18, 2011

Making art and maps out of old license plates.

As a boy, I loved license plates. Six-hundred-mile trips were enlivened by keeping a list of the many diverse plates I saw on the road along the way. Family road trips to New Mexico, South Dakota, Florida, New Brunswick and many other destinations exposed me to the wealth of color, style and personality of each state's tag. A separate but genuine love for maps, geography and crafting grew to inspire the art you are viewing right now.

Design Turnpike began as a simple quest to recreate for myself a fascinating piece I saw at Greenfield Village, a map of the United States made entirely from expired license plates. It was during that learning process that a whim turned into a hobby and creative outlet. Along the way I realized I had my own wealth of original ideas for taking discarded license plates and immortalizing them in ways that could bring people years of enjoyment. In fact, a blue Michigan plate that adorned my first vehicle for 8 years lives on in one of the pieces in my personal collection.

Working from Dearborn, Michigan, the birthplace of the modern automobile, I continue to brainstorm and produce various new designs along with some of the classic license plate maps shown my website.

Here's a glimpse into my process, some tips, photos and a walk-through of a sample project. Hope you enjoy this lenses... it's my first!

Up Close: The United States License Plate of the Fifty States - This one remains my favorite.

Acquiring, planning, cutting, assembling and finishing a license plate map project can be tiring and exhilarating. Plus, it can give you some major hand calluses!

Trust me: If you have a full-time job, purchasing a map is a good idea, even though they can be pricey! Having created over 100 license plate pieces of all sizes and shapes, I have honed my process. However, if you DO plan on embarking on your own license plate project, here's what you will need for sure:

- Heavy duty tin snips

- Saw

- Measuring tape

- Computer software to create layout

- Printer

- Heavy duty tape to use for stencils

- Wood (pine works well)

- Stain and paint (water-based)

Oh yes, and:

- Tons of old, well-worn License plates!

View my website (link at bottom of the page) to see more of this signature piece.

Michigan License Plate Flag Fun - One of my favorite recent projects.

Michigan license plates from the past 70 years combine to form a huge image of our nation's flag. This piece measures about 12' x 6'!

Sample Project: Birds and Flowers - Old license plates transform into an art piece for a niece's nursery!

Thought I'd reveal what it takes to create a custom piece!

1) Reference Art. In this case my client (also known as my sister!) wanted something made out of license plates that both tied in to her nursery bedding, and paid homage to three states near and dear to her heart: Alabama, Michigan and Virginia.

2) Making the Plan. I sketched out some ideas and then drew them in an illustration program to scale.

3) Compiling the Plates. Through various sources (online, personal collection, friends) I got a hold of the plates to be used. I wanted bold, simple plates that fit in with the color palette of the nursery.

4) Cutting the pieces. Like usual, with some time, patience and dexterity, the individual pieces for this project began to emerge.

5) Assemble and Enjoy. The finished piece was a lovely addition to my client's d├ęcor. She loved it! These plates will live on for who knows how long now instead of joining countless others in the trash heap.

Hope you liked seeing the timeline of this fun project! IMPORTANT: View photos of this sample project here:

Current Project: Michigan Counties License Plate Map

Here is a photo of a recent project. Also, I slipped in one of me at work on an Alabama map as an inset!

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    • LikinTrikin LM profile image

      LikinTrikin LM 6 years ago

      What a beautiful lens and you have an awesome talent

    • designturnpike profile image

      designturnpike 6 years ago

      @Oliversbabycarecouk: Thanks for the comment, Olivers! Let me know if you ever want a piece in the background of YOUR home! :)

    • profile image

      Oliversbabycarecouk 6 years ago

      i have only ever seen this in the background of someones house/apartment in a film. You have some great ideas. Thanks