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Recycled Art

1. Mandy Russell discovered a great way to repurpose plastic switch plates–she turned them into felted book covers. In the Winter 2015 issue of Pages magazine, she explains that the plates’ firmness makes them perfect for wet felting, and the openings can become little windows. To wet felt a plate, Mandy begins by wrapping 3′ lengths of wool top fibers both horizontally and vertically around the plate, until the entire plate is covered. The wet felting process involves adding dish soap and hot water to the wool and gently rubbing it, rinsing it with hot water, and repeating those steps 5-8 times until the wool is well felted and tight around the plate. See the rest of the article to see how the covers and pages are sewn together, creating a uniquely bound—and very cozy—book.

2. Artist Rae Missigman found creative inspiration in the unlikeliest of places—the laundry room. She discovered that after going through a wash cycle, dye-trapping sheets are perfect for mixed-media recycled art: “Once I realized they could trap large amounts of dye,” she says, “I began to experiment with using them in my art.” Not only did they show off deep, vibrant color when dyed, but they were also very strong. Once laundered, they are sturdy and fabric-like. Rae uses these dye-trapping sheets in Art Lesson Vol. 5: Recycled and Re-inked: Bold, Colorful Embellishments. She first mists a shallow pan and the sheet with water, then adds several drops of acrylic ink (in analogous colors) to the pan. The sheet is placed in the pan and left to sit a few seconds to absorb the ink, then removed and placed on scrap paper to dry. Sheets can be cut into shapes or strips and sewn like fabric, and added to any mixed-media project.

3. For an artist, old or discarded books are a treasure trove of recyclables: pages, covers, and even a worn spine can be used for art. In “Books Unfurled: Altered Book Art” in the Fall 2014 issue of Paper Art magazine, Kathy Baker-Addy shows how an entire book can become a dimensional, sculptural recycled art piece simply by cutting and folding pages. Gather a group of about 50 pages in the front, middle, and back of a book that’s about 1″ thick, and hold them together with binder clips. Slide a cutting mat under about 5 pages and, with a craft knife, cut swirls, stars, leaf shapes, or other continuous designs into the pages; you can incorporate folded pages as well. Make sure to leave the pages attached to the book. When all pages have been cut, allow them to cascade out, arranging the pieces as you want. Kathy suggests practicing first on scrap paper to test your designs. See the rest of the article for how to turn the book into a showpiece.

4. Hardware store finds can be repurposed into reusable printmaking tools. In her book Printmaking Unleashed, Traci Bautista says hardware stores can be gold mines for items like plastic sink and bath mats, and fence materials. To start, spread fiber paste over a plastic page protector and add a few drops of fluid acrylic paint. Place an open-design bathmat, plastic fence material, and pieces of a plastic needlepoint canvas over the paste and press with a brayer. Remove the fence material and canvas, and dab on acrylic paint through the bathmat with a foam brush. Add a touch of white paint. Continue to add paint through the bathmat, and remove it to reveal the final print.

5. Instead of tossing empty aluminum cans into the recycling bin, use them to create mosaic art. That’s what Dawn Hunter did in “A New Kind of Pop Art” in the March/April 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissorsmagazine. Start by drawing a simple design on tissue paper, then transfer the design to a piece of rigid foam insulation board by laying the tissue paper on top and poking shallow holes about ¼”-½” apart through the tissue and into the surface of the board with an awl. Paint the image with acrylic paint, approximating the colors of the cans you’re using. Cut the tops and bottoms off the cans, cut the cylinder apart, and trim any ragged edges. Sort the cans by color and cut them into a variety of shapes. Beginning at the top of the design, place the can pieces one at a time, gently poking through the metal and into the board with with an awl. Put glue on the tip of a wire nail and push it into the board until the head is flush with the metal.