Back in the day, my mom used to save empty milk jugs “just in case”. I never really thought what the case might be when you would need 101 empty milk jugs, but never the less, she would have been ready had there been one.
My mom grew up in a generation that saved everything. She saved reusable things, just like her parents, and grandparents and so on. That was probably due to the scarcity of things and how difficult and expensive it could be to get something when you needed it. They had dresses made of flour sacks. Old tires would be cut up and used as barn door hinges. They saved store bought containers, bottles, boxes, crates, or anything they thought could be used in the future. You really had to be smart about recycling to make things last and get the most use out of them. Manufacturers back then, were even in the habit of packaging products in reusable glasses (like jellies or even snuff!), or bowls, or other items that people could use after the product was consumed. Sometimes, they would actually gave away dishware or kitchen tools, inside a product package like soap powders or oatmeal. Very practical and great marketing to get customers to buy more and more of your products to keep collecting all of the free stuff inside the package! Kinda like the prize in the Cracker Jack box! Just bigger and better reusable stuff!
Today, it is a shame we just throw everything away when we feel it is used up or doesn’t work anymore. It seems most everything is disposable and you just go out and buy another. In many cases, it is cheaper to replace an item than it is to try and repair it. It is no wonder the landfills are filling up all over.
However, technology is changing and we are trying to reduce the common waste. By turning more and more to recycling aluminum, glass, paper, cardboard, and other materials that can be reused, re-purposed, or upcycled, we will preserve more natural resources for generations to come.
Well, I believe artists can be some of the most creative upcyclers around. If it can be upcycled, believe me, an artist will paint it, glue it, hang it, or reuse it in some way, shape, or form. I know I do! (Some of you reading this will snicker at this comment! Well, go ahead!) I just really hate to waste or throw away anything that I might need later. And just as sure as the day is long, as soon as I throw that thing away, I will need it! You know it yourself! It happens every time! Anyway, I hope you all will agree with me and at least try to find new ways to re-use common throwaways!
Our friend and fellow artist, Cathy Taylor, has been upcycling with her art for years! She has recently been accepted into the International Society of Experimental Artists as a Signature Member for taking discarded circuit boards and creating wonderful structures from them! Cathy believes in re-using materials usually thrown away. One technique she is known for is making altered papers by splashing CitraSolv onto the pages of the National Geographic Magazine and using them for collage material. Don’t miss the video below that shows you how!
Here is just a small list of some ways you can take things commonly thrown away and give them a lease on life by using them in a way they might not have been intended. And I know all of my fellow artists out there will have hundreds of other suggestions as well. So, please, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the post, as we would all love to know what you are upcycling, as well!
I have many brushes old and new. I rarely find the need to throw them away no matter their condition. Brushes are very useful even when they have lost the ability to stand to a point.
Dig paint out of your palette to make puddles.
Use the end of the handle to make uniform dots.
Use to spatter by tapping a old brush loaded with paint against another brush handle.
Frayed brushes are great for making foliage. The more splayed the better.
By sharpening the brush handle end, you can use it as a fine stylus, which can also be used to emboss paper through a stencil.
Old liner brushes can also be used to secure your hair in a bun! I do this all of the time when I need to keep my hair up.
Below is a great tip on how to identify old brushes from new ones from Susan Crouch. (susancrouch.com) Thanks! Susan!
COLORED ELECTRICAL TAPE-
Use colored electrical tape to mark your brushes, when you buy a new one, mark it with blue, then when it becomes frayed from use, mark it with red, and when it can’t be used for painting, mark it with yellow and use it for masking fluid. You’ll always know which brushes are the best for painting and it will extend the life of your brush. Even after the tip is unusable, you can still sharpen the end of the paintbrush and use as a stylus to make trees or dots.
UNSUCCESSFUL WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS-
Watercolor paper, don’t throw it away! It is far too expensive to dab a little paint on and then throw it away. There are several ways in which you can re-use, re-purpose, or recycle your 100% cotton rag watercolor paper.
If you have fully completed a painting and do not like the results, find little gems or paintings within the painting using the Gem Finders. Create cards, frame the smaller format, use for collage, make bookmarks or tags. Just don’t throw it away!
Another thing you can do is to wash the paper to remove most of the detail and what you have left is a unique background or under painting that you can create something totally new on the top!
Use the back to practice or paint something else on it.
Make gift bags or wrapping paper.
You can tear into small pieces and put in a blender with water and make a base slurry for making your own homemade paper.
WATERCOLOR BLOCK BACKING-
Ever wonder what to do with that nice thick piece of cardboard you find behind your watercolor block when you have removed the last sheet? Don’t throw it away!
You can use it as a cutting board for cutting paper.
Cover it with contact paper to waterproof it and use as a lightweight watercolor board.
Mount lightweight canvas to it and make a canvas board.
Use as a support for dry media by clipping your drawing paper to it.
DRIED WATERCOLOR PAINT TUBE-
Cut off the crimped edge at the bottom and split open the tube to reveal lots of unused paint. Just place the dried paint in a palette well and reactivate!
Don’t throw away broken pastels, instead, grind them up and add drops of water to shape into sticks.
Also, Mix dry pigments to make new colors and then shape into sticks.
Add gum arabic to the dry pigments to make watercolor.
Add acrylic medium to make acrylics.
Add linseed oil to convert to oils.
DRIED UP INK PENS-
Old ink pens- dried up- use as a stylus to transfer through graphic paper.
Use the blunt area on a ink pen lid as a burnisher.
Dip end into paint and make uniform dots.
MASKING FLUID BOTTLES-
Don’t throw away smaller bottles of masking when empty, buy the larger size and fill it up!
Artist Betty Carr says, if you are purchasing a large bottle of masking fluid to save money, pour out a little in a small container with a lid to use. Then, add marbles to the large bottle until the level reaches near the top. This will move the air out and keep the fluid from drying out inside. It will also help to gently mix the fluid when you are ready to refill your small container. You can also turn the bottle upside down to help keep it fresh as well.
Scribble small pieces of graphite on the back of your pattern to transfer it to your watercolor paper. Make sure you wipe the page down with a tissue to spread the graphite complete all over the page and pick up any excess that might be left on the watercolor paper.
Use Q-tips to light lift out color to add highlights to your watercolor paintings. Wet the Q-tip with clean water and blot on a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Then, gently rub the area you want to remove. If you are lifting a non staining pigment it should remove back to white or close to it.
Q-tips can also create very uniform dots by dipping the tip into a puddle of watercolor paint and applying to any area you want to create repetitive dots. This is great for collage and abstract designs.
Use Q-tips to make a travel watercolor kit. Dip a swab in a puddle of thick wc paint and allow to dry. Put these in a baggie for travel. Then when you want to color sketches, wet a brush and stroke over the tip and activate the paint. You be amazed at how much you can paint before the pigment runs out. You can also dip the tip in water and blot and create a large wash for skies or large areas of color.
Salt is great for making texture in a watercolor painting. Save the individual sized packets from restaurants to keep in your plein air or travel kit for convenience.
White duct tape is great for protecting the outside edge of your gatorboard. This will prevent chipping and keeps the edges nice and strong for years of continued use.
PLASTIC EASTER EGGS-
Plastic Easter eggs are a great way to make an extra large paint pan. Use it to create large puddles of one color washes to tone your watercolor paper. One side for paint and one side for water or a colored wash. The egg fits nicely in the palm of your hand and sits well on an empty well on your palette or an egg carton.
You can also store small pieces of pastels, graphite, or crayons to keep them from making a mess of your storage container.
FROZEN COMPRESS PACKS-
Using a frozen cold compress to sit your AJ watercolor sticks on during a hot day of plein air painting will keep them from melting in the heat.
Use an old dish towel to roll your wet brushes in for travel back to your studio. This prevents getting your brush case wet and soiled. When they are dry then replace them in your case. The dish towel can also be used to blot your brushes off while painting.
Old CDs make great templates for a perfectly round circle. Use to cut out decorative papers or as a pattern for Christmas cards, ornaments or tags from a discarded painting.
MAGAZINES AND JUNK MAIL-
Save those National Geographics and all of that pesky Junk Mail and make some great collage papers by altering the images with CitraSolv Cleaner! Watch Cathy Taylor as she show us how!
An old muffin pan is great for storing small painting tools to keep them all in one place.
You can even use a muffin pan to hold wash mixes that you use in large amounts. The paints will dry out, but all you need to do is add more water the next time you need that color!
You can also line them with aluminum liners and put in acrylic paint as a working palette.
A discarded bundt pan makes a great brush washer with all of its bumps and ridges in the bottom of the pan. The pigment settles in those areas and keeps the water cleaner longer. Make sure not to use for baking after using as a water container. You can even stand large brushes up in the hole in the middle!
My Aunt Maggie cuts the clips off of department store pant hangers to use as chip bag clips. I use them to hold patterns together or use the complete hanger to store reference materials for future use. This is a great idea for keeping your painting information in order and out of the way!
Use a wine cork as a brush prop while painting. Glue several of these together in a row and use for several brushes at a time.
Store push pins on a wine cork to use to hold your paper in place while plein air painting.
LIGHTLY USED OR NEW ALUMINUM FOIL-
If lightly used, make sure you wash the foil to remove any grease or oil from the surface. Dawn Dish Liquid is great for this!
Use aluminum cup cake liners as a make shift clean water container. Use this not to wash out brushes but to hold clean water for washes and floating.
Use aluminum foil to wrap used oil or acrylic brushes in to keep them from drying out until they can be cleaned.
Cover your palette to keep paints fresh overnight.
Make a tiny plein air palette from an Altoid’s tin. Run a bead of hot glue in lines down and across to create barriers to dam wet paint until it dries into a cake.
Make a tiny palette from empty eye shadow cases. Just wash out the areas and fill with paint. Allow them to dry to touch before traveling with them. You can use the mirror as a mixing area as well!
Pill boxes and small plastic containers make great palettes!
Cheap Joe’s packs all of the orders going through the warehouse with a product call Geami Green Wrap Paper. It is an alternative to bubble packaging that is used to protect your items during shipping. The paper is an eco-friendly packaging option, and is 100% biodegradable, recyclable and compostable.
Our customers just love to receive their orders so they can re-use the packaging inside. Some of them use the Geami as collage material or for stamping. Some recycle it to make their own paper. Others just hand it over to their cats, who just love playing with this wonderful new toy! Either way, the Geami gets a new lease on life!
Use an old picture frame as a make shift palette for watercolor, oil or acrylics.
Save quart sized yogurt containers to use as rinse buckets. Have several full of clean water to have on hand. Also, save the 8oz. cups as well for pouring liquid watercolor. Some have lids or use plastic wrap to keep paint from drying out overnight.
When traveling with your painting supplies, roll fresh tape around your spray bottle for use to mask out or tape down your paper for painting. This keeps the tape right where you need it without having to tote the whole roll!
Well, I hope this blog has inspired you to recycle, re-purpose, and upcycle anything that you might have otherwise thrown away! We all do need to do our part to keep unnecessary waste out of the landfills. If you do have art materials that you want to remove from your house or studio, please check with local art clubs or societies, public school art teachers, or other non-profit organizations that might benefit from your discards!
Let us all be aware of what we are leaving behind for the generations to come!
Remember, One Man’s Trash is another Artist’s Treasure!
Here’s hoping you have a wonderful Trash to Treasure Day!
and Please UpCycle, ReCycle, Re-Use, and Re-Purpose!