It's a new year, and perhaps one of your resolutions is to be more earth-friendly or to use what you have rather than acquiring new stuff. Well, I have the perfect role models for you. Susan Andrews and Carolyn Fellman (known collectively as the Oiseaux Sisters), have to be two of the most inventive found-object art creators I've ever encountered. They see artistic potential in almost everything, as you can see by their mixed-media assemblages.
|'Paint Tube Babies' by the Oiseaux Sisters. This series
of assemblages re-uses old paint tubes that would
otherwise have been thrown out.
Susan and Carolyn are very conscious of the environment. They are careful to avoid bringing too much extraneous material into their home and studio, use every possible item they can to avoid throwing it out, and scout out other people's trash for unappreciated treasures to use in their assemblage art.
Finding objects for assemblages is easy once you train your eye, say the artists. "Found-object art is not so much about technique. It's a worldview–a way of seeing. And once you turn your mind to re-imagining what you're looking at, it is the world itself that is altered and art will follow.
Susan and Carolyn suggest that once you acquire something, you should "really consider the possibilities before tossing it in the trash or recycle bin."
Ask yourself: "Can you find a way to take advantage of the very nice paper in that catalogue? Can this molded plastic bubble pack be cast with papier-mâché or plaster and turned into an appealing form? Can those plastic bottle lids become a handy way to store small quantities of paint?"
Once you start seeing the possibilities for reusing items in assemblage, you'll start getting assemblage art ideas everywhere you go. Here are some of the sources of art/assemblage fodder the Oiseaux Sisters rely on.
The garden and seashore: Susan and Carolyn tend a garden in upstate New York during the warm months and fly south for the winter. In both environments they collect natural items for their assemblage art projects, including roots, shells, vines, broken or worn-out implements, and dug-up bottles.
Old books: Rather than send excess paint down the drain, the sisters paint out their brushes on old book pages. Later, they have lovely colored, crinkly paper to use in collage and assemblage. They also cut up the covers for substrates and mini books and use whole books in assemblages.
|An assemblage from Susan's 'Little Librarian' series.
One old book is used as a base. The figure's skirt is
cut out of another old book with painted pages.
Construction sites: Wood scraps and metal bits that would normally be thrown out can be yours for the taking. Be sure to ask permission first.
Local businesses: Susan and Carolyn say they get wonderful paper and aluminum offset plates from their local printer. "Sometimes a business will put aside scraps we are particularly seeking. Sometimes we buy them for the recycler's price," they say.
Your own art: Susan and Carolyn often recycle parts of artwork that no longer appeals in its current state. Think about using parts of unfinished or abandoned artwork in your mixed-media art.
Art materials: Used-up paint tubes, a palette, a paintbrush painted down to a nubbin, a dried-up whorl of heavy gel medium-they all have potential in found-object art.
I think it's particularly clever how the artists turn used paint tubes into little people. The series "The Secret of Happiness/Paint Tube Babies" captures the energy that resonates from past use of treasured art materials. The heads were fashioned with Paperclay®.
So, the next time you're about to throw something out, ask yourself: how might I use this in art? Once you start thinking that way, you'll be surprised at what your imagination can do with "trash."
For more advice from the Oiseaux Sisters, plus projects for assemblage art, collage, and mixed-media art, download Mixed-Media People, Part II.
P.S. What's your favorite source for found objects? Share in the space below.