Street Art Upcycling that Doesn’t Cost the Earth

My social media feeds are full of artwork. Mostly, it’s finished artwork. But a few of my art friends post works in progress. I think they are very brave to make their fledgling ideas vulnerable to public scrutiny, however friendly.

upcycled art by dawn devries sokol
Upcycled materials + art supplies = street art
by Dawn DeVries Sokol.

One artist I know who does this consistently is Dawn DeVries Sokol. Recently, she has been experimenting with how to make recycled art using materials and inspiration off the street. Intrigued, I asked if she would do a Q&A with me, ad here it is!

CPS Today: You say street art and upcycling have been influencing your art lately. What about these elements attracts you?

Dawn DeVries Sokol: I think street art has always been an influence for me. I just didn’t realize it until lately. I love the layers that it contains but I mostly love the lettering. Recycling has become important to me. I’ve been getting more and more concerned about my carbon footprint and the whole idea of waste. Why not take something that was just going to end up in a landfill and make it pretty?

CPST: Are there artistic advantages to recycling materials and bits of your own art, in addition to the eco-friendly art aspect?

DDS: Definitely! The major advantage is cost. I love to make my own art journals with Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper, but it’s so expensive. Lately, I’ve been making more of my journals out of bits of the Fabriano combined with cereal boxes and heavy product packaging. I’ve gotten into the habit of tearing down the boxes and storing them in my studio when otherwise we’d throw them out. Once you start collecting them, it’s hard to stop! Some of them have die-cuts in them, such as pasta boxes with the little “windows,” which are cool within art journal pages. And it doesn’t matter if they’re different sizes. I like journals with various size pages in them. It’s visually pleasing when turning the pages to see those layers.

CPST: How did you start working straight onto cardboard? Did you plan it or did it just happen?


artist dawn devries sokol
Dawn DeVries Sokol


I met my good friend, Mindy Lacefield, at a PLAY retreat a couple years ago and she was working on all different kinds of surfaces. That kind of opened my eyes to it. I had also realized after working on canvas that I’m not really fond of that as a surface. For one thing, canvas is expensive, but also the texture is difficult for me to write on. I like chipboard mostly, but corrugated cardboard does have a sturdiness to it as well.

CPST: What kind of cardboard do you use? What are your sources?

DDS: Chipboard is definitely my favorite and I look for heavy mailers that clients may send me. Also, the cereal boxes. Trader Joe’s packaging uses some of the thickest chipboard. I especially love their dog biscuit boxes.

CPST: What kinds of art supplies work best with this messy method?

DDS: Spray paints, paint markers, stencils, Sharpies, and acrylic craft paints. I like to paint with my hands as much as possible, and this way of working lends itself to that.

CPST: I feel like from what I see on your social media pages that you are always experimenting, always willing to try something even if it might not work out. Does this come naturally to you? What do you learn by sharing your process?

DDS: I wouldn’t say it comes naturally. I usually have to push myself to experiment. It’s easy to get comfortable in a certain way of working. But I will see something that I begin to wonder how it would work and it nags at me. Finally, I get sick of the little voice in my head and tell myself that voice will never shut up if I don’t try it out. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. But you can’t learn if you don’t try. It’s one thing to want to create, it’s quite another to actually do it. By sharing my process, I get to see my work in progress through other eyes. I like hearing from others what they think. It makes the little wheels in my head turn more.

Dawn shows you how to make street-style art with upcycled materials and more in the latest edition of our Art Lessons Collage and Paint Series: Spray Paints + Street Art, now available for download. These downloads are economical and eco-friendly!

P.S. Does what you see on the street inspire you? Give me an example in the space below.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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