Suddenly, I’m seeing tea bag art everywhere. My interest was piqued with Irene Rafael’s fantastic article in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine on painting portraits on tea bags. Yes. Portraits. On tea bags. If you haven’t seen it, go grab the issue now. Or download it.
Irene’s miniature paintings on little square tea bags are stunning, her techniques are so fun, and you’ll love reading the story of how she came to paint them. What is it about tea bag art that makes a mixed-media artist’s heart go pitter-pat? The size? The fact that they’re accessible? That it’s recycled art? That they’re so twee? Probably all of those, but discovering this artwork compelled me to see what I could do with a tea bag.
Full disclosure: I’m not enough of a tea drinker to start saving tea bags to use for tea bag art art, so I steeped a bunch. English Breakfast, peppermint/chamomile, and passion tea bags got a nice bath in boiling water until the bags took on lots of color. That passion tea—yowza. Deep pink for days. Instead of discarding the tea water when I was done, I used it to stain various book pages and tags. You can also use it to dye fabric.
Here are some stained book pages; I wrinkled them up before soaking them, but you can also lay them flat. They smell fantastic, even when dry.
And here are a few tags; the first was steeped in English Breakfast tea, the second in passion tea, and the third in a combination of the two. You’re probably wondering why the second tag turned blue—pH levels, my friends. Those chemistry classes do come in handy.
Here are the tea bags, cleaned and flattened. As you can see, each bag stained differently. If the passion tea bags were leaning against another type of paper, they turned a little blue. Aren’t they all lovely?
By the way, I highly recommend that you wait until you tea bags are completely dry before emptying them out, otherwise you’ll be knee-deep in a nice, big, wet tea mess. If you’re worried about staining your hands, by all means wear gloves. Take it from me.
I tried a few tea bag art experiments with stamping and printing. Below, left, an image transfer with a Chartpak AD marker, using a Graphics Fairy image. Top right, a bag decorated with Stampers Anonymous Tim Holtz stamps, and bottom right, white paint with a StencilGirl Products stencil designed by Carolyn Dube.
You can print digital images on tea bags, too; tape a flat tea bag to a sheet of copy paper and run it through your inkjet printer, or iron bags onto freezer paper. The images below are from the Graphics Fairy again, one in color, and one in black and white. Gorgeous.
I stuck some damp teabags in one of my art journals, a technique I learned from Jennifer Coyne Qudeen’s column “Rust Marks” in the November/December 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors. Here’s how the pages looked when dry:
The tea bag shapes reminded me of houses, so that’s what I went with:
I also did a quick tea bag art collage, using the bird image. After adhering the image to heavyweight Khadi paper with gel medium, I added other bits: printed book text, a scrap of passion tea-stained music paper, and the spine of an old book. Stitching was added with embroidery thread.
I made more tea bag art by painting on some square tea bags and a passion tea bag. As Irene suggests in her article, I brushed them first with gesso to give myself a good ground to work on. Notice the blue tinted gesso on the pink paper? I added no color to it.
For the square bags, I created abstract designs with a limited color palette, using acrylic paint and watercolor pencils.
On the pink paper, I painted—what else—a teacup, also using acrylic paint and watercolor pencils. All of this was done with one batch of tea bags, and I still have lots left over. Imagine the possibilities…
While you’re pouring yourself a nice cup of tea, check out these resources and immerse yourself in tea bag art!