Studio Saturdays: Tea Bag Art

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.

tea bag art

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.

Tea-dyed paper for tea bag art
Don’t throw your tea water away! Use it to color paper and fabric to use in tea bag art.

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.

Tea-stained tags for tea bag art
These tags were soaked in various types of tea, each producing a different color.

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?

Cleaned tea bags
There’s always a surprise when you clean and open a tea bag; how would you use these for tea bag art?

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.

Tea bag art with image transfers, stamping, and stenciling
Image transfers, stamping, and stenciling can all be done on tea bags.

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.

Digital printing on tea bags
Detailed images render beautifully in digital prints on tea bags.

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:

Tea bag marks in an art journal
Surprise, surprise: tea bags stuck in an art journal yield serendipity.

The tea bag shapes reminded me of houses, so that’s what I went with:

Tea bag art journal pages
The stains left over from tea bags inspired these tea bag art journal pages.

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.

Tea bag art collage
The printed bird image was used for this tea bag art collage, along with a scrap of tea-stained paper.

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.

Tea bags brushed with gesso for painting
Some tea bags were brushed with gesso to provide a ground for painting.

For the square bags, I created abstract designs with a limited color palette, using acrylic paint and watercolor pencils.

Tea bag art with acrylic paint
Another interpretation of tea bag art: painted with acrylics and watercolor pencil.

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…

Tea bag art with acrylic paint and watercolor pencil
Another painted tea bag using acrylic paint and watercolor pencil.

While you’re pouring yourself a nice cup of tea, check out these resources and immerse yourself in tea bag art!

Tea bag art featured in March/April 2017 Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
See how Irene Rafael paints portraits on tea bags in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors!
Eco Colour by India Flint
Learn how to use leaves, roots, and flowers as dyes in Eco Colour by India Flint.
Tea bag art in the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
In “Layering the Unexpected” in the July/August 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, see how Kim Owen prints on tea bags for collage.


Blog, Collage, Mixed-Media Techniques

2 thoughts on “Studio Saturdays: Tea Bag Art

    1. Thank you! Please be sure to check out Irene’s article in the March/April 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors–she has amazing techniques for creating portraits on teabags!


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