Top 10 Founds Objects for Recycled Art

I was reorganizing my art supplies last weekend (yes, again) and I realized something: by far, my most populated supply category is that of found object. It seems like every superfluous, unwanted, or “interesting” piece of vegetable, mineral, or plastic sets off upcycling ideas in my head and therefore finds a home in my stash.

But my stash runneth over.

upcycled art by karenliz
Paintbrush upcycled into a collage by Karenliz.

So, once again, it is time to pare down. To do that, I have to set priorities. What found objects can I not create without? Is there anything I’m missing that I should add to my hoard (while deleting others)?

I asked the other mixed-media editors to choose their top found objects and I compared those to my own. Turns out, there was a lot of overlap. It seems some found objects are more prone to being used in artwork and upcycled crafts.

Here’s my Top 10 list, in ascending order:

10. Old paintbrushes (and other grungy tools). I picked these because my artist husband is also a painter in the home décor sense of the word. So I have a steady supply of brushes with nice crusty handles and soft-hued bristles to turn into collages, assemblages and other recycled crafts.

9. Keys. I think keys are high on artists list because they are plentiful, graphically interesting, and are loaded with symbolism. Also, they do not take up too much space.

8. Boxes or containers to upcycle into shadow boxes. If you are an assemblage artist or just want and interesting way to mount your art, these are essential. I myself am partial to old drawers. Fortunately, containers like these are plentiful. Unfortunately, they take up a lot of space. Editing is essential.

7. Old jewelry. When a mixed-media piece needs a little “something,” vintage jewelry often fits the bill.

6. Ephemera. Receipts, tickets, or anything else with numbers makes a graphic statement. Paper with lines, grids, or vintage handwriting can also be upcycled into backgrounds. To avoid ephemera overload, find a few categories you are most drawn to and limit yourself to those. (For example, I always snatch up used wrapping paper but find I almost never use it again. So out it goes.)

5. Containers with interesting bottoms for stamping. Collecting these can easily put your found object stash over the top (literally), so I try to keep to a few favorites, such such as Dairy Queen® cups and Fuze® bottles.

4. Old books. Now here’s another plentiful source for upcycled projects. You can make upcycled art out every part of an old book, but the pages, especially, can be used in sculpture, collage, paper art, journaling, and so on. Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason says she recently began collecting vintage cookbooks with personal recipes written in the margins. Hmmmm. That sounds dangerous.


upcycling ideas by erin partridge
Painted stick from nature provide texture in
this piece by Erin Partridge.

3. Nature finds.

Shells, rocks, pinecones–nature is generous. Here again, though, you could end up with buckets full of this stuff if you don’t constantly edit. Ask me about the cottage cheese containers full of acorns I have squirreled away, sometime.

2. Bubble wrap. I confess to being a hoarder of this snappy wrapping, but honestly, it is my favorite background stamp. I never refuse it.

1. Buttons. Almost everyone I asked cited buttons as a favorite found object. I have to agree. Most buttons–especially vintage ones–are little works of art in themselves. They offer color, shine, texture, and beauty to most any art project. I don’t think you can ever have too many. Just sort them by color in jars and let them serve as décor.

Now that I know which objects I like to use best (and which to limit), I can get down to the real business: turning them into art.

I find the objects themselves inspiring. But when I need upcycling ideas, the artist tutorials on Craft Daily offer how-tos and helpful hints I might not have thought of otherwise.

P.S. What are your favorite found objects. Do you use them in your art or just collect them? Leave a comment below!


3D Art and Assemblage, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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