Upcycle Your Way to Mixed Media Art

I was catching up on my "Project Runway All-stars" episodes the other night when I realized I really missed Tim Gunn.

upcycled art carriker
Pam Carriker often upcycles photocopies of
her drawings, using them repeatedly in her
art to saving time and money. From "Art Journaling Fast & Easy."

Tim's "Make it work!" catch-phrase may be overused by now, but the message is an important one for artists of any kind. It's one thing to be creative with an unlimited budget at Mood and all the time in the world to create a fashionable outfit. But real creativity happens when your resources are limited.

Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.

Besides, upcycling and re-using is all the rage right now: it's environmentally friendly and economical.

Here are just some ways you can make it work in your mixed-media art by upcycling.

Stamps and stencils

  • Clean out your junk drawer and use some of those found objects as stamps
  • Inspect before you recycle: would the bottom of that plastic cup make a good impression?
  • Raid the veggie drawer: half a lemon is better than no stamp at all.
  • Make way for doilies: paper or fabric, these make terrific stencils. Consider using only part of them if you don't want a real granny look.

Paints, dyes, and other colorants

  • Acrylic paints can be used to "dye" fabric, especially fluid acrylics whose pigment is intense.
  • Tea and coffee dye fabric and papers beautifully. Experiment with differnet kinds of teas and coffee intensity.
  • Raid the kids' art cabinet. Of course there's a difference between artist-grade oil sticks, acrylic paints, blendable markers, etc. and the stuff that comes in a set made for kids for $14.99. But often-and especially when you're experimenting or messing about in your art journal-the difference isn't enough to worry about.

upcycle mixed media jewelry
Alisa Burke turns scraps of upcycled fabric into mixed-media jewelry in Sew Wild.

Fabric and paper

  • Old pairs of mom jeans, that embroidered top your teen spilled orange soda on, and wool socks with the worn-out heels can all become fodder for a fabric art project.
  • Receipts, especially ones with lots of numbers, make terrific first layers for collage and mixed-media painting backgrounds.
  • Dryer sheets can be painted, cut, and stitched.
  • Plastic bags can be fused, painted, and stitched into wearable art, wall hangings, and more.
  • "Failed" art experiments can be upcycled by using them as art journal backgrounds, cut up and rearranged as wall hangings or used in collage, painted over, and turned into mixed-media jewelry.
  • Old book pages can be used for collage and art journal backgrounds, folded into 3-D art, cut up for text, and more.

Need more ideas? You'll find tons of them in Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM videos like "Mix it Up" and "Art Journaling Fast and Easy," and books like Sew Wild.

So come on, people, make it work!

P.S. How do you make it work? What's the coolest idea you've ever had for upcycling something into art? Leave your comment below.


Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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