It’s All In the Cards | An Upcycling Idea

Reduce, reuse, recycle is a phrase that my family is probably sick of hearing from me by now. I’ve made it my mission to teach my sons how we, in my house at least, define garbage. In fact, our garbage can only goes out to the curb every other week because we’ve learned how to cut back on our waste by reusing plastic containers for leftovers, for example. While recycling isn’t a new term to me, upcycling was something I hadn’t heard of until I started learning about mixed-media art (speaking of which, browse our overstock sale here for some great deals!).

So what is upcycling? It’s taking an existing anything and repurposing it in a new, creative fashion. That’s exactly what Julie Newton did in a big way. Here’s more, from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine! ~Cherie

Upcycling ideas, Artwork by Esther Franklin |
Artwork by Esther Franklin

It’s All in the Cards: The Emory Library Project by Roberta G. Wax

When an Emory University colleague asked artist and Emory library conservator Julie Newton if she could use oh, several thousand obsolete library catalog cards, Newton’s eyes lit up.

The cards, from the university’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library in Atlanta, Georgia, were to be discarded during the library’s renovation. With online catalogs, the old-school cards were obsolete.

Newton said yes. She just had to figure out what to do with an estimated 10,000 three- by-five, ivory-colored cards, complete with a hole at the bottom of each where a metal rod held them in place in the catalog drawers. “At first it seemed overwhelming,” Newton says. Within 12 hours she had an idea.

Newton wanted to transform the cards into art, involving as many people as possible. Her first thought was mail art, but the logistics were not workable. So she decided on hosting local art events that would include the entire community.

Upcycling ideas, Artwork by Arielle Ross |
Artwork by Arielle Ross (PIN this!)

“It’s in the Cards: An Interactive Art Exhibit” was born, beginning in April 2015 with a kick-off art party at Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library. Newton supplied the cards and art supplies, paid for with a small grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through the Emory College Center for Creativity & Arts.

When it came to buying art supplies to decorate the cards, “we had to figure out not only what we could use, but what we couldn’t–such as glitter, Newton says. “We asked ourselves, if this were to fall on the floor, would we be able to clean it up?” Newton chose colored pencils, markers, fine-line pens, watercolors (and spill-proof water containers), regular and decorative-edged scissors, glue, crayons, and discarded book jackets to use for collage. She also raided the library’s supply closet for items such as stencils, Letraset® rub-on letters, stickers, and colored dots.

The first art party in April was such a hit she had another in October of that year. She also took the cards to the AJC (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) Decatur Book Festival in Georgia in September. People not only channeled their inner artist, they also socialized with strangers.

Upcycling ideas, Artwork by Jennifer Montgomery |
Artwork by Jennifer Montgomery

At these events “I watched people open up and experiment,” Newton says. “I watched tables full of strangers talking, starting conversations, and sharing information about the supplies. It’s been a bonding experience and an eye opener.”

At the first event, she put out about 1,000 cards, but found that people were overwhelmed at the volume. So Newton, who often works with text as a graphic element in her own artist books, began culling the cards, picking ones that spoke to her, with inspiring words such as “butterfly.” She looked for words that were provocative or enticing, that might spark inspiration or a conversation, or text that could be altered to create a poem. “I wanted there to be visual imagery and poetry in case the artist wanted to work with text.”

The small size of the cards was alluring, allowing people to create something in a short period of time and bringing out their inner artist. By last Thanksgiving, Newton had collected more than 1,000 altered cards, with more expected to straggle in. Some have been displayed in quilt-like wall panels in the library, many can be seen on Tumblr, and others are displayed in some of the very drawers where they once lived.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Mixed-Media Techniques


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