Tag Archives: recycled materials

Inspiration: Alejandro Durán


Alejandro Durán, a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist, has created a series of site-specific sculptures in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, in his native Mexico. His site: undeveloped, federally-protected land, a place named “where heaven was born” by the ancient Mayan people. His material: trash.

“In my current project, Washed Up, I address the issue of plastic pollution making its way across the ocean and onto the shores of Sian Ka’an, Mexico’s largest federally-protected reserve. With more than twenty pre-Columbian archaeological sites, this UNESCO World Heritage site is also home to a vast array of flora and fauna and the world’s second largest coastal barrier reef. Unfortunately, Sian Ka’an is also a repository for the world’s trash, which is carried there by ocean currents from many parts of the globe.”

“Over the course of this project, I have identified plastic waste from fifty nations on six continents that have washed ashore along the coast of Sian Ka’an. I have used this international debris to create color-based, site-specific sculptures.”

“Conflating the hand of man and nature, at times I distribute the objects the way the waves would; at other times, the plastic takes on the shape of algae, roots, rivers, or fruit, reflecting the infiltration of plastics into the natural environment.”

“More than creating a surreal or fantastical landscape, these installations mirror the reality of our current environmental predicament. The resulting photo series depicts a new form of colonization by consumerism, where even undeveloped land is not safe from the far-reaching impact of our disposable culture.”

“…Washed Up speaks to the environmental concerns of our time and its vast quantity of discarded materials. The alchemy of Washed Up lies not only in converting a trashed landscape, but in the project’s potential to raise awareness and change our relationship to consumption and waste.”

For a look at the work of another trash-collecting artist, check out this post about Barry Rosenthal.

Inspiration: Judith Scott

If you’re within striking distance of the Brooklyn Museum, check out “Judith Scott — Bound and Unbound,” thru March 29th. Pure amazingness! Scott, a highly recognized fiber artist, produced a lot of original and fascinating work and has a compelling story. And her story and her art prompt so many interesting questions and thoughts.

IMG_3777Diagnosed in infancy with Down’s Syndrome, deaf and mute, Scott was diagnosed as profoundly retarded and institutionalized until age 44, when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area under the guardianship of Joyce, her twin sister. Joyce enrolled Judith in a studio art program at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. Scott spent seventeen years there (she died in 2005), working six days a week, and created a highly regarded and widely collected body of fiber artworks.

IMG_3773The Creative Growth Art Center, founded in 1974, serves an extended community of mentally, developmentally, and physically disabled adult artists.  The Center provides a studio environment focused on artistic production rather than on defined therapeutic goals. According to Tom di Maria, the director at the center, “our philosophy is to nurture the creative process, not direct, control, or teach in a conventional way. We are very hands off, and give everyone lots of time, and Judith benefited from that. But after she began her first sculpture, she essentially worked independently and without guidance.”

IMG_3674Scott arrived at Creative Growth in 1987 and produced a series of drawings in various mediums, samples of which are included in the show. The looping, repetitive forms, with mixed colors and occasional collage added, seem a precursor to her intricate and and mysterious sculptures.

Once Scott was introduced to fiber, she had found her medium. Her earlier, totem-like works were bundled sticks wrapped with yarn and torn fabric.



IMG_3670Scott’s process typically involved wrapping a found object armature with yarn, rope, thread, fabric and other fibers until the work had transfomed into what she considered a finished piece. She worked on a single piece at a time, sometimes for weeks or months, and when she had finished, she pushed it away and started in on something new.

IMG_3697The armatures are sometimes partially visible, such as in these pieces, one built around blue plastic forms and another incorporating a rubber hose.



Some of the works seem to reveal elements in a deliberate manner, as in this monochromatic work with loops of purple rubber hose peeking out.


And sometimes what’s inside is a complete mystery.

IMG_3795This work  was constructed from paper towels which Scott collected when she found that she had run out of materials.


The details — the colors, textures, wrapping, weaving, knotting — are varied and intricate.




The sculptural forms are graceful, striking, complex, rich in color, movement, and expression. They prompt many associations for the viewer.


IMG_3802And they prompt so many questions about the artist, her process, and the nature of creativity itself. Oh, sweet mystery of life! What is inside her beautiful, mysterious, package-like sculptures, and what was in Scott’s mind? Is her work an expression of an internal narrative? What informed her creative visions and decisions? Was her process purely intuitive? Was there intention and deliberation involved? What part does cognition play in creative process? Did Scott know she was creating an artwork? We will never know. And how many other people with mental disabilities, invisible to society, long written off as incapable of functioning, are also amazing artists? Wonderful, powerful food for thought.

The bling thing


Being a child art therapist and an arts & crafts counselor has involved a fair amount of jewelry-making over the years. There are a lot of things to recommend jewelry-making as an activity in both situations.

  • This activity is festive and fun, like playing dress-up or getting ready for Halloween.
  • Hand-made jewelry tends to become a symbol of identity that is proudly worn.
  • Jewelry styles are so diverse that anything goes, and kids can forget about the creativity-crushing idea of right and wrong.
  • Materials are cheap or free and easy to come by. Whatever materials you have around are enough to come up with some kind of jewelry project.
  • Stringing beads and objects is meditative and calming and promotes easy companionship.
  • Because this activity involves many small items, there is usually a sharing of materials in a group. These shared elements connect the varied finished pieces, a nice metaphor for group connectedness.
  • Kids love to make presents for friends and family, and in our culture a gift of jewelry is associated with love.

Pretty much anything you have on hand for stringing works fine. Ribbon, telephone wire, lanyard, or shoelaces are good bets. The ball chains pictured were donated for camp arts & crafts, and I can personally guarantee that they are universally loved, no matter the age or gender. You can buy them here.

What to put on the strings? Beads, buttons, decorated cardboard pendants, wooden spools, styrofoam peanuts, paper, found objects, anything. Sculpey and Model Magic are great for making beads. And remember: you can make a bead out of anything you can punch a hole in. Paint and decorate freely!

Below are some examples of materials and of jewelry created in art therapy sessions, in the camp arts & crafts room, and in my very own basement studio.




Some art therapy clients benefit from working within a frame. If they have difficulty containing their feelings and behavior and lose control easily, they will most likely have trouble controlling art materials too. So it’s important to provide them with boundaries in the form of materials which can help them to feel more self-contained, organized, safe, and successful.

A frame can be as simple as a circle drawn on a piece of paper, but sometimes an actual physical boundary is more helpful to clients who are struggling with self-control. Cardboard berry flats make great readymade frames or shadowboxes, perfect for both 2-D and 3-D work. They come in several sizes and some even have handles that can be slipped through the holes to make a hanger.




If you have it in your mind to look for frames, you will find them everywhere. Thrift shops are loaded with them. But you don’t really need to spend any money. Any supermarket is glad to have you take those berry flats off their hands and save them the work of breaking them down for disposal. You can also make simple frames yourself. And never underestimate the great possibilities of scavenging. Below: different-sized old white drawer fronts that were left out on the street for trash pickup; a black thrift shop frame; a small corrugated packing box; and donated pre-cut oak tag frames.


Here is the work of a child who was given a paper-lined wooden cigar boxtop to work with. She used paints and Sculpey polymer clay to create her 3-D Rainbow Girl self-portrait.





Bottle jar box can

Bottlejarboxcan was the name of an old blog that I kept for awhile. It got its name from my penchant for constantly collecting all kinds of containers, which I use a lot in my own work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAContainers also figure big in art therapy. A lot of importance is placed on the establishment and maintenance of a therapeutic container or frame. Therapists strive to provide a place of containment, a safe space to explore, express, and experience all feelings, a relationship of trust and collaboration. This is an important component of all therapeutic theory, particularly for those working with children or others who become easily overwhelmed by affect because they lack internal controls. An important theoretical concept here is D.W. Winnicott’s holding environment.

In the particular context of art therapy, the artwork itself also acts as a container, something outside of the artist that safely holds and reflects emotions. Sometimes providing a concrete metaphor by supplying  an actual container to work with can help a child to feel more safe in expressing difficult feelings.

The possibilities for containers are endless. To bottle, jar, box, and can, add book, frame, nest, teacup, basket, egg carton, or pretty much anything else you can think of. It’s pretty easy to accumulate tons of great containers without spending a cent. Any recycling bin is filled with them.



‘Tis the season

I love wrapping presents! Each one is like a little art project. And I’m a big recycler, so with present wrapping, anything goes for me. I tend to use anything that’s around at the time. This bow was made from ripped up plastic yogurt labels. (I save the cups for paint and other materials when I work with kids.)

yogurt cups


Save your brown paper grocery bags! And use whatever you have on hand to decorate them. I used leftover spray paint, paper scraps, yarn, and ripped fabric scraps to make these.

heart bag-2


These were wrapped with recycled bubble wrap and plastic wrap. The tags were little white price tags (from Staples, cheap) before I took markers, etc. to them. The silk ribbons come from Nicole Snow at Darn Good Yarn. Nicole sells silk yarns made from the scraps of saris, which she purchases from seamstresses in Nepal and India at a good price, thus helping them to support their families with supplemental income. The colors are gorgeous!

bubble wrap

bubble wrap and tags