Category Archives: recycled

Paper chase

My Year in Paper, 2014

My Year in Paper, 2014

I have always been a maniac paper collector. I came from a printing business family, so had deep paper roots and access to an endless supply of paper, sample books, and discarded make ready sheets, which fascinated me from early childhood. I loved to make collages and I collected paper of all kinds. I began to supplement my supply with papers that I found and, as I got older, bought. Now most of my art involves found and recycled materials.


Great paper is the easiest thing in the world to come by. Colors, designs, and textures are everywhere. My collection contains used wrapping paper and tissue paper, birch bark, New Yorker magazine pages, tie-dye-stained newspaper from camp arts & crafts. I keep cardboard, labels, old greeting cards and stationary, discarded soap wrappers, used shopping bags.

I like to find stores where I can buy interesting paper cheaply, like the tiny now-defunct Moroccan store at Broadway & 97th. Or the junky but great Pearl River Mart in lower Manhattan. Once in a while I make a trip to New York Central, the shrine of paper lovers, or to Kinokuniya, where I happily spend too much money on a beautiful piece of Japanese washi paper or a sheet or two of handmade paper from somewhere around the world .


Dear friends have given me gifts of paper that come from places as far away as Katmandu. I spend a lot of time skulking around recycling bins. Once I gave a wrapped gift to friends who were hosting me, and later that night quietly dug my wrapping paper out of their trash can and put it back in my suitcase. You get the idea.


The thing is, I can remember where just about every paper in my collection came from. So in that sense, the collection serves as my journal. Each one marks a place and time in my life. To me, rather than a jumble of unconnected scraps, my paper assortment seems like an autobiographical narrative. And I write and rewrite this narrative in various ways.


My Year in Paper, detail

I save every scrap of paper, no matter how small. When the pieces get really small, they get used for something like this bottle, which is filled with tiny collage-making scraps. To me, it feels like a self-portrait.

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Recently, I spent some time trying to design a business card for myself. I was stumped for ideas for awhile. But then it came to me…


Easter egg cartons

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I save all my egg cartons, and not because I have chickens. No, I save them to make egg carton purses. Decorated and filled with little items, they make wacky, fun gifts. They also make great jewelry boxes. And they are great projects for kids during this (or any other) season.

I paint and then decorate them with paper scraps, twigs, beads, feathers, recycled yarn and ribbons, whatever I have around. The purse handles come from my rusty wire collection.




I fill the purses with small items, mostly things I find around the house: a tiny package of samples from my paper collection, chocolates, barrettes, snappers, buttons, beads, etc.





In the Camp AmeriKids art & crafts room, where I work in the summers, the younger girls have made beautiful egg carton purses. They use the same array of materials, although we spray paint the rusty wires in bright colors. The girls leave them with us to dry, and we surprise them by delivering them to their cabins filled with little treats of small art supplies and candy.

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IMG_2462Happy Easter, Passover, and Spring!

Anonymous, sort of

It’s not unusual for therapy clients to be curious about their therapist’s other clients. In the case of an art therapist, this curiosity Is intensified by the physical evidence, the materials and artwork, left by other clients in the art therapy room.

In the case of an art therapist working in a foster care agency, this curiosity is an ever-present topic. There is a family-like atmosphere in a foster care agency, where foster parents are often relatives or friends or at least acquaintances, and foster children become part of their social circles. Agency staff (case workers, therapists, psychiatrists, medical staff, etc) are shared by many children, which furthers the communal sense. Many of the kids stay in the system for years, so those who were my clients often knew each other, and my teen clients were sometimes good friends. Although kids often feel supported by this sense of community, they often feel exposed and smothered by it too. (Sounds like family, right?) Although they’re curious to know about OTHER clients, they don’t want anyone in THEIR business.

Maintaining boundaries and confidentiality in these circumstances is challenging, with so many interactions and all kinds of scenarios being played out publicly, right in the lobby. But it’s important to try.


I love this cardboard tube piece that hung over the desk in my office because it seems a great metaphor for all these issues around community and privacy. The staff in our medical clinic, just down the hall from me, knew I used a lot of recycled materials, and they began collecting the cardboard tubes from inside the rolls of examining table paper. The tubes turned out to be really appealing to some kids, and they began painting them in their sessions and hanging them up all over the art therapy room. Eventually, when I moved from one office to another, the tubes became consolidated into one hanging. So the various artists are unknown to each other, but yet it imparts a sense of community while revealing nothing else.

More zig zag

Sometimes one thing leads to another.

I have been making a lot of little zig zag books lately. (I wrote a recent post about them.) Then I went to the show of Matisse Cut-outs at the Museum Of Modern Art. It was so gorgeous and inspiring. There’s really no one like Matisse.

Back at home, I was breaking down a carton to recycle and found some cardboard dividers inside. They looked like little pages, so I hung onto them.


The next day, a friend brought me a generous amount of wild-looking leather scraps from a stash someone donated to her community craft workshop. I wouldn’t call them beautiful, but as collage materials they seemed full of possibility.


So I made a zig zag book.



Click to enlarge


Just one more

This week I had the pleasure of going to a Trashion Show at our local Flood Brook School. The show was organized by the school’s amazing art teacher, Casey Bailey, and the designers and models were middle school students. The clothes were made from paper bags, plastic bags, newspaper, and more, and there were some pretty fabulous fashions. These kids taught me a thing or two about brown paper bags! A favorite of mine was a Mad Hatter’s hat made from a grocery bag, and I ran right home to try one myself.



If you want to make one, just start rolling up the bottom of the bag, shape it any way you want, and add decorations as you please. Thanks for the inspiration, kids! Just in time for Halloween.

Brown paper grab bag

A random,  brown paper grocery bag-related grab bag:

1. I keep a stock of cut-open, rolled up grocery bags always. I often use them for drawing paper or other things when I’m working on some kind of project. But they’re also great to protect the table while I’m working with glue, paint, etc. Sometimes a bag gets spattered with paint while I’m working on top of it and looks so great (especially if I’m using my favorite metallic Lumiere paints) that it ends up getting added to my decorative paper stash. (Note the rolled up, used paper towels. If they’re relatively clean after I use them in the kitchen, I put them in the dryer for a few minutes and save them to reuse in the studio.)


2. The folds of the bags make some great shapes when they’re cut apart, and since the paper is strong, the bags can be very sculptural (like the Ilvy Jacobs Foldbags I mentioned in a post the other day). Here’s a castle made from a cut open bag. I glued some cardboard on the back walls to give it some extra strength.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3. There are a lot of brown bags out there that have good designs and images. I have been collecting this store’s bags for years…


…and here’s a Valentine made from a heart that was printed on an old IGA bag. I wish they still made those heart bags.

heart4. A friend who has been following all these brown paper bag posts sent me this link to an engaging little video in which Milton Glaser and Cynthia Rowley talk about the role of brown paper bags in the early development of their art.

Grocery bag fashion

More brown paper grocery bag appreciation today. The strength and body of the bag paper has inspired some designers to create amazing apparel. Here are some favorites.

Artist Cynthia Jensen created a series of paper bag dresses titled Bag Lady. This is Bag Lady 1:

Here’s an origami dress made with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s brown-paper grocery bags from Simply Defined (Green) Project. This artist also makes dresses with newspaper, garbage bags, plastic water bottles, and soda pop cans.

This paper dress found on Seemingly So wasn’t technically made from shopping bags, but it’s got an interesting story, so I thought I could cheat a little and include it. Nathalie Graafland, curator of the blog, writes, “Scott Paper Company created this paper dress in 1966, intended as a marketing tool. For one dollar, women could buy the dress and also receive coupons for Scott paper products. The paper dress wasn’t an invention meant to be taken seriously, but women surprised the company by ordering half a million of these dresses in under a year.”

And finally, for accessorizing, here are some Foldbags from designer Ilvy Jacobs. Foldbags were made by reshaping regular brown paper bags and creating a new silhouette. Jacobs says, “By transforming its usual shape I try to make it stand out and hopefully it will be cherished instead of being just thrown away.”

Tomorow: The king of paper bag art!

Brown paper grocery bag awareness week!

Today and all this week, I am celebrating one of my favorite art materials, the ubiquitous, free, and versatile brown paper grocery bag. Whether plain or printed, these sacks present endless possibilities. Today: Books!

I regularly make notebooks out of brown bags, either by sewing the bindings on my sewing machine or by stapling them. I prefer plain bags, but my local grocery store has printed bags, and I use them anyway. It’s tough paper, good for collage, and I love the color. The books are great to have on hand for children, who often like having their own books to work in. The paper is good for collage and craypas, and kids also like using them as scrapbooks to collect their drawings. The bags are large enough to make good-sized pages.


You can get much fancier, though! Here’s a lovely little book from Carolyn at homework:

This little 8-page book was made from a single sheet cut from a brown bag paper.

falg bookAnd lastly, here’s a little magazine collage book mounted on a twig frame, made, as you can see, a lot of years ago.

book1The bag paper is rugged and has retained it’s original bag creases. These photos were taken this weekend, and I think the sturdy bag paper held up pretty well all these years, with a bit of curling.







Clearly, this is not paper for fine finished work, but if you work with kids, and found materials are important to you, it’s good stuff.

Tomorrow: High fashion!

Collecting as an art process

Many of us collect things, all kinds of things. Some people love to display their collections. For others, it’s more about classifying and arranging, maybe a way of making sense of the world around them.

And then there are artists for whom the collecting is a central part of the art process. Photographer Barry Rosenthal is a junk collector after my own heart, but he takes collecting to a new level in his series Found In Nature.

Green Containers

Straws, Brooklyn, NY

In an interview with Feature Shoot, he said this about his creative process:

From collecting comes inspiration for new ideas and pieces. Collecting is the foundation of the project. I collect everything myself. I collect only from coastal areas that have an immediate connection to the ocean. Periodic collecting is a means of renewing the project. I seem to pick up energy from collecting to carry me further with my work.

Blue Ocean

Collecting is the first step in a creative cycle. Finding a theme, sorting the objects, combining objects, building a composition, filling a space, and finding a lighting solution are steps I go through to make a piece. At some point in building the composition or sculpture some intangible emotional feeling is imparted to the piece. There is an intimacy between the objects and myself. Intimacy transforms into soul.


Forks Knives Spoons

I have learned that plastic is forever. Breaking down plastic pollution into ever smaller bits is not a solution. Plastic must be removed from the environment and not allowed to cover the oceans and land. The oceans need advocates. I do a small part to further the visibility of ocean-borne pollution. Education is important in showing what is already in the environment. I’m an artist. I didn’t start out to make a political statement with my work. I was attracted to these ‘lost’ objects. The work continues to evolve. I want to make a statement about contemporary archeology. We are what we produce.

Oil, Alcohol and Drugs

You can find more of Rosenthal’s Found in Nature series here.

Barry Rosenthal

Junk sculptures

I’m someone who loves to collect discarded stuff to use for art materials.  The fact that I find these things in the course of my everyday life gives my work another layer of personal meaning. The ingredients in my work tend to have some history: the wrapping paper from a friend’s baby shower, the abandoned nest from under the eave, the wires collected on dog walks in Central Park.

Over the years, I have encouraged kids that I’ve worked with to collect things that they find in the course of their days, and they have created some beautiful works with those materials. Here are two of my favorites.


The Lonely Sailor 

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