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Craft Optimism – April 24–May 1

April 20, 2021

I am honored to be included in Craft Optimism, an online marketplace organized by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee and Honoring the Future (presented on Bidsquare, April 24 – May 1, 2021) that focuses on U.S. handcrafts made with processes that respect the environment and conveying messages of environmental responsibility, especially as they relate to climate change. The surcharge for sales through the Smithsonian Women’s Committee will go toward grants, outreach, and research.

For this show, I am offering my recycled birds and related sculptures. At first, the birds were just easily repeatable and dynamic forms that leant themselves to this project. As I have made hundreds of them over the past few years, I have come to think of them as messengers that fly from my studio out into the world, spreading the word about recycling and climate change and starting conversations about what we discard and how to think about our material world differently. I also like to think of how my creating these birds echoes how birds collect materials for their homes, limited to what they can find in their immediate vicinity, by fortune and with a keen knowledge of what they can use to make an effective vessel to perpetuate their species.

Recycled birds covered with chopstick wrappers

My Recycled Birds project continues, with ever more birds covered with a wide range of found materials (mostly used papers). The individual birds are mostly made from toilet paper rolls, junk mail postcards, packing newsprint, and reused wire from workshops or reclaimed spines of spiral notebooks.

Photos of process here.

I have expanded the bird theme, to perch some of them on individual found objects

Or provide nests for them made from stick-like materials

I have even bypassed the birds and started making eggs to go in the nests.

Twist tie nest with rose petal-covered eggs

Project 1 – paper envelopes (March 16)

March 15, 2020


Security envelopes

Paper Envelopes

[Suggested Instagram tags: @beyondgarbageproject, #beyondgarbageproject, #paperenvelopes, #recycledart, #reducereuserecycle, #spreadartnotfear]

The first material for the Beyond Garbage reboot is paper envelopes. I thought I’d start here because many people are used to thinking of paper as an art material. But used envelopes will limit your options a bit. Try to use that to your advantage!

Take a moment to explore what makes an envelope an envelope, How are they made? Why are they the certain sizes? Why are they paper (and what other materials are they made of)? What qualities does paper have that make them ideal as envelopes (or not)?

Before you start making, think about how you can use the rough deconstructed edges, security windows, rounded edges, color, stamps, etc., to make your work.

Try not to paint or draw on the surface – use what the envelopes offer instead of treating the paper as a surface to embellish. As pictured above, security envelopes give you a printed pattern to incorporate into your work. Of course, you are welcome to go ahead and make collages with glue and draw or paint all over the surface, but let yourself be challenged for a bit before you jump into what may feel like a more familiar use of paper.

Try to use only the envelopes – no glue or tape. Opportunity! If you have any return envelopes from mail you received, they have unused gummed flaps that you can use that as an adhesive without adding glue to your project.

Don’t forget that paper is a material, not just a surface – what happens when you wet it? Etc.

Can you find a way to add a quality of movement to what you make?

What happens if you make multiples of a simple simple form?


bend, cut, fold, fly, hide, hole, layer, opaque, pattern, rattle, rip, rustle, shadow, surprise, symmetry, transform, translucent, transparent, weave, wet, wrinkle


Reused materials: envelope, toilet paper roll, postcard, packing paper, tissue paper, found wire. Additional materials: tape and glue

This bird is one of my recycled birds that I make for the Material World Studio site.  I offer it here as an example of something that reuses many other materials (you see – even I don’t always follow the “rules”!), but takes advantage of special qualities of fancy envelopes – edges, interior vs exterior, etc.


Rebooting and expanding this project in light of COVID-19

March 15, 2020

Come one, come all! Let’s play with reusable materials as they pile up in our houses and we all need constructive and creative things to do!

I am rebooting the Beyond Garbage Project as a virtual collective repository for people interested in using reusing materials for art (anyone – kids, adults, not just artists!). It showcases what we are making at home with the clean garbage we are creating during our relative isolation during the COVID-19 global pandemic and, I hope, beyond. The information that is already on this site can be used as a resource (see the Materials section and links) and I welcome any suggestions of other sites and resources to link in the Resources section.

I am restarting regular updates by uploading posts with new weekly (at least) materials prompts. If you have an idea for which materials to use (especially ones that are likely to be produced by many households). We will revisit some of the categories from 2009, since that was a LONG time ago and we just scratched the surface then.

It may take a little while for me to finesse the logistics of rebooting this blog and figuring out the best way to sort and post entries, so I appreciate your patience and welcome suggestions as we go forward!

Consider this preparation for Earth Day, April 22, and let’s brainstorm something we can do collectively for that day.

Let’s join to make a creative community focused on reducing household waste and exploring the changing world we live in.


Plastic Fabric – post from 2015

January 27, 2020

[finally posted – since I have so much more to say now and realized I had never finalized this draft!]

I have been exploring how to reuse plastic shopping bags, sheeting (from packaging), and film (from dry cleaning), and newspaper sleeves for a few years now. I first talked about it here back in 2009 – one of the first posts on this blog! – and gave some information about my process, which really hasn’t changed much.


Strung fused folded “beads” with metallic acrylic paint on black shopping bags

Later, I added a post about making jewelry out of the sheets. Back then, I was making pretty straightforward units that I strung onto cords or neck wires.

I started adding more layers and more paint – getting as interested in the fabric Was creating as the forms I was making using that fabric.

I also started paying more attention to which kinds of plastic work better for the various layers and how to accommodate for or control shrinkage. One issue to pay attention to is that plastic bags are now being made to biodegrade, and the more biodegradable variations fuse less successfully (not surprising). Also, shinier, thick shopping bags don’t fuse well. I have found that the piece will be more stable if I use thick sheeting as a base. It isn’t always easy to find and is often used to protect larger shipped items, like new appliances, or to wrap artwork in shipment. So I have my eyes open for nice thick sheeting! [Guess what I found – will post about this pronto!] But playing around with less reliable combinations can yield beautiful results as well. Here is an image of some more complex sheets, waiting to be cut up.


I began to sew cut elements as well, forming necklaces and earrings.


Time to post more about it!

More Recycled Birds

January 9, 2018

Amazing. Where did 2017 go? I have been making work like crazy, but somehow not posting about it. Time to catch up!


Finders Keepers

After the Zeitgeist show at Hillyer Arts Space (now International Arts and Artists at Hillyer – IA&A at Hillyer), I kept on making birds. The larger forms I started making, including the crow for the Zeitgeist show, took a back seat to an explosion of smaller birds.

img_3257I participated in the Maker Faire Northern Virginia in late March, where I presented an exhibit called Spinning Straw into Gold – Making Art with Upcycled Materials in which I showed how to make small bird bodies using a toilet paper roll and a postcard (plus tape). After spending 8 hours making the same form over and over again, I had figured out how subtle variations in the structure created a good range of character. I had a great time working with visitors as young as 5 years old, explaining the magic of transforming simple shapes – a cylinder and a rectangle – into a complex, recognizable form.


Japanese and Korean paper is wonderfully soft and easy to apply to the 3D forms – I rarely break my rule of reusing materials, even these outer coverings.

For the rest of the spring and summer, I experimented with different kinds of paper coverings, including wrapping papers, candy and cookie packaging, and catalogues.

I also decided to expand past paper into other found materials that might challenge the viewer a bit more, as they figure out what they are looking at: rose petals and hornet nest “paper.”

I am continuing to experiment with new outer materials, and I am drifting back toward larger forms as well. Longer-term plans include placing the birds in more complicated contexts, like Finders Keepers, including building a chopstick nest for another chopstick wrapper bird.


The adventure continues!




Finders Keepers

March 6, 2017


I was invited to make a piece for a show called Zeitgeist IV – Preconceptual that opened at the Hillyer Art Space in March. I was given the word “appropriation” as a prompt. That is not a topic I usually consider in my work.  So I decided to go for it and make a piece that really examined appropriation, of all kinds.


I made a crow, another in my series of  recycled birds. Crows are often thought to steal objects for their nests, especially shiny objects. I did some research and found o

ut something intriguing—it is a mistaken assumption

that crows are thieves more than any other birds.

First the crow was covered with plain newspaper, as many of the other birds in my series had been. But I knew it would have to be black in order to read more as a crow. I started to collect black advertisements from newspapers to make a second layer of strips for the bird. And then, after Inauguration Day 2017, I was packing newspapers for recycling, and I noticed that both the New York Times and Washington Post had run full-page images of President Trump that were almost all black. SO I decided to cover the crow with those images of the Appropriator in Chief – who likes to collect shiny things and shows little regard for how his collecting affects others.


Then I started to collect objects for the nest. I limited myself to only found objects – appropriated both in terms of how they were acquired and in the fact that I tried to include mostly things that have a culturally appropriative reference as well.

I call it “Finders Keepers” as a comment on how people like to choose the bits they find appealing and often ignore the deeper potential meanings of their choices, either to themselves or to others.


Here is the list of materials that went into the final piece.

Found materials:


  • Abandoned garden tools from a community playground build site (two shovels and a rake)
  • Reused packaging twist ties
  • Sticks gathered from a garden
  • Bamboo planting stake
  • Daylily leaves
  • Two vine Christmas wreaths reclaimed from the garbage
  • Aluminum bonsai training wire


  • Toilet paper rolls, raisins box, wire hanger, strips of newspaper from Inauguration Day 2017 (full-page images of President Donald Trump)

Objects in Nest

  • Blown egg covered with Hannukah gelt wrappers
  • Blown egg covered with strips of German bible pages
  • Traditional Medicinals herbal tea bag
  • Sprig of discarded Christmas tree branch
  • Native American reservation fundraiser dream catcher
  • Rubber Buddha eraser
  • Skull keyring
  • Sage smudge stick
  • Temporary “henna tattoos”
  • Plastic lei
  • Gold origami paper crane
  • String of Tibetan prayer flags
  • Strip of sari silk
  • Strip of printed “kente cloth”
  • Bamboo chopsticks
  • Red kabbalah bracelet
  • Child’s glasses
  • Replica Republic of Texas money
  • Spun newspaper
  • Electronics plus and cord
  • “Keep this Coupon” coupon
  • Keys
  • Marcasite (“fool’s gold”)


March 6, 2017


How did I start on the birds? I was preparing for a papier mache workshop – showing the pre-school teachers at Washington International School how to  make vessels and sculptures using tissue paper and newspaper over armatures. I had to make a few samples to show the sculptural technique, so I made a couple of mockups to show the steps, using toilet paper rolls and other cards stock, like food cartons, and wire.

I had so much fun making the demos, that I kept on going. Starting with random strips of newspaper.


Then, I started covering them with other materials – all found and recycled, and they took on themes.


First, I made the newspaper strips more specific, using just the comics. Then, I used pages from a discarded German bible (found in a restaurant in Chicago).


Next, I made songbirds covered with strips of old sheet music


… and hymnals.

Next, strips of flyers, left over from Chinese New Year (2017 is the year of the Rooster, so I made a chick).


To be continued.

Upcycling workshop at WIS

March 16, 2016

This week, I got to work with two lively and creative groups of middle schoolers at Washington International School.

We used recyclable “clean” trash to make collages, inspired in part by my beach find collages from last month. We used paper, plastic, and metal materials to create ecology- and recycling-related symbols as well as free-form collages with no glue or tape so that we could preserve them through photos and then deconstruct them and recycle the materials at the end of the day.

They came up with some wonderful ideas!  Here is sampling of their work!

Some of the most fun (for me) was seeing how their ideas evolved as they explored the material.




Peace in the sea.jpg

garbage family



Baltimore ACC – always a treasure trove

March 14, 2016

… for art made with reused materials. In February, the American Crafts Council holds on of the larger crafts show in the country, with both wholesale and retail days and hundreds of artists.

One of my favorite artists in that category this year was Devin Johnson of Makeshift Accessories in Minnesota. His booth was packed with innovative uses for salvaged materials, including rings made from metal measuring tapes and signage.


Ruler rings

His bracelets made from industrial flooring and license plates were what drew me into the booth.


License plate bracelet

After a nice stroll through his fascinating booth, my eye fell on an amazing collection of bracelets made from salvage metal from a WWII German Messerschmitt Me109 downed by US flak 1945 and reclaimed from a boggy area near Schoenberg.

One bracelet in particular was the one I couldn’t resist. Ah, a piece of history and a gorgeous object!





Vacation finds … beach plastic

March 14, 2016

In February, I made a trip to visit dear friends who have retired to Eleuthera, Bahamas, and to scope out a possible project about how coastal communities’ lives are affected by changes in the ocean, including increasing garbage in the water and on the shores and changing marine life migration and availability.


Eleuthera is a long, thin island with beaches running along both the Atlantic and the Caribbean side.

I took some lovely long walks along the island’s many beaches and, especially on the Atlantic side, I found a stunning amount of plastic garbage washed ashore.

I collected the more durable and colorful pieces (only a very few of which are in the image to the left) with thoughts of making a jewelry series (which I still may do). In the meantime, I was visiting during Valentine’s Day, so I made a collage using the warm colors:


Then, since I had so much fun with that image, I made a few fish collages. Perhaps I will use cards with these images to help raise awareness of the problem of plastic in the oceans.



And now I am inspired to make more! One small bag of plastic yields many possibilities. To be continued….