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Making Art from Recycled Materials

written by: Jennifer Claerr•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 10/23/2013

If you want to create recycled art, there are plenty of materials to choose from. Reusing materials in art projects can save energy and reduce carbon emissions. Recycled materials can also save you money on art supplies.

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    The Basics

    Recycled items are some of the best materials for making eco-friendly art. Creating recycled art can help to conserve natural resources such as wood, paper and glass.

    Since most recycled materials are very cheap or free, they can significantly reduce the cost of your art projects. It also takes less energy to reuse materials than to recycle them into something new. Making recycled art is a particularly good activity to do together with your kids. It can help them to learn about art and about recycling to protect the planet.

    There are many different painting, drawing, sculpture and other art projects that you can make with recycled materials. Be sure to save everything you use that could feasibly be recycled, such as newspaper, magazines, scrap paper, wood, cardboard, plastic bottles and bags, glass bottles and jars, metal cans, utensils, toys, jewelry and old clothing. Ask your friends and family if they have any recyclable items they want to get rid of. Before you get started, sort and organize your recyclables, then thoroughly wash and dry materials such as cans and clothing.

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    Making Paper Mache Art

    Cardboard makes an ideal base for paper mache art. You can cut it with a box cutter or a craft blade. However, don't allow children to handle these tools, or they might cut themselves. If kids will be cutting the recycled cardboard, have them use scissors instead.

    Chipboard from cereal boxes or gift boxes may be easier to cut and works just as well as corrugated cardboard in recycled art projects.

    • Use tape or staples to build a base from the cardboard.
    • Then mix up some wallpaper paste with water or mix one part flour with two parts water to create the paper mache paste.
    • Tear up strips of newspaper and dip them into the paste.
    • Place the paper mache strips over the base, overlapping them.
    • Allow the paper mache to dry for about a day and use leftover paints from other projects to decorate it.

    Some ideas for art to make out of paper mache include decorative masks and sculptures of things like human figures, animals and trees. When painting your paper mache art, try to use leftover paint that otherwise would be discarded.

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    Making Mosaic or Collage Art

    The easiest way to make mosaics or collage art from recycled materials is by using old magazines, newspapers and advertising flyers. Cut out various pictures from the recycled paper and arrange them in an attractive pattern. More advanced artists can use these pieces of paper to create a recognizable image such as a person, an animal, an object or a building.

    To do this:

    • Cut out the paper in light, dark, and different colored patches.
    • Then, using a picture or a still life as a guide, arrange the paper pieces so that they match the patterns of light, dark and color that you see in your subject.
    • Use glue to adhere the pieces to a recycled surface.

    Broken tile or glass can also be to create mosaics, but children should not be allowed to handle the broken pieces directly.

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    Making Sculptures

    Recycled wood is also a good material for creating sculptures. Old furniture and tree trimmings can provide you with a source of material. You can even use old tools that you'd ordinarily discard to carve and shape the wood. However, be careful that you don't use carving tools that are damaged, rusty or have rough or jagged edges.

    For best results, use a 3-dimensional still life as a guide for carving your sculpture. Then use some recycled sandpaper to sand it down. Be sure to reuse your sandpaper several times to get the most mileage out of it.

    Another idea is to use cans to build a sculpture. Recycled aluminum and tin cans such as soda, vegetable and coffee cans work best. Use them to build anything you like, such as a robot, a person or an animal. Tape or glue them together, then use leftover house paint or old clothes to decorate them. You can involve older kids in these projects, but supervise them closely when working with carving tools and paint.

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    These are just a few of the art projects you can make with recycled materials. If you get creative you can come up with plenty more ideas for reusing items that you have lying around.

    For more ideas on making art with recycled material, read Craft Project: Make an Airplane from Recycled Paper and Craft Project: Make a Fish from a Recycled Bottle.

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    United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: