Monday #6: Trash Talkin’

Meet my beautiful garbage.

Tea bag packages, peel tops from cans of bread crumbs, gold and silver candy trays, twist-ties, tissue paper from shirt and shoe boxes, beach tags, ticket stubs, candy wrappers, clothing tags cereal boxes, old maps and more.  Before you call the producers of a hoarding show, you should know that I do two things to keep my trash-packratting in check: I keep all my things stacked neatly in my studio, not my living space, in designated boxes, cleaned, straightened and folded; and I share them readily with others who turn them into works of art (well, except for the really pretty garbage… there are a few items I keep just for myself). 🙂

Yesterday afternoon I taught a workshop at the annual conference of the AENJ (Art Educators of New Jersey) called “Upcycled Mini-Books.” Upcycling, as opposed to recycling, is the term used by artisans who turn trash to treasure–and there are lots of them out there who make stuff that you would honestly never believe was on its way to the rubbish bin.  I’ve been doing this session with educators for a year now but yesterday was the first time with art teachers.  I stuffed as much of my stash as I could into a big, roller suitcase that I took with me to New Brunswick and spread it out on the table.  They were excited to begin and I had to stop a couple of them from grabbing their supplies before showing the video tutorial I’d prepared. (Attendees: Handout is at the bottom of this post).

As you might guess… art teachers? Well, they took it up a notch.

The finished books speak for themselves.  Are you ready?  Here are some of the beautiful, handmade books that were made in just an hour from a pile of my nice garbage.

Plus, they totally had fun.

You need not be an artist to make these beautiful books and at my recent Summer Institute, one of the only complaints from the group of classroom teachers was that there wasn’t enough time to finish the Upcycled Books before the next workshop session.  As an artist, I have a love of aesthetic craft but, as an educator, I see past the oooh, pretty and begin thinking about all sorts of curricular applications, not just with literacy, for which there would be many, but also in just about any other discipline.  From the offering above I see nature observations for science lessons,  hero and presidential explorations in social studies, and counting and fractions in mathematics, not to mention the whole environmental theme that encompasses these type of projects.

One really great thing about this project is that there’s no right or wrong way to make them and they all turn out as different as their creators.  My tutorials are only suggestions for each individual to think about before jumping into their own imaginative problem-solving.  I think this provides all kinds of kids and grownups, not only with the opportunity for success, but, maybe more importantly, for a renewed vision of the world of consumerism and packaging.

One of my attendees said she conducted a similar lesson in her art classes where the kids made jewelry out of aluminum cans and other “hard” junk.  She told me that one of her biggest frustrations was getting these 21st Century kids to bring materials into class.  Today’s children are often sheltered from things like garbage, and I find that they can be quite germaphobic and unaware of where their stuff comes from.  She told them to search their homes for junk and they just didn’t get it.  This will be no wonder to anyone who is able to contrast a home (like mine!) that has never had a housekeeper and actually looks like there are people and animals living in it to one that looks like it is ready for a Better Homes & Garden photo shoot each and every day. Mind you, I love a clean and tidy house (though it can only exist like that for approximately six hours in my world, and this is when the kids are away at school and the dogs are at the groomer), but I’m thinking that all kids should have some messy fun with stuff that doesn’t cost a penny and turns out awesome.

Oscar, you tell ’em.

TRY THIS WEEK:  Think about your garbage in a new way… what could it be? Are you recycling as much as you could?

Attendee Stuff: Diana Trout has the awesome web site full of tutorials and a great lesson for the the old book cover portfolio, the fun toy I brought with me was the Buddha Board and can be found on Amazon for $28, and here’s the  AENJ Handout 2011, complete with the eight-line poem lesson plan.  Thanks for coming to my session! It was lots of fun!

About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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5 Responses to Monday #6: Trash Talkin’

  1. Cathie Pesa says:

    Dar- great use of recyclables- Look up a book I use when in preschool- “Beautiful Stuff”

  2. Dar Hosta says:

    Wow, just checked it out on Amazon… great suggestion, Cathie! Thanks!

  3. Julia says:

    Your post was so timely! I’ve been working of something very similar here in Las Vegas. Your enthusiasm for sparking the creative spirit in others really shines. Thanks for sharing this!

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  5. Lauren Schwarzenbek says:

    Hi Dar,
    I absolutely LOVED the AENJ workshop and am going to teach the lesson with my High School Crafts class in two weeks. I tried to find the youtube video you showed us, but I can’t find it. The only upcycled book video I could find was the squish squash book. I just want to make sure I’m not lost in youtube world….is it up yet?

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