The Thrifty Artist
On a budget or believe strongly in re-using, recycling and re-purposing? Often supplies become expensive as trends catch and shops specialize. Here you’ll find alternatives and basics, innovative ideas, methods and uses for ordinary and not so ordinary art supplies and tools, primarily for textile and paper arts. Please feel free to contribute!
Ya want cheap fabric? It’s small pieces, but if you look around you can find 100% cotton at the auto and workshop suppliers. I lucked into a package of a dozen 18×18 white flannelette “shop towels” that will take dye beautifully, perfect for small projects or dye and paint experimentation. They also come in bright red! Regular price was 4.88, but i got them for half, on sale. They also have very interesting “10 lb rag bags”, in miscellaneous fabrics, colours and prints for anywhere from 5-10 bucks, perfect if you’re interested in “used” looking :}
I’m washing half the package of the white right away to check shrinkage, trying some dye on a few others and plan on using them in some of The Artist’s Body series, as the texture is soft and worn looking, but still strong enough to be manipulated as they are new.
MAKING A SHOPPING LIST
Water based varathane. I’ve been using the “conventional” one, but it’s a pain in the ass to clean with a solvent, and i’ve ruined a lot of brushes. While some might not appreciate the plasticy feel it imparts, it has its uses and is quite versatile. And note she does point out you can buy it at most hardware/building supply stores. I use Varathane on paper and fabric, but what interests me about this variation, is that i could use it to form things with, much like “Stiffy” or Paverpol.
This place, Stockade, was pointed out by MaryAnne–i wonder if i could get my mother to go shopping for me????? (It’s in my hometown!) I try to buy from Canadian stores as much as possible, and Canadian products if i can, but given that most of the materials i buy are made over the border somewhere, i can at least keep some of my money “in country”.
Don’t forget that the hardware and building supply stores are a mecca too for a creative eye—at Princess Auto, i’ve bought soldering irons, wire of all sorts and gauges, interesting metal bits (look in the “horsey/farm” section too!), an incredible heat gun, eyelets and grommets, washers, storage containers, excellent craft knife sets, tyvek and tape–look in the paint section, the welding area, the nuts and bolts bins, the hand tools—it’s THE best place for “hardware” of any sort! Look in the “mis-tint” area of the paint areas—often they’ll have cans of strange unique colours that someone else thought was “useless”. Just as good and cheaper than gesso—-buy the latex though, unless you know the enamel kind can be used on something you have an idea for. (Hint: thicken it with a wee bit of instant mashed potatoes–add a drop of bleach to prevent mold.)
The best kind of “shopping” of course, is the kind you do on walks—–I nabbed a couple of the empty cat litter packages (the big plastic bucket kind) and am filling them with sticks, stones, rusty bits, rubber scraps, feathers, shells, wood scraps, anything that catches my fancy. I keep the “natural” stuff in one and the man made in the other. Neater, less obtrusive and safer than poking in boxes or bags or stumbling over old gears and twigs.
My Granny, Sadie Tilley, used to say ” Use it up, wear it out. Make it do, or do without.” She was a very wise woman:} I used to do a lot of my shopping either in the “free box” or the thrift stores as my budget was extremely limited for anything beyond the basic necessities. A yard of fabric bought new was a guilty extravagance and couldn’t cost me more than 2.98! As a single mother, i was very good at pinching pennies and proud of what i could create from “nothing”—-and i’m equally as proud to go back to that sensibility now!
Belinda Spiwak has a plethora of ideas for reusing and recycling items to add interest to your “green” wall hangings.
* Used Tyvek® envelopes can be painted, glittered, and manipulated. You can change Tyvek’s shape by putting a heat gun to it.
* Dryer sheets can be painted (both sides) and put under the heat gun to dissolve parts of it. This will create the most wondrous holes and give the sheets a stiffer texture.
* Caution: Be sure to do any burning outside or in a well-ventilated area while wearing a respirator.
* Paper towels can be used as an alternative to fabric. They can be dyed and painted; add mica for shimmer. Tip: Dry iron for a softer feel to the paper towel.
* Postmarked envelopes can be cut up and sewn on. You may want to adhere muslin or another thin fabric to the back for added stability.
* Take a second look at old clothing before donating it to charity. Can you cut off the closures such as buttons, zippers, clasps, or snaps to use in future projects? How about the fabric itself? Does it have a great feel, rich color, or cool pattern? A novel way to use any type of fabric is to turn it inside out and use the “wrong” side.
* Cut up and re-use old upholstery fabric, draperies, placemats, and tablecloths. Cut the scrap pieces of paper or fabric into smaller sized tags or shapes. You can also create mini-mosaics.
* Cut or tear old fabrics into thin strips and use as an alternative to new ribbon or yarn.
* Root around the garage or tool box for small, old, rusty, and broken pieces that you can sew on as embellishments. Do the same thing with your sewing supplies. You will be amazed at what you will find. Look at the things you’ve had forever and never used, or did not know what to do with. They just might complete the look of your wall hanging.
* Leftover tea or coffee can be used to dye your muslin or paper. The stronger the tea or coffee the deeper the color. Add more water if you want a fainter look. Spray on the coffee or tea with a water bottle or use a paint brush to apply the liquid. You can also dip the paper into a container with the tea or coffee but remove it quickly so the paper does not start to dissolve.
* Tip: Wet the muslin with water first so it will accept the coffee or tea more readily. Let the tea or coffee pool in areas so you will have darker, splotchy areas. Spread on old newspapers to dry.
* Take a second look at children’s game parts and small toys before you retire them. Save them as embellishments or use them as charms.
* A broken clock, old typewriter, or other electronic device can be taken apart and the smaller parts used.
* Anything metal or wood can be painted or cut down to add to your wall hanging.
* Save the metal parts and fittings from old purses and totes to be used as embellishments.
* When you are painting paper, fabric, or embellishments, line your work surface with muslin first to catch the drips. You can later add more paint to the muslin to be used in your wall hanging.
* If you are having work done on your house, ask for scraps of leftover metal or other building materials.
* Brown packing paper and tissue paper can be crumpled, then painted as a colorful background to your wall hanging. Crumple and straighten the paper a couple of times. You can spray on the paint or brush on a thin acrylic wash. Add a little Pearl Ex powder to the wash to give it a little extra shimmer or use with mica or another sparkly element. Stamp on the paper with permanent ink and repeated images of the same stamp for added interest to your wall hanging.
* Old costume jewelry, chains, pendants, charms, and spacers make nice additions to your work. I have often bought jewelry on clearance for the sole purpose of making it into something else.
* When you have your next art play date, ask your art friends to take a look around your house for ideas on items to incorporate into your art. They might see something that you might have missed because you see it everyday. A fresh view might help you repurpose something or reconsider it for an art project.
And what’s the point here? I was going to throw these chests out, creating waste, though wood does break down, but also guilt! Instead, i have saved money, got sturdy frames to repurpose for my textile art projects and saved money!
Try other sources for “framing” as well–old bicycle wheels with spokes removed, or not, cupboard doors with the middles knocked/cut out, old window frames, hubcaps, rusty car parts, wire hangers covered in fabric/paper/yarns/beads,kitchen utensils–look at strainers and cheese graters :}
What else can you think of? Contribute!
a. PlastiDip—-comes in colours or clear, spray on or paint on—look in the hardware store near the tools—it’s mostly used for dipping the handles of tools in to give the worker a better grip. Made by a BC company, it’s quite cost effective.
b. Rug back coating–same premise.
c. Kitchenware sections of department stores and dollar stores often have a thin pliable roll of a rubbery mat that looks meshlike—soles could be cut from this and stitched on. Comes in many colours and is dirt cheap.
d. Hit the thrift stores and reuse old shoes and slipper soles–assuming they are in good condition and the right size and a good price, this is a fab way to re purpose/recycle.
2. Decorator samples are often available at drapery and upholstery outlets. They are usually small, can be quite expensive yardages when bought by the metre, but cheap as an “end of the roll”. Some places will also have samples that were sent by a manufacturer and they may sell those as well.
3. Local dressmakers and tailors can be a good source of scraps as well. Offer something in return, or be prepared to pay if they request a little “something”.
4. Always recycle clothing and household linens!! Memory items, special occassions and your taste can make your art for giving or keeping a more personal work of art.
5. Recycle any gift ribbons, tags, papers, faux flowers and seasonal decor from presents and floral arrangements. Right after Christmas is a good time to hit specialty shops for these items as most places would love to not have to “carry the inventory” until the next holiday!
6. Trims–hit the thrift shops: grab those old linens, special occassion dresses and curtains. Consider the cost of the materials—if you can’t see paying 5 bucks for one special bead or bit of lace that was used to embellish….. Check the jewellry and belts sections also: even broken bits can be re-purposed.
7. If you paint your own fabrics, save the cloths you use to wipe your brushes or that are being used as a work area. Often with the addition of stencilling, or stamping, these can be very unique and completely original!
7b. You can use less expensive acrylic paints on fabric IF you add a textile medium. Golden sells a big bottle that you can judiciously mix with your acrylics, at a ratio of one to one. I find the most cost effective way to do this is to use a small measuring spoon. I generally add 1 teaspoon to the same amount of paint, mix well and that gives enough for a small area. Adjust your quantities as you need, though i find it better to do less than i think i need as it does cover a surprisingly large area. Remember to heat set!!!!
1. landscape cloth–comes in different weights and widths and is perfect for painting and stitching on, using as interfacing/stiffening or for dimensional work.
2.plastic tubing–great for purse handles, stuffing with yarn or coloured scraps, for mixed media
3.slug strips–copper coated, good for embossing with a dull pencil, hammering or sewing– a blow torch will change the colour but use all safety precautions!!!!
4.bamboo—there are two kinds–one is sold usually as “decor” and is long (up to 8′) and hollow–cut it up and use halved pieces for multimedia–use for framing, stuff it, whatever! The other is the green “stake” type, narrow and shorter–paint it, wrap it, tie it together.
5. pond liner–a very flexible rubber—use your imagination!
6.pea and bean netting–netting is netting!
7.trellises and tomato cages–great armatures or frameworks
1.Heat guns can be purchased at most craft stores. A less expensive option is one from a “manly” tool store. I bought a brand of heat gun (PowerFist) used for stripping paint and other “professional applications” at Princess Auto (Canada only)–it has 2 heat settings, 700F/375C or 920F/495C, and came with 4 nozzles for heat dispersement. It’s a lot hotter than a regular craft gun, but heat is heat–respect the tool, use carefully and experiment with cautionary situations! I rest it on a brick so i can safely reposition or work on something else. Use a power bar as well—when you are done, turn off the gun AND the power bar.
2.Soldering irons are inexpensive and easy to use. Again, you can buy the fancydancy one at the craft shop with all the different tips, or you can invest in a decent one from the tool department. A soldering iron can be treated as a pencil would–draw with it, angle it for different shapes, apply with different pressures. Again, rest on a brick for safety and use the power bar. Clean the tip regularly with steel wool or fine sandpaper when cool.
3.The cheapest Pyro tool is incense! You will have to keep relighting it, and it’s best to have a container of water near by, and to work your project on something that is nonflammable. Sinks and tubs, or driveways are good for this!
4.A candle may also be used, but i feel it’s the least safe tool of all—flames happen fast and serious injury to yourself and your work can happen.
5.If you wish to use your iron, use parchment paper as a presscloth–it’s cheap, easily available at grocery stores in the baking or sandwich wrap section, and is re-useable in many cases. Rather than accidentally gunk up your iron and your clothes in subsequent use, buy a cheap iron and use it solely for your heat work.
- Brown paper bags—-crumple and paint, fuse to backgrounds, dye, distress, tear, weave, mold—heavy enough to hold its form when dry. Can look like leather or sueded silk if treated properly!
- Plastic bags—cut into rough strips and weave, knit, crochet, twist into ropes and cordings. If you have a basic sewing machine with a zigzag stitch, you can zigzag over the twisted strips for more stability. Coil them, stitch them together, form vessels and sculptural elements. Press with an iron —USE A PRESSCLOTH in the form of parchment paper under and over before attempting this! Burn holes with a soldering iron, incense stick or heat gun—use standard precautions for safety when heating, melting and burning *anything*!
- Plastic from containers and bottles—-punch holes, weave strips, use as “stiffener” for nonwashable items, or as bottoms of bags that can be washed.
Lace pieces together. Stitch on chunks. Melt together various colours and shapes.
- Lutrador. The new “Buzz” material. It can be painted, dyed, stitched, treated as any fabric would be, melted and burnt. A non woven polyester paperlike product, it is available from specialty shops–or you can make a daring raid on your local florist and ask to buy pieces of their “rice paper”, used for wrapping flowers. MUCH cheaper this way, available in many colours, some with gold or silver threads shot through, and often in several “weights”.
- Miscellaneous plastics—cellophane, candy wrappers, floral wrap sleeves.