Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Sculpture Theory and Resources

Reusing Materials

Sara Ottomano

In the Art Studio, we are always looking to reuse materials from past art projects. Not only is this practice environmentally and budget friendly, but it is also a creative challenge to use materials more than once. It can be a bit more labor intensive when done on a large-scale, but we find that it is well worth the time and effort. See below an example of how we go about deconstructing mobiles to try and reuse as many supplies as possible. 

This spring, we needed to switch over our window installations for a new display. To make room, we took down over 50 found material sculptures left behind by guests. We collected them in large bins, and during quiet moments in the studio, began to take them apart to reuse.

Two found material sculptures of a bird and flying person, made from warm and neutral-colored materials.
To start, we cut off any attachment materials like tape or yarn. This allows us to pull the materials apart and better assess what shape the supplies are in.
A pair of scissors cutting a loop of yarn from a sculpture.
While deconstructing, it is also interesting to see how people chose to create their sculptures. When I was taking apart this bird mobile, I noticed how the artist used a thin piece of paper to tie together the wings. The act of deconstruction helps us better appreciate the artwork that was made and techniques used.
A hand folding back a paper wing to reveal a thin piece of paper attaching the wing to the body.
After taking off the yarn, I then turned to peeling off the tape and non-recyclable stickers. We try to remove as many non-recyclable materials (I.e., tape and yarn) as possible to aid in recycling.
A hand peeling off pieces of tape from the bird sculpture.
We then sort the materials we have removed into piles for recycling, trash, and reuse based upon our recycling center’s rules as well as the condition of the materials. Some materials are more worn than others, but we can strategically cut along fold lines or torn edges to make it seem like the material is less used. 
A pair of scissors cutting a used piece of yellow paper, cutting along a fold line.
From these two mobiles, we were able to save a lot for future sculpture projects! The image below shows all the supplies that have gone back into our found materials and yarn storage. (Scissors show for scale.) 
A collection of found materials to be reused for future projects, we saved over ten times the size of the scissors.
And here is an image with our small piles for the trash can. (Our recycling center no longer accepts small pieces of paper or paper products in recycling, so the four small piles pictured went into the trash.)
Four small piles of tape, yarn, and paper materials to be thrown away or recycled, less than a scissors-worth was discarded.
We hope this post inspired you to see older artworks as potential materials for new creations! 


Sara smiling in front of Art Studio display.

Sara Ottomano

Art Educator from 2016-2023 at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Sara (she/her) is enthusiastic about helping others approach art through exploration and experimentation.

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