Friday, 13 November 2015

Trash to treasure: Do Found Object art

I can never resist a glance at other people’s rubbish. You never know what you might find. A nice retro piece of furniture in a skip? Someone’s abandoned half-written novel in their recycling? I even like old shopping lists left on supermarket trollies. Because all rubbish has a history, a secret previous life. Who did it belong to? How did it end up here?

So one day when my daughter had a friend over, I thought we could try and give some rubbish a new story, a second life, by using it to create pieces of art.

First we needed to get ourselves some rubbish...

The Rubbish Hunt

We set off on a stroll around town, plastic bags in hand. 
The girls were not optimistic. “But there won’t be much to find,” said the friend. “Yeah, just like old wrappers and stuff,” said my daughter.

So I told them about what I call the White Horse Syndrome (not sure what it’s actually called but it is a thing!):

If you ask someone how often they see white horses when they go on a car journey, they’ll say hardly ever. But the next time they go on a car journey, they’ll notice white horses everywhere. Once your brain is alerted to something, it homes in on it.

Their eyes and minds opened wider and soon they were tuning into ‘treasures’ everywhere. Oh, the thrill of finding a smooth “emerald” piece of glass or a bottle top that “looks like gold”... 
Or a Christmas elf, a popped balloon with the string still attached, a rusty nail, a silver star... 
A neighbour gardening at the front of her house gave us an old piece of old pottery she’d just dug up. Nature presented us with a few goodies too, like unusually-shaped twigs and those aeroplane seed things.
We got expert at spotting an interesting shape or splash of colour in the distance and became addicted to getting the next ‘hit’. (Oh, and just in case you're shuddering, I had my beady eye out for dangers and dog-poo!).

The rubbish became more precious to the girls as they started to form plans in their head.

“I might make a scarecrow picture with my stuff,” said my daughter, looking at a piece of frayed fabric she’d picked up.

“I want to make a funfair picture,” said her friend “Because this piece of metal could be a rollercoaster track.”

The Trading Session

When we got home, we each spread our finds out on pieces of paper. 
There had been some objects the girls had both spotted and raced to pick up at the same time, leaving one disappointed. So I decided a show-and-swap session would be good fun – done with mock-formal ceremony.
We took it in turns to point out something of someone else’s we really, really wanted...
...and if there was something of theirs the owner was happy to swap it for, an exchange took place – sealing the deal with a handshake!

The Arty Bit

I’d planned to show the girls some art by proper Found Object artists online before we started our own pictures. I wanted to encourage them to think about the effect of the ‘whole picture’ – like painting their canvases with a background colour first or using their finds in an abstract way. But by the time I’d nipped to the kitchen and back to make myself a cup of tea, they’d already got stuck in. 
And were in 'flow'.
They were using the objects to make little disconnected and ‘real’ pictures, doing things in their own happy way, humming to themselves.

Stones, a tassel and a chopped-up drinking straw became a donkey...
A snail shell became a snail (obvs!)...
Feathers were used to make a candy floss stall...
And birds...
I loved this seagull...
We used a hot glue gun to stick the objects to the canvas. (Hot glue guns by the way, if you haven’t got one, are The Best Invention Ever. The answer to 90% of the problems in life I’ve found!).

“This isn’t turning out like I had in my head, but it’s really fun,” said the friend.

I decided to use my own finds to make a sort of ‘Museum of Found Objects', with little compartments of paper painted with a reddish-brown ‘rusty metal’ colour.

“Ahh…you’re not making the things into things, you’re just using them as they are,” said the friend.

Before I knew it I had two little helpers. They even made me phone the friend’s dad to ask if she could have an extra hour. They typed out labels on our old child’s typewriter, helping me think up the ‘story’ behind each object.

This was our final collaborative picture.
A few weeks later at a friend’s house, by sheer coincidence (or perhaps it was the White Horse Syndrome), I saw this gorgeous Found Object mirror on her fireplace. 
She said her mum had made it out of her and her brother’s old toys and bits of pieces found around the house.
That's our next project sorted then!


  1. Wow - what a lovely idea and I love the swapping objects part too. The pictures are so creative! Thanks for sharing #LetKidsBeKids

  2. Oh what a fab idea. It really opens childrens eyes to rubbish and transforming something into something else as well as thinking about the history behind things. We must do this some time.
    Thanks for sharing #LetKidsbeKids

    1. It definitely is art with a twist, art with an extra-dimension. Glad you liked it!

  3. What a creative activity! I think I might try this with the tweens at the library where I work. Thanks for sharing. Popping over from #LetKidsbeKids

    1. Thanks Sharon. I think it would work great with a bunch of tweens! And the show-and-swap session would be really fun with lots of kids.

  4. You never cease to amaze me with your creativity, Claire. You really should be writing books for children with all your clever ideas.

    1. Ah, thanks Susan. I have written a couple of books you know ;)

  5. Wow! What an amazing idea! Right from the start to finish pieces! Your girl and friends are so creative! Mindblowing! Everyday on school run, I noticed lots of rubbish, perhaps this will be the beginning of our rubbish or should I say our treasure hunt! :) I have to pin this. Sorry - it is too gorgeous! :) x #letkidsbekids

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comments! So glad you like it and thank you for pinning. Happy Rubbish/Treasure-hunting!!! x