Three Golden Rules for Art Scrappers

a miniature patchwork quilt, made from my old dresses. Irene Rowely

Patchwork quilts are a good example of “use what you have”.

Here are three golden rules to be an “Art Scrapper”, and an environmentally-aware artist.  I know that artists do not always like rules,  so you can also call these three guidelines, or philosophies, on turning old scraps into fine arts and crafts:

Scrapper Rule #1. Use What You Have.

Most of the time, when starting a new art project, I do not go to the store for fancy new art supplies, or an art kit. I use the resources on hand, and upcycle old objects when I can.  That is the Starving Artist way…  errr… I mean that is the Art Scrapper way!

black cat, junkyard art

the black cat – junkyard art

As an example of Rule #1, look at this black cat junkyard art. Someone made it from simple metal, black paint and two marbles for the eyes. Three simple materials that last.

An Art Scrapper tends to find delight in local flea markets, junkyards, and salvage stores for materials.  An Art Scrapper tends to like patina and panache.

Other Art Scrappers tend to like walking in the woods picking up feathers, stones, moss, or walking on the beach and filling their pockets with polished glass bits, driftwood and shells.

For painters and drawers, your art scraps are the scenery, objects and people in front of you. You might try avoiding the tendency to paint from stunning or exotic photographs, especially of places you’ve never been. Look instead for places to setup your easel and to paint from life.

My oil painting teachers put it this way:  When you paint from life, you will get a truer piece of art, that is probably more vibrant and color-correct than painting from photos. Photos do not have the full color spectrum.

Likewise, in the book, The Zen of Seeing Frederick Franck wrote:

“One draws best what one knows best.”

(For more about life drawing, see my earlier blog called  The Zen of Seeing, with a Cat.)

birch wood vase from Colorado

birch wood vase 1

Scrapper Rule #2. Do not Harm the Environment.

The environment is so precious and beautiful. Please think of the environment as an artist! You can find beauty in the simplest of things in your art. You can avoid harmful materials, and recycle others, to protect our natural resources.

Here is a rugged vase carved out of a birch tree. The wood turner has allowed most of the tree bark to remain and become the art. It demonstrates how closely art is tied to nature.

One of my favorite books from childhood is a photo book, “In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World” by the Sierra Club. The title comes from a passage written by Henry David Thoreau:

birch wood vase from Colorado

birch wood vase 2

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild… in Wildness is the preservation of the World. Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild. The cities import it at any price. Men plow and sail for it. From the forest and wilderness come the tonics and barks which brace mankind.” — Thoreau


Be kind to the environment and I can not guarantee your art will be better… but it’s good karma and is good for the earth.

If you are a painter, think about avoiding the most harmful paints and varnishes. Of course, some harmful chemicals and paint fumes cannot be helped… but you can use them in moderation and dispose them safely.

Rule #3. Rules are Sometimes Made to be Broken.

pastel drawing of wolf, smelling flower, by Irene Rowley

my wolf, by Irene Rowley

Vary art instructions as your artistic mind leads you. I have trouble following art and craft instructions because my artistic “knowingness” and imagination just takes over. This leads me down unknown and often scary new paths. Does that sound familiar to you? Robert Frost wrote about this other path, most eloquently:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

So, just because I’ve advised you to use what you have, it is okay to buy some fine art materials if you have some money. You don’t have to use rustic scraps on every art project. Some projects beg me to use precious materials and gold leaf. In fact a lot of projects beg… and when I have enough money I do splurge on very fine oil paints and canvas.

Also, just because I’ve advised painters and drawers to draw directly from life, it is okay to use your imagination and photos if called for. For example, here is the wolf I drew in an illustration class. We were given an assignment to draw the animal that best symbolizes our personality. I’ve never seen a wolf up close, and I’ve certainly never seen a wolf smelling wild flowers… but my imagination just took over!

Recommended sites for artists that care about the environment: – a network for sharing recycled materials in your town –  informative articles and guidelines on eco-friendly products.

Books mentioned in this article:
The Zen of Seeing, by Frederick Franck

In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, Sierra Club


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