Category Archives: Altered Art

Repurposed Beanie Babies

Beanie Babies may have lost value as a collectible but they do make nice art. It helps that you can pick up a dozen of them for a quarter these days. I find them in the thrift shop and second hand toy stores. At times they are overstocked and bagged up, 25 cents for the lot of them.

So, what can you do with a lot of Beanie Babies taking up space in your closet, under your bed, or trapped in the attic?

Have some fun with Beanie Baby rogue taxidermy. Take apart the Beanie Babies and recreate them as different, unique creatures.  What a unicorn body looks like with the head of… a lion, a mouse, or a teddy bear and leave it at that. Or, you can turn them into morbid, weird and grotesque creations. Give them four different limbs and half the body of something with wings and the head of something else.

Remake them as something a little practical. Pluck all the stitches out, remove the stuffing then attach all the flat bodies together as a piece of fabric. Create Beanie Baby blankets, pillow cases, purses and hats. Anything you could make from fabric can be made with Beanie Baby pelts. You may decide to stitch the pelts to a fabric backing rather than trying to work at fitting them all together like a jigsaw puzzle.

You can turn individual Beanie Babies into change purses, any sort of small container (even something to hold water if you work out the right liner).  Leave the head, arms and legs attached or take them off and sew the holes shut – either way you can have a colourful small purse. Just attach something to work as a strap. (A lot of Beanie Baby arms and legs could be sewn into a long strap if you can get over the mangling factor).

There are options if you don’t want to unstuff them. Think upholstery. Martha Stewart has made a chair out of upcycled Beanie Babies.

Turn your Beanie Babies into a seasonal wreath decoration. Add some extras like cotton for white beards, little Christmas hats and other bits you can get at craft stores then sew the decorated Beanie Babies to a big metal ring, add lights, some fake pine boughs, etc. Use darker coloured Beanie Babies and add decorations like skulls, witch hats, gravestones to make a Halloween wreath for your front door or a big window. Pick all the red and pink Beanie Babies, add some hearts you can cut out from coloured paper or find cheap at the thrift store and you have a Valentine wreath.

Need to make some extra money? Host a street fair and run games with your Beanie Babies as small prizes. Simple kid games like Pull-the-String are a great way to make a few dollars and give yourself some extra space once the Beanie Babies are gone.

Of course, you can also give them away to children still young enough to enjoy stuffed animals. Take a look at SAFE, Stuffed Animals for Emergencies as another way to donate them. They also work well for people with pets.

Let me know if you find a great way to recycle Beanie Babies.

If you have read (or watched) The Hunger Games, you will enjoy The Beanie Baby Hunger Games.

Repurpose Old Books

Maybe your books were damaged beyond repair. Maybe the second hand book store wasn’t interested in books you took to trade because they already have a lot of the same book. Maybe you’ve got a lot of  books with outdated information. However you come across books which no longer have a real use as books, like old phone books, there’s a way to repurpose them and turn them into book art.

Artists and crafts people and all round generally creative and thrifty people have turned old books into everything from chairs, shelving, birdhouses, sculptures and fashion accessories.  The book art sculpture is appealing to me. I love the ideas for folding pages into new shapes. I also like how the whole book can be use in a new way. Not just repurposed, but completely re-imagined.  In all, an old book can be given a new purpose.

At times it is a bit sad to see the title of an old hard cover book, now repurposed into someone’s handbag, all the pages scooped out like a Halloween jack-o-lantern. But, I cheer myself up by looking for another copy of the same book for sale on eBay or at the book stores I can see what else the author wrote and if they are still around writing new books to come.  So even though that one book is no longer available for a good read, there are more out there for the finding.

Sometimes I see a lot of book art and I like to look at it, I’m glad to have seen it… once. What happens to it beyond that? What purpose was it given beyond the one time interest in seeing it? I think this is the mistake a lot of people make with book art. It’s not really upcycling or repurposing in a real way if it isn’t practical as well as creative. A lot of book art doesn’t seem to have a real future ahead of it. If you consider buying something wouldn’t you want to still need it a week, a year, or longer? It’s too sad to see book art which may be fascinating or beautiful in the moment but will just become clutter to be gotten rid of  somewhere down the road.

What to do with Broken Books

Snip.it | Bookish Things

My Rosary: Modern Piece With Period Style

I spotted this piece at a thrift shop on Sunday. The “Madonna” appears to be a contemporary image created from an scan of an antique photo which was digitally enhanced, colored then printed. The “My Rosary” seems to be text from an old piece of paper. Together they were simply matted (with an especially nicely beveled cut window for the text) and placed in an old metal oval frame painted black. All together, it has the appearance of a period piece.

Art Is A Real Nail-Biter: A Visual Interpretation & Psychological Exploration Of Awkward Quirks & Tendencies

At The Cat’s Pajamas, Jessica shares an art assignment:

For my art class we had to come up with a commentary to explore and create 12 pieces based around this written statement. I’ve been working on it since September and I’m really excited that it’s finally all done! It’s pretty neat seeing everything come together as a series. My commentary is: a visual interpretation and psychological exploration of awkward quirks and tendencies. They’re all mixed media, done by hand, using old books and magazines and all sorts of other materials I’ve found.

The series of awkward quirks and tendencies includes, titled by quirk or habit, Nail Biting, Hair Twirling, OCD and Grinding Teeth, which are shown below.

I find this all incredibly inspiring! Not just the assignment of art based upon written statements, but the idea of dealing with your quirk, compulsion, habit — or the fear of it. Just think of all the possibilities… Art therapy anyone can do! Cool concepts sure to start conversations when the artworks are on display.

And, as if that weren’t enough excitement, you can purchase prints of (most all of) these works too.

Beware This Teddy Bear!

Siamese Twin Bear made of Belly Button Lint

Rachel Betty Case made another appearance on Oddities; instead of the Human Ivory works, she presented a teddy bear made of belly button lint.

(The example shown here is of her Siamese version.)

Incredibly creative? Yup.

Nice way to recycle or reuse things that exist? I suppose…

But still rather creepy? More than you probably know…

Check out just how gross belly button lint is in this article at New Scientist: Belly Button Biome Is More Than A Piece Of Fluff.

I’m guessing that’s why Rachel keeps the little teddy bears in glass vials. (I hope the vials are free of the, umm, “artist’s residues” on her hands.)

Inspiration For Making Your Own Frames

I like this post at Elemental Cheapness in which Sabrina Mantle shares her creative ideas for reusing items to frame art. Creativity doesn’t end with the artwork — display can be creative too!

Most, if not all, of Sabrina’s examples come from cheap discounted, discontinued and As Is items from Ikea. That means what she shows may not be pieces you can actually snap-up yourself, but there’s plenty of inspiration for keeping your eyes open to possibilities… Discount isles, thrift stores, garage sales… Your own basement! You know I love thrifty ideas!

The most practical idea, shown below, is the simple use of glass, strung and hung with ribbon.

I also got a bunch of 7×9 pieces of glass with holes in corner (which I threaded ribbon thru) at Ikea’s As Is department for 50 cents each, just finished mounting photos on those for upcoming show I am doing, they look great!

I really like the idea — both in terms of aesthetics and the re-usability. Just slide the photographs and images out, and put new ones in, so it would be a great idea for art shows. (Acrylic options might be more suitable for ease in carrying about and careless shoppers.)

An Interview With Ghosts In The Machines Creator Erika Iris Simmons

I so fell in love with the stunning art made from cassette tapes by Erika Iris Simmons that I just had to speak with her and learn more about her incredibly iconic works.

Erika Iris Simmons

Erika, I don’t like to ask a lady her age — especially right at the start! — but in this case I feel compelled to do so… Your works, especially the Ghosts In Machines, have a youthful pop culture quality, but the detail work is incredible, which lends me to believing you are older (at least in art years!) than I think. So, how old are you, when did you begin the Ghost In The Machine Series, and how long have you been working as an independent artist?

Thanks! No worries, I’m not shy, I’m 27 now but I started making this series in 2008, when I was 24 I think.

I was a waitress at Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando at the time, looking for interesting art projects. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on art supplies so I went through all the junk drawers at home, tearing up anything I could find, dabbling in composite art. I was fascinated with optical illusions and wanted to make something really different. I think going to work everyday surrounded by music memorabilia definitely had an impact! haha

One day I thought to use the cassette tapes in my art – when I started messing with the ribbon it curled up and reminded me of Jimi Hendrix’s afro, so that was the first portrait I made.

Ghost in the Machine: Jimi Hendrix, Cassette Tape On Canvas

At the time I was reading some science books about the philosophy of the mind; that’s where the “ghost in the machine” theme came from. It was great to sit there while working on these, wondering about the meaning in the data on the tapes and how by simply rearranging the tape on the board I could make it look like a face. My goal was to not cut the tape or take any away, just arrange it.

I’ve been working as a full-time independent artist for two years now.

Have you had any formal training or study, an art degree?

No formal art training; I got a ton of art books out from the library, but mostly its just been trial and error.

The Ghost In The Machine pieces are how I first found you — the amaze me because they incorporate the spirit of the medium, the tape and film, and display the iconic images we see when we experience their performances. What inspired the works?

I never wanted to be an artist until I saw the work of Ken Knowlton. He makes incredible composite portraits. My favorite is his portrait of Einstein using nothing but black dice. It blew my mind and I thought I want to make something like that, something that would resonate with people. I just kept experimenting after that.

Ghost In Machine: Madonna

They are incredibly fluid and effortless looking, as if they just spilled out that way, but I suspect there’s a lot more to them than that. 😉 Can you tell us more about the work involved, how long it takes to make a piece — how many tapes, etc. are used?

I almost always just need a single cassette, unless the work is really big. You’d be surprised how long the tape is inside.

Every piece is different, but I usually start by drawing the basic outline, focusing on the facial details first. I go about filling in the design, either gluing the tape flat and cutting away when necessary, or folding and twisting the tape into the desired shapes. This can take weeks if its very detailed. Toward the end I try to let the tape fall into really natural shapes and “capture” that movement with dots of glue. Finally, I use epoxy to permanently mount the case.

Of the works I’ve seen, you seem to use or recycle other items to create your works of art. Do you consider these altered art works? How do you feel about that term?

I call these cassette tape or film sculptures, but the term altered art works too. It falls into a lot of categories, I think. I often hear people call them “installations.” I don’t know why.

Your Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast At Tiffany’s piece is probably my favorite, so far! I love the use of 8mm film, right down to the reel!

Audrey Hepburn Work In Progress...

Audrey Hepburn Ghost In Machine, 8mm Film

Erika Iris Simmons Artwork In Progress

Working With Film To Make Ghost In Machine

"Reel" Breakfast At Tiffany's Hair

Shadow Details

Audrey Hepburn Ghost In Machine

The Graceful Ghost In The Machine

I read at your blog that the Breakfast At Tiffany’s work was the result of a woman who approached you about doing a series of collection of Audrey Hepburn pieces… Does that mean you do custom or commissioned works?

Thanks! I’ve actually made my living for the last few years making custom pieces for people; I still do sometimes, but not as my bread-and-butter like I used to.

Does doing works that way, at the direction of others, frustrate you in any way as an artist?

Yes, every single time! haha. There is no way of avoiding the pressure of “performance.” I am not a performer and I’ve found that my work is much better when it comes from the heart and not from a need to pay rent. I find myself questioning every action. Instead, I just take the commissions that I feel a spark for. I used to have a “custom work” page on my website, but I don’t solicit those offers anymore. A lot more time for experimenting.

How much do you charge for such works? And, as you currently have no originals for sale, only prints at Etsy, how much do original works cost?

Honestly every piece is different. I sell some for hundreds, some for many thousands, so its a hard question to answer… An average Ghost in the Machine piece is about $2500. The only prints I sell are letter size and A2. But the size of the originals range from 12 by 16, up to 40 by 60 inches, so there is a wide range.

Your other works, that I’ve seen at Flickr mainly, are also composite or altered works. Do you feel that will likely remain a part of your style, or do you feel that you’ll need to move on in a completely different direction at some point in time?

I don’t really define what I do by the medium. I feel like the running theme in my head is finding a story within a single object. Recursion and nested concepts are what fascinate me, so whether I’m painting or writing or doing any other creative activity I think this theme will remain.

Portrait of former Dodger's pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, made from an authentic major-league baseball, "grass stains and all."

When you are best known for a series, or when someone spots an older series, like Ghosts In Machines, how do you as an artist feel when you move onto another series, project or style of work?

It doesn’t bother me that I will probably never “out-do” the success of this series because I know the biggest thrill is the idea and execution rather than what other people think. The images will one day be played like that song on the radio that you’ve heard fifty times too many, but I will always remember what it felt like to hold something like that in my hands before the glue was even dry, having never sold a piece of artwork, knowing that I made something special.

Its nice that people are still interested though, I do appreciate it.

Bob Dylan by Erika Iris Simmons for AARP

At The Ungulate, we hear a lot about how “success” is at least partly defined as making a living in art; yet we also hear from artists who feel great frustration in the commercial aspects of that sort of success. Aside from not soliciting custom works as much as you once did, how do you plan to address or balance these issues for yourself as an artist?

I’ve never been interested in money – I threaten to quit art and go back to waiting tables any day! ha. But seriously, making art for a living is by far harder than I expected, and I feel I’m one of the lucky ones to have so much support and exposure. But some months I still barely scrape by. Don’t get me wrong; when it rains it pours. But its hard counting on the weatherman. In lieu of commissions I’m working with a stationary company for a little rolling income. The ‘m’ word: Merchandising. We’re still putting the website together – I don’t know a date it will be live…

But you’ll let us know, right?

Of course!

Until then, we can still marvel at the other works by Ericka Iris Simmons, and enjoy spotting them all sorts of places, like the Bob Dylan piece for the AARP.

Fear Of The Blank Paper

Staring down the pristine, stark-white surface of a blank page can be soooo intimidating… This phenomenon occurs with writers too. So what can you do when you’ve got your supplies all set, but that blank white page just stares back at you, taunting you, teasing you, bullying you…

Well, if you’re like Steve Thompson, maybe you carve your Crayolas into Star Wars characters.

If pencils are your tools, Dalton Ghetti‘s carved graphite works may be more inspiring to you.

If words are (supposed to be) your weapons of choice in the creative fight against the blank page, how about carving those pencil tips into letters? (Also by Dalton Ghetti.)

Take that, blank paper! We’re still getting our art on!

The Keratin Creatures Of Rachel Betty Case

Watching Oddities, I fell in love with the “human ivory” artwork of Rachel Betty Case.

“Human ivory” is what Case calls human fingernails, toenails, and pet nail clippings. I can appreciate her desire to want to prettify such mundane things, but when I hear “ivory” I think of carving and what Case does is extremely intricate assembly work, layering and sculpting our discarded keratin pieces into fantastic little creatures…

On the episode of Oddities where Case appeared, store staff member Ryan was creep-ed out by the works. (I find it strange, since he plays with skeletons; but maybe it’s just a girl thing, not to freak over nail clippings, what with our love of mani-pedis and all?) Apparently Ryan’s not the only one loathe to touch the artist’s work though because Case began encasing her tiny keratin sculptures in resin; much like those retro Lucite bug rings and such.

On the show, Case said each resin piece takes about a week to make.  Given how long resin can take to set, it makes me wonder how long it takes her to assemble each keratin critter?

Once I visited the artist’s website, I was particularly smitten with her placing the Human Ivory works inside altered art books.

Fascinatingly beautiful.

Recycle Pop Cans into Tin Art

I started reading about using pop cans to make pretty tin boxes at Mag Ruffman’s Tool Girl site. I wonder if someone has used this technique to make a tin ceiling. That would be pretty thrifty, crafty and pretty smart recycling too.

I wanted to see other ideas for working with beer and pop/ soda cans. Some were pretty basic, just using them as a can to store things in. Decorating them with things like scraps of fabric, wallpaper, and so on. Squishing them up, adding stuffed animal parts and making them look like road kill, that seemed a little drastic in some way. I was looking for more interesting and unique ideas. Things people really can use and want to have.

I found some links to ideas for re-purposing tin cans in a post on Squidoo. eHow had a post about using recycled soda cans too. Of course, Flickr was where I found the art made with tin cans of all sorts: Altered Tin Can Altered Art in a Tin JimShoresArt has Can-do Fan Tab ulous Aluminum and Tin Can Art

Helen Harle has a book showing how to create jewelry with upcycling pop cans. Create Colorful Aluminum Jewelry: Upcycle cans into vibrant necklaces, rings, earrings, pins, & bracelets.

Tamar Stone On Inspiration

I can’t get enough of artist Tamar Stone — her corset and bed books inspire me so much!

societies-corset-book-by-tamar-stone

a-very-safe-place-artist-bokk-by-tamar-stone

With all these projects and interests, I knew she’d collect lots of stuff, but I wanted to know more about what the artist draws from…

studio-desk-wall-artist-tamar-stoneI collect a lot of books, images etc. However, because of limited space and finances, I also go to the NY Public Library to do research with their really old books. Before you could find things on-line, I used to go to the library to do a lot of patent research (something I learned while being a para-legal) — and learning how to read a patent’s family history — to get you to other resources.

With the internet, so much stuff is online — but a lot of it is low-res, which I can’t really use, and also you have to make sure the images are in the public domain (due to copyright issues).

As with my latch-hook rug, works are inspired by my travels.

One of my hobbies is “Polaroiding dolls on the road,” which I’ve turned into paper books from Polaroids. I also have a series of bathrooms/outhouses along the road… And meals on the road… But I haven’t had the money to turn those into books (all the scanning of those is just so time consuming, and I rather just keep moving ahead with the sewing projects).

dolls-on-the-road-v2-tamar-stone

You can get copies of Tamar Stone’s books at PrintedMatter.org: Dolls on the Road: The Barbie and Ken Series. Vol. 1, Dolls on the Road: Baby Dolls and Others. Vol. 2. And you can visit Tamar Stone’s website to keep up-to-date on the artist and her projects.

Writing On The Wall Book Art

Etsy artist WHIMSYlove turns vintage and used books into wall art by folding the pages, origami style, for three-dimensional artworks dubbed Writing on the Wall Book Art — and it’s being featured for sale at the Bellevue Art Museum.

writing-on-the-wall-book-art

Each Writing on the Wall piece arrives with hanging hardware and a keepsake card printed on white cardstock with “stats,” including Book Title, Author, Copyright Date, # of Pages in book, & how many folds were made to create your piece of artwork!