New Upcycled Artworks: a Peak Inside my Studio

Ever since I began metalsmithing and making artwork, I’ve enjoyed spending every summer experimenting in my studio with new materials or ideas. As with other artists who share via the Instagram app what we are creating in our studios, I post work-in-progress shots of my latest pieces regularly. Of my summer experiments, the upcycled materials that I started last summer in my Cameo Relief of Woman Holding Her Hair employs discarded microwaveable soup bowl material that I cut apart, saw, pierce, rivet and sew into new, lasting objects.

Work-in-progress collage of techniques used in my "Upcycled" sculpture and jewelry series. Photo: P.Sullivan

Work-in-progress collage of techniques used in my “Upcycled” sculpture and jewelry series. Photo: P.Sullivan

As one can see in this collage, I draw directly onto the material in graphite then score, fold, pierce and sew these geometric forms into a petite object (like this open-lidded cube form.) The fibrous material lends itself so beautifully to making objects, as its natural color resembles ivory; however, I upcycle what normally would be thrown away into something that can be held, viewed and become a vehicle for art.

Patricia Sullivan: "Upcycled Box of Shredded Tweets", 2016. 2 in. x 1 in. x 1 in.; microwaveable soup bowl material, black thread, paint, shredded archival paper. Photo: P. Sullivan

Patricia Sullivan: “Upcycled Box of Shredded Tweets”, 2016. 2 in. x 1 in. x 1 in.; microwaveable soup bowl material, black thread, paint, shredded archival paper. Photo: P. Sullivan

While I’ve finished at least four new objects – I’d like to discuss my two latest: Upcycled Open Cube Brooch and an Upcycled Box of Shredded Tweets. The shredded paper in Upcycled Box of Shredded Tweets is further play on the ephemeral nature of seemingly “important” Twitter/news headlines started in my Widget Locket series that was published and discussed in Metalsmith magazine’s “Exhibition in Print: Moved By Metal”. By taking my own digital art “tweets” I created in Adobe Illustrator and placing the leftover hard-copy paper print-outs used in my Widget Lockets #1 – #4, I hope to further the notion of shredding paper as another avoidable act, since non-recycled newspapers or discarded, shredded office documents often meet an inevitable demise into landfills.

Patricia Sullivan: "Upcycled Open Cube Brooch", 2016. 4 in. x 1 in. x 1 in.; microwaveable soup bowl material, black thread, sterling silver, vintage safety pin.

Patricia Sullivan: “Upcycled Open Cube Brooch”, 2016. 4 in. x 1 in. x 1 in.; microwaveable soup bowl material, black thread, sterling silver, vintage safety pin. Photo: P. Sullivan

Moving away from the stand-alone object into the wearable vein, my Upcycled Open Cube Brooch began its life as a flat fiber material that was only intended in its normal lifespan to be placed on top of a lunchtime soup bowl and put into the microwave. However, with these disposable containers and lids designed and cut by hand, I hope to transform it into a precious object and thereby prevent its disposal. As it was popular during the Georgian period in art history to use ivory in highly crafted vignettes, I refer to my new raw material as a “socially-conscious ivory”. No genuine ivory is used, only the left-over fiber materials that I transform into personal adornments or petite objects instead of landfill fodder.

I plan to update and add details to art does matter soon of more “Upcycled” pieces (and where the work will be shown) along with additional details on my current metalwork I’m developing in the studio this year.

*UPDATE* Both of these Upcycled pieces were accepted into the //KYOOB// Exhibition, curated by Sharon Massey, juried by Joshua Kosker and Natalie Sweet, traveling to three separate venues from November 2016 through May 2017:
Annex Gallery at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP): November 3 – December 8, 2016
Jodee Harris Gallery at Seton Hill University: February 9 – 27, 2017
BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery at Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, PA: March 1 – May 27, 2017

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23 thoughts on “New Upcycled Artworks: a Peak Inside my Studio

  1. I really like your inventiveness, Patricia. And your designs. And your concern about how our society tosses things away. (Despite all the recycling programs in towns and cities in the USA, ours is still a throw-away society to a pretty large extent. In my opinion, anyway).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Neil, I am so happy that you brought up how there are so many recycling programs all over the U.S. – but these bowls and this type of material is not one of the “codes” my township even recycles! It’s not plastic – it’s more like compressed fibers. However, I created a similar piece over two years’ ago that I’ve left hanging exposed to all elements as a test (heat, a/c, dust, sunlight, cold etc.) Trust me when I say, it looks as new as the day I sawed it out and finished it. This stuff does not decompose. Imagine it in a landfill. I agree w/ you when you say our society is still largely geared as a “throw-away society.” Thanks so very much for sharing your ideas and wonderful commentary w/me.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Al, it is too appropriate that you are the first to notice the humor and witty play of my shredded tweet box!! You’ve completely made my morning! I find many other artists and makers – unlike you – have no understanding of how humor and social commentary can pervade work like this. (There are still folks out there that cannot grasp, i.e. the humor of my “selfie” locket!) Thank you for your visit, and congrats again on another solo show of your sculptures!

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      • You are welcome Patricia. As a fan of old style correspondence, friends and I like to joke about leaving our social media responses behind for posterity! The so-called collected tweets of so and so. I try to be conscious of humor which is often hard to pull off in the “high art world”. I see my own Styro-figures as being “absurd” which to me describes our present condition particularly at the moment. I also think humor is a good entry way into difficult conversations.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Patricia! It was like being in your studio. Having a studio visit! I loved it. I like how you show the unaltered objects first and how you make them into something “precious.” (In a good way. I know “precious” in art circles is a bad word!) Some thoughts: The box of Tweets is so clever. We not only throw away touchable material, (waste), but we post things indiscriminately sometimes. I do, anyway, and then I will lie awake at night worrying over some dumb comment I made (that is, a reply, say, on FB that cannot be erased.) Therefore the idea of SAVING things hits both the tangible and fleeting. Profound. Also your pin is absolutely exquisite. I think it is the best thing I have seen that you have done. The length of the thread, the purity of the color, the tilt. All so elegant. I wish you lived closer and we could exchange ideas in person. This one, too, actually both, will be mentioned somewhere. Looking forward to your next post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hollis, You are extremely generous in your comments to me above. Yet again, you’ve introduced a new read or take on my “Box of Tweets” I had not consciously considered fully. I wish I could innumerate the times that we’ve all posted things indiscriminately to others, or even the reverse: them —-> us. I fairly recently had a great friend place much of my attitudes toward social media into a calmer perspective, as I do believe it is (hopefully) more fleeting in people’s memories than as you’ve pointed out, its lasting aspects really are. Also, thank you for your lovely comments re: my “Upcycled brooch” piece. I’m drawn to the ivory/off-white tones of this material, and the black thread along w/ a single handmade sterling jump ring really seemed to complement the balance aspects I’m seeking.

      I so appreciate you stopping by today, Hollis; I know how busy you are in your own studio right now! I agree how collaboration of ideas in-person would be such a great experience if distance wasn’t an issue!!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. What lovely thought provoking pieces. There is also a playful jibe\commentary about our modern sometimes ludicrous lifestyle. Under all that is the fact that people have always used art to communicate, adorn and reflect. I love how your pieces always combine the past with cutting edge technology. We humans are amusing critters. You will love this. I just finished reading an article from 1856 in your “New York Times”. People were writing in to complain about the modern telegraph and calling it things like “superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth!” HaHaHa! I have heard the exact same things said about twitter.
    Life is interesting. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sharon, how do you so easily look at someone’s artwork and then immediately come up w/ such vibrant critiques and commentary?! Did you study psychology or sociology before turning full-time into pursuing your fiber medium? I adore this sentence so much, as it really hits the nail on the head: “…playful jibe/commentary about our modern sometimes ludicrous lifestyle.” I couldn’t have said what I’m hoping to say in my work better than this! Also, the invention and then-publicized reaction of the 1856-era telegraph being called “too fast for the truth” is the identical problem with things like newsfeed headlines on iPhones and Twitter. What an accurate comparison!! The fact that these issues resonate all across the globe from me in the states to you in Oz encourages me to pursue artwork like this, as I do often wonder if anyone “gets it.” And clearly – you do! Thanks from the bottom of my heart for coming by and offering up such fabulously engaging comments today.

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      • I knew you would enjoy the 1856 comment! No, I never studied those subjects but I have always read a lot and I love art like yours that has so many “layers”
        to think on. It also makes me feel joyful which is empowering somehow.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Patricia , you have truly tapped into my love of miniatures! I love tiny lidded containers. Perhaps it is the mystery of the contents, but the scale is of another world or suggestive of a bother reality. These works look simple and elegant notwithstanding the microwaveable soup bowl origins. What a mouthful – pardon the pun. The material looks translucent in one of the images, almost like a tiny lantern. Twitter etc is ephemeral, despite the digital footprint we supposedly leave. Only digital archeologists (they might exist one day) or social historians will be bothered with sifting through much of it. Thanks for the insights into your studio and your work. Delightful , as ever! Philippa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Philippa, your insights are most inspiring!! Yes, I hadn’t realized how this fiber-like material had any translucent qualities until I posted this photo-montage; the sunlight that fills my studio room is sooo strong over these summer months especially. However, when the finished item is worn or placed onto the body, the translucence diminishes. Now I feel a new challenge to develop a piece or more that highlights this aspect of the material! Lastly, your astute assessment of how one day digital archeologists may be studying the past tweets and comments we all make through social channels: can you imagine what their reports would read like?! But in my eyes – as each younger generation born becomes less and less consumed with history – I still think our tweets and FB comments will dissipate into the sunset with little attention paid to them! (And here, we all think everyone “hangs on our every word”, hehe. 😉

      I am floored yet again by the magnificent things you’ve added to this blog discussion! Your visits here w/ me are so forever welcomed. Thanks again, Philippa!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Patricia, it’s so inspiring to see you’ve been busy creating in your studio this summer! Your “Upcycled Open Cube Brooch” is truly beautiful. You’ve totally transformed the material and created an object that’s both functional and elegant – perfectly balanced, and with a touch of humour. It reminds me of traditional Japanese packaging (as shown in “How to Wrap Five Eggs”, my favourite design book of all times). Your brooch has the same qualities: a beautiful object crafted from the humblest of materials. Please, show us more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dominique, I’m floored by your extremely kind comments – I feel very humbled by all your lovely feedback. I do feel that my “Upcycled Cube Brooch” is a risk-taking direction for me, but thankfully, the ideals and the intended simplicity of the piece seems to be working. I remember that magnificent post you wrote awhile back re: “How to Wrap Five Eggs” and fell in love w/ both your blog post and the book! I’m going to have to search through your posts again, as it was SUCH a good read. I’m so happy you stopped by to visit w/ me today. I know that the academic year has begun in full-force w/ your teaching by now. (Such lucky, lucky students to be able study under you!)
      🔨💎

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  6. I read this with great interest, Patricia, and have also read the comments. Honestly, I’m not sure there is much I can add here, but I’ll give it a go… First of all, I love that you’ve simply sewn the little box together with thread, so wonderfully simple! The box of shredded tweets speak especially to me. The cut pieces make me think they are ready to go in a collage, and isn’t that what we’re doing with a lot of our online communication, we re-use/re-chew/re-communicate in endless combinations. It just keeps going (well, WE make it keep going!). Perhaps there is nothing bad in that, we are all individuals, making our own personal remixes of how we look at the world, at ourselves or at life. We just never had the tools before to do it at such scale.
    I think it’s so cool that you make jewellery around digital issues!
    And finally, I did notice: that’s a vintage safety pin – when you do something, you DO go all the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gunilla, what ‘killer’ comments you’ve added to this discussion today!! I love your assertion that as individuals we’re “making our own personal remixes of how we look at the world, at ourselves or at life.” So profound a remark – I have little to add! I guess you’ve just defined why social media has ‘taken us all in’ (even the MOST resistant people.) Thank you again for visiting and sharing such profound remarks with me.

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    • These pieces were such a pleasure to dream up and actually fabricate. The material is very “sensitive” though and not nearly as forgiving as metal. But that ivory color – without being REAL ivory, is what draws me to use it in much of my new work. So happy you stopped in today and commented, Dawn!

      Liked by 1 person

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