Art on a Shoestring

ephemera (Photo credit: staramaze)

Subtitle:  I Love Ephemera (an extremely cool word in and of itself but I am referring to definition #3 below which in the art world is expanded somewhat to include all sorts of sparkly bits ‘n pieces of things used to collage and make other pieces of art.

World English Dictionary

ephemera  (ɪˈfɛmərə)
—  , pl -eras -erae
1. a mayfly, esp one of the genus Ephemera
2. something transitory or short-lived
3. functioning as plural ) a class of collectible items not originally intended to last for more than a short time, such as tickets, posters, postcards, or labels

So this is a post about my delight in finding that I finally have both reason and inspiration to use all of the art supplies I have stashed downstairs in my craft corner, some unopened/never touched.  I came back from the mixed media art workshops I’d attended (Art is You) just raring to go with my art.  One of the first things I did was turn our dining room into a temporary workshop – temporary as in I didn’t want to take the time to really clean up my crafting area of the basement before plunging in.  I was justified in this decision by the fact that I had a holiday craft fair to prepare for.  The second thing I did was take another trip back to my crafting area to retrieve more supplies.  I’d gone through it before I went to the workshops to pull out things on the art supply lists I’d received.  This time I went back for more of the same and anything else I could get my hands on that fit into the rather broad mixed-media art supplies category.

The inspiration for this post came at this point when I discovered myself pulling out supplies I’d purchased because I’d worked with them once and thought they made a cool effect or whatever – an example here would be the alcohol inks I used in a workshop and used maybe once after that.  I have a whole caboodle kit filled with buttons, chalk inks, ribbon, and other tags and die cut ornamental pieces–that came out of hiding too.  I found paint, ink, stamps, and some other stuff that I’d purchased when our beloved Recollections store was going out of business!  The paints that had never been opened were in fine condition and I was happy, happy, happy about it since I’m temporarily on a strict art supply budget.

But I didn’t stop there.  I went through little trinket boxes and I went through the breakfront in the dining room that I’d been threatening to clean out for, oh god, has it been a few years now?  What was I really looking for?  I was looking for those little scraps and bits and pieces that we tuck away inside drawers because they’re neat or pretty, or whimsical and we just can’t bear to throw them away.  You know the stuff I’m talking about….old books, including textbooks, sheet music, greeting cards, tags of all sorts, ribbons and strings, buttons and bows, vintage images, photos, fabric, lace, old keys, bottle caps, labels, jewelry elements, you get the idea – I call all of this ephemera because the coolest stuff is lying around long after its served its purpose.  First of all, I find these things fascinating.

One of the cool finds in the breakfront the paper napkins I’d bought to match the cute little paper plates for special little parties and other entertaining.  Some of these were in find form and there wasn’t any reason to toss them – these I put into a stash for when we run out of the regular paper napkins we use for everyday meals.  But the ones that were wrinkly and creased?  They went into a little bag I go into when I start painting so I’m using these up before I head for a fresh roll of paper towels.  I can get quite a bit of mileage out of  a cocktail napkin this way I’ll tell ya.

For some reason I’m just tickled by all of this because even though I’ve been on a simplifying and de-junking mission around the house for a good while there are things that I  still saved because I supposed deep down I felt they had potential artistic merit.  That sounds like a good rationalization to me…. Loose plastic forks, knives, and spoons that are a little sketchy to use to eat with because they’ve been at the bottom of a drawer for a while–these are perfect for transferring paint, mixing paint, and creating texture in wet paint!

I did a search for old Christmas cards and found that I’d actually been a really good little cleaner/organizer and had thrown away most of what I’d accumulated over the years.  I found one or two stacks that got left behind and used them in the pieces I’ve made so far.

So one other thing I’m doing to find more material to work with, besides the obvious locate and use the  hefty weekly A.C. Moore and Michael’s coupons (40-50% off one regular priced item is a standard and there are other coupons in the weekly flyers as well), was to post a message in my local  Freecycle group board (in Yahoo Groups) asking for more ephemera.  I put a message up on Saturday night and by Monday afternoon I’d made 3 stops to different houses to pick up old calendars, greeting cards (3 bags yay!), and some old reference books.  A really good haul in a short period of time.

My message was general and actually there were two of them – the first was asking for material for collage art and the second was for paper and non-paper ephemera.  Each of these first posts had a somewhat lengthy list of items I was seeking.  My next move will be to separate by types of item to get a little more specific and eye-catching with my subject lines.  Another thing is that I mention in the body of the message that I’m specifically asking those people who are doing the simplifying and organizing thing, or who are clearing out an elderly relative’s house and belongings….that’s where the gold is located in vintage photos, buttons, papers, letters, postcards, hankies, and the list goes on.

Hey, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure.  I plan to graciously accept whatever’s offered – so long as I can get it into my car and back to the house – and whatever I don’t want to use for making art I will further donate, recycle, or repurpose.  So the messages asking for this stuff will continue on Freecycle and I think I’ll add Craigslist to the mix as well because I know from my recruiting days “if you don’t ask it’s an automatic no.”

Oh, one last thing and this is so freaking cool I can’t believe it, I was copied on a notice about an art supplies “yard sale” for lack of a better word – a family is following the wishes of a dear deceased family member who was an avid crafter and animal rescue supporter – they’re having a sale of all of her art supplies and the proceeds will go to animal rescue!  The message was both an invitation to donate surplus art supplies for the sale as well as to come shop for more!  I love this idea and cannot wait to attend the sale!!!



  1. I know that here,l so presumably there also, there are a couple of places that help elders move, or their families when elders transition; also estate sale organizers, these are possible resources for the goodies you seek, since otherwise they may toss them completely.

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