Upcycling is not riding a unicycle or learning the proper way to ascend a huge uphill on a bicycle. It is reusing discarded items in such as way to produce an item of higher quality or design than the original. It’s not a completely new idea—during and after the Great Depression people repurposed items with a vengeance. And again during our own Great Recession a few years ago, this trend gained traction. However, now it’s done in a more joyful and creative way. People adore old windows turned into mirrors and coffee tables made from salvaged barn wood—and popular sites like Etsy and Pinterest showcase amazing transformations that DIYers covet.
Recycle vs. Upcycle
Recycling involves the use of consumer materials that are earmarked for trash, like plastic, paper, and glass, and breaking them down so that their base materials can be made into a new product. Think of rulers made from recycled paper. Recycled goods are usually limited in aesthetic appeal and often serve a practical purpose. With upcycling, you are not breaking down the materials but rather refashioning them. You often can identify the previous product within the new creation—and it usually has a strong visual component.
“Even for people who are diligent about recycling, it is an automatic act—putting the right material in the right bin. So when they see a common object normally thought of as ‘trash’ being used in art, this is an aha moment of appreciation for both the object that was thought useless, and the artist for being clever,” explains Mitch Berg, an Albuquerque-based artist who uses anything he thinks will be interesting in his work.
Upcycle for the Environment
One important reason that upcycling has become so prominent is because it treads lightly on the environment—items that would have gone into the landfill are remade into something special. “I think there is a greater awareness of the wastefulness within our society and an increase in resourceful and practical uses of discarded items,” says Sarah Pierpont, art market coordinator, Recycle Santa Fe Art Show. Artist Berg says that sometimes an object outlives its purpose or becomes obsolete. “We often don’t take the time to figure out what to do with an item so it is often discarded, which is really not a solution. It is the gift of the artist to show a new purpose.”
The Lure of Upcycled Art
“Recycled art brings out the inner kid in all of us,” says Recycle Santa Fe’s Pierpont. “People love to see innovative ways to use items other than their intended purpose….especially items that are no longer valued on their own.” As testament, the Recycle Santa Fe Art Show will celebrate its 19th year this coming November 17-19. Described as the country’s largest and oldest recycled art market, the show is dedicated to showcasing art created from discarded materials and kicks off with its infamous Trash Fashion and Costume Contest and features an art market (with more than 100 artists), adult and student juried art exhibits, and “make and take” art activities. Every year, this event attracts thousands of art lovers and eco-conscious holiday gift-givers.
Albuquerque also has an annual art show dedicated to upcycling, which takes place in the spring at the Open Space Visitor Center. The 9th Annual Albuquerque Recycled Art Fair will be hosted by the City of Albuquerque and is dedicated to rethinking “reduce, reuse, recycle” and keeping Albuquerque clean. Approximately 40 art vendors will be featured along with educational activities, a youth market, and fun contests. Look for information for the 2018 event on the City of Albuquerque’s website.
How Do I Start Upcycling?
The possibilities for upcycling are limitless. The internet is a wonderful source for ideas that may lead you to your own aha moment of creativity. Check out Hipcycles’ Pinterest location, a resource for all things relating to upcycling. Or look around at yard sales and thrift stores for materials for inspiration – such as at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, a virtual bonanza for inexpensive materials. And be sure to go through the junk pile in your garage—you might find some ideal supplies just waiting to find a new purpose. And upcycling can take some practice. Don’t get discouraged if your first few creations are not quite what you intended.
Unique New Mexico Upcycled Homes
For a very New Mexico upcycle experience, plan a visit to the Taos area to see unusual homes called Earthships. An Earthship is a type of passive solar house that is made of both natural and upcycled materials such as earth-packed tires, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds. These whimsical structures are radically designed and boast many green features, such as solar and wind energy, thermal/solar heating and cooling, and water harvesting. The Earthship Visitor Center is located at #2 Earthship Way in Tres Piedras, NM and is open every day through Labor Day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are self-guided tours as well as guided tours available. There is even an academy, where students learning the principles of Earthship construction. You also can book an overnight stay at one of the fully-furnished Earthships, and experience Earthship living first-hand. Click here to learn more about the Earthship Visitor Center as well as its nightly rental program.
So enjoy shows like HGTV’s Flea Market Flip, where participants compete to breathe new life into flea market finds. And consider dipping your toes into the upcyclng trend—it’s an everyday person’s answer to Martha Stewart. More importantly, when you upcycle you are actually displaying hope for the future. “It literally changes the way people think about the world,” explains artist Berg.” Rather than despairing over how much trash we have to deal with, instead we should say ‘look at all these art supplies.’”