Clockwise: laminated maple skateboards used in the jewelry of Aaron Curti, glass platters made from upcycled glass bottles by Sharon Nauta, vinyl record purse by Jennifer Wozniak, journal covers made from discarded billboard vinyl by Shannon Green, and a “Fringe” necklace by Brianna Luce.
Photos courtesy of the artists
When Shannon Green spies a snazzy highway billboard, she sees more than just an advertisement. She sees journal covers, totes, bookmarks and more. Green is one of many makers who see function and beauty in recycled discards.
Sharon Nauta, for instance, turns old wine bottles into beautifully etched platters; Jennifer Wozniak spins vinyl records into hip purses; Brianna Luce strums used guitar strings into jewelry; and Aaron Curti turns discarded skateboards into wood jewelry.
Here are their stories.
Three Billboards Way Outside Ebbing, Missouri
When Shannon Green learned that she could buy used billboard, she bought one “just because I could.”
“I’d never heard of such a thing,” says Green, who also upcycles vinyl from banners and smaller signs. “A 6’ x 9’ billboard is a lot of material and not easy to store, so I started brainstorming for creative ways to use it.”
Shannon Green takes discarded billboard vinyl and tuns them into artful books, journal covers, bookmarks, totes and more.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Green
A passionate journal maker, she started with journal and book covers, experimenting with ways to fuse the vinyl to make it stronger. After much experimentation, she developed a proprietary process to fuse the vinyl to itself, using no adhesives.
That process makes the vinyl sturdy enough to hold its shape when cut for journal covers and totes, which are water, heat and tear resistant. “Basically, it becomes a new, thicker substrate” that can be further decorated with glue, paint, and more.
The vinyl is usually “extremely dirty from either its previous life hanging in the elements or from being stored in a warehouse,” Green says. “Cleaning, trimming and prepping the vinyl so that it’s usable is very labor intensive.”
All the vinyl can be embellished with paint, glue, collage, glitter, gems and just about anything else a mixed media artist would want.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Green
Her products are all individually made by Green and her husband in their Arkansas garage and no two covers or totes are the same.
“We have very little waste,” she adds. “I use our small scraps to make bookmarks, note pad holders and even my own business cards.”
PVC vinyl, she says, “will sit in a landfill for 149 years before it starts to break down. It can’t be incinerated because burning the vinyl produces harmful dioxins.”
Find Shannon online at byshannongreen.com.
Rock ‘n Roll is Here to Stay
Vinyl records are on a come back tour – and not just for record players. Jennifer Wozniak gives old vinyl new life by turning those discs into unique purses.
“My goal was to make record handbags (in both 33 rpm and 45 rpm sizes) out of the highest quality materials so that they are both functional and fashionable,” says the Denver-based Wozniak, who uses not just the record itself, but also the album cover and liner notes, and adds used leather belts as straps. “There were lots of prototypes and experiments.”
Wozniak’s husband, Mark Serwinowski, cuts the vinyl and drills holes that allow Wozniak to assemble the purses. “The gussets on my bags are colorful leather that complements the colors of the record cover, making them incredibly durable,” she says.
“I am very committed to making the purses in the most sustainable way possible, minimizing waste. I recycle all the paper scraps and save as many leather scraps as possible. My business is also powered with 100% solar energy.”
Jennifer Wozniak of She’s A Rainbow Co., fashions hip purses from old vinyl records. Discarded belts are used to handles for Wozniak’s purses. She also does custom work for customers looking for a favorite musician.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wozniak
For Wozniak, who has an MBA in marketing, “making the product was easy, but navigating the steps to start a business was not.” She says the Small Business Development Center in Denver helped not just with startup basics, but with random questions along the way.
She finds records at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales.
“Artists are printing or re-printing vinyl, and record clubs are creating special releases of artists on multi-colored vinyl. Most of the 33s I work with have already had a good life of being played and are typically scratched. My work gives them a new life.”
Wozniak uses the vinyl record itself as well as the album cover and liner notes to fashion her purses. .
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Wozniak
Finding the smaller 45s is tougher. “I need ones that have a sleeve with a photo on it, and it has to be in relatively good condition.”
Wozniak, who sells at fairs and online, often gets requests for custom purses. “I’ve learned from customers that music is an intrinsic part of our lives, and everyone has a story about why their favorite is so important to them. Our memories and experiences are rooted in music. When I send a purse to a customer it is carefully wrapped in a pretty box with a personal note, because I am sending them a piece of their passion or memories and it needs to be handled with care and respect.”
Find Jennifer online at shesarainbowco.com.
Sweet Ride, Gnarly Jewelry
Aaron Curti has been riding skateboards since he was eight and still loves a well-made board – and not just for the ride. They make gnarly jewelry, too.
“Skateboards are seven layers of maple that are individually dyed various colors or left natural and laminated together,” Curti explains. “This makes for great material and colors to work with.”
In 2017, Curti, a long-time Portland, Oregon, woodworker who also restores pool tables, saw a countertop made from old skateboards. Intrigued, he thought about his stash of old boards. Because his wife kept losing the earrings he bought her, he thought of making jewelry. He started cutting up his old skateboards, making earrings, pendants and more.
It is painstaking work that begins with finding quality maple boards with good color layers.
After cleaning and stripping old skateboards, Aaron Curti cuts off the useable parts, hand sands each piece and polishes it to finish it off.
Photos courtesy of Aaron Curti
“I remove the grip tape, adhesive, paint and stickers, getting down to the raw material,” he says. “I cut away the chipped and broken parts on the board. I usually cut off the nose and tail, which I use for free hand designs. I cut the center into strips and glue these together for geometric designs.”
The shapes, which are cut, sanded and glued, sometimes multiple times, are dried for several days. He gets about 50 pieces from one board, depending on how much is useable.
“I often glue several pieces from various boards together, sometimes incorporating exotic woods to get fun color patterns. I use a linseed oil/beeswax natural wood finish on all pieces.”
Everything is done by hand, he says. “I do lots of hand sanding. It’s not a quick process and I take my time with every piece. I also re-purpose materials as much as possible in my packaging and displays.”
Find Aaron online at focuspokuscreations.etsy.com.
Wine, Dine, and Re-wind
Recycling is in Sharon Nauta’s DNA. So when she moved from Portland, Oregon, to rural North Carolina, she couldn’t help picking up glass bottles that littered the roads.
“In a very short time I had a garage full of pretty glass bottles with no place to take them to be recycled,” says Nauta, whose hobby at the time was creating fused glass art. “It occurred to me that the bottles I collected were made from beautiful colored glass, which was getting expensive to buy.”
So she started experimenting.
“After many disastrous attempts I finally found a firing schedule that worked well with the bottle glass. That’s when I had an inkling that I could make beautiful, functional art from the discarded bottles.”
Almost a decade after finding her first bottle trash, her hobby has turned into a business and those flattened bottles have morphed into beautiful platters.
Top left: Sharon Nauta picks up discarded wine bottles from local merchants to create etched-looking glass platters. Here, cleaned bottles wait to be transformed.
Left: Nauta uses a “kiln carving” method to create beautiful etched-looking designs in the transformed platters.
Above: Nauta also creates bottle stoppers and other objects using discarded art glass as well as bottles.
Photo courtesy of Sharon Nauta
Nauta, however, wanted more than just flattened bottles. She wanted designs. She experimented with “kiln carving,” a technique that makes it appear as if part of the glass surface has been carved away. Ceramic fiber paper or ceramic molds under the glass during the firing create the designs. She also keeps the bottle neck open while firing to create a holder for a wine stopper.
Most of her bottles come from bars, restaurants and wineries that don’t have curbside recycling. She creates the wine stoppers from scrap art glass from local artists.
“Because we don’t use paint, glue, glitter or resin to create our designs our trays are food, dishwasher, microwave, and oven safe,” she notes.
Working from a three-bay garage in Vancouver, Washington, she also makes planters, bird feeders, wind chimes, tiki torches and lamps – all from reclaimed glass.
“Scientists say it takes a glass bottle 1 million years to break down in a landfill,” Nauta says. “So far this year we have recycled 4 tons.”
Find Sharon online at All Bottled Up.
Brianna Luce, owner of Bluce Designs, uses discarded guitar strings to create artful jewelry.
Photo courtesy of Brianna Luce
Stringing Us Along
Brianna Luce started making beaded jewelry as a hobby when she was 18. But when she fashioned her mom’s old mandolin strings into earrings, she found her true design instrument.
That simple design – two loops and some beads – drew comments, compliments, and potential buyers, so she made more, using old guitar strings, and sold them at the Portland (Oregon) Saturday Market.
“I made $500 the first weekend,” she recalls. “It blew my mind.”
As her hobby evolved into a business, her design aesthetic evolved, too. Luce studied architecture in college and today’s jewelry reflects that with geometric lines and angles, often mixing the strings with beads and jewelry chain.
The recycling aspect is a plus.
She collects strings from family, friends and music stores, but is “crazy picky” about their quality. For instance, she wants strings with copper, brass or silver cores. She rejects strings that are unevenly worn, are über dirty, or have a plastic coating.
“When people restring (their instruments), there is a left-over section at the top. I like using that part because it is fresh and clean.”
When Luce first started selling her jewelry, she focused on wholesale. “I thought I wanted to be a business that sold jewelry to fancy stores, but that was a struggle. I took big financial hits.
“It took me a while to figure out that what I really enjoy is being an artist, being creative. For me, the art fair route is more fulfilling. My struggle was letting go of thinking I needed to be wholesale brand.”
“Double Helix” necklace and earrings set from Bluce Designs.
Photo courtesy of Brianna Luce
“Spire” necklace from Bluce Designs.
Photo courtesy of Brianna Luce
She sells on Etsy, but finds it tediously time consuming, not great for sales, and she hates being on the computer. She’d rather create at home and go to art fairs where she can engage with customers, finding out what triggers a sale.
“I enjoy selling in person, (even though) it’s expensive to do fancy art fairs, which are exhausting, but fun.”
Find Brianna online at blucedesigns.com.
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com