Upcycled Art Projects to Make and Sell

upcycled art

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Are you looking for a way to make some extra money? Why not try selling your art? You can create beautiful art pieces from recycled materials, and there is a huge market for upcycled art. This article will share some inspired upcycled art projects that you can make and sell online.

These projects are perfect for small business owners who want to start a gig or add some handmade items to their shop. So get creative, and start making some beautiful art today!

Why You Should Create Art Projects Using Recycled Materials

The increasing urgency of environmental issues and the increasing waste generated by modern consumerist societies make it crucial for us to find innovative and sustainable ways to repurpose what we might consider “trash.”

Creating art projects using recycled materials not only promotes sustainability but also fosters creativity and innovation.

Materials like discarded paper, old cardboard, fabric remnants, and even that pile of seemingly useless junk mail can serve as a basis for intricate artworks. Not only do they breathe life into things that would have ended up in the landfill, but they also challenge artists to think outside the box.

When considering plastics, such as bottles and containers, the potential for transformation is immense. Think about the multitudes of these items that are discarded daily! Instead of adding to the growing environmental problem, we can turn them into functional or decorative pieces.

upcycled art

Here are 4 reasons why it’s a good idea to create art projects to make and sell using upcycled materials:

  • It’s good for the environment: When you create designs using recycled objects, you are helping the earth by reducing the amount of trash that ends up in dumps. That’s especially helpful when it comes to some plastics that take 450 years to decompose!
  • It’s very cost-effective: Besides saving the earth, you can save money by using recycled old objects instead of purchasing new ones that will likely go—you guessed it—in the dump when you are done with them.
  • It’s unique and eye-catching: Upcycled creations are gorgeous and niche, making them easy to sell online or at craft fairs/markets. Just make sure that your items have tags with prices, so people know how much your stuff costs.
  • It’s fun: When you make something new from old things, you’ll be surprised at what you can do when creativity strikes. If you have kids, it teaches them to be environmentally conscious in an entertaining way.

25 Ideas for Upcycled Art Projects

Several successful small businesses and individual artists generate revenue for their creations while also raising awareness of consumerism culture and the looming pollution crisis.

But, unfortunately, not many companies serve a practical purpose while letting you do something you enjoy; therefore, it should be a nice change of pace. At the end of the day, you can start your business, so start looking for where to sell handmade items locally.

upcycled art

Ready to start your own art project business? Here are 25 recycling ideas to get you started.

1. Design Tin Can Butterflies

Reimagining the humble tin can is both ecologically beneficial and creatively rewarding. Picture this: A tin can, which was once holding your favorite beans, now transformed into a beautiful butterfly sculpture.

If you possess some basic tool skills and a pinch of imagination, these cans can metamorphose into intricate butterfly jewelry pins, garden decorations, or even a central piece in a themed wall art. Their metallic shimmer can capture light, adding a touch of whimsy to any setting.

Want some inspiration? Then, check out Art Now and Then’s blog page.

2. Make Portraits with Bottle Caps

Bottlecap art is popular for a few good reasons: it’s easy, fun and the results are often jaw-dropping. They are quite common too, and you can find them in landfills everywhere. You can create all sorts of things with them, even floor tile, but our personal favorite is pixel mosaic art.

You’re probably familiar with the Marilyn Monroe portrait made from colorful beer bottle caps, but there are all sorts of designs you can create.

You can look at taza.co’s page for ideas.

3. Paint Using Old Crayons

Crayons, often relegated to childhood memories, can find their way back into our adult lives in the most artistic manner. By melting them, artists can create a cascade of vibrant colors, evoking emotions and memories.

Moreover, merging these melted wonders with old pages, especially from books or dictionaries, provides a juxtaposition of the old and new, creating masterpieces with profound narratives.

upcycled art

4. Make Memory Quilts from Old T-shirts

Turning old clothes into something new is a great way to reduce waste and provide sentimental pieces of art at the same time. Upcycled tees are good to use for memory quilting, and you can design a really gorgeous bedspread with just a few fabric scraps.

You can make new memories for kids and teens with sports-themed quilts too. If you’re not sure how to quilt, there are plenty of online tutorials to show you the process.

5. Turn Upcycled Magazines into Collages

It’s a shame, but 85 million tons of paper waste is sent to the trash dump every year. Old mags we throw away are a part of this waste, but they are also a great source of colorful, interesting paper to use in your art projects.

Another excellent way to reuse this paper and keep it out of the dumpster is to cut out images or words to design collages. You can also make three-dimensional sculptures by cutting pages into thin strips and gluing them together. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can even try crocheting with old magazine pages.

6. Teach Kids How to Make Plastic Bottle Planters

The omnipresence of plastic bottles is undeniable, and their environmental impact is profound. But imagine turning this narrative around and using these bottles as tools for education and creativity.

By converting these bottles into planters, we not only repurpose them but also impart valuable lessons to children about sustainability, creativity, and the joys of gardening. Seeing a seed sprout in a planter they crafted can instill pride and a sense of responsibility in young minds.

In essence, using recycled materials in art projects is a testament to humanity’s ability to innovate and cherish our environment. It underscores the adage that beauty, indeed, can be found in the most unexpected places.

upcycled art

7. Make DIY Sea Glass Lamps

Utilizing sea glass in your DIY endeavors can add a hint of coastal charm and nostalgia. These ocean-tumbled treasures come in a myriad of colors and translucencies, making them perfect centerpieces when paired with light.

The delicate hues of green, blue, amber, and clear shimmer when backlit, capturing the essence of the ocean.

If you don’t have access to a beach or don’t find enough sea glass, don’t fret. There are other alternatives that can still provide that ethereal glow. Marbles, with their rounded shape and varied colors, can be an interesting substitute.

They can catch light in similar ways, adding a touch of whimsy to your project. Small stones, preferably those that are semi-translucent, can also mimic the effect of sea glass when used in lamp designs. Their natural textures and irregular shapes can add an earthy, rustic touch to your lamp.

8. Design Hubcap Sculptures

The art of repurposing often involves looking at mundane objects with a fresh perspective. Consider hubcaps. These metal discs, which are often discarded or left abandoned, can be transformed into striking pieces of art.

With just a dash of creativity, they can morph into vibrant flowers, captivating animals, or abstract sculptures that can enhance any indoor or outdoor space. Spray painting them in bold, bright colors can turn them into statement pieces, ideal for livening up a garden or patio.

Mounting these painted hubcaps on a fence or wall can instantly turn a drab space into a focal point.

9. Make Wearables out of Rubbish

One man’s trash is another man’s fashion statement. With a little ingenuity, items that once seemed destined for the landfill can become the highlight of your wardrobe. An old, discarded sheet can be transformed into a chic summer top or a skirt.

A t-shirt that’s seen better days might find a second life as a trendy tote bag. Upcycled jewelry is also gaining traction, with materials as varied as old books, discarded toys, defunct computer parts, and even melted plastic straws serving as the foundation for necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and more.

10. Upcycle Old Vases with Hot Glue

Vases are often overlooked in the realm of upcycling, but with some creativity, they can be given a fresh lease on life. Using hot glue, you can add intricate designs or textures to the exterior of a vase, making it look more high-end and unique.

Moreover, once painted, these patterns can pop, making the vase look like an artisanal piece. Besides holding flowers, these embellished vases can serve as standalone decor items, candle holders, or even containers for creative centerpieces.

The beauty of this project lies in its simplicity: all you need is an old vase, a hot glue gun, some paint, and a bit of imagination to breathe new life into an old piece.

upcycled art

11. Repurpose Old Skate Boards

Skateboarding fans are sure to love cool things like shelves, jewelry, guitar picks and barbecue grills made out of old, broken skateboards. All you need is some paint and a little bit of creativity to turn these boards into something truly unique.

If you are making rings out of them, you may not even need paint since the eye-catching patterns on the boards are so beautiful.

Take a look at this for making skateboard rings here or this video that shows how to make guitar picks out of old skateboard material here.

Read More: How to Start an Upcycling Business

12. Design Recycled Haute Couture

Recycled high fashion is big business, but they all had to start somewhere, right? If you are a fashionista with old clothes lying around, why not recycle them to make high-fashion garments?

Fashion upcycling to make haute couture can be done with material lying around the house or from a local landfill. The material you can use includes old army blankets, parachutes, old pairs of jeans and old band t-shirts.

There is a niche for this type of style, so you can often find recycled fashion shows and exhibits that are good resources for peddling your wares.

13. Recycle Old CDs

The era of CDs has faded, replaced by digital streaming and downloads, but the charm and reflectiveness of these discs remain timeless. When the sun hits an old CD, it disperses a prism of colors – a phenomenon perfect for home decor.

The iridescent shimmer of CDs can be used to create stunning sun catchers, placing them in your garden or by a window to catch light and create dancing rainbows. By breaking them into smaller shards, you can fashion mosaic-style ornaments or even unique wall mirrors.

Given the material’s flexibility, it’s possible to craft eye-catching patterns and designs. And the beauty of recycling CDs?

It’s not only an eco-friendly endeavor but also an economical one. With just a bit of creativity, what was once a medium for music can now resonate visually in your living space.

14. Turn Your Old Car into a Masterpiece

There’s something poignantly nostalgic about an old car, a silent witness to many journeys and memories. Instead of letting it rust away in a forgotten corner, turning it into a canvas for your artistic expressions can breathe new life into it.

With paint or chalkboard coatings, the car’s exterior can become a sprawling space for murals, designs, or even interactive art where visitors can leave messages or doodle. Perhaps turning it into a quirky garden feature by filling it with plants and flowers or retrofitting it into a unique seating area.

The possibilities are as vast as the open road once was for that vehicle. And the best part? There’s no pressure of perfection; it’s all about creative expression and giving the old timer a new narrative.

upcycled art

15. Craft with Discarded Light Bulbs

Before you dispose of a burnt-out light bulb, consider its potential as an art piece. These bulbs, with their delicate glass encasings, offer a myriad of upcycling opportunities.

For instance, they can be transformed into mini terrariums, holding tiny plants inside, suspended in the air by threads or placed gracefully on a shelf.

Alternatively, with a touch of paint, they can become ornamental designs for festivities, think of Christmas ornaments or Halloween decorations. For the more daring, filling them with colored water or other liquids can make a playful sun catcher.

16. Repurpose Old Tires into Funky Furniture

Tires may seem like they are just for cars, but did you know that they can also be used to make funky and stylish furniture? For example, you can paint them and turn them into a chair, table, lamp and even a sofa.

The best part is that this type of furniture is pretty sturdy and will last a long time. If you are looking for something a little more low-key, you can also use old tires to make garden tables, planters and even holiday yard decorations.

Even the tires themselves can be carved decoratively and painted. You can get donated old tires from the community or collect them from landfills.

17. Put a Cork in It

From USB drives to coasters, there are all sorts of things you can make with wine corks. You can also turn them into magnets and pins or even just use them to decorate some of your other projects (like the vases we mentioned earlier). You can dye them, paint them or just leave them as they are.

Kids will have hours of fun with these DIY stamps (it’s knife intensive, so be sure to cut out the details for the younger kids before letting them use them).

18. Make Soda Can Designs

Soda cans are another fantastic item to upcycle, and there are all sorts of exciting projects you can make by reusing the aluminum in them.

You can make animals, flowers, coasters, mirrors or even just some abstract designs. The best thing is that this type of art is pretty straightforward to do and doesn’t require a lot of supplies.

upcycled art

19. Reimagine Broken Tiles

Every now and then, home renovations or accidental mishaps can leave you with a pile of broken tiles. Rather than discarding them, these colorful ceramic pieces can be a goldmine for crafting enthusiasts.

Mosaics are the first thing that springs to mind — a beautifully intricate tabletop or a vibrant pathway in the garden can be achieved by piecing together these shards. Even the smallest bits can be utilized to create detailed art frames or mirror edges, adding a rustic touch to your decor.

Beyond the functional, broken tiles can also be transformed into jewelry pieces, such as pendants or brooches. The natural, earthy feel of the ceramic, combined with its glossy finish, can create a striking contrast.

It’s a celebration of imperfection, where each crack or chip tells a story and adds to the character of your creations.

20. Embellish with Discarded Copper Wiring

Copper wiring has a distinctive color and texture, and it’s extremely versatile. It lends itself well to recycled art projects, and you can use it to make jewelry, wall hangings or even just sculpture pieces.

For instance, search and find some thick copper wiring, and you can expand on this to make lovely hanging planters out of light bulbs. You can also use regular wire and some paint to make faux sea coral arrangements.

upcycled art

21. Use Old Books to Make Chic Art

Books may be great for your brain, but they can also be used to make some really chic-looking pieces. For example, you can turn them into book art sculptures or even just use pages from them as wallpaper.

The good news is that you probably have lots of books lying around the house already, so you can toss a few in a pile for making some inexpensive artwork later.

22. Make Holiday Wreaths

Instead of using holly and pine fir, you can use things like maps, plastic bottles and even old magazines and postcards to make holiday wreaths. To put a unique recycled spin on this familiar wall adornment, you can also use jeans or sweaters to make them.

Doing so is a great way to give your home some festive flair, and you can use things like candy wrappers or gift wrapping paper instead of traditional ribbons if you’d like.

Another idea is to make heart-shaped wreaths with upcycled black roses all around with some recycled skeletons and bats sprinkled in that can work for either Valentine’s Day or Halloween (just switch red accents out for orange).

For inspiration, look at the unique wreaths on JessMadeDesign here, or you could try your hand at making an upcycled Christmas wreath that is similar to this:

23. Use Mixed Media

Mixed media upcycling involves combining various materials to craft unique art pieces. This approach encourages artists to see potential in discarded items, from old book pages to forgotten lace or colorful flip-flops.

Each material, whether it’s a delicate feather or a rugged scrap of fabric, brings its own texture and story to the artwork. By blending these diverse elements, mixed media not only transforms waste into wonder but also challenges and expands conventional artistic boundaries.

This form of art celebrates the beauty of repurposing and the unexpected magic that arises from uniting different mediums

24. Become an Artivist

Artivists (Activist + Artist) like Banksy use their artwork to bring awareness to social and political issues. Artivist Alejandro Duran uses his artwork to bring awareness to the massive problems that pollution brings and to help save the earth.

For his photo series, “Washed Up,” the artivist collected plastic rubbish that he collected along the shorelines of Sian Ka’an, a UNESCO World Heritage located on the Caribbean coast of Mexico.

You can watch Alejandro Duran discuss “Washed Up” on Ted Talk by clicking here.

25. Tackle an Ambitious Upcycling Project

After you’ve gotten used to making a few upcycled projects, you can start tackling more ambitious ones like park projects. For those, you can pitch projects where you make things like sculptures, benches and tables to city officials.

Alternatively, you can market this service from a gallery on your website. This type of project is more complicated than the ones we’ve mentioned above, but it’s definitely worth doing if you have the time and energy.

This project, a partnership between Music For Everyone and Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, transformed pianos, once destined for trash, into beautiful art pieces. All proceeds from the art sales supported music programs throughout Lancaster County.

Comparing Upcycled Art Project Ideas

The table below provides a comparison of various upcycled art project ideas. Use this as a quick reference guide to gauge the level of difficulty, material requirements, and potential market appeal.

Project IdeaPrimary MaterialsDifficulty Level (1-5, with 5 being most difficult)Potential Market Appeal (1-5, with 5 being most appealing)
Design Tin Can ButterfliesTin cans34
Make Portraits with Bottle CapsBottle caps24
Paint Using Old CrayonsCrayons23
Make Memory Quilts from Old T-shirtsOld T-shirts45
Turn Upcycled Magazines into CollagesMagazines13
Make Plastic Bottle PlantersPlastic bottles23
Make DIY Sea Glass LampsSea glass or marbles34
Design Hubcap SculpturesHubcaps34
Make Wearables out of RubbishOld clothes, toys, etc.34
Upcycle Old Vases with Hot GlueOld vases, hot glue13
Repurpose Old Skate BoardsSkateboards44
Design Recycled Haute CoutureOld clothes55
Recycle Old CDsCDs13
Turn Your Old Car into a MasterpieceOld car, paint55
Repurpose Old Tires into FurnitureTires44
Put a Cork in ItWine corks12
Make Soda Can DesignsSoda cans23
DIY Light Bulb Terrarium/AquariumOld light bulbs23
Embellish with Copper WiringCopper wiring34
Use Old Books to Make Chic ArtOld books24
Make Holiday WreathsMaps, bottles, magazines24
Use Mixed MediaVarious recycled items45

upcycled art

How to Sell Art Projects that Use Upcycled Materials

Once you’ve moved from dabbling in crafts to creating fine art, you can start selling your pieces and making money. There are many resources when it comes to where to sell art online. The best thing about selling upcycled creations is that it’s easier to find an audience for them, especially if they are eco-friendly and support a good cause. People love buying things made from repurposed items because they want to be part of this movement that is helping the earth.

A good place to sell your recycled creations is at craft fairs, flea markets or on Etsy, which has a large following of people who are passionate about eco-friendly items. So, make sure to look into how to start a small business on Etsy as well as how to sell on Amazon Handmade. It’s also best if you have a website where potential clients can search and see examples of all the different types of work you’ve done in this medium and how much they cost, but you can also join a like-minded community such as the r/upcycling forum on Reddit.

If you’re looking for more artistic inspiration and tips to help build your business as an artistic professional, check out the tutorials at CreativeLive. You’ll find everything from how to put together marketing plans that work wonders for your brand or photography workshops where they show you how to take better pictures in any situation.

Have fun and let your imagination run wild as you create art projects that are truly unique and more beautiful than anything else out there!

Image: Depositphotos

Holly Chavez Holly Chavez is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 2 years. She is also a successful copywriter for marketing agencies and private firms. Holly has contributed to various publications and news websites and is a former entrepreneur and industrial engineer who has worked for two decades in the manufacturing and logistics industry.