I have a friend who works at a tire shop. When possible, he takes some of the old tires and uses them to create art. His latest creation is a big, whimsical bug sitting in a lawn chair. There is another person in town who makes art from discarded yard supplies like mowers, garden hoses, and rakes. I’ve seen exhibitions of art made from trash, street signs, aluminum cans, computer parts, and discarded furniture. Any sort of junk is fair game for art projects, it seems.
I’ve also seen people take seemingly useless junk and repurpose it into useful stuff. One guy makes fish tanks out of old CRT computer monitors. Someone else collects discarded building materials from construction sites and make birdhouses and wooden lawn art. Another person turns discarded doors into decorative tables. These people see that trash could become something else and they put their creativity to work creating useful stuff from garbage.
If you want to make art or useful things out of junk, you’re only limited by your creativity and the materials to which you have access. If you’re a computer technician by day, you probably have access to all kinds of computer parts that may be useful. A contractor probably has access to wood or wiring. Easy access to materials makes things easier, but if you need materials you don’t come across every day, there are ways to get them. You can trawl yard sales or curbs on trash day. You can go to a scrap metal dealer or junk yard and offer to buy some parts you need. You can ask your friends if they have the materials you need. It may require some thought, but you can get the parts you need.
When thinking about what to create, there are two approaches. First, you can look at the stuff you have and think about what you can make from it. If you have a ton of CD’s lying around, think about what those might become. Second, you can think about what you’d like to make and then think of what materials you need to do it. Maybe you have a great idea for a desktop organizer. Think about what you can use to make that vision a reality.
Once you’ve created your items, you need to turn them into money. Here are some ways you can do that:
Enter contests: Ready Made Magazine routinely offers a contest to create something useful out of a specified item. They call it the, “MacGyver Challenge” and you can see some of the past winners here. You can find contests in other places, as well. There are contests that require you to make something useful, as well as judged art competitions. Prizes usually range from a little cash or something like a free t-shirt or subscription, to help launching your product into the mainstream or a public exhibition of your art.
Sell on the web: Online sales are a great way to sell your creations. Etsy.com and eBay provide ready made sales platforms, but you can create your own website if you’d rather have more control or features.
Become an artist: If what you make is art, you can pursue the life of an artist. You can sell your work at galleries and through exhibitions and you can try for commissions to create larger installations in public venues. You can also open your own gallery if you become successful enough.
Write books or teach: Once you’ve mastered creating stuff, you can teach others to create, as well. You can produce books that show others how to make your creations, or you can teach a class through local community school program.
Sell locally: You can sell your creations at local craft fairs, or at other shows like bridal expos, for example (if your items are wedding themed). Look around your area for upcoming events that match your creations and look into becoming a vendor. Some local stores may also be open to carrying your items if you’re willing to split the proceeds.
Turn it into a career: There are some people who say that redesigning is a career of the future. For years companies have hired designers to create new products. Now with the environmental crisis, supply costs escalating, and the rising costs of trash disposal, more and more companies are looking for people who can turn failed projects, outdated equipment, and returns of broken items into new, salable products. If this sort of thing comes easily to you, you might be able to market yourself as a “re-designer.”
If you have enough creativity to see art or useful stuff in the trash, you can make a little extra money or maybe even embark on a new career. Find something you enjoy making and that you can reliably obtain materials for and then let your creativity go wild.