Reusing unwanted items in the art world

Posted by Kornelia Ferrari on

Reusing unwanted items in the art world

(Or: saving the planet pot-by-pot)


As many of you know me by now, I'm a Mandala artist who paints dot Mandalas. (If you would like to read more about my journey click here)  And because I love anything shiny I started to use resin to coat my smaller pieces with it to give them a mirror shine. This evolved into me making resin jewellery combined with the use of acrylic paint and dotting.

This is me with one of my colourful Mandalas: 



This blog is about reusing and recycling as an artist. I realised there is not a lot of information on the World Wide Web about it. There are artists who work solely with unwanted items such as rubbish or renovate unloved furniture and I really look up to them. One person’s trash is another one’s  treasure- they say. People make beautiful statues and statement art from rubbish which would look amazing in a modern home setting. In fact there was an exhibition at the Brampton Museum in Newcastle Under Lyme not long ago (summer of 2022) by Val Hunt. It was called ‘Reincarnated Rubbish – Endangered and Extinct’. She creates beautiful artwork out of rubbish. With this she 'aims to inspire, inform and encourage everyone to experience the fun of creative recycling'.

Others upcycle unloved furniture beautifully. These items would look great both in old or new settings. But this blog post is written from an artist’s point of view. I will not give you advice what to save and reuse in your household. You can find thousands of ideas online. I will write about how I- as an artist- reuse unwanted items in my art studio plus I will give you lots of tips recommended by other amazing artists. 

Over the years I have realised I’d rather reuse items than recycle. What is the difference? Reused products don’t require extra energy and effort on a larger scale to become a different item. You just find another purpose for them in your household. For example using empty jam jars as pencil holders. You can paint them, decoupage them or just put a ribbon on them and they will look nice. But we all know there's a limit on how many things a household can reuse.

Recycled items go to different factories to get a new life. These factories need to use extra energy to make new products out of old ones. So for me this is the second best thing down this road. Of course it’s wonderful that these companies make the effort to recycle items that would otherwise go to landfills. And here I am, as a single artist doing my best on a smaller scale to reuse everything I can. I know it's not much but at least they’ll have one less box to make into kitchen rolls.

So how did this blog post start? I started reusing items in my household unintentionally. I felt sorry to throw away that lovely soup pot with the good lid. I saw potential in the plastic food boxes of my favourite Indian take away. And don’t get me started on anything glass! It was a real waste for me, to throw them in the bin. (My husband makes candles out of glass jars, especially before Christmas time.) So this was the beginning.

After a while I started to think a bit more consciously. I was looking for more ways to ‘save the planet’. This is when the brilliant idea came: Why don’t I ask my fellow Mandala painting artists? I immediately wrote a post and put it in a couple of social media groups asking what tricks they have up their sleeves. I was really surprised of the response. So many people sent me pictures of their recycled arts, crafts, and explained what they do to reuse different items. One lady even said she got inspired by my post and would start saving more plastic pots! I thought: Why don’t I share this with others? And here it is, you’re reading my blog about saving the world, pot-by-pot! I’m saving and reusing all kinds of tins, cups, holders and boxes. It doesn’t matter if it’s made out of glass, plastic, metal or anything else. If I see even a little way of reusing an item I’m keeping it. And it works great!


But first let's start with the list of ideas I collected from other artists:

  • Use egg cartons to mix small amounts of paint out. They’re also great for putting canvases on them to dry.
  • Paint metal coffee pots, dot them (or decorate them in any other way) and use them for a variety of things. You can even give them to friends and family as gifts.
  • Use low plastic cans or boxes as organizers/ dividers in your drawers.
  • Paint empty bottles and dot on them. They’re already very decorative but you could also put some flowers in them to make them even prettier.
  • Use bottle tops if you only need to mix a small amount of paint. You can also use those small yoghurt pots- the ones for children.
  • Cut off the end of an old sock (we all have those with holes, they usually end up in the bin), pull it on your wrist and use it to clean your dotting tools or brushes. Oh, about socks: this is my own tip- not related to art at all but hey! Buy lots of pairs of the same design- or even just the same colour. And when one of them will have a hole on it you just throw that one single sock out and not the pair. This way you can still pair the other one with the other socks! I think it’s a brilliant idea! But back to art now!
  • If you have empty glass jars you can knit around them or make beaded works and saw them on. They would look great!
  • Decorate/ paint the lid of a jar and put Christmas sweets in it for children. I’m sure they’ll love the idea!
  • Screw a drawer/ door knob on the lid of a glass jar and paint it. If you make a set they’ll look very stylish.
  • You can also keep your small craft supplies in larger jars.
  • Glue a piece of magnet on the top of a jar lid, decorate the inside and there’s your fridge magnet!
  • Get a larger empty plastic box. Put a wet sponge at the bottom. Put your unused paint (in smaller pots) on top of the sponge and close the lid. This way your paint won’t dry out because they stay moist. 
  • If you’re painting smaller stones or CD’s a small plastic or glass bottle is perfect to stand them on while you’re working or while they’re drying.
  • You can make beautiful wind spinners out of unwanted CD’s, some thread and beads. Paint or decorate the CD’s any way you like. Add the thread to the bottom with some beads.
  • If you have a decorated glass jar you can put a small string of lights in it which will make it even more unique and beautiful.


So these were other people’s ideas. Now I would like to share my reusing tips:


Reusing plastic pots for paint in Nelly Ferrari's art studio

The most important items I reuse would be my paint pots. In their previous lives they used to live on shop shelves as soup pots, breadcrumbs pots, and anything that needs a secure lid. These are now sitting on my shelves and they’re full of base paint. Usually I mix my base paints out myself. I mix them until I like that specific colour. I add thick strong coloured paint to base paint (called gesso) and mix it with some water so it’s the right consistency for painting canvases. Each canvas needs 2-3 layers. I need to keep all the paint I use because sometimes when I finish painting them I need to correct some patches. So it’s really important to have the same batch of paint until I finish my art and put the UV protective varnish on. If you’re a painter you know how difficult it is to mix out the exact shade of colour again. So these plastic pots are perfect for this purpose. If you keep the lids on properly they won’t dry out for months!

Plastic pots and boxes are also great to put canvases on them to dry. When I prepare canvases for my workshops I basically use anything I can get my hands on in my studio!

I also use plastic boxes/ cans for my resin art. I mix two component Epoxy resin in them (using the appropriate safety equipment of course). Sometimes I need several pots because I make different coloured layers or use gold/ silver leaves in parts of the resin. When I finished using them I either clean them with spirit alcohol or just leave them to dry. Once it dries the resin sets completely. This way I can reuse the plastic containers several times.



Glass- for me- is a very unique thing. I find them so beautiful! They have different colours such as blue, green, red or they can just be clear. I don’t understand why we have to chuck them in the bin. I remember as a child, we could take all empty bottles back to the grocery store where we bought them form and they paid a small amount of money for them. This encouraged people to carry the bottles back to the shops and it worked out really well. The bottles went back to the factories, they washed them out and refilled them. So there was no need for extra energy for breaking all the glass, melting it down and reshaping them into new bottles. Now I’m doing my part and trying to save all little glass jars and bottles. Here are some ideas that might be useful for you as well:

Do you know those tiny jam jars you get for breakfast in hotels when you go on holiday? A couple of months ago we did just that and I asked the waitress if there were any for me to take home. She asked the people in the kitchen and they were happy to collect them for me and they were delighted that these little jars did not go to the bin unused.


As I do workshops as well I have several dotting sets on the go. I decided to use glass jars for them. (They are yet to be dotted on)

Nelly Ferrari Mandala painting workshop tools



You know those boxes from certain large companies you order from? A lot of times I don’t put them in the recycle bin. I keep art supplies in them such as new canvases, resin moulds and accessories, my paints, jewellery making kits, or extra packaging. Basically they’re great for anything. And I keep my acrylic paint in pretty cardboard boxes with lids and take them to my workshops.


When they’re falling apart I use them when I make resin jewellery or resin paintings. I put them underneath them and the resin drips on the cardboard, instead of the table. Then it dries and they can be reused several times.


Now a quick question: Do you know what these are? 

Reusing plastic in my art studio- Nelly Ferrari

These little things are used in pizza boxes to support the lid so the cheese wouldn’t stick to them. After finishing the amazing pizza slices I wash them and use them in my studio. I put my canvases on them to dry. So 3-4- 5 of these go under one painted canvas. This way they’re not touching the table.



Sometimes I do fluid art pieces such as this heart. When using paint I put a silicon mat underneath it instead of the cardboard. The extra paint will drip on the mat. It dries and I can use it to make beautiful fluid art jewellery pieces such as these spring-themed necklaces.

Fluid art combined with resin art by Nelly Ferrari


Reusing dried paint: here you can see two different things: the plastic pot I collect leftover paint in and the leftover paint (combined with resin) to make pretty jewellery out of.

Leftover paint mainly comes from my fluid art pieces (dried on the silicon mat) or from the bottle lids when I take them off. I collect them in a silicon pot and when they dry completely I put them in this plastic box. I think all the colours together look very pretty. 

Resin and paint art by Nelly Ferrari


And more plastic: I don’t throw away old chopping boards. I have several of them in my art studio. I just put a silicon mat on top, add the resin moulds and I can carry them anywhere if needed. They’re also perfect for cutting on them with a craft knife.

Reusing plastic in my art studio- Nelly Ferrari


I don't throw away used kitchen sponges either. I cut them up to smaller sizes and use them in my art to create interesting patterns on canvases such as this silver edging: 

Paper and bubble wrap. I have plenty! These are the things I use and reuse again and again. I wrap my pre-painted canvases in them for future workshops. These canvases are very delicate, every little scratch is visible on them so I have to be very careful how I store them. 


And I saved the best for last! I have a box called 'The Box of Shame'. In its previous life it had washing powder in it. Now this little box contains all the resin pieces I am not able to present to you, or anyone in fact. I didn't have the heart to throw them out. They are waiting patiently until an idea will come to my mind and- hopefully very soon- they will be reused in some magnificent project of mine. But at least until then they will smell nice! :) 

The 'box of shame' resin holder


My aim with this blog is to help others- and not only people who do arts and crafts. I wanted to put together this collection of ideas so people can read it in one article and take away what they need. I hope I was able to give you some good advice and maybe you’ll be able to implement some of these ideas. I’d be very happy to hear if you do. Also I'd like to know your tips and tricks regarding reusing and recycling- even if they’re not related to art. So leave a comment below to help other artists (and me) to save the world by doing your bit!

Happy creating,


1 comment

  • Thanks Nelly for this lovely blog! I am on the creative side myself, and it’s always a pain when I look at the amount of trash I have generated at the end of a day… We need to be more aware of our footprint on the environment and more self-conscious of our impact. I will treasure all your suggestions and I look forward to reading your next blog!

    Olivia Smith on

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