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Eco-Art Crafts Made by You


Looking for an easy-going crafts book offering 39 ways to transform personal trivia--e.g., extra plastic roaches , bottle caps, ticket stubs, foreign coins--into personal urban folk art? Then this is THE book for you. The projects, beautifully illustrated with large color photographs, include a pocketbook made from woven satin ribbon, safety pin bracelet, Coca-Cola-box end table; and Zen paper bowls.

By their nature, urban folk art projects are, eclectic, eccentric and charming conversation pieces bearing each artist's unique thumbprint. Jennifer Knapp, the book's author, believes the creative part of each project lies in assembling the materials. She encourages readers to scavenge personal "fix-up" piles for supplies and supplement them with trips to thrift stores and yard sales, rather than shopping for new materials at Crafts-O-Rama in the mall.

Techniques mentioned in these "recipes" are easy. You don't need years and years of practice to do the job. Don't like to sand? No problem. Knapp recommends slapping paint over the dirt. "...if it peels in a few years, no problem, you'll want a different color by then anyway."

Try your hand at creating urban folk art with these two projects made from boxes. They are great gifts to give to yourself or to friends as holiday gifts.

We are grateful to Chronicle Books,publishers of Retro Revamp; Funky Projects from Handbags to Housewares by Jennifer Knapp with photographs by Teresa Domka, for permission to reprint the following projects and photographs.

Creating a Sassy Boxes

Find a classic girl's jewelry box, perhaps one with a ballerina inside. Revamp the outside with post cards from India, views of Paris; vintage Vogue magazine pictures; or even fur. Finish with costume jewelry, plastic jewels, and little mirrors. You can make a handle out of a perfume bottle, or an Eiffel Tower souvenir. Deck out the ballerina inside according to your theme, whether it's with veils and a belly-dancing outfit or a mini Versace.

Zsa-Zsa Jewelery Box
What You Need:
  • White glue
  • 5 or more flat images (color copies, originals, postcards, or fabric)
  • 1 jewelry box
  • Matte medium [Liquitex available at art supply stores-- produces acrylic mediums with both a matte and gloss gel finish (can be thinned with water). Matte creates a smooth finish, whereas gloss is shiny. Both are excellent sealants that form a waterproof surface when dry.]
  • 1/2-inch-wide paintbrush
  • Plastic jewels, mirrors, costume jewelry, faux fur, glitter, paint, etc.
  • Multipurpose cement glue
What You Do:
1) With white glue, attach your images to the sides and top of the jewelry box. Let the glue dry.

2) Seal the images by brushing the entire box with matte medium. If you do not have matte medium, brush over the images with slightly watered down white glue. Unlike the matte medium, this finish will not be waterproof.

3) Glue plastic jewels and mirrors and other treasures around the edges of the jewelry box. Attach the handle to the top of the box with cement glue. Decorate the ballerina with paint, faux fur, fabric scraps, and glitter.

After you've finished a box, try decorating ready-made picture frames and mats, recycling a candy tin or sprucing up your lunch box.


photo credit: Thomas Heinser Searching for the materials is the fun part of this project. Before starting, you must find an old pulp-fiction paperback with a really great cover. Romance, detective, and sci-fi from the thirties, forties, and fifties are some of the best. Look for aliens invading earth, or a woman in stilettos screaming into the phone. Your favorite finds will create this handy little box that looks like a closed book.

What You Need:

  • 1 pulp-fiction paperback
  • White glue
  • 1 ready-made box (a wooden box, a cigar box, or even a cardboard box) close to the size of your book
  • Matte or gloss medium (Liquitex is available at art supply stores)
  • 4 large beads (for the feet), any shape but all the same size
  • Multipurpose cement glue
  • An interesting handle for the top: a large bead, a plastic alien, something you've sculpted from plasticine clay, costume jewelry, a ceramic figurine, etc.

What You Do
1. Using sharp scissors, cut the cover and the back off the book close to the spine. If this is too painful and you want to preserve the book, make a color copy of the front and back covers.

2. Squeeze white glue over the top surface of the ready-made box and spread the glue evenly to the edges. Attach the book cover to the top of the box. Attach the back cover of the book to the bottom in the same way.

3. Rip four text pages of the book into small one-inch squares. (If you don't want to miss all the intrigue and want to read the book, newsprint can be substituted.)

4. Spread white glue over the side surfaces of the box. Arrange the text scraps on the sides of the box so that they overlap (like a collage) with the lines of text skewed at various angles. Cover the box sides with paper all the way to the edges, cutting off overhanging bits where necessary. Let the glue dry.

5. Brush over the entire box with matte or gloss medium. Matte medium will leave a natural finish, while gloss will have a shiny finish; both are waterproof. Let dry. If you do not have matte or gloss medium, the surface can be brushed with slightly watered-down white glue; this will not, however, be a waterproof surface.

6. Place your box upside down on a flat surface. Glue the four beads to the corners of the box bottom with multipurpose cement glue. Be sure that the hole in the bead is perpendicular to the box. Let the glue dry.

7. Create an interesting handle for the top of the box in keeping with the theme of your book. A plastic alien or UFO works for a sci-fi adventure, and a metal game piece from Monopoly or Glue for a detective story. If an appropriate handle cannot be found, sculpt one from plasticine clay according to the package directions. Attach the handle with the cement glue. If the cover is unbelievable cool, omit the handle.

From Retro Revamp by Jennifer Knapp, photographs by Teresa Domka (copyright sign, c in a circle) 2000. Used by permission of Chronicle Books.

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