It is all the rage these days to recycle, reclaim, reuse and remake everything in sight, and I for one am all for it. But many DIY show would have us all believing that all this means making great thing for free and selling them for a premium simply because it's the latest craze. Well guess what folks, it just ain't true in most cases. I create many wonderful items out of found, reclaimed and recycled pieces, and let me tell you it isn't for a huge profit. Let me explain.
I began making recycled items like most people, as a hobby. To do something with my old items that I didn't use anymore, or to update things that had lost their appeal. This kind of up cycling is perfect and usually can save you money. I began making jewelry out of recycled and reclaimed copper electrical wire and plumbing pipes about ten or so years ago for my business. All the materials were left over from house projects, so essentially they were free. Then the hard work began. If you have ever seen electrical wire you know that it comes very well wrapped in plastic coating and this has to be removed, with minimal damage to the wires of course. It becomes work hardened while you unwrapped it and a bit kinked, up so you have to heat it up with a torch to soften it and smooth it out, which requires you to descale the wire from the torching and finally polishing it and removing any remaining dings or scratches. The same is true of the pipes with the added possibility of water scale, adhesive removal and possibly crushing to fix. So it may have been essentially free in dollars, but the time you spend on material could be up to a few hours of time, cleaning materials and expertise to make it like new and workable. Not so free any more. In fact it's probably more expensive than a new roll of wire or a new pipe.
Some of the pieces I make are from shell, stones, sea glass that I pick up off the beach. Totally free right? Yes, well sort off, unless the piece need to be cleaned, or polished. Don't get me wrong many of the stones and shell I find can be perfect just as is and that is a true treasure for sure. But many of them need cleaning, resin sealing, drilling or polishing to bring out their beauty or to make them ready to use. Polishing can take up to five weeks in a tumbler and although it does most of the work for me, it runs the entire time 24 hours a day using my electricity. The polish compound and the tumbler weren't free either. The good thing is I can do a large quantity at one time so that helps a bit in the cost break down for sure. Drilling has it's own dangers for me as well as the shell. It might break in the process and it requires me to use a special mask to protect my lungs. Sealing in Resin is to help with a more delicate piece so it makes it stronger and more durable. It takes time and precision to get all the air bubbles out, and 24 hrs to harden.
I also make items from other people old jewelry into new item. Now this you say is absolutely free and these are ready made items so they can't possibly take much to be ready to use. Well, yes they are free and no they are not easy to work with. Items someone gives me from their own treasures are even more special. Many times they are pieces that have a heartfelt meaning behind them. That means I have to be extra careful to not ruin them. Removing a stone from a setting can be quite tricky to do without scratching it. Sometimes they have adhesive that which need to be removed as well. All in all it can be nerve racking and a long process to get it ready to be turned into something new.
Now I want you to know I am not complaining about any of this, I am merely stating what happens behind the recycling scene so you understand the amount of time, and energy that actually goes into an item before the creating process begins when an artist uses recycled or reclaimed materials. I love all these steps, I actually enjoy every one of them and the challenge to me is exhilarating. But is it free? Not by a long shot. Would I give up doing it for all new materials? Never. No artist makes recycled or reclaimed items because it is cost effective, they do it for the love of it. To see something old, set aside or thought no longer useful become something fabulous and ability to let their creative selves run wild in the process.
So the next time you see a piece of work made with recycled,or reclaimed materials, just remember the materials were far from free and the items being sold are priced according not only to what the artist created with them, but the amount of time and love they gave to the material to give it a new life and to bring you an extra special item.
I am an artist/small business owner and I wanted to share with you the struggles we face in this business and an inside view of what we are really thinking sometimes in our crazy, creative minds. As well as the usual stuff, ie newsletters and updates.