Now the festive season is coming to a close, you might have a little stack of pretty Christmas cards lying around which are ripe for upcycling. Perhaps you also have a postcard collection but you’re not sure what to do with it. Or maybe you have lots of old magazines which are destined for the recycling bin.
Why not get your creative juices flowing AND make good use of these things by getting collage-y? Combining these pictures with words cut out of old books or magazines, you can have fun making new stories and maybe even be inspired by the weird and wonderful juxtapositions you create. This activity has a lot in common with ‘cut up poetry’, popularized by writers like William Burroughs who would cut up newspapers and magazines and mix the words and sentences to bring to light new ideas and combinations of images. This method was also used by David Bowie to create some of his more peculiar and surprising lyrics. Many surrealist poets would cut up old newspapers and books and re-combine the words to reveal new stories – and now you can too.
The coolest thing about this activity is that you never know until the end what you’re going to end up with. Let the words and pictures speak to you, and you never know what might emerge! Depending on the content, the end results can be sent as postcards to your nearest and dearest, be used as bookmarks, or be stuck on your wall or fridge and enjoyed as the works of art that they are.
For this activity you will need:
- A few old books, newspapers or magazines which are coming to the ends of their careers as reading material. These can be absolutely anything: tabloids, broadsheets, tatty novels, picturebooks, airport fiction, nature guides, old self-help guides, even instruction manuals…basically anything which has a bit of text!
- A few postcards, pictures, or photos. You can get stacks of old postcards in bulk on ebay and they’re often available at charity shops. But you can also just repurpose the pictures on old birthday or Christmas cards, or use the pictures in magazines or newspapers.
- Scissors (smaller scissors or nail scissors rather than big kitchen scissors work best here)
- Glue (I find liquid glue like PVA or UHU glue work especially well but you can use pritt-stick in a pinch)
- Spend a bit of time looking at the postcards and images you have in front of you. Maybe imagine the situations and feelings they evoke. This will help guide you when you start thinking about the text you might combine them with.
2. Start looking through your books, magazines, and newspapers, and cut out any phrases, words, sentences, or bits of dialogue that jump out at you. Don’t worry too much about how they might all fit together at this stage. It’s often easiest to start moving things around and making the combinations once everything is cut out! I use nail scissors to more easily get between narrow lines.
Note: please don’t be too precious about cutting up books which will probably never be read again. Some people have a kind of squeamishness around cutting up books, but I promise, most of them will bring more pleasure from being upcycled by you than sitting on a shelf gathering dust!
3. Now you have all your words and phrases cut out, start seeing how they combine! Sift through your pictures and words, playing around with combining them, creating stories from the words you’ve cut out. Try mixing snippets from the different texts to create surprising juxtapositions or combinations of tone – for instance, a bit of dialogue from a Victorian novel with a snippet from an article in Cosmo, or a bit of description from a bird identification guide with a piece of action from a detective novel.
Maybe one of your postcards will suggest a particular interpretation of the text you’ve cut out. Maybe just the simple juxtaposition of that picture and a phrase you’ve cut out tells enough of a story. Play with it!
4. When you’re happy with a few of your picture/word combos, glue down the words to your pictures. I find UHU glue or PVA glue works better than pritt stick which can be difficult when working with little strips of delicate paper.
5. Enjoy your upcycled art! Share it with a friend, or hang it on your wall – these babies can be charming, poignant, funny, surprising, and can even be a great starting point for more writing or storytelling.