Working with found objects to make art is a very old and widespread practice. Folk artists, people with little or no formal art training, enjoy expressing themselves this way by making art with whatever materials they can find. Creating art from found materials is fun and a great way to help save landfill space, energy, and natural resources.

Smashed CanYou may find some interesting materials with which to work just by walking down the road or street near your house. Some people apparently have never heard of recycling. Instead, they choose to litter our roads and waste resources by tossing empty aluminum beverage cans out their car windows. An interesting thing happens to cans discarded this way, however. They are crushed and contorted by passing cars into a variety of unusual shapes.

Aluminum is one of the easiest materials to recycle, and it can be made into many new products. The best thing to do with empty cans you collect is take them to a recycling center or drop-off site, but with a little imagination, you can use smashed cans for art materials.

You will need:

  • Soda cans
  • Hammer
  • Metal file
  • Scrap paper
  • Pencil
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Small pans
before and after

How to:

After collecting smashed soft drink cans, choose one which you think has an interesting shape. Carefully rinse and dry it. Hammer down areas which are still sticking up, and use the file to take off any sharp edges.

can Lay the can on a piece of paper and trace its shape with a pencil. Look at the resulting outline from all directions. What does the shape suggest? Could it be a person, animal, car, or some other object? Use your imagination to make a cartoon by exaggerating the features and sketching the details on the paper.
Boris  CharacterJohn Travolta?
When you are pleased with your drawing, you are ready to begin painting. Squeeze white acrylic paint into a pan, and thin it slightly with water. Prime the can with one coat of paint, and let the base coat dry. Lightly sketch the details from your drawing onto the can. Paint the lightest colors first, and continue painting till the can is finished.


Tips and Tricks:

Nun can before and after Acrylic paint in a tube may work better for the white base coat, because it is sticky and will adhere better than liquid acrylics. After you prime the can, however, you may use either one to paint the details.

Other items, such as cardboard, yarn or buttons, may be recycled to make your work more interesting. If you made a person, perhaps you could add yarn hair or glasses made of telephone wire.

You may need to use a hot glue gun to attach items, so ask an adult to do the gluing for you. Only one can is needed for this project, so take the rest of your cans to the recycling center!

Learn more about beverage and food cans and how they're recycled at the Can Manufacturers Institute.

When working with telephone wire, please take the following safety precautions:

© 1996-2010 Marilyn J. Brackney (updated 2018)
Volume 3 No. 3
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