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Luci Lytle has been collecting recycled and found materials for ages. Her studio is lined with floor to ceiling shelves full of boxes. Labels specify the contents: Rusty Metal, Not Rusty Metal, Ribbon/Yarn/String, Maps, Plastic Things, Copper, Small Paper Scraps, Medium Paper, Mesh, Paper Tubes, Beads, Electronic Parts.
For Lytle, “Recycling is the diversion of waste, scrap, surplus and unwanted materials from the waste stream (landfill/incinerator) and redirecting them to resourceful people who will use these materials in some productive, useful or creative manner. Composting, remodeling projects, art projects- it’s all a step in the right direction.”
In her Artist Statement she writes, “I enjoy the treasure hunt of seeking out interesting materials, shapes and textures from among what others find worthless. I love the ALCHEMY of turning these discards into beautiful, and sometimes useful, objects.”
Lytle also stresses that precycling is even more important than recycling. “I spent 15 years in engineering before I became an artist and preventing waste and inventing new methods of production, creating renewable energy and better/more efficient stuff will reduce the need to recycle in the long run.”
From humble beginnings- a shadowbox constructed from discarded cardboard found outside a Costco- Lytle quickly found that experimenting with the discarded cardboard scraps and corrugated textures was much more interesting and began developing her “corrugated mosaic” style.
Lytle says some of the biggest challenges of making art out of cardboard were the fun part. “I had no teacher or textbook so I just made it up as I went along, with the help of the stacks at my local library. When I first started, I was creating the foundation or framework out of corrugated and then covering the surface with recycled papers. Then I noticed the slivers and cross sections of the corrugations and occasionally I would find some open-faced corrugated. I started to create primitive mosaic designs and patterns with these pieces. Once I figured out a simple way to peel the top layer of paper away from the corrugated, I discovered that there were a variety of subtle colors and textures hidden inside the corrugated. At this point my Corrugated Mosaics got more exciting.”
In addition to fine art pieces, Lytle has created lamps, photo frames, clocks, plates and dishes, even furniture, each piece blending functionality with art and recycling.
Trash to Treasure
Given the resources and time, Lytle sets her sights on other endeavors. “In 1999, I created a coffee table out of two paper tubes. After I finished the mosaic pedestals, I went searching for a large piece of glass. I found a piece of glass at a building materials salvage yard…but it had one corner broken off leaving a jagged edge. I finally found a guy who was willing to attempt to cut off all the corners. This coffee table lives in the lobby of the San Francisco regional office of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“In an alley behind an office building, I found half of a corrugated shipping box that held a Sun Microsystems mainframe computer. It was extra sturdy, and it sat behind the couch till the following January, February and March when I transformed it into a room divider screen, just in time for an Earth Day recycled art exhibition. I later redesigned it into a four panel wall hanging that lives in my dinning room. A couple of years later I created a smaller screen [that] has about as many pieces as the larger one and includes a greater variety of colors and textures.”
As a member of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) for over a decade, Lytle was inducted into the world of more traditional mosaic materials when Sophie Drouin showed her to cut marble with the basic hand tools of the ancient Greeks and Romans: the hammer and hardie. On the way home from the 2009 Cutting Edges Mosaic Exhibition in Lake Oswego, Oregon, she bought a mosaic book and ordered a hammer and hardie from a mosaic source. From there, she visited dumpsters in an industrial area near home- hundreds of pounds of marble and granite are thrown away as scrap from companies who install counter tops and floors! This is where she found the exquisite pink marble (about 200 pounds of it) that she incorporated into one of her works, Peace by Piece, which also contained yarn and string.
Lytle explains, “Over the past year I’ve been collecting stone, glass and tile from a variety of sources: dumpsters, Craigslist, salvage yards…I’ve been cleaning out my studio, passing some stocks of paper and fiber on to other artists, to clear shelves for stained and textured glass, marble, some granite-it is very hard to cut- glazed tile and unglazed porcelain tile and crockery.”
Advice: Kits and Tips for DIY
If you want to start using recyclable materials, Lytle has some great pointers.
“Collect some interesting materials and just start playing. Start with a kit or a workshop, talk to your friends- what hobbies or art do they enjoy and share. Go to the library; the stacks are full of art, craft, garden, DIY, home remodeling and other inspirations. Search the Internet, wander through Etsy for ideas and materials!
“Experiment! The first corrugated shadowbox I made was beautiful and it soon fell apart with the humidity. But it served as a starting point and from there I learned about the structural properties of corrugated and about the many different types of adhesives, I have at least a dozen favorites that I use in my studio. I made another to replace that first one and I still have it in my home today.”
A couple of her recent projects have combined mosaics and altered book art, such as the Peace by Piece work mentioned earlier. Her next project will be a combination of unglazed porcelain, stained glass, marble, electronic millefiori, copper and whatever else works, which will be her first using thinset mortar as an adhesive.
- Visit Luci Lytle’s website, corrugatedmosaic.com for upcoming events or exhibitions.
- Work In Progress photos are on Facebook, search for Corrugated Art by Luci Lytle.
- Recommended book: Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, by Susan Strasser.
- DIY Kit to Create a Corrugated Mosaic Picture Frame: When her granddaughter expressed interest in making her own mosaic frame, Lytle came up with this neat kit! Make your own frame and experience Lytle’s corrugated mosaic making firsthand.