COXSACKIE — Not many people use their breakfast remnants as a canvas.
But that’s often what recycle artist and graphic designer Ruby Silvious does.
With cracked egg shells and tea bags, she creates miniature still lifes, portraits, collages and clothing that resonate with art lovers and environmentalists alike.
Her art has been exhibited in New York City, Albany, Japan and Italy and will be featured in Hyeres, France, in May. She also became an internet sensation in 2015 when she started logging a personal challenge she called “363 Days of Tea.” A few months ago, her journey was published in a coffee table book through Mascot Books.
“I'm a recycle artist and I repurpose found objects, usually by painting on them. By breathing new life to what would otherwise be trashed also helps the environment, albeit in a very small way,” Silvious said.
In the bright studio space of her Coxsackie home, dried tea bags, dried eggshells, and pistachio shells are piled on a table.
“You have to find a canvas that works,” Silvious said. Judging from her studio space and from her work, she has no problem finding unique and workable materials.
With the pistachio shells, she’s drawn unique designs on each and has displayed them on a strip of white molding. This will be displayed in an art exhibit called “Off the Walls,” at the Greene County Council on the Arts Catskill Gallery starting today. The show features art made completely from recycled materials.
Silvious didn’t exactly start out as an artist. Growing up in the Philippines, she studied architecture, although she was always doodling.
Then, when she moved to New York City in her early twenties, she was doing mostly administrative work. At night she went back to college for interior design and began working with the Art Students League.
“I moved to New York City during the garbage strike,” Silvious said.
Silvious came to the United States expecting white picket fences and instead saw streets full of garbage. Quite an introduction to her new home.
Needless to say, she moved into the greater Capital Region in the 1980s. She worked as a graphic designer for a company called PrimaLoft. She also used her design skills at a few architectural firms in the region.
At night, she went to Siena College and studied marketing and then went to Sage College to study graphic design.
Whenever she had a spare moment, she was working on her own designs and pieces.
She began creating origami bras and kimonos out of tea bags and other recycled materials in the late 2000s.
A few of her designs were featured in recycled runway fashion shows, and others she exhibited separately. At one exhibit in New York City, one woman asked to try the oribrami (the name Silvious had given to the origami bras) on.
And that’s the point, they’re meant to be worn, exhibited and used.
Most of the oribramis are made up of recycled bags from local stores or paper doilies.
In Coxsackie, she gained a reputation when she began to ask for specifically sized bags at certain stores.
“People would ask “Is she going to make a bra again?” Silvious said, laughing.
So she was creatively busy. Yet, in 2015, she needed a new challenge.
On Jan. 3, she thought of tea.
“I decided to create a piece of art every day. I knew it had to be a smaller canvas . . . and I had already been playing with the tea bags, so I thought, ‘Why not?’” Silvious said.
On tea bag canvases, she painted everything from intricate flowers to the Eiffel Tower, as a tribute to the terrorist attacks that Paris suffered.
One early morning in October, she noticed her Instagram account go from 50 some followers to over a hundred. Throughout the day the number ballooned into the thousands.
Bored Panda and several other websites had picked up her story and soon she was getting calls from people around the world. She did an interview with a radio show in Budapest and then one with The Guardian in the United Kingdom.
“It was so gratifying when all of a sudden teachers from all over were reaching out to me saying ‘you’re such an inspiration to my students,’ ” Silvious said.
Last year, all 363 tea bag designs were compiled and published. In "363 Days of Tea," Silvious recalls an old Japanese saying that resonates with her work:
“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they fill the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”
Silvious’ work is perhaps the most applicable reminder of this.
Working on Silvious’ level of detail is difficult to do. However, if you are a tea drinker, a pistachio eater, or a consumer of practically anything and want to find ways to reuse what’s left behind, Silvious recommends finding a sustainable canvas and working at it. Then experiment with paints, markers, and everything in between until you find one that works the best with the canvas.
So in addition to planting a few trees this Earth Day, maybe try turning your trash into a new canvas.
To see more of Silvious' work, or to find out about her book "363 Days of Tea," visit rubysilvious.com.