Another Man’s Treasure…Island

For those us with even a passing interest in eco matters, that interest probably extends, to a greater or lesser degree, to all areas of life; from the products we consume, to the packaging those products are wrapped in, the clothes we wear and the utilities we use…and a whole lot in between. These days, words such as ‘preloved’, ‘sustainably sourced’ and ‘responsibly harvested’ have become a familiar repertoire when it comes to shopping, and consuming, goods.

But what about the slightly more frivolous aspects of life, those things that make us more rounded individuals and add richness to life – the things we don’t need, but as human beings, have been inspired to create and enjoy, since time immemorial?

Since the rise of man, we’ve been creating artwork in all its forms, for a myriad of reasons, using all kinds of media, materials and methods. But as the days of drawing on caves and fashioning figurines of gods from clay have given way in our modern society to producing decorative items and accessories for the home and body on a mass global scale; so it follows that the output of items being brought into the world from a hundred thousand factories have moved along – and not necessarily for the better.

For decades now, we’ve thought nothing of filling our homes or adorning our bodies with items made of plastic, or of hybrid materials that will take millennia to break down and recycle. In previous, less enlightened decades of the 20th century, it could almost be said that plastic -for all its less-than-sympathetic to nature properties -has been revered in preference to anything made from sustainable or recyclable raw material, as people filled their homes with it in all its technicoloured glory.

Times, however, are changing, and fast. As the eco-movement gains a foothold in the hearts and minds of all except the most hardened ‘denier’, we, as we must, look to more and more ways to take what we’ve already made, and reuse, refashion, and recycle it wherever possible.

Not just in the things we actively consume – we all already instinctively know that a shopping bag made from recycled paper is an immeasurably better choice than one made from polythene – but in the things that we, as human beings, cannot resist creating and admiring for purely decorative purposes. 

How an old bycicle can be a real treasure

Now, words such as ‘upcycling’ , ‘shabby chic’ and ‘repurposing’ have become synonymous with a trend sweeping the world to make decorative items for the home and body from what we already have around us.  How about this old bicycle, adorning the walls of a pueblo? Painted, hung on the wall and decorated with flowers, it’s almost become a living work of art – and of course is a fantastic focal point – all from something that would have otherwise been consigned to the skip.

Of course, a look back at our not too distant history reminds us that since the advent of  WWII, we’ve been referring to this practice as  ‘make do and mend’; although it’s most likely been around for far longer than that. There is, as they say, nothing new in the world.

However, whereas once it was driven by economic necessity, and perhaps was even cloaked in a certain sense of shame (what younger sibling ever wanted to wear hand me downs?!) now the need is an even more pressing one; to minimise the damage being done to our planet. 

Fortunately, the trend for ‘upcycling’, or even making a return to incorporating natural resources, looks like one that’s not going away, as we proudly display our newly-painted-but-preloved furniture finds on Instagram and Pinterest. Jewellery fashioned from older trinkets that have been passed on, pulled apart and put back together again, and vintage ‘pieces’ of clothing or accessories that have been reworked into whole new looks.

Second-hand chic has never had it so good, and it must be said, if you live in the Canaries, there are plenty of places to look if you want to be part of the movement. With bazaars and fundraisers being held at regular intervals, there are many opportunities to find the building blocks of a whole new outfit, or pre-loved items to take home and love once again in a whole new guise. 

Believe it or not, this fabulous owl cushion started life as a ladies’ top! A car boot sale find, it was taken home, reworked and made into the beautiful – not to mention unique – new item it is today. A little bit of metallic paint to highlight the gold foil restored it to (perhaps even more than), its former glory. 

A lick of paint can breathe a whole new lease of life into a great many items that may otherwise have been consigned to the bin. Just take a look, for example, at this wonderful wooden ‘Zodiac wheel’, which was left outside for the rubbish truck. Taken home, treated and disinfected, and then painted gold, it takes on a whole new look with not much effort, and practically no expense – and now looks stunning in the author’s workshop. One man’s trash, as they say, is another woman’s treasure. 

The wonderful thing about art, of course, is that it covers such a hugely varied number of platforms, from sculpture to sketches, to arrangements and modelling.  Being as we are, on an island, we are of course blessed to live by the sea, which lends itself to some of the most easily accessible (and free!) hobbies – and one of the most rapidly growing is the world of sea glass collecting, a branch of beach combing. 

‘Sea glassing’ is a globally recognised passion of many lovers of the seashore – a quick look on Instagram confirms just how big it really is, attracting fans to take part in photo challenges, showing off and comparing their finds and of course, storing or even making new decorative items from their new found treasure.

Sea glass is huge news, and as the vast majority of it is broken bottles, tumbled by the waves over many years, flung up by the current and found by sea glassing enthusiasts at low tide, it’s certainly an ecology friendly aspect of beach combing, taking nothing from nature, only taking away something that was put there by man in the first place.  The resulting haul is often re-imagined as ocean themed jewellery, or other artwork. This seahorse plaque is made entirely from glass found on Lanzarote beaches.

And how about these gorgeous lanterns for a recent Lanzarote wedding? Filled entirely with sea glass found over hours and hours of avid hunting – they’re even made from ‘preloved’ glass jars saved over the previous months. As wedding decorations go, it doesn’t get more ecology – and pocket – friendly than that!  

Something doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture to be considered art.  Up and down the coast of Lanzarote, you’ll find artists utilising nature to produce works that last for just as long as the tides.

Not only the curious ‘cairns’ – small stacks of stones found piled up around the coastline like a throwback to prehistoric times – but in painstakingly produced sand sculptures. Like sandcastles for grown-ups , these incredible works appear during a hard day’s toil under the sun and are washed away in a matter of days. 

From the crocodile (pictured) curling his way around the barranco, to a palace complete with lights, they are the epitome of ecological art – using materials taken from the earth, and not even leaving the slightest hint that they’d even been there at all once the ocean comes to take them away.

Perhaps that’s the beauty of this amazing island, where old meets new, shaped by historical geological occurrences with new layers continuously added by the waves of people coming, and going…and often coming back again. It seems to lend itself perfectly to finding new and inventive ways to create art, purely from the things we find all around us, and more often than not, costing very little to the wallet – or the environment. 

By Nicky Brindley, Owner and Founder of Willow Media ( )

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