Turn Found Objects into Treasures with Mixed Media Jewelry Making Techniques

I do love surprises! Recently, my boyfriend and I went out to dinner with his family to celebrate his 65th birthday. When we got to the restaurant, his sister handed me a bag and said, “I thought maybe you could use some of this.” Inside the bag I found some amazing items—well, they were amazing to me, anyway. She had given me a bunch of broken jewelry: chains, beads, pearls, wood, metal, stone, leather, fabric. I got all excited! I love to take found or discarded items and recycle them into new mixed media jewelry designs. Though I have no idea yet what I’m going to do with these items, but I can’t wait to play with them.

mixed media jewelry: recycled can jewelry by Karla Rosenbusch

mixed media jewelry: recycled can jewelry by Karla Rosenbusch

Mixed Media Jewelry: Recycle Metal

It’s especially fun to use mixed media techniques with found objects, combining unexpected and/or unrelated items and materials into one great piece of jewelry. One of my favorite mixed media jewelry designs uses aluminum beer or soda cans. Yep. I’m that oddball who digs through the recycling bin at my favorite bar, looking for unusual cans.

Once I find a cool can, I use my favorite tools—a disk cutter and dapping block—to cut out an interesting circle from the can and dome it. I turn the domes into simple earrings or mount them on larger metal disks to make pendants or charms.

mixed media jewelry: Kit Carson's metal cuff

Everything’s O.K. Found Steel and Turquoise Cuff by Kit Carson
Photo: Jim Lawson

That’s my easy way to recycle found metal. But there are other really cool recycling techniques you can use—and lots of other metal forms. In the August 2017 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist, author Terri Haag interviewed jewelry artist Kit Carson, who uses all kinds of reclaimed metal in his jewelry. In the issue, Kit also shows you how to make his spectacular Everything’s O.K. Found Steel and Turquoise Cuff. Ever wonder what you could do with an old metal sign? This! This is what you can do with it.

Mixed Media Jewelry: Paper Projects

But metal is not the only material you can recycle into your mixed media jewelry creations. Try paper! Remember making folded paper bracelets as a kid? Well, a lot of today’s designers are taking that old idea to a whole new level. One way is with quilling—curling, bending, and twisting paper to create stunning designs. Check out Arlene Mornick’s Quilling Reborn earrings. (And to learn more about quilling, a great resource is The Art of Quilling Jewelry, by Ann Martin.)

mixed media jewelry: quilled earrings

Quilling Reborn Earrings by Arlene Mornick
Photo: Jim Lawson

I love to use paper in mixed media jewelry, too. But again, I keep it simple. I take illustrations or photos printed on basic printer paper and combine them with domed clear glass cabochons to make my own picture cabs (below). And hey! If you’re going to Bead Fest this week, I’ll be demonstrating this simple technique at the Interweave/F+W booth on Friday. Stop by!

mixed media jewelry: photo cabochon

Mixed Media Jewelry: Random Stuff

Mixed media jewelry techniques are also a great way to use those odd objects or mementos that you have tossed in a drawer in your kitchen or bedroom. (You know you have those. We all do.) Very often, those particular objects have a lot of sentimental value and special memories attached to them. So it’s really a shame to let them languish around the house when you can bring them out into the light and use them.

One cool way to display those items is to use them as links in a chain. One of my favorite demonstrations of that technique is Helen Driggs’s Steampunk Station Necklace (from the December 2010 issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist).

mixed media jewelry: station necklace

Steampunk Station Necklace by Helen Driggs
Photo: Jim Lawson

Two terrific resources for learning other ways to turn your memories into jewelry with mixed media are The Art of Forgotten Things by Melanie Doerman and Semi-Precious Salvage by Stephanie Lee. Both books are definitely worth a look!

Mixed Media Jewelry: Resin

You’ll notice that Helen uses resin disks in her necklace to tie the found objects together. Resin is awesome when it comes to mixed media. You can use it to create findings or additional pieces to accompany your found objects, as Helen did. Or you can actually use it to mount, save, and display your objects. Take a look at Kerry Bogert’s Waste Not, Want Not Pendant, which appeared in Step By Step Wire Jewelry, February/March 2010. I love this one! Kerry mounted bits of wire, buttons, little springs, and other tiny items in resin for a really awesome design. And they’re even mounted in recycled bottle caps! Win, win.

mixed media jewelry: bottle cap and resin pendants

Waste Not, Want Not Pendants by Kerry Bogert
Photo: Jim Lawson

For more on using resin for mixed media, check out The Romance of Mixed Media Jewelry by Kristen Robinson and ICE Resin, and Resin Alchemy by Susan Lenart Kazmer (one of my personal favorites).

No matter where you find random and seemingly useless items—in a drawer, in a closet, on the street, in a bar’s recycling bin, or in a bag handed to you at a birthday party—using mixed media techniques to make them your own can be incredibly satisfying. And a lot of fun, too.

So find your objects—and find out!

–Karla
Managing Editor, Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist


Have fun making mixed media jewelry with these resources!

One Comment

  1. Becky N at 1:52 pm August 15, 2018

    So many great pieces. I especially love Kit Carson’s Cuff Project.

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