17 October 2011

A Portrait of The Artist: Dustbin Cards

Today, in A Portrait of The Artist I am pleased to introduce Kathryn O'Hara, the crafter and creator of Dustbincards - a label selling reusable cards made by upcycling! For her unique cards, Kathryn uses stuff that otherwise might end up in a dustbin - bits from candy wrappers, tags from jeans, labels from a favorite beer, buttons, bows, raffia and yarn. All of her ephemera and decorations are found; from yard sales, thrift stores, estate sales or given to her by friends and family. 

Kathryn has found an inspiring way to make use of the lovely and the lost, and her handmade cards are crafted with quality papers, featuring collages embellished with unique, one of a kind treasures. And because kind as she is, Kathryn sent me a pack of her most amazing cards, I can tell you firsthand - they feel and look magical! The way she combines pieces from different spheres of life into a new object with a totally different meaning is what made me a fan forever! You can be assured that nobody else will give or receive a handmade card just like yours. 

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you come up with the idea of making cards out of unwanted objects that will otherwise go straight to the dustbin?
I began scrap booking photo albums about 15 years ago. Scrapbooking paper and ephemera, in addition to being expensive, was so beautiful! I found I could not consign a 2” x 2” scrap of lace embossed paper to the trash. As my collection of ‘too precious to throw away’ pieces grew, I realized I wanted to use them. Somehow.

Letter writing was a skill I learned from both of my grandmas, and I exchanged many letters and cards with them. Making cards was a natural outgrowth of my love of letter writing and sheer desperation with the mounting clutter of scrap booking ephemera. Making a card that could be reused, or passed on and enjoyed by many people was an idea that intrigued me. So, with those three thoughts in mind, I began to craft all occasion greeting cards and found my Bliss! Reusing all of my scrap booking leftovers led to finding scrap trims, buttons and other ephemera for cards. I then discovered really cool items like wine bottle labels, candy wrappers, tags from new clothes… Labels and ribbons and brads, oh my!

We very often look for the recycling "bug" in upbringing and reading your etsy profile, we realized that your grandmothers served as role models for you as far as repurposing and upcycling are concerned. In that line of thoughts, what is the best advice you have received from them?
My grandmothers both grew up during the American Great Depression and became good friends after my parents married. They were amazingly thrifty, but never cheap. Their advice was in the form of action.

I learned how to can and freeze foods, make jams, jellies and make a Thanksgiving dinner from Grandma Davis. She taught me how to save and iron gift wrap and tissue paper and to make a heart felt gift look beautiful.

Grandma Bunch shared her exuberant love of thrift shopping and her enthusiasm for finding a bargain infected not only me, but many of my cousins as well.

Neither woman prattled on much about the environment, but both lived and practiced frugality, thrift and good stewardship of all that they possessed. Actions speaking louder than words, their lives showed me that reducing,reusing and recycling are not a passing fancy or a current cultural fad, but a way of life.
That is the best advice I received from them: Living green (although neither would have used that term) is an everyday way of life and it is a lifelong commitment. And it is a lot of fun!

Handmade reusable card Faith

When did you realize that by reusing and recycling you are becoming eco-friendly as well? 
I don’t recall an epiphany about recycling in my own life. It has always just been part of my life. There is a country song, by Barbara Mandrell, that claims “I was country, when country wasn’t cool…” My family was reusing and recycling long before it was cool. Part of rural life and thrift is repurposing and repairing and I was so eco-friendly, that I didn’t even realize I was eco-friendly! Additionally, my Catholic faith taught me to be a good steward of all that I have, because it isn’t mine forever. It is mine to care for and pass on to future generations.

How do you reuse and upcycle in your everyday life?
The sweetest fragrance in the world is line dried, sun warmed laundry. There is something special about the crispness of a fresh, wind whipped sheet on your bed, isn’t there? I line dry all of our laundry during the summer and use clothes drying racks during the winter months. Since we heat with a wood stove, the clothes dry very quicky in our warm little home.

And speaking of the wood stove, we recently upgraded to a new, very efficient model. We found a local source for stone and had pieces of soapstone cut to fit the top, which gives off radiant warmth even after the stove goes out. My husband cuts the wood from dead, standing timber in the national forest. Cutting out the dead trees allows the limbs and such to remain as habitat for little creatures. In addition to opening areas to sunlight and moisture for the growth of the living trees, removing the trees lowers the risk for lightning ignited forest fires.

My garden provides produce and veggies during the summer months and I can and freeze for the winter months. My husband is a hunter and keeps our freezer full of venison (not my favorite) and elk (yummy!) as well as fish. The health benefits of hormone and antibiotic free meats and fish are well documented. In America, sportsmans fees in the form of hunting and fishing licenses and tags are used to reclaim habitat for the species hunted.

Since we live in an area where water is available, but not abundant, mulching is essential to protect water loss in the garden and yard. My neighbor cleans her barn and gives me the goat manure/straw to use in the garden. Another friend saves all of his lawn grass clippings for my garden so he doesn’t have to throw them in the landfill. I benefit, because not only is my garden well mulched, but the soil is amended every year. I also barter plants for, well, just about anything.
This week, a neighbor traded her homemade soap and homemade wine for some perennials of mine that she lusted after. Another friend gave me a 6 pack of homemade beer for some plants. Sure, I will trade for booze. Anytime.

Unplug appliances when not in use. Bake the banana bread at the same time as the lasagna to maximize the use of the oven. Use newspapers to dry window panes after washing. Save the newspapers to start the fire in the woodstove. And then there is my husbands’ battle cry… ’Turn off the damned lights!’ 

Set of two handmade cards Tazo Tea

Have you always been creative?
Part of my avante garde (Back in the early 1970s, only the hippies and my mother home schooled their kids) home schooled education included art lessons. What I retain today however, is the color wheel, color combinations and complement colors. (I also retain the 1974 Thorndike Barnhart dictionary that I used in my home schooled years and now my 10 year old daughter uses it for her home school lessons. But it doesn’t include words like Earth Day or erectile dysfunction). It is my personal opinion that home schooling fosters a thinking dynamic that is outside the proverbial box, and self-taught creativity proceeds from that.

Can you let us in on your creative process? Do you first find the items that will adorn a beautiful card or you get the idea and start looking for items?
It is euphemistic to label my creative process a process. Strictly speaking, the word process implies a system, right? My methods are more along the line of opening a bottle of wine, having a glass while making the evening meal and listening to a Chris Isaak cd. Remembering, oh no! I have to send a condolence/baby congrats/wedding/birthday card to someone and quickly repairing to my scrap booking area to craft a card and lose myself in creating.

An empty wine glass reminds me that there is more in the bottle, but as I enter the kitchen I also remember that dinner is bubbling in the oven and I have a family to feed. So I have another glass of wine to settle my nerves and find the package of rice has a very groovy picture on the front of it. Should I use the kitchen shears or tear it off? Can’t tear it, darn it because somehow there is some cellophane on the reverse side, so scissors it is. Oh, and that can of pears has a groovy label as well, but I nick my finger on the metal edge and draw blood. I administer first aid to myself and then quickly serve the grumpy and hungry family members, one of whom (out of charity I will not identify him) asks if I “unplugged that damned glue gun???” Race back to the creation station and am distracted by a lovely soap box label and, well, you get the picture.

Marketing cards began when I created a bunch of cards and took them to my cousins’ St. Patricks Day party. “It could have been the whiskey, might have been the gin, could have been the 3 or 4 sixpacks, but look at the state I’m in…” (an Irish chanty by the Rovers) but I left there with over a hundred dollars and was amazed at the favorable reception.

In the interest of honesty, my somewhat creative collecting spirit was originally generated by the boredom that can occur when you are sitting on a barstool somewhere, surrounded by dolts and dullards and start to peel the label from your bottle of beer. Teeeeny tiiiiny little tugs with deep concentration and complete focus to remove the label in its’ entirety, such a pretty little label… What? you’ve never done that? But it was the St. Pats party that made me realize that I could actually make money doing something I love.

In actuality, I collect rubbish. Junk makes me happy. I take what I have and find an attractive way to make it work. For the month of September, I have challenged myself to create cards and purchase no new supplies except cardstock. Standing at my creation station, I lay out some of the pieces I have collected and start to see color combinations, themes or collages emerge. 

Handmade envelopes with recycled dictionary page
What is the most challenging aspect of creating unique cards?
The biggest challenge I find in my personal creative process (there’s that word again!) is learning the technology necessary to market online. I am very comfortable with crafting my cards and marketing them face to face, locally or taking commissions.

Technology is not my first language and I have a lot to learn. Nonsense like html, widgets, gadgets, there are gadgets, aren’t there? Blogging, photo editing, SEO and key words. Tracking analytics. I challenge myself to do a little research or learning every day. Then I have a glass of wine to settle my nerves.

I live in small home, so my creation station is readily at hand, and I am, despite my verbal diarrhea, very well organized. I experience very little frustration with the actual crafting itself. The muse of a bottle of wine is, I believe, another secret to passionate creativity.

What is your current favorite item by another etsy seller?
I have become friends with Emily of ARosaryForYou on Etsy and I love her beadwork. She made a custom piece for me that is fabulously beautiful!

My favorite item of hers is this St. Patricks’ chaplet. Well, I have a soft spot for St. Patrick after that party of his where I sold my first cards!

But I really love the Celtic claddagh. It is an ancient symbol that characterizes friendship. The heart is for love, the hands for friendship and the crown for loyalty.

Make sure you follow Kathryn: 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dustbin-Cards/255461882411
Etsy shop: http://www.dustbincards.etsy.com

You can read more editions of A Portrait of The Artist here


  1. Wow...how very creative!! I'm loving the look of her cards. Off to browse her etsy shop now.

    Thanks for the introduction!!

  2. Dustbin cards are so beautiful! Thanks for sharing this information with us because I may have never run across her shop without it.

    Note Cards and Photos by Theresa

  3. Love her work! And great interview sharing.

  4. I just love reading all of these interviews. I see these names around etsy often and it's fun to get to know them. Thanks for sharing, love your work!

  5. Fabulous interview and what a creative person...I want to be her best friend:):)

  6. What a creative woman! Her cards are beautiful.

  7. Bravo to your creativity. Just beautiful.

  8. Kathy is a true "IdahoShamrock" gem. Love her cards, love her family, love her!!! I've had the privilege of spending time with Kathy and sharing fun farmgirl time with her, laughing, "boutiquing". Thanks for sharing this wonderful interview. Farmgirl Hugs to Kathy!

  9. These are beautiful! Upcycling is the ultimate in eco-friendly design, and these cards are so creative and unique! Thanks for sharing such lovely work with us. :)


  10. O wow, I really like how all these found objects come together in these unique little cards. It's really cool!

  11. What talent! Those cards are beautiful!

  12. What an amazing and creative artist. I love to read about artists and how they got started. Great interview.
    Everyday Inspired

  13. What a wonderful artist and wonderful work. I know from first hand experience that her greeting cards are just brilliant in their creativity. Being green is a special added bonus for me. Kathy is a kind and caring person. I just love her cards. She's so creative. And the custom cards that she made for me have been wonderful. She's easy to work with and a lot of fun. God bless her.