September 29, 2013 4:56 PM   Subscribe

What are some easy, fun art projects or DIY decorations I can do for zero dollars?

I already know about melting crayons. What else is out there that is a) easy, even for a non-artist, 2) free or very cheap, and 3) really cool for decorating and displaying around my apartment?
posted by goosechasing to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
If you like papercraft/origami, there are lots of ways to make kusudama, which are neat sculptural balls made of folded and glued paper. They look nice sitting on a shelf or hanging from a thread, and you can use any kind of colorful scrap paper. I've followed this tutorial for paper flowers and found it easy, and you can put them together to make a sphere like this. There are other options (and video instructions) if you google "easy kusudama instructions" or similar.
posted by dreamyshade at 5:09 PM on September 29, 2013 [12 favorites]

You can dry a lot of fragile-looking natural things (flowers, bugs, etc) and then dip them in thinned Elmer's glue to produce something a bit more durable and pretty cool looking.

Sponge-printing as room decor takes almost no skill and just a few dollars in paint will do a LOT of cute borders.

Weaving grocery bags into... Well, usually just bigger and more durable bags, from what I've seen - Appears popular currently.

Just about any odd-looking natural piece of wood (the gnarlier the better, great big ugly blobs of tangled wood make the best art), cut through at the right angle, sanded, and varnished, makes for an attractive wall-hanging or table top.

Really, though, it depends on your own personal sense of aesthetics. What do you like as an overall theme for your decor? If you like polished stainless everywhere, we probably can't help you. If you like nature, you can pretty much fill your house with museum-quality pieces more-or-less for free, if you keep your eyes open. If you like homogenous white on every visible surface, you can do that on the cheap, but probably don't need our help. :)
posted by pla at 5:09 PM on September 29, 2013

If you have old books lying around and you don't mind tearing them apart, you can always decorate with the pages. The cost is usually minimal.

Also, collages are a good way to decorate. All you need are old magazines, scissors, and glue.

This page gives ideas of how to take everyday items and "alter" them to your taste (ignore the trend to Victorian if it's not your taste, alter them any way you want).
posted by patheral at 5:10 PM on September 29, 2013

You can do some cool stuff with certain vines. Wreaths, for example. Baskets, if you're ambitious. A small, long vine plus two or three sticks can be made into a God's Eye. You can braid a cord out of moistened dead daylily or iris leaves. For the price of a few citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, kumquats!) and whole cloves, you can make pomanders.
posted by gray17 at 5:14 PM on September 29, 2013

Just found out today that you can do homemade shrinky dinks, with permanent markers and recycle-able plastic that has the number 6 on it.
posted by lemniskate at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

Use old magazines to make art.

Here is a step-by-step project. Simple collage art.

A Google Images search for "magazine collage art" will give you plenty to be inspired by.
posted by Fairchild at 5:31 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sand sculptures at the beach.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:44 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think these cut-paper maps are amazing. They can be made with some serious patience and a sharp knife in lieu of a laser-cut page. The base for the cutting will have to be some stiff paper, but you can use just about anything (including your wall) as the background), and you could paste something atop your cardstock as the face of the cut page.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:49 PM on September 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

Another idea is to display photos. Take interesting photos of nature, architecture, whatever interests you and develop online. will give you 50 free prints when you sign up (no obligation, just pay for shipping).

Hang photos on wire or tape to cabinets, inside picture frames, around mirrors, etc.
posted by Fairchild at 5:50 PM on September 29, 2013

Older calendars often have images that look quite nice when matted and framed.

If you can sew, then making pillows out of any and all odd fabrics, cast-off clothing or other suitable material is fun.

Make a braided rug out of fabric strips.

If you're lucky, go behind a Lowes and scavenge shelves out of discarded refrigerators to augment your cabinets / closets.
posted by mightshould at 5:59 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I found some gorgeous wrapping paper recently (a repeating print of different sized vintage bicycles). Cost $2 for a large sheet, and another $3 for a frame from a thrift shop. Voila, large picture for the wall.
posted by lollusc at 6:14 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I made some large string art above my mantle using a bunch of push pins and thread. The key is to use elastic thread to maintain tension between the pins.

You can find lots of patterns online, but I used this resource for my circular project, which used 90 pins.
posted by homesickness at 6:19 PM on September 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

Find some perfect, dry fall leaves, and pin them to your wall or curtains.
posted by amtho at 6:29 PM on September 29, 2013 has a section of free projects
posted by radioamy at 6:33 PM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Book folding.
posted by 1066 at 6:53 PM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

sock puppets!
posted by anya32 at 7:03 PM on September 29, 2013

1. Make old sheets into new curtains. In the process, take down ugly old blinds if you have them and replace them with made or cheap curtains; they will look so much better.
2. Hang up or display things that you already own (interesting necklaces, quilts, hats, knicknacks, toys, music instruments) in grouped settings.
3. Rearrange your furniture. (not exactly what you asked, but can have an amazing effect, especially if you declutter/highlight a collection of stuff that was in a dark corner).

There are endless possibilities, limited only by the time you spend and/or talent you have. I have done things like bought a new wig for an old doll and turned her into a Christmas ornament, or used broken jewelry as a source for beads and sparkly decorations. Bits of nature are good, as others have pointed out, but so are old jars, found and repurposed junk, and papercrafts.
posted by emjaybee at 7:09 PM on September 29, 2013

Make paper beads!!!
posted by xingcat at 7:11 PM on September 29, 2013

Coffee filter fall leaves - coffee filters and food coloring. You could make garlands or a wreathe.

Sandwich box from milk jug - milk jug, scissors, hair band.

Sock dog - socks, thread, needles, stuffing.
Sock bear - same.

Can lamps- can, cutters, wire, screwdriver.

Leaf prints - leaf, acrylic paint, paper. You can also make prints of household objects, fish, etc.

Two projects which require oil pastels and acrylic paints:
Ming vase
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:19 PM on September 29, 2013

Things I did when I was crazy poor and across the country from where I usually lived: sewed stuffed fruits and vegetables from fabric scraps; decorated kitchen. (I still have a pepper, to remind me of hard times...) Also: thrift store frames (try painting them) + thrift store records with cool artwork (you can trim these so they don't look like records -- if you like) = wall art

The other obvious pauper's decor is houseplants. Paint cheap clay pots, take cuttings from friends' plants.

In Canada milk comes in bags and the bags are crocheted into sleeping mats and totes for Haiti. Details and how-to.

And: crazy quilts.
posted by kmennie at 8:51 PM on September 29, 2013

Oh! Oh! I've been crazy-poor and decorating a new crappy apartment so many times I'm practically the guru of this. Many good ideas have been mentioned above. Use plants. Long bare twigs in old colored glass bottles. Use bits of old fabric for everything. A cool print on a hideous prairie-dress? Chop a big square out of the skirt and throw it over a table. Or drape a long strip over a window as a valance (you can drape them all kinds of interesting ways, or have two different color or texture strips of fabric and sort of drape/twist them together). Origami is always good. Braid rugs are fun, but involve somewhat more time commitment and a certain type of aesthetic (they are ridiculously easy though). I am a big fan of the school of Random Found Objects Plus Paint, in which, for example, one finds a broken old wicker rocking chair with interesting twisty wood arms, breaks off the arms, spray paints them and arranges them beside each other on a wall so it looks like some abstract butterfly. I actually got tons of compliments on that darn thing when I was in college.

Another thing I would do as mentioned above (and it does involve a tiny bit of money and a thrift store - or maybe a well-stocked dumpster) is the old frames and book pages. I spent a couple years completely obsessed with old and old-looking maps. At one point I found a whole atlas of old maps (kind of a history of geography) book at goodwill, for like $1. I cut out most of the pages and put them in various random and differently-shaped frames, all over a wall; it was fun, and it suited my persona at the time.
posted by celtalitha at 10:01 PM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had some picture frames and I used some pretty wrapping paper. The same paper in different frames, it looks neat and cost nothing, since this was stuff I happened to have.

You can do the same thing with wallpaper samples.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:42 AM on September 30, 2013

Oh! Go on freecycle (if there is one in your neighborhood) and see if anyone's looking to unload an older encyclopedia set. They're a treasure trove of old maps or prints of interesting things, especially the older sets, and look great framed in thrift store frames. You can use the remaining pages to decorate as you will or recycle them. Decor that's practically free.
posted by patheral at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2013

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