artsy fartsy,  Bug,  The Hood,  urban life

Found Objects

Alley Cat

We live on an alley. I’ve mentioned it before. It’s just part of living around here. No yard, no grass, some city-planted trees and a bunch of cement! Poor us. But hey, the ocean is just five blocks away so I guess I can get over the lack of a real yard to play in. It could be worse. We could live in the city with no yard, no grass and no ocean. I think we’ll survive.

Before I had Baby Bug, I wondered what it would be like to raise a child here. When I was a kid we always had a huge back yard. There was always a garden, some form of a rusty old swing set, a treehouse, plenty of mud and dozens of neighborhood kids to run the streets with. We lived on a barely-paved, dead-end street in the country. We never worried about cars running us over, let alone a cement truck barreling down the highway. I don’t think I even knew what a jackhammer was until I moved here.

So what do you do when you have a restless child who wants to play outside but you can’t just push her out the door into your relatively safe backyard? After you’ve gone to the park and the beach about seventeen million times, you start to look for other options.

We like to take walks in the alley. There are neighbors we can visit and all sorts of things to explore. There are trash cans to peek into (from a distance of course—nothing gross), cracks to follow, rocks to collect, dandelions to pick…we find things to do. She finds things to do. I just follow her and mutter to myself about my lack of cell phone coverage.

what I got

My latest fun thing to do in the alley is to collect found objects. I’m sort of picky about what I will stick in my pocket though. No leaves or rocks or anything natural. I like to pick up old rusty washers and nuts and bolts, paper clips and screws. It’s silly I guess, but I think it’s fun. In my mind I’m going to create an art piece with these someday. I don’t have enough yet to even begin anything but someday I will. That is if Toby doesn’t find and toss my collection first—he thinks I’m nuts. I guess I’m just a scavenger. But really, I’m probably saving someone from a flat tire so you could think of it as a good deed.

It’s not really the best project for Baby Bug yet. I don’t mean to encourage her to pick up dirty, oily, possibly sharp things. It’s fine because she’s way more interested in finding rocks and leaves anyway. But it does help me to keep my head from exploding when she wants to go anywhere but in a straight line while we are out walking. I’ve always liked collecting things. It’s like hunting for sea shells but without the fear of getting a ticket from the beach police.

(Yes, they will give you a ticket here if you collect shells. Of course an odd one in your pocket now and then isn’t going to get you into trouble but they really don’t want you disturbing the natural habitat—which is understandable, sadly. People are always walking around and squishing the poor little sea animals that live in the tide pools. )

Collecting old nuts and bolts and discarded pieces of junk isn’t going to get anybody into trouble as far as I know. As long as it isn’t smelly and stinky and going to take up space in our house, it should be a perfectly harmless hobby. Someday this collection is going to be a huge collage of cool pieces of junk: 100% recycled art! Maybe it’s hard to visualize but I can see birds with paperclip wings and washer eyelids with marbles for eyes. Screws and nails might be the sharp ragged grass. Who knows, it might just be a big collage of junk that nobody wants all glued together in one piece. But it will be fun. It will be a lesson in reclaiming what has been discarded.

our collection

I’ve also been wanting to do this at the beach too but with plastic found objects instead of metal. The beach is always filled with brightly colored bottle caps and twisty ties and tumbled who-knows-whats. That will have to be another blog post though because we haven’t done it yet and I have no photos!

Stay tuned!


  • lynne

    I don’t think your nuts I think it’s a totally feisable idea. There is a stall in the market I live close too that has funny figures made out of nuts n bolts n stuff. I tried to find a link but got ths guy instead
    Woo impressive. Imagine what you could make witha little welding kit and patience.

    I collect shells from the beach and take them back to the city with me as a reminder of the sea. Happy collecting :)

  • BeachMama

    How cool that you see the art in everything. Andrea over at the Fishbowl had a post or two about the things they collect while out walking. I think they made something out of it too (it was a year or so ago, so forgive my memory). Sadly all we find on our walks is a lot of garbage that we put in the bottom of the stroller to bring home to the garbage can… sigh….

  • Jennifer

    I remember my dad having a jar of objects like this when I was a kid. I loved looking through all the different shapes of metal. A lot of your BB and you posts bring back memories of when I just had Emily. We did a LOT of ally walking back in the day when we lived at our old apartment. Emily was more into rolly pollies (sp?) back then. They absolutely fascinated her. They are a bug that rolls!

    Sometimes to keep her on the straight and narrow I would have her push one of those plastic grocery carts, but a lot of the time I ended up carrying it back. One thing that she would always push from beginning to end was one of those popper thingies. I tried not to do that too often because I’m sure it annoyed the neighbors. I’ll have to find and share a picture of the day Emily insisted on taking her shopping cart AND wooden dog that fell over EVERY FIVE STEPS. Good times :)

    I can’t wait to see what work of art you two make with your loot.

  • Spandrel Studios

    You are just so amazing… and I so admire your point of view on the world… what the rest of us see as a random collection of rusty, bent metal, and the odd little shiny knob, you form into a pinwheel in no time flat! Have you ever thought of being a filmmaker, or working in animation, SAJ? I imagine that your movies would be *so* creative, just a feast for the senses!

    SAJ says: Wow. Shucks. I don’t know if everyone would agree with you on this but thank you! I’d love to be a filmmaker or work in animation. I’d also like to be a cake decorator and a welder… but I have to wait until I get done with this mom gig, it’s kind of all-consuming right now.

  • Sonja

    I love it! My grandfather kept marshmellow jars of found objects and when I was a child, I was mesmerized and loved to scoop my hand in just to feel it all. I think it was something left over from living through the Depression. I think there are all sorts of theories about why people like to collect and why they collect certain things. I wonder what provokes you other than your creativity? Glad to have you back so often!

  • Melissa

    Isn’t is awesome being able to see art in everyday objects? I have a few of these collections myself. My recent idea is to collect all cobalt blue bottles (most sky vodka bottles but others as well) and using them as a border around my yard…I am just going to ‘plant’ them.

  • Lisa

    Brenda, you’ll love this site! This illustrator (Holly Conger) uses found objects for her “junk-a-doodles”. I’ve enjoyed seeing what she creates with her young daughter. — make sure to check out the archives! She’s very creative – just like you!