Where to Find Cheap (or Free) Objects for Your Up-cycled Art Projects

By Steff Metal in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

Creating art from found or recycled objects is usually called “up-cycling” because it’s less about breaking items down, and more about taking a complete item and reworking it to make it into something more beautiful or useful.

The trick with up-cycled artwork is to find the right sort of objects to transform into art. Every artist needs a steady stream of inspiration, but the question is, how do you find these objects in need of a little up-cycling love?

Here are a few ideas:

Your studio

Most of us up-cycling artists are compulsive hoarders. We just can’t bring ourselves to throw anything out if we think it could potentially be part of an artwork later on.

We have jars of bottle caps and old junk jewelry “just in case” inspiration strikes. Fabric swatches, old postcards, books, computer components, glass jars and bottles, packaging. . . it all stays in the studio until it becomes part of an up-cycled project.


Landfills and junkyards are great for picking up large pieces for up-cycled art, such as old furniture, mechanical parts and bits of old computers and TVs. It’s less useful for collecting smaller pieces.

Just be careful when exploring the landfill. There can be a lot of sharp objects and hazardous chemicals. Cover your skin, wear gloves and always make sure your tetanus vaccination is up-to-date.

Thrift stores

Scouring your local thrift store can reveal some remarkable finds. Thrift stores usually specialize in clothing, jewelry and furniture, but you can often pick up other items, such as crockery and old tools, as well.

Thrift stores change their stock rapidly, so you might need to dedicate time every week to visiting your favorite haunts to collect the pieces you need.

Antique Stores

If you’re looking for remarkable pieces with a real history, antique stores are the place to look. They will be more expensive than thrift stores, but if you need something old and beautiful, they will be your best option.

Remember that antique dealers are used to haggling, so don’t just accept the price on the tag! Ask for a lower price, strike a hard bargain, and walk away with a great find AND a good deal.


Auctions and estate sales aren’t all for priceless artworks and Chippendale furniture. Everyday household lots are sold off, usually for next to nothing. You can often buy bulk lots of objects for between $1-$100.

Auctions are a great place to find a bargain—arrive early so you can scope out the items you want, and decide before the auction starts how high you’re willing to bid, so you’re not tempted to go into a bidding frenzy.

On Freecycle.org and other free sites

Freecycle.org is a website where people list items they are giving away for free. If you want something, you go and pick it up, and they then change the item’s status to “Taken.” You can also place a “Wanted” add on the site and anyone in the Freecycle community can offer you the item you require.

There are plenty of other website you could use to source free or cheap objects for your found art. Try Craigslist if you’re in the US or Gumtree if you’re in the UK.


Although Ebay is quickly declining in popularity with the rise of Amazon, there are still bargains to be had. The trick with bidding sites is to decide on a limit you’re willing to pay at the onset and not allowing yourself to get sucked into a bidding war. Otherwise, you could end up paying a small fortune for a Victorian home apothecary set (oops).

Friends and family

Recently I was working on a project that required me to collect around 2000 wine corks. I couldn’t drink that much wine myself, but I put the word out to family and friends to save their corks, and soon I had bags of wine corks rolling in. (I was able to source my corks within two months!)

As an added bonus, because so many different friends and family members—with different tastes—participated, I ended up with a varied selection of corks from different brands. My finished project looked amazing!

Up-cycling found objects into art is a lot of fun, so even if you’ve never done it before, why not give it a try? Next time you see a unique object destined for the trash, rescue it and turn it into something beautiful!


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