For the past five years, Ruby Silvious has been painting and drawing on tea bags that have been steeped in hot water, emptied, and dried. The stained paper (and occasionally cloth) of the tea bags offers a distinctive canvas for her miniature paintings, which present a visual journal of her life and travels — a watercolor of breakfast or flowers encountered on a walk, a street scene of a French town, or a museum gallery and its art-loving crowds.
Her adventure with tea began as a test of self-discipline in January 2015. In an announcement of a new exhibit of her work, Silvious explained, “My goal was to see if I had the discipline to create something every day for an entire year using tea as my subject.”
For the first week, she took photographs of her tea consumption, but after a few days she began to experiment with the used tea bags themselves and soon learned that the tea-stained material offered a canvas for her illustrated journal.
The year-long study in self-discipline led to her first series of paintings and her book, 363 Days of Tea: A Visual Journal on Used Tea Bags. Silvious was hooked and her work on recycled tea bags continued with subsequent series: 52 Weeks of Tea, 26 Days of Tea in Japan, 9 Days of Tea in Spain, and more.
Even before her experiment with tea bags, Silvious had been using recycled products in her art. She is particularly fond of pistachio shells and eggshells, which offer fragile surfaces for her imaginative and whimsical designs.
In 2019, Silvious took a step in another direction, making shoes from colorful scraps of salvaged paper. Silvious has also created kimonos and stylish dresses from printed tea bags, and, to go underneath, origami paper brassieres (her Oribrami series) constructed from recycled restaurant food wrappers and other rescued paper.
Some of Silvious’s work including tea bags, egg shells, and other reclaimed items will be featured in the exhibition Recycled & Refashioned: The Art of Ruby Silvious that runs January 25 through June 7, 2020, at the Albany Institute of History & Art.
The Albany Institute of History & Art is located at 125 Washington Avenue, Albany. More information is available on their website.
Photo of Hay Bales, watercolor and gouache on used tea bags by Ruby Silvious.