New Orleans upcycler, Jodie Flowers, turns plastic bags into personal treasures

Recycling isn’t just about sorting your plastics into city bins. It’s also about finding new uses for things around the house that would otherwise wind up in the trash. Recycling pros know that even odds and ends not deemed “recyclable” can be repurposed and diverted from landfills.

Jodie Flowers, a New Orleanian and expert upcycler, is one of these pros. Flowers utilizes discarded clay to create beautiful sculptures and pottery and turns old plastic bags, sheets and found wood into faux-leather works of art.

“I’m basically making a three dimensional, hard canvas. I’m making dogs, cats, flowers, rats, alligators, fish, you name it,” she explains. “…they look and feel just like leather. Most people are genuinely shocked when I tell them my soft sculptures are made of sheets and plastic bags.”

Flowers created her process for making upcycled soft sculptures back in 2007 and has fine tuned her process, creating works of green beauty. “I started sewing when I had my son because it was easier than getting all of my painting supplies together all at once,” explains Flowers. “So I just started using what I had on hand, which turned out to be the plastic bags I brought home from the grocery [store].

“…I started by drawing a design on an old sheet, sewing it up and stuffing it full of plastic bags. Then I hand painted it for embellishments. It looked great and I started getting a bunch of orders for them. There’s an unlimited supply of grocery bags, so I’ve just kept making them.”

But her upcycling skills don’t end with soft sculptures. Flowers creates beautiful sculptures out of discarded, rock-hard clay and collaborates with her roommate, Tim Ferguson, by painting together on found wood.

For Flowers, it’s an artform in itself to be able to look at an object and imagine its possibilities.

That’s where she draws artistic inspiration, from the re-imagining of everyday objects. As she says it, “find inspiration in your surplus. Think about new ways you can use your old and tattered things. Don’t just throw something away because it’s broken—find a new use for it. Then it’s not broken anymore.”

Flowers lives works as a ceramic artist and art teacher, teaching summer courses at YAYA (Young Artists, Young Aspirations). Her upcycled art has been featured at Sky Lobby, The Artisan and is currently on display at Polly’s Bywater Cafe. She sells her soft sculpture voodoo dolls and ceramic pieces at Kako Gallery on Royal Street.

Another of Flowers’ mottos is “Do your part, buy my art” because recycling isn’t just throwing plastic and paper in a separate bin. It can be buying something that once was trash but, after finding its way to an upcycling guru, is now a unique treasure.

Shop Jodie’s work on Etsy.