Alter Sketchbook

Members: Hannah Marsland and June

MELT collaborated with ALTER, a local Vancouver social venture, to produce a limited batch of ALTER sketchbooks with covers made entirely from plastic waste that was recycled by hand. 

Completed Alter Sketchbook

It was very inspiring to see Hannah and June – the artists behind this project – make use of plastic as their artistic medium of choice. There is a fine balance between chance and control where designers collect and lay out different colored materials and then leave the rest of the process to the magic of the oven. Melted plastic can still be manipulated, but it cools and hardens very quickly in room temperature. Some of the most interesting designs emerged as a surprising result of this playful interaction between the artist’s speculation and the material transformation.

This collaboration taught us to be creative about craft making and of the importance of developing processes and tools, which can be equally as valuable as the end products. When this project was started, we had just lost our powerful modified CD Shredder. Our replacement, an off-the-shelf paper shredder, could only break down thin and flat plastic, which limited the colour palette. Hannah and June were not afraid of the lack of tools, and worked with this limitation in tools and budget in a very clever way by developing a new process for shredding plastic. They used a blender filled with plastic materials and water, then sifted out the shredded plastic using cheesecloth and waited for it to dry before melting it with a toaster oven. This was not the most optimal process because it was very labour intensive, but it demonstrated that plastic can be recycled with a very limited set of tools. Despite this setback, they were able to finish their project just in time and ALTER was able to show and sell the sketchbooks at the art book fair in the Vancouver Art Gallery.  

As a summary of what our collaborative efforts entail, here are the outline of the journey that one sketchbook travels before it makes its way into customer’s hands.

Step 1

Waste plastic is acquired via various audits (collected from UBC and Recycling Alternative)

Step 2

Collected plastic is washed thoroughly to ensure there’s no contamination 

Step 3

Plastic waste is cut down and shredded to produce a workable and even material

Step 4

Shredded plastic is melted down onto a metal sheet in a ventilated areas

TIP: the bins outside of the UBC Building Services Facility at 6449 Agronomy Road are a goldmine for scrap metal

Step 5

The artist experiments with different designs by layering different opacities and colours

Step 6

The pieces are cooled, cut, and punctured for binding

Step 7

Paper is inserted and the book is sewn together. The cover can be separated and reused after this book is filled

Completed Alter Sketchbooks