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Supertramp – Tramp Art revisited

Last week on A&E’s Storage Wars, Brandi and Jarrod bought a locker with a tramp art cabinet in it. I had never heard of tramp art before. As Jarrod summarized, it is made by “OCD hobos.” Many historical accounts come out saying something similar, but more finessed. Tramp art was typically made from wooden cigar boxes since they were prevalent at the time and couldn’t be commercially reused. So jobless individuals would take these boxes and carve V-shaped divots into them to jazz them up and sell. They would use a pocket knife and layer the divoting process to create dimension. Typically they’d make fancy boxes and picture frames. Some artisans went as far as to create chests and dressers. It was an original “make do” craft.
PROJECT 1
The tramp art look is very detailed yet imperfect, which lends itself to well to an old piece of furniture or picture frame. I would start simple, with a super sharp knife and work it. I must say, in the last few years I have garbage picked about 4 little stools. That would be a great project to tackle.
PROJECT 2
I like slicing my finger with a pocket knife as much as the next person. That said, IWalking stick by Ingrid Hughs; Flickr wanted to find a wood project that requires a bit less exertion but still yields a cool project. For that I came up with the tramp art walking stick. Traditionally, walking sticks have been a popular outlet for folk art, so why not marry it up with tramp art. If you use a wet stick the bark practically jumps off and it’s easier to sink your knife into. You can also find a live branch and piss off a bunch of environmentalist – your choice. Just saying.
PROJECT 3 – Tramp art for kids
Put away the knives and wood, it’s time for pinking shears and foam paper. This is very fun and very simple – almost like Lincoln Logs but with glue. To adapt this classic folk art craft into a fun, kid-friendly craft, you will need:
- Pinking shears
- A small box (think like the Tramp artisans and dig in your recycling bin for a box from soap, herbal tea or a cosmetic product like face cream or perfume.)
-Foam paper (both thick and thin foam paper works, but be warned, if you use the thick foam you will be craving crinkle french fries)
-Quick drying glue

Optional
- A small piece of felt or velvet

Step 1
Measure the square/rectangular sides and top of your found box and draw the panels on your foam paper. You can also use the box as a stencil to trace the sides directly onto the foam.

Step 2
Using the pinking shears, cut the foam paper sized to cover the sides and top of your box. Glue foam pieces to the box.

Step 3
Repeat step two, decreasing the size of the squares by a small amount on each side. Continue to apply squares or other shapes (Tramp artists used hearts and diamond shapes also) in decreasing sizes until the top layer is the size of your fingerprint.

Step 4

If your box top is separate from the bottom, add 1 to 2, slightly smaller squares of foam paper – cut with straight scissors – to the bottom of the box top. This way, the top will fit into the bottom instead of resting on top of it.

Step 5 (Optional)
You may want to add a small square of felt or velvet to the inside bottom of your box if it has folded or overlapping pieces of cardboard. This will keep small items like earrings from slipping into the cracks.

*If you want to create more tramp art pieces, try applying the technique above to a journal cover or picture frame!

I’m Cristin Frank (AKA Eve). I love all things frugal and crafty. My mindset is always on upcycling, repurposing, reducing waste and saving money – and Eve of Reduction is my roadmap. You might also want to check out my book, "Living Simple, Free & Happy."

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