Creative REuse Artist: Whitney Smith of At Whits End Design

This week’s spotlight is on Whitney Smith who takes paper scraps and turns them into amazing and colorful bracelets and necklaces.  It’s like wearing miniature paper lanterns.  I love that idea!  So whimsical and fresh.

Here’s what Whitney had to say:

1. Tell us your story…How did you get to where you are now as an artist?

Growing up, I always enjoyed various arts and crafts. I was never focused in one area of art. My mother was very artsy so I was able to try out many areas of artistic expression with her through the years. Even though I loved art, I never considered myself an artist.
When I moved to San Francisco for college is when I feel I truly found and defined my artistic self. I had a great little apartment, the inspiration of a bustling city mixed with natural beauty and a melting pot of creative vibes from my fellow San Franciscans. Here is where I really started focusing on reusing things and trying out new techniques. I mostly dabbled in painting, photography, sewing, knitting, and jewelry making. When I move back to the south bay area, I took the love for these things with me and continued to work on various art projects.
My boyfriend told me about Etsy one day and I knew I wanted to become a part of it with my jewelry. At the time, I wasn’t making paper beads, in fact, I had never heard of them. I was only making jewelry out of glass beads and gemstones. A lot of the beads in these pieces are actually recycled from other jewelry that was broken or leftover from other projects. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered paper beads and how much fun you can have with them. I went crazy with all of my old magazines and printer paper! I decided to start selling the paper beads and pieces made from them along with my jewelry on Etsy.
I now consider myself an artist but only because I feel that everyone can be an artist if they choose to be.

2. Why do you reuse material?

I reuse materials for several reasons. 1) It’s good for the environment. It’s a way to recycle things that would otherwise be thrown away. 2) Using recycled materials can save you money because most people just see junk and are willing to give them away. 3) Recycled things have a story all their own. There is something so fun about using an object that has had a life as something completely different before it was turned into your piece of art.

3. How do you come up with ideas for creative reuse?

I get a lot of my ideas from just looking at the piece and asking myself what I can do with it or how can I use it in my project? Usually I already have an idea from something I saw that inspired me so it’s really just a matter of finding the pieces that I think fit and figuring out what I want to do with them. In the case of paper beads, I have to decide what colors are going to work with my project and how I want to arrange them.

4. Explain your process. How do you get from paper to upcycled necklace?

First I choose my paper. Any type can be used such as used printer paper, magazine pages, sheet music, scrapbooking scraps, newspaper, origami paper, book pages, etc. I personally like to reuse printer paper or magazine pages since I have those in abundance. On the page, I measure out the beads with a ruler to make sure each will be about the same size, usually 1 inch or less. This is also where I decide what shape I want the final bead to be in. Then I cut out the triangles, rectangles or other shapes for the beads. Then comes the rolling! There are actually fancy bead rollers out on the market but I personally just use one of my paint brushes that I have dubbed my bead roller. As the last inch of paper is about to be rolled, I put a little bit of glue to hold bead together. I leave them to dry overnight (there is a lot of drying time when making these haha). I like to paint my beads so once they are dry, I add 3 coats of whatever color paint I choose, drying for at least a few hours in between coats. Then I add a design, which can be kind of tricky considering the “canvas”, is small and curved. After the design dries, I add 3 coats of varnish to give the bead durability and shine with more drying in between coats. After the last drying period, you have your beads! I usually do them in small batches so I end up with between 8 and 16 beads. After that, the possibilities are endless. I recently used paper beads in a bracelet for a contest also using chain, small glass beads, headpins and a barrel clasp. I have seen paper beads used in jewelry, other accessories, glued on canvases and even in a beaded curtain!

5. What advice do you have for anyone interested in creatively reusing something?

Have fun with it! Look at your materials with an open mind and just let it flow. Recycled things make some of the best pieces!

6. What inspires your work?

Most of my work is inspired by the things I see around me. Sometimes things just stand out to me. Every once in a while I’ll get inspired by a person or a specific object but most of the time I make things that are kind of my own interpretation of what I see. I feel when I make a piece that was inspired by something, it has it’s own way of immortalizing it for me.

7. Any favorite artists?

I love Monet’s water lily paintings and Auguste Rodin’s sculptures. I also love Jonathon Bowser’s goddess art.

8. Where do you want to be in 5 years as an artist?

In 5 years I’d love to have my own little boutique for all of the art that I do. Later on I would also love to open an art center for children since working with children is my other passion.

See more from this artist here:





One thought on “Creative REuse Artist: Whitney Smith of At Whits End Design

  1. Think this bracelet is just beautiful

    We hope you don’t mind us leaving a note to tell you about our fabulous Ugandan Recycled Paper Mzuribeads, Barkcloth, Banana leaf, and recycled Glass beads ON SALE at

    Here you can check out a selection of ethical and eco beads all made by groups building sustainable businesses and promoting environmental awareness.

    Thank you for your support, and for promoting sustainable bead projects.



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