My Upcycle project has concluded with a final design of a gothic-inspired table lamp made out of animal bones, recycled lamp and cardboard. I’m happy with the final design and aesthetic, and I also look forward to continuing working on the project. I believe it has potential to become a finished product after an investment of significantly more time.
This project began in 2019 when I saw some bones in a ditch near a hiking trail in a hunting area in New Mexico. I believe they are deer bones but I can’t be sure. I knew immediately that I wanted to eventually use the bones for an art piece. The bones still had some bits of flesh attached, as well as dirt and other debris, so I started out by doing research on how to clean the bones.
This was a long process, involving 3 months of soaking the bones in a tub full of water, occasionally moving the bucket to stir the bones and dumping out the water every few weeks. From my research, this was the best way to clean the flesh without purchasing live parasites, since the flesh would decay naturally in the water over time. This stage was truly awful, and I can’t begin to describe the smell of the water that I dumped out each time.
For fun I decided to let my pet rats explore the cleaned bones!
Next I researched how to professionally articulate bones as in creating a posed skeleton. This process involved drilling small holes in the bones in order to add structural wire. However, I was not willing to damage or alter the bones themselves, so instead I used wire wrapped around the bones and pieces of cardboard to create a temporary pose for the bones lamp.
I decided to use a gothic aesthetic because I was interested in using shadows created by the bones, and the modern gothic design aesthetic is known for utilizing bones. This created a dark and creepy vibe that I was pleased with. I found some used lamps at a thrift store and spent some time holding different bones up to the light in various poses to see what looked good.
The build process!
Constraints and Challenges
I spent some time sketching the final design idea that I could envision in my head. It involved a lamp that was supported internally in such a way that it could protrude directly from the wall. I wanted to pose the largest bone, the hip bone, on top of the lamp such that the hip sockets would seem like eye sockets and cast interesting shadows on the wall. However, I got stuck finding a way to support the weight of the bones without making any permanent alterations to them. In the future I’d like to work with metal rods to add more support to achieve this design.
I planned to create 3d models of all the components so that I could create a suitable design digitally before finalizing the physical design. I used a photogrammetry app to scan the bones and lamp, and I hoped to create some additional 3d printed parts to supplement the materials I had. Although the models of the bones turned out great and I was able to 3d print them easily, I got stuck trying to combine all the files and model any additional pieces. This was due to a trip I had overseas that coincided with the timing of this project. At that point I was trying to use digital models only, with nothing tangible to design with. Additionally, I only had my iPad with me on the trip, and ran into problems trying to learn new 3d modeling apps designed for mobile devices.
This was a really fun project which has encouraged me to keep going with using the bones for an art piece. I received positive feedback from my peers about using bones as materials, and additional feedback that combining bones with a gothic theme and combining it with 3d printed parts creates an interesting juxtaposition of new and old into one art piece.
I’m overall really happy that I was able to create a freestanding piece without doing anything permanent to any of the materials. This means that I’m free to continue building and designing new pieces with these same materials. This seems to fit the nature of an upcycled project, giving me a chance to up-upcycle it later.
In future art pieces using these bones, I’m looking forward to adding more elements of gothic shape and geometry such as high arches. I would love to create a much larger piece utilizing many more of the bones and arranging them in an imaginative way, combining and posing them as an entirely fictional kind of creature such as a flying dragon. Before creating a finished piece for sale or gifting, I will need to go back and bleach the bones for sanitary and aesthetic purposes.