Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tea Time in the Art Studio


Well yes – we can always enjoy a nice cup of tea. Or in hot weather, I am more likely to imbibe iced tea. But do you realize what a little treasure you have in your hand when you are finished dipping your tea bag?

It’s the paper. Tea bag paper is special. It’s a lightweight but very strong filter paper, usually made from abaca hemp, with sometimes wood pulp added. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned folded and stapled sort of bag. (Heat sealed bags use thermoplastic as adhesive. ptui. Let’s stick with the stapled ones.) 

I’m sure you know that brewed tea is a marvelous stain for “aging” paper, giving it lovely tones of buff, golden brown, dark brown, etc. depending on the type of tea and the length of time you soak your paper with it. But I want to address the paper itself.  

staple removed,
tube revealed.
Empty out at ends.
First you want to disassemble and empty the tea bags. After you have made your tea, set the bags aside to dry. I like to use the “family size” bags for making iced tea to keep in the fridge, and the larger size is nice to work with. But any size bag that you can unfold is fine. Glued bags are pretty much worthless for this technique.
I find needle-nosed pliers to be very handy for removing the staple. Sometimes the staples are too tight to slide the pliers under, so the point of a thin narrow-tipped paint spatula or paring knife will do. Be careful to always push the blade under the staple away from your other hand. Hold the bag down at the bottom with one hand, with the staple at the top. Pushing away from your hand, loosen the two prongs of the staple so they stand erect, then turn the bag over and slide the end of the spatula under the flat part, or use the pliers at this point. Pull the staple out carefully. The paper is tough and will resist, but if you tug too hard you can tear it.

Shake out the tea. (Ours goes into the compost bin.) You now have a cylinder of paper with a seam. Run your finger under the seam while pulling one edge away gently and it should open easily. Flatten it out. Now, isn’t it pretty even at this stage? The tea will have stained it according to the type of tea. Mine come out a beautiful golden and brown using ordinary store brand teabags.


You can use the paper as is. One artist coated the papers in wax, sometimes including a leaf or other small flat object. She strung these up to create a “curtain” that absolutely glowed when the light shown through. And not incidentally, the fragrance of the bees wax was soothing and delightful.


But wait! As they say in the commercials, “There’s more!!”


Yup – you can stain those tea bags further with transparent colors – watercolors, inks, acrylic inks – experiment! They will take on color while retaining their striations and varied intensity of tones. Now they are suitable for use in many kinds of collage.
Stained with acrylic inks. Upper left stained
with Winston metallic ink.

 I did a quick abstract to show how nice they look juxtaposed, or layered, or just by themselves. You can cover another object (a box, for example) with them. Add them to assemblages. Make greeting cards. The effect is lovely and can’t really be reproduced easily any other way.
I liked the dark spots that appeared
on one piece, so I duplicated them
on a couple of others using water-soluble
And just look - I discovered that I can add a picture frame in my editing software! 



  1. Awesome, Lee! I love the red.

  2. This is lovely, and the frame makes such a difference!

  3. You clever girl, Lee. I like this idea, but I am a real recycler.
    Hope all is well in your world.

    Sending blessings from Ukraine,


  4. hi there lee
    I think i will try the tea bag as a chine-colle element in a print !!