Unconventional Canvases: Part 5 – Rachel Levin, Art Lecturer

Rachel Levin, a popular art lecturer who often lectures at the Bernard Betel Centre for our weekly Tuesday Lifelong Learning Lectures, has provided a thoughtful and creative write-up for the Bernard Betel Centre community on unconventional canvases. Enjoy!


The unconventional canvases shown in this article challenge the conventional usage of paper, panel or canvas. It suggests that just may be the traditional media as we know it, is passé when it comes to creating art. Today artists are using just about anything they can get their hands on to display their work. In this segment old shoes, coffee stains, pennies, and leather belts become materials turning into masterpieces.


Abby Schukei is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. As an art teacher she focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity. Many of us donate our old shoes and sneakers. However, sometimes they can be so worn out and they just end up in the trash. Instead, some artists try saving worn out shoes to use them as an art project later on! This gives art students a chance to think about design as well. Could they design shoes someone would actually wear? Students could push the boundaries of what shoes may become – a work of art, there are no limits or possibilities!

A great example of shoes as a canvas is the work of Jordan Kozma. In order to apply for the special art course in high school Jordan was required to prepare a portfolio with examples of her work in different mediums. One of the requirements was a sculpture. Jordan ‘didn’t feel like doing a sculpture’ as she describes her mood at the time. She chose a ‘Converse’ shoe as her unconventional canvas.

Jordan’s favourite artist at the time was Van Gough and his ‘Starry Night’ was the painting she selected. Jordan painted directly on the blank shoe using acrylic paint, since the shoe was new and didn’t have any distortions, it was easy to apply the paint on the shoe’s canvas.

At the high school interview the panel remarked that it wasn’t a sculpture as required but they really liked Jordan’s execution and the usage of the ‘Converse’ logo as the moon in Van Gogh’s painting. Jordan was accepted to the high school’s art program and she will be graduating at the end of this year.


Most people treat a coffee stain as annoying and inconvenient especially if you are already out of the house rushing to an appointment. German illustrator, Stefan Kuhnigk, sees hidden creatures inside every obscure, brown smudge, and he turns random coffee stains into all sorts of weird and wonderful monster characters.

It all started in 2011 when during a meeting at the ad agency Stefan worked when he accidentally spilled a cup of coffee on some paper. Rather than throw the papers in the trash, Stefan started to doodle on top of the dried spillage, filling in the missing shapes and lines to create his first coffee monster.

Since then, he has been creating one every day and by now has a collection of over 500 coffee critters. Stefan’s monster drawings range from sweet and adorable to evil and mischievous. From strange blobs with eyes and teeth to multi-headed brown splats, each character visualizes the artist’s playful imagination. Stefan says “I really enjoy every single one because I love creation and the coincidence of the coffee hitting paper, I try to see a monster, a character, or figure in it and when I find something, I draw it.”


Kelly Graham is a Californian jeweler. She owns a jewelry designs company that creates original Celtic style jewels. She created a mosaic floor in her home using roughly 7,500 pennies in a space measuring 6 feet by 6 feet. Kelly finished laying the final penny in 2015. She has developed special skills that allowed her to craft her inspiring interior.

Before making jewelry, Kelly was a machinist. Kelly began the project by separating the old from new pennies into piles with medium-aged coins designated as the filler between the mosaic lines. Kelly explains. “It took me three weeks to complete, so ample time for me to change my mind. Once I sat down to do it, I enjoyed myself immensely. It was a cathartic experience I needed in my life and maybe that’s why the design worked as it did.”

Beyond using pennies, Kelly needed only a few basic supplies to ensure that her design would last. A caulking gun was one of them, and she caulked the back of each coin for adhesion on her tile floor. “After I put the last penny down, I waited a few days for the caulking to solidify and then I spread grout on top. I waited a full week for the grout to harden and set and then finally poured a resin coating on top. There is no penny odor, the floor isn’t slippery, it has been five years since I made it and it still looks good!”


Designer Inghua Ting is British born artist living in Los Angeles. Following her graduation from the Royal College of Art in London, Inghua established Ting, her company based in Los Angeles. Ting produces leather belts and turns them into unique surfaces for home décor treatment applications. Ting also uses vintage and reclaimed belts. The results are more original than wood or carpet flooring.

The belts are used on floors, fashioned into rugs and are even featured as interior accents for walls, stairs and doors. Using these specially-collected belts means that no two pieces are ever the same. Each belt is hand-selected and then stripped of its metals, hand cleaned, and prepared for processing. The tile or panels are created in-house to keep a consistent high quality and ensure that every piece has the correct pattern and color balance. This careful attention to details results in a beautiful, glossy, hard-wearing surface that is available for purchase by the square foot.


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