Tea Bag Art Beautifully Embodies Intricacy and Simplicity

Photos courtesy of Ruby Silvious

Artist Ruby Silvious repurposes used tea bags as her canvases, turning material that people often discard into beautiful works of art. The tea bag art includes a broad range of subjects—all depicted in colorful, intricate detail.

Ruby Silvious; photo by Elizabeth Dobos

Silvious, who was born and raised in Tacloban City in the Philippines, was always creative while she was growing up. Her father was a self-taught artist and his passion for typography and drawing influenced Silvious. However, initially she did not see herself as an artist. “I just knew I loved creating and I loved doing art and I loved colors and drawing.”

She went on to study architecture and fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and then immigrated to the United States in 1977. She then worked in the architecture field and as a graphic designer and continued to take art classes on the side.

In 2014 she took an interest in painting on discarded objects and exhibited her work in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood and its theme was titled: Salvaged, Reimagining the Familiar.

Soon afterward, Silvious and her sister were drinking tea and the idea of incorporating used teabags into art emerged. “The tea stains really appealed to me because they gave the tea bag this vintage look, and it really, truly had potential as a canvas.” Silvious said. “I loved that it was small because I love doing small things anyway.”

Silvious primarily uses watercolors when painting on tea bags. She also sometimes does printmaking, during which she puts ink on plexiglass and transfers the designs onto tea bags. All of the tea bag art she sells is original—no reproductions are made.

Photo by Elizabeth Dobos

Silvious compiled a book, 363 Days of Tea: A Visual Journal on Used Tea Bags, which is a collection of tea bag art she created in 2015. She created a new piece of tea bag art each day, beginning on January 3 and continuing through December 31. Silvious found inspiration during her travels in Montmirail, France where she participated in an art workshop, and in Noepoli, Italy where she was in an art residency. She initially posted a photo of each new piece on Instagram daily, where her art rapidly grew in popularity; then she compiled all of the photos into a book, which was published in September of 2016.

Her work is exhibited at about 10 galleries per year. Her next tea bag art exhibit will be at the Mary C. Daly RSM Art Gallery in Madison, Connecticut. Her largest single work of tea bag art is a tea bag kimono, which she created for an upcoming exhibit in Chigasaki, Japan. She intends to create more tea bag wearables.