Susie Q. Wood Makes Upcycled Art From Beach Litter

Every morning at sunrise, artist Susie Q. Wood walks the coastline outside her ocean-facing Galt Mile Beach condo and cleans up after other people. She collects stomped cigarette butts, misplaced shoes, discarded plastic, and forgotten dolls. Much of it she trashes. Some she recycles. A lot, she washes and uses for her art.

"It's terrible, the way we treat the beaches," Wood says.

Wood transforms ugly plastic garbage into bright vivid compositions, often arranged in mesmerizing swirls. The artist says this "upcycled" work elicits beauty from the muck, bringing peace to a once-negative state.

Toothbrush Flashmob is a vibrant collection of used toothbrushes.

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One of Wood's first artworks employing trash was the hauntingly beautiful Bottle Capius Litterus, which she created in 2010. From discarded bottle caps found around her neighborhood, she created a grand, rust-colored tree.

Toothbrush Flashmob is a vibrant collection of used toothbrushes. The message is pretty clear and rivetingly disgusting. Wood's other creations include cigar boxes stuffed tightly with pieces of plastic, arranged by color and shade. Her collection of photographs of hundreds of forgotten shoes is titled Lost Soles. In Wood's apartment, a mirror frame encrusted with seashell-colored plastic pieces evokes the ocean. A classroom-style globe on the dining room table has pieces of plastic stuck to all the oceans, lakes and rivers.

Born and raised in Delaware, Wood earned degrees in art education from East Carolina University and Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. For years, she worked as an art teacher in Virginia. Her earlier work was solely representational — delicate watercolor renderings of houses. Those paintings are carefully archived in an album while her new work — freer, wilder, and more socially relevant — has developed.

For years, Wood stopped doing art. In the '90s, she moved to Florida and established the Fort Lauderdale edition of Natural Awakenings, a franchise magazine that takes a "practical look at the latest natural approaches to nutrition, fitness, creative expression, personal growth and sustainable living."

Wood returned to art about ten years ago, encouraged by a painting teacher to take an environmental focus. She began creating two-dimensional works to which she'd add pieces of plastic that rise from the canvases. She knows she's not the first artist to recycle trash and even mentions that Picasso once used old bicycle handlebars to depict a bull's horns. Her trash-filled creations now fill her walls.

Wood's work has been exhibited across the nation. She recently had a one-woman show at Fort Lauderdale City Hall. And the second Saturday of each month, she takes part in the Fort Lauderdale Beach Sweep. Organizer Bobby Lieberman says that as many as 400 volunteers typically collect 2,000 cigarette butts and hundreds of pounds of litter. Wood then works with the Kids Ecology Corps to sort the litter and create a group mural or collage. In the cooperative project "All Hands on Deck," Wood leads people in decorating an abandoned Cuban rafter boat, plastic swirls attached to it in strokes reminiscent of a van Gogh.

Wood also collaborates with Trash to Treasure, a creative reuse/recycling center that collects reusable scrap of all kinds and matches it with a new owner. The center is holding an EcoArt Festival with films, plus an art show titled "Waterworks" that runs this Thursday through Saturday with a focus on threats to water. Wood will display two upcycled mixed-media works in the show.

"Waterworks" and Eco-Art Festival
Thursday, May 26, through Saturday, May 28, at ArtServe,1350 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-462-8190, or visit or

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Dina Weinstein