I’ve been working on a plastic bottle cap art project for and with my son’s class for the annual school auction. I’ve never done one of these before, so I had a lot to learn before getting the kids together to place the bottle caps on the design. I couldn’t find a comprehensive tutorial anywhere, so I put together this rough pictorial. It doesn’t include all the steps, but will give you an idea of some of the things involved in doing one of these projects.
As you can see by the pictures, it was very much a learning experience for me. I loved the first design, but I couldn’t make the arches and flowers work because I wasn’t able to collect enough yellow caps.
How To Make Plastic Bottle Cap Art
You can click on any of these pictures to enlarge them.
Where To Find Bottle Caps
The most challenging part of any bottle cap mural or art project is amassing a large supply of bottle caps. Roughly 1/4 of the bottle caps we used were collected and donated by parents. I collected a few hundred on my own over a two-month period of time. I knew I wasn’t going to have enough, so I started looking on eBay, Etsy and Amazon. I was very blessed to win an auction for several hundred bottle caps. Most of them were white, which I didn’t use, but there were enough colored caps to make it a great purchase. With shipping, it cost me about $50. This was such a steal. I found the auction when there was only six minutes left on it. I was the only bidder! Most plastic bottle caps on eBay go for $10 for approximately 50 caps.
To add color and texture to the project, I spent $26 on various products at Dollar Tree. I selected products with lids in colors and/or shapes I was lacking. This small investment added a lot of texture to the art. The tiny green caps came from travel size Pert shampoo. The large purple and hot pink lids were from room freshener. The thin, tall metallic blue lids were from nail polish bottles.
Plastic Bottle Cap Recycling
We used every kind of plastic bottle cap imaginable. Here is a quick list:
- Toothpaste Lids
- Shampoo Bottles (Hair Products)
- Detergent Bottles
- Elmer’s Glue Sticks
- Makeup Bottles
- Lotion Bottles
- Sunscreen Bottles
- Vaseline Jars
- Soda Pop Bottles
- Milk Jugs and Cartons
- Nail Polish Lids
- Peanut Butter and Jelly (Squeezable)
- Cooking Oil
- Coffee Containers
- Household Cleaners
- Dried Up Magic Markers
A Great, Upcycling Project For Kids
My favorite thing about this project is how good the kids were at placing the caps on the board. It was very easy for them — maybe too elementary — but they seemed to enjoy it enough. It took about 60 minutes for 20 kids working in groups of two to place the caps. Each group worked on it for 10 minutes.
It took me 2.5 hours to secure all the caps with caulk. I needed four tubes to complete the project. I did try drilling holes into the bottle caps (using a tiny bit) and then securing them with screws. It didn’t work well for me, however, so I stuck with the caulk. (No pun intended.) The advantage of caulk is broken caps can be easily replaced. Also, caulk is water proof, so the mural can be easily sprayed down with water to remove dust that might accumulate.
Caulk vs. Screws
If you decide to use screws, get deck screws so they won’t rust. Also, make sure the screws are not longer than your board is thick. It’s very difficult to hold a screw with a drill in such a tiny space as a milk jug or Tabasco lid, so be sure to get screws that magnetize to your drill. Trying to screw the caps in place was such an ordeal. I tried it only after securing the lids with caulk. This was a mistake because the screws then had to burrow through gooey caulk. I ended up having to pull off and replace about 20 red caps.
Even though it didn’t work for me, I recommend securing caps with screws instead of caulk. I’ve hassled with caps popping off every time I’ve moved the project. This can be frustrating, which brings me to another piece of information you’ll want: size of the board.
I purchased a large piece of particle-type board at Home Depot for $50. They cut it for me into three pieces — two 2.5 feet x 4 feet pieces and one 3 feet x 4 feet piece. I used the latter for the project. It is very large and difficult to maneuver, but overall, I’m happy with it.
Coming Up With a Design
Because my kids attend a Catholic school and this is for the school auction, I wanted to use a design that reflected Catholic faith. I really wanted to feature St. Francis, but I couldn’t come up with enough brown lids for his cloak, so I settled on the Virgin Mary. The project would have been a total failure without my daughter Juliette, 17. She is such a talented artist! She designed and directed the entire project. She’s an alum of the school and was so happy to help. She sketched Mary and coached me in the placement of warm and cool colors. I could not have done this without her. She was a real lifesaver and her touch is all over it. Thank you, Juliette.
Pinterest features many plastic bottle cap art projects and murals. Some of my favorites include depictions of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and various murals of nature scenes. There is also a great book available on plastic bottle cap art, Cool Caps. Michelle’s work is amazing. You will never again look at plastic bottle caps the same!
That’s my son Sullivan (right) and a couple of his classmates (in pixels for privacy) taking turns on the project. We worked outside on a beautiful, sunny and cold winter day. It was so quiet in the school courtyard. We were in the shadow of the church steeple and a statue of Jesus. The church bells rang twice while we worked. It was one of my favorite moments at the school since we enrolled my oldest child (Juliette) there in the fall of 2007. In those moments, it was as if everything was right with the world and no harm could befall any of us.
I know to some it may sound strange, but I felt the Lord was with me through every step of this project. I can’t express enough how fortunate I was to win that auction on eBay. It’s good to feel the guiding hand of God even in little things. I doubt the project will bring that much money at the auction, but hopefully, the kids had fun and learned something.
You can see in the mural below I secured the caps right where the kids put them. Although I did a lot of planning and preparation, I wanted the kids to be involved as much as possible. We did run out of time and I had to complete the last color – hot pink. I also added some smaller caps to the center of some of the larger caps. All-in-all the kids placed about 80 percent of the caps.
Below is a larger picture of the finished project. I showed a picture of it to the priest at my church prior to Juliette adding Mary’s praying hands. He agreed Mary was missing something. He suggested the Ava Maria monogram or a fleur de lis insignia, but we weren’t able to create either one with bottle caps. One of the boys in the class said Mary was missing her eyes. He wanted me to put big blue bottle caps on her face. “Mary’s so creepy!” he exclaimed. I had to laugh…
Plastic Bottle Cap Art
Oh, also, as you can see from one of the practice placements in the pictorial above, I’d considered putting a cross on Mary. I couldn’t find any reference to it in art or literature, and that gnawed at me. Turns out, artistic renderings of Mary wearing a cross are extremely rare and not considered authentic depictions of her. Glad I double-checked!
So, that’s how to make plastic bottle cap art. If you did a project, what would you create?