Wrapping gifts with your child's creations is the easiest way to recycle them, but the artwork can also be the gift. Admittedly, such presents may appeal mainly to doting grandparents, but at least Grandma and Grandpa will be taken care of in style.
All of these projects start with scanning or taking digital photographs of children's artwork, which allows the images to be manipulated without harming the original. And it means you can make multiple gifts with the same art.
Use photo editing software to crop the scanned image or photo into a square or rectangle, and reduce the size to a few inches across. Print the image on photo paper or card stock, cut it out and then cut a piece of foam core board the same size. Glue the image to the foam core backing and glue a magnet on back. Voila! A magnet to hold up the next batch of artwork that will begin arriving home when school resumes after the holiday break.
The same technique used for the magnets can be repeated to create a striking framed display of dozens of drawings and paintings - a miniature retrospective of sorts. Again, reduce the size of the scanned images or photos and print as many as you like on photo paper or card stock. Back each cutout image with foam core, and glue them to a large piece of white poster board cut to fit your frame. Twenty images, shrunk down to roughly 3 inches, will fit nicely in a 16-by-20-inch frame. Play around with the arrangement before gluing to ensure roughly equal spacing between the images.
The foam core backing gives the images extra dimension, but a similar effect could be achieved by uploading images to photoprinting websites that create collages in a variety of sizes.
Have a toddler who's still in a "modern art" phase? Abstract finger paintings can be turned into notecards suitable for anyone who appreciates bold color. Isolate interesting sections of a larger painting, crop to 5-by-4 inches and glue to the front of a card made out of a standard 8-by-11-inch piece of card stock cut in half, or print the image directly on the card stock. This idea also works well if you have a large, detailed picture colored by an older child that can be broken up into interesting sections.
Even simple line drawings can be turned into vibrant gifts with a little tweaking. Starting with a scan or photo of the drawing, use photo editing software to increase the contrast and create a pure black-and-white image. Fill the background with a bright color and change the black lines to white to make it pop against the background. I used a series of images drawn by my son to make a calendar by adding the images to 5-by-7-inch calendar templates purchased at a digital scrapbooking website and printing them as photos, but free templates also are available. Inexpensive acrylic box frames can be used to display the calendar and store the prints.
Line drawings also can be used to create stuffed animals and other toys, perhaps to give to younger relatives or the creators of the artwork themselves. Again, clean up the image using photo editing software to get a pure black-and-white drawing. This technique may not work with all printers, but I was able to print directly on a solid colored fabric by ironing a piece of fabric to a piece of freezer paper, which stabilized the fabric as I sent it through my inkjet printer. Pin the printed fabric, image side down, to a similarly sized piece of fleece, and sew around the image, leaving an opening for turning. Trim away the excess fabric, turn the stuffed toy right-side-out and stuff, sewing the opening closed by hand.
Melissa Crowe, a Portland, Maine, fabric artist who usually works with wool felt, also has made embroidered Christmas tree ornaments using a child's drawing. Trace the image onto linen, embroider using a simple back stitch, and then use the linen as the front of a small, pillow-like ornament by cutting a square around the design. Pin the linen to a square of backing fabric, tucking in a ribbon loop for hanging along one edge, and sew around the square, leaving an opening for turning. Turn the ornament right-side-out and stuff, sewing the opening closed by hand.