Turning bottle caps into unique pieces of art
Goh Pi Kuan has taken upcycling to a new level, keeping himself active and creating a hobby business.
Goh Pi Kuan or PK for short is into upcycling and has made it into his little hobby business. He uses bottle caps, which are usually thrown away and destined for incinerators and landfills, and turns them into pendants/necklaces, bookmarks, lapel pins, paperweights as well as magnets.
The long process
It is a simple hobby but one that he is passionate about. The 62-year-old cuts out backgrounds from discarded magazines, brochures and pamphlets, and then adds a charm as well as embellishments. He then places them on the bottom-side of the bottle cap, making them miniature works of art.
PK shared: “One of my favourite background designs are from Hongbao (a traditional Chinese gift of money presented in a red envelope) packets. And that came by chance as buyers usually like brighter coloured backgrounds. So for these Hongbaos, I would collect them from couples who had their weddings to get the variety as most of my designs are one-of-a-kind. Sometimes my customers would offer to bring their collection for me as they felt I would have better use than them!” This year, he used the Hongbao packets and came up with the Cherry Blossom Series showcasing a cat charm in the foreground.
Sharing the process of coming up with his works of art, PK said: “The process is quite a long one. After collecting the bottle caps, I need to wash and dry them. I have to remove the rubber liners which is the most tedious task and then hammer them to their shapes as the used ones are often creased and bent. I don’t quite enjoy doing this but it is the building blocks of what I have to do. The next part is the part I like the best and that is creating picture stories with fragments of paper that sometimes turn out so beautifully with a little mix and match with several cut-outs.”
After which comes the resin casting. “This step is quite challenging as trapped air will cause bubbles in the end-product. Many people who have worked with resin have said how perfect my resin pieces are, and that comes with enjoying the craft that I do! The packing and packaging is yet another step after.” PK shared that on an average of say 15 to 20 pieces, he would take four to five hours, not including the time to cure the resin. He tries to make a few pieces of art each day.
He added: “The main aim is to create picture stories that combine well with the charm I’m using.” For instance, last year at Mid-Autumn Festival, he created his Moon Gazing Series with the cat. He used two to three pieces of paper for the background to create an authentic night sky, and brush-sprinkled the piece with white or gold acrylic paint to create a star effect. Or, for his crab creation, he added small sand grains to the foreground.
Not a cat or a crab fan? No issues as he has various other charms he uses like an owl, flamingo, rabbit, teddy bear, etc, and various soothing and eye-catching backgrounds. His most popular bottle cap creation is his goldfish one.
Spending 30 years in the oil industry, PK never imagined he would be where he is today. So how did he get into this bottle cap art? “I have always collected unique bottle caps when I travel (they are practically free souvenirs and reminds me of the places that I go to). I’ve dabbled with resin in the past. Then more than 10 years ago, I saw my sister’s friend show a few finished pieces of her bottle cap art designs, and I really liked how they turned out. I learned from her and kept improving the craft over the course of the last 10 years, and moved beyond making bottle cap magnets.”
Not throwing things away
PK also shared he is not a fan of throwing things away if they can be used in alternative ways which is what he does with the used bottle caps. “It is just fun to give an unwanted item a spin from its original creation. I think some Singaporeans are getting into sustainability but everyone should just do their small part. Even when I was young, I had contemplated how Mother Earth could sustain itself from all these productions every day! As a consequence, we are living with hotter and extreme weather today. We all pay a price one way or other through the higher cost of produce when farmers are impacted by bad weather.”
As varied as each of his artwork are on his caps, his bottle caps also come from varied sources – some from chili sauce bottles, juice bottles, soft drink bottles as well as the usual beer bottles. He also has vintage bottle caps. PK shared more about his bottle cap collection: “When I first started collecting discarded bottle caps, it was quite difficult as most soft drinks are in aluminium cans in most major cities like Singapore. I made friends with the ‘beer aunties’ but the bottle caps they collected were always badly creased. But I also didn’t want beer bottle caps only so I collected bottle caps when I travelled. So, I would look for drink stalls that sold soda in bottles.
“Once when I was at the Thai-Cambodian border, I saw some drink stalls selling Coca-Cola in bottles. I went around the stalls collecting the bottle caps that they discarded. Of course, I had to drink some sodas in the process. The drink stall owners thought I was a crazy foreigner. So my eyes are literally on the street when I’m in the outskirts of city centres when I travel!” His efforts have not gone unnoticed. For his bottle cap creations and his efforts in upcycling, the father of two won the 2017 EarthFest Singapore award.
Customers loving them
PK sells his bottle cap creations at pop-up markets and Village Hotels at Katong and Changi, and most recently at Therapy Market at Wheelock Place. He has also sold his bottle cap artwork at Gardens by The Bay, The Arts House, the MINT Museum of Toys and the National Gallery Singapore. In 2017 and 2018, he was invited to showcase his bottle cap artwork at the Singapore Gifts & Premiums Fair.
On occasion, he also gets requests to do commissioned pieces. One of his proudest moments was when he received a commission from the then Ministry of Environment to create some framed bottle cap art for some senior leaders that came for an ASEAN forum in Singapore in 2018.
Not short of ideas, PK shared that he would like to someday try using sea glass and e-waste to create jewellery, and make robots with e-waste. But, because making bottle cap art can be time-consuming, all that has been put on the back burner … for now. He is enjoying the process of making the bottle cap artwork and the praises that come along. “The feedback I have received when I take them to market has been positive and encouraging. Many are amazed that with a little imagination a discarded bottle cap can be made so beautiful and functional,” PK shared.
He added that his customers are from all around the world. “One particular Norwegian businessman would order my bottle cap art pieces each time he is going to be in town and bring them home for his friends and colleagues. He thinks they are such beautiful artwork!”
If you thought there seems to be a theme in PK’s life, it is totally true. His passion for upcycling does not just extend to his unique hobby but also in his life. “I generally give things a second lease of life if I can. Otherwise, I will take unwanted items to thrift stores or the Sungei Road vendors at Kelantan Road.”
He hopes that through his hobby, he can promote and encourage more to embrace upcycling and inspire other seniors to continue keeping active like he has. He added: “Do something you enjoy, and if you can be good at it, do that well and be an expert in the craft that you make.” PK certainly has done just that!