Recycled Telephone Books are an Artist's Canvas

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Images from Project Gallery

Old telephone books are the canvas for an artist who carves portraits out of them. What a good way to make use of one of the great wastes of paper. Something ephemeral is turned into an object that will be kept and cherished for years.

Alex Queral has been carving and painting portraits, or "phone book heads" for several years. He believes that creating them from recycled telephone directories celebrates "the individual lost in the anonymous list of thousands of names" that make up the community.


The artist likes the three dimensional quality of the pieces and the unexpected dimension that the paper gives.

He also appreciates "the idea of creating something that is normally discarded every year into an object of longevity." He got the idea of using them when he was out looking for wood and noticed a pile of 'phone books on the sidewalk As he says "I suddenly thought they would probably make a pretty good material for carving, so I gave it a go."


His work includes famous faces such as President Obama, Jack Nicholson, Bob Dylan and Spartan Kirk Douglas and neighbourhood people who have great bones or odd features that stand out.

The artist begins by selecting a photo and sketching the face, freehand, from it. The drawing is placed over the phone book. Then he uses a razor knife or scalpel and patiently slices away at the pages until he is satisfied. Often he uses the page with the same initial as the figure as a little visual cue or joke.

As Queral says "It can be quite tense work sometimes because it takes a long time to finish and when you cut something away you can't get it back again. Nearing the end of the carving and then suddenly having it ruined by a careless cut can be pretty crushing. You have to start all over again."

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