Local Artist Brown Bags It

Saturday Aug. 1st, 2020

During stay-at-home times, many of us found restaurant take-out bags piling up in our “reuse-it-someday” supplies. One Bozeman local, illustrator Marla Goodman, has plenty of ideas for what to do with all that brown paper. While most brown bags are compostable and recyclable, Goodman says, she likes to reuse them in her artwork.

“I love drawing on brown paper. It’s sturdy, it’s free, it holds up well to erasing and it’s a neutral background so colors really glow,” she explains. “I also enjoy that there’s no pressure to create a masterpiece when you’re working with a material that might otherwise be considered trash.”

Goodman, who has published two picture books that she illustrated entirely on reused brown paper bags, looks no further than the kitchen stash pile to find drawing paper.  Though her books, “The Brownpaper Mouse Springtime Alphabet Storybook” and “The Big Brownpaper Mouse Christmas Mouse Storybook” are not printed on reused paper, Goodman hopes that their brown paper illustrations will encourage readers to make their own crafts out of reused materials.

She also makes coloring pages, paper dolls and greeting cards that people can download and print on upcycled paper. (Some are free via Goodwerks.com/books. Others are for purchase at her Etsy, shop, Goodwerks.)

“It’s easy to print on a brown paper bag,” says Goodman. “Just cut the bottom off, lay the bag flat and use a sheet of regular printer paper as a guide to cut 8.5 x 11” sheets.” Scissors work fine but if you have a paper cutter, so much the better.

Her love of brown paper drawing has made Goodman something of a brown bag evangelist. At a story time at Bozeman Public library last December, after singing a few songs and reading her Brownpaper Mouse Christmas book, she led primary schoolers in creating brown paper crowns. Crayons, colored pencil, tempera sticks (ideal for kids because they dry instantly) and other paints all work well on brown paper.

Goodman loves to demonstrate how easy it is to butcher a paper bag, and what a nice, big piece of paper you get. In a Youtube video, she shows how to make two sheets of brown bag printer paper in less than a minute. She also makes journals and sketchbooks out of take-out bag sheets, using reclaimed cardboard for covers.

“I do like to reuse materials,” says Goodman, “but I have to admit that’s not my only objective. Mostly, I like to share opportunities to be creative and have fun.”

Goodman, who wrote and illustrated her Brownpaper Mouse Springtime Alphabet book during this spring’s COVID lockdown, shared each alphabetical picture puzzle as she completed it, to help bring smiles throughout the isolating time. She also mailed each illustration to the Gallatin Rest Home, so residents and staff could have fun seeking hidden alphabet words in the pictures.

“I think a lot of people can find some solace in difficult times by doing something creative,” says Goodman. “I like to play music and make art. Some people like to do puzzles, or sew, or just sit down with a coloring page and a good audiobook.”
She’s happy making pictures for people to enjoy, one brown bag at a time.  

Find Marla’s books locally at the Bozeman Library, Great Rocky Mtn Toy Co & Music Villa, online at Amazon & Goodwerks.com/books
Youtube: Marla Goodman
Instagram: @brownpapergranny
Facebook: Marla Goodman Art
Making brown bag printer paper: https://youtu.be/HRoQWVplw7I