Susan Marcorelle-Kroeck has loved art, all kinds of art, since she was in elementary school.

“I remember in third grade, my teacher would always ask me to design the bulletin boards at school,” she said.

“I always liked using my imagination; when I go for a walk, looking at different things like the bark on the ground … and seeing what I can paint. I just think it is important to use your imagination.”

These days, this Lancaster County mother and grandmother particularly enjoys painting on recycled materials of many kinds, including old pieces of wood, cloth, apple crates, and her personal favorite: used teabags.

It is definitely an unusual canvas, but it’s something she thought about doing back in her high school days. She decided to give it a try after meeting with a distant cousin, also an artist, who paints on teabags.

“She asked if I ever painted on teabags … that just lit a spark, and I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to try that’ — and that is when I got started painting on teabags,” Kroeck said.

So how does one actually turn a used teabag into a canvas for a miniature work of art?

“After my husband enjoys a hot cup of tea, I let the teabag dry out,” Kroeck said. “I open it up and then just get started painting on it with acrylics or watercolors.”

She favors painting on tiny things because “I just need a tiny dab of paint … and then I can just start to paint my picture. I like to do landscapes of places I have been.”

Each painting takes about three days because “I go back to it and if I don’t like it, I’ll start over,” Kroeck said.

She starts working in mid-autumn on the handmade teabag Christmas cards she sends out each year.

“It takes a while,” she said. “My kitchen table and countertop are usually filled with teabags that are laid out all over the place so I can do one step at a time.”

Her process involves painting all of the backgrounds first and then going back and doing the chosen scene for the card that year.

“I make 35 Christmas cards each year. I enjoy seeing how many people put them out every Christmas and keep them year after year,” Kroeck said.

Putting a smile on the faces of those who are lucky enough to receive one of her creations makes all the work worth it. Her very first piece of teabag art was created to bring joy to a resident at Moravian Manor, where she worked at the time.

“She had her tea, and I said, ‘Can I have your teabag to paint on?’ She could not believe it, so I took it home … and painted a little pot of flowers and put it in a frame and gave it to her,” Kroeck said.

“She was so surprised … it makes me happy to create my art and when people tell me they still have it today.”

Although most of her artwork is created as gifts for friends and family, Kroeck recalls once being asked to create a piece with a food theme for the Taste of Lititz Art auction.

“I painted up five teabags with teacups on them and framed it. It was displayed in one of the store windows. My daughter overhead someone saying they thought it was a print, and she told them it was one of my paintings. They couldn’t believe it was real because of how small the details were.”

For Kroeck, creating her pieces is a relaxing hobby, and often her subject is inspired by a holiday.

“My last one was May Day,” she said. “I imagined a little girl holding a basket, and I just went from there.”

She hand-painted flowers and cut them out, and then used the teabag strings, painted green, as the stems.

“I painted a little basket on cardboard and cut that out, and then I took the inside of the tea and I sprinkled that on the bottom to make it look like dirt,” Kroeck said.

There is a great sense of accomplishment for Kroeck when she completes a piece, “especially if it came out well,” she said. “I love to look back at my art and remember what I have made and the places I have gone that inspired my paintings.”

She has kept artwork from all the way back to her middle school years, and she treasures the fact that much of it tells the story of her life.

There are many ways people can express themselves artistically, and Kroeck truly believes that all people have a creative side just waiting to flourish.

“Whether it is painting, or sewing, or other crafts, or even just day-to-day life as people work through problems creatively. I love to see what my children sew and create,” Kroeck said.

She enjoys finding reusable things around the house to create pieces of art with her grandchildren.

“I love seeing them using their imaginations and being creative,” she said. “My really young grandchildren love to see how the colors mix and what new colors can be made.”

Kroeck’s oldest grandson put it this way when asked how he feels about his grandmother’s artwork:  

“I have always liked looking at my grandma’s art. I love the stories behind the art. I love to create my own art. My personal favorite thing to draw is houses and buildings. Someday I want to be an architect. My grandma’s creativity and art have inspired me to continue to create.”

The best art teacher, according to Kroeck, is your own imagination and creativity — you just have to be willing to take a chance and express yourself without worrying about striving for perfection.

One of her biggest inspirations is nature, with all of its beautiful imperfections.

“There is no wrong when it comes to art,” Kroeck said. “I would advise everybody to go out into nature and take inspiration from what is around them.”

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