The average Joe would glance at the crust-covered lid of an old paint can and see a piece of trash. Artist Sílvia Franco Santos sees a canvas. The Portuguese illustrator, designer and drawing teacher recycles metal caps to create works of art.

Bird portrait inside a bottle cap
A profile of a bird is scratched inside a bottle cap. (Photo: Sílvia Franco Santos)

Santos has always used jar lids to mix paint and ink, as she disliked seeing them tossed in the trash.

"I remember seeing the beautiful marks left on the lid surface, especially when using china ink. One day I tried to scratch it with an art knife and discovered that it was actually a great medium to explore. Since then many friends and family have been gathering lids for me. Besides jar lids, I also work with cigarette boxes, tuna cans, cookie jars and almost any metal trash I can find in my kitchen," she tells MNN.

Sílvia Franco Santos' grandmother
Etched into this bottle cap is a portrait of artist Sílvia Franco Santos' grandmother. (Photo: Sílvia Franco Santos)

Santos has scratched portraits of famous people and anonymous people alike. This portrait is of her grandmother, for example. "I think with any art form, we can clearly see the difference when we are portraying someone we love and miss. I believe artists are addicted to emotions, for good and bad," she says.

But sometimes she doesn't know her subjects at all. "I choose who to represent by searching for real videos of people facing different situations. I try to capture the feeling of a particularly intense moment expressed in the face of an anonymous person, especially women. It is really scary to be able to find so much material on the internet," says Santos.

Bottle cap art
Santos says each cap takes about 2 to 3 hours to finish. (Photo: Sílvia Franco Santos)

Santos calls her process "very simple." She prepares the ink and lets the lids dry for a week. After that they are ready to be scratched. Depending on the subject and form, she says it usually takes two to three hours to complete a piece. When she's done, she varnishes it.

"I am very fond of the scratchboard technique and I find the process almost like a primitive approach of engraving. I believe it’s a very rewarding practice because the results are immediate and the marks are always amazing to observe," Santos says.

Portrait of Mahatma Gandhi
Portrait of Mahatma Gandhi (Photo: Sílvia Franco Santos)

She cites Australian painter Gustav Klimt and Norwegian painter Edvard Munch as her artistic inspirations, saying Munch's "intensity and amazing expression will always be a reference to me."

"When I began this project, I started to look for other artists who worked with the same materials I do," she says. "I found this incredible artist El Anatsui. He uses many different metal pieces to create these beautiful drapery sculptures."

'Judgement' by Sílvia Franco Santos
'Judgement' by Sílvia Franco Santos (Photo: Sílvia Franco Santos)

While Santos claims she doesn't have a favorite among her treasure trove of work, she's especially connected to one particular piece she's been working on since the beginning of this journey.

"I haven’t exhibited it yet, so I will just say that I am trying to link spiritual beliefs to different emotional states of several women. I want to make people feel the reality in their expressions. It is somehow an inventory of opposite sensations and transformation cycles: from sorrow and disconnection to rapture and bliss, from acceptance to pain, and so on," she reveals.

Sílvia Franco Santos with some of her artwork
Sílvia Franco Santos poses with some of her artwork. (Photo: Sílvia Franco Santos)

A teacher in the truest sense of the word, Santos feels that when her students discover a way to express themselves through drawing, it's "one of the most enlightening ways to reach self-knowledge and personal fulfillment. Everyone should be able to discover their own way of creating or doing something that allows them to be in a state of experiencing flow and happiness," she says.

Angela Nelson ( @bostonangela ) is an exhausted mom of two young daughters and two old cats, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning digital editor with more than 15 years of experience delivering news and information to audiences worldwide.