Artist Profiles

Handmade coasters from the big city in a small world

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago shows Local Universe her sketches for her handmade, upcycled coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

[CHICAGO] It’s almost become cliché to say that it’s a small world, but every single time another connection on our grand planet is again revealed, I’m somehow surprised. 

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago shows Local Universe her handmade, upcycled city coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com. 

Shop handmade, upcycled Chicago and Cubs coasters by Joelle Scillia from Local Universe.

Chicago is an early stop on the Local Universe bucket list because I lived there for three years with my daughter. So I was looking for locally made products when I came across Joelle Scillia’s fun coasters, which celebrate the Windy City and reuse existing materials. 

Also in her mix, however, were some coasters for Colorado. Crazy coincidence! We just moved to Colorado. Turns out most of her family is in Colorado. In another crazy coincidence, Joelle’s dad lived in Chicago until he was 14. And her mom grew up in Detroit, smack dab in between our hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and another of our favorite places, Traverse City, Michigan (where her uncle lives). 

It’s a small world after all. (Of course it's now stuck in your head. You're welcome.)

Visiting the Windy City? Read our travel recommendations for the best of Chicago.

Joelle launched Page Free as an eco-friendly business in 2013. It’s not a full-time endeavor—she moved to Chicago from Colorado after graduating from the University of Wyoming with a degree in theater performance and communications to pursue a career in arts marketing for theaters—but art has been a part of her life since she started ballet classes at age 3. She began sketching as a little girl and added pastels to her repertoire in middle school. It’s been a steady hobby ever since, including some ceramics, jewelry making and photography as well. 

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago shows Local Universe one of her sketches for her handmade, upcycled coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

Her current medium grew out of a desire to take collage to a different level, repurposing paper like textured paint. Her first work for Page Free was original art on gesso board, all of it featuring upcycled/reused paper with acrylic paint. Now she’s focusing more on smaller items, like the handmade coasters. “I find they’re more accessible and consumer friendly,” Joelle says. But she continues to produce full-size original pieces and prints. 

Page Free’s products are inspired by Joelle’s surroundings, particularly trees. “Each tree and the way it is shaped varies significantly, and I find all of the differently shaped limbs and leaves fascinating,” Joelle says. “I also draw tons of inspiration from Chicago and its historical icons and architecture.” 

A rainy morning in Andersonville, the neighborhood in Chicago where Local Universe met up with Joelle of PageFree to pick up the handmade, upcycled coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

She serves as director of marketing for the chamber of commerce in Andersonville, a neighborhood on the north side of Chicago with a Swedish flair. But her creations come to life in her tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, “spreading out on the coffee table or the kitchen table depending on my mood,” Joelle says. There’s always something in the works. 

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago shows Local Universe her sketches for her handmade, upcycled coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

“Usually, I’m creating anywhere from two to six or seven sets at once,” Joelle says. “Each design begins with a concept sketch. From there, I start with polishing all the wood with an all-natural, food-safe wood sealant. The next step is usually cutting letters from book page text and decoupaging them onto the wood with Modge Podge. Following this comes sketching the designs onto the coasters, and finally, several rounds of painting in the details. All coasters are then sealed with Crystal Clear to prevent damage and create a layer of waterproofing. Start to finish, each set takes as long as four or five hours, which is why working in multiples is better for me! It creates a sense of rhythm and helps me maintain consistency. While each coaster set is unique due to wood grain and my hand sketching/painting, I do strive to maintain a consistent method.”  

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago wraps up her handmade, upcycled coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

Joelle sources her pages from books she finds at thrift stores. “Currently, I have four or five books in rotation for my city coasters, but have been favoring an Alfred Hitchcock anthology for a while,” she says. “I also favor text in other languages, and several of my original art pieces have featured Italian magazine text from a Casa Vogue I picked up during my travels. My friends are always gifting me photographic books they find on discount as well; someday, I will probably go back to decoupaging/collaging in the more traditional form with these photo books. I also am really loving wallpaper scraps and samples.” 

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago creates handmade, upcycled Cubs coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

The wood for her coasters is also recycled, purchased on Etsy. “It’s important for me to work with other small business owners and to source wood from sellers who are cutting from fallen, felled or already dead trees. I work very hard to research where the wood is coming from,” Joelle says. She also chooses wood polish made with all-natural ingredients.

Local Universe is donating $1 of every sale of Chicago coasters to Trio Animal Foundation, which provides medical care for homeless pets. 

When she’s not creating, Joelle is reading, traveling, seeing plays or spending time with her husband, Anthony, and their two dogs and two cats. (He’s a veterinary technician with a soft spot for needy animals, which is why Local Universe is donating 10 percent of our proceeds from sales of the Chicago coasters to Trio Animal Foundation, which provides medical care for homeless pets.

But she has plans to continue and grow her artwork. She wants to create some themed lines for Page Free. And one day she hopes to have the space to do more of the work that launched it all. “My first decoupage project was redoing an old nightstand, and the thought of repurposing furniture featuring upcycled paper is extremely appealing,” Joelle says. 

In this case, a small, small apartment doesn’t work very well. But for now, we’re really glad to have met Joelle in this small, small world.

Joelle Scillia of PageFree in Chicago wraps up her handmade, upcycled coasters available at www.explorelocaluniverse.com.

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