In these days of online news, some of us wryly refer to newspapers as the "dead tree" edition -- which is better than being referred to as "fish wrap" or "bird cage liner." Now, though, we can start referring to the Star Tribune as "art supplies." In Raju Lamichhane's hands, stories about budgets and bandits become blue jays and buntings. Advertising circulars are torn into small pieces and rearranged to create concrete skylines and abstract shapes. "This is my color palette," Lamichhane says, seated amid an array of what most newspaper subscribers would call recycling.

Lamichhane, 38, has no name for the art form he developed over the course of several years, but it gives him great pleasure to be both environmentally green and artistically creative. "I feel I give new life to a dead item," he said.

His art is made entirely from the newspaper that arrives on his doorstep each day, a supply bolstered by friends who regard him as their personal recycling center. At last year's Minnesota State Fair, people browsing the fine arts exhibit may have seen his newsprint rendition of the Minneapolis skyline looming behind the Stone Arch bridge. This summer, he and his wife, Punya, will be a familiar sight at various arts festivals, selling small panels of birds poised on branches, pieced from newspaper photos and small shards of stories.

The Lamichhanes immigrated from Nepal in 2005 after they "won" the U.S. government's annual Green Card lottery. He had been employed as a graphic designer for various government agencies in Katmandu, having earned a fine arts degree there. (A curious sidelight to how other countries view employment: He didn't call this his job, but said, "This was my purpose.")

He arrived without a job and in the depths of November with little resistance to the cold. "Everything was very hard," he said. "I had been so busy in my country and so popular with people, but I would like the USA to be a land of opportunity." He kept painting, as he'd done in Nepal, and when he got a job as a waiter at the India Palace restaurant in Roseville, the owner let him hang his artwork on the walls.

His newsprint art came about while he literally was looking through the classified ads for jobs. Lamichhane saw something in the photos, in the newsprint, even in the ads for eye surgery that usually escape more utilitarian visions. He began tearing and piecing, arranging and gluing. What emerged were images that had the familiarity of the daily paper, but one that had been destroyed and reincarnated, as it were, into art.

Enter Jill Rivard, who dined every Friday at the restaurant with her cousin. When she realized that their usual waiter and the artist were one in the same, "I was just blown away by it," she said. "I thought, 'I gotta help this guy get exposed for what he can do.'"

Rivard helped Lamichhane get a show at the Continuum Center in Minneapolis, and he also exhibited at the Living Green Expo, given that his art is actually recycling taken to a higher level. Then, about a year ago, Rivard and her husband, Bill McGilvray, launched a new business called Plant Extracts International in Hopkins, exporting essential oils from Australia and selling diffusers. They decided to hire Lamichhane as their sole employee.

He is a jack-of-all-trades, servicing diffusers and doing day-to-day accounting. The day job enables him to see more of his family -- he and Punya have two young children -- but also more time to devote to his art.

"He has this unique approach that always makes people smile," Rivard said. "It's an inspiration to those of us who yearn to see more creative reuse of existing materials."

The Lamichhanes now are assembling an inventory of bird portraits for the art-fair season. His bird pictures, about the size of a spiral notebook, are $35 to $40. Many of his larger works are $200 to $400.

Lamichhane added that he's also working with onion and garlic skins. "We can get our colors from the kitchen garbage," he said.

Even more, the everyday nature of his art supplies should encourage others to attempt making their own art from things they might ordinarily recycle or put into the trash. "I want to get people thinking in a different way when they see things around the house. It gives me so much pleasure that I can express myself this way."

So to the familiar refrain of "reduce, reuse, recycle," now we can add "rejoice."

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185