How to "Scrapbook" a Box

comments (13) April 6th, 2009     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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One of my favorite things to do is to force distance between an object and a viewer. Here, a small bouquet of dried flowers lingers behind a sheet of yellow plexiglass; partially visible but out of reach.
I think of these memory boxes as something akin to high-definition scrapbooks (scrapbooks on steroids?). The box gives me the freedom to curate a memory by adding a wide range of elements that evoke or capture the mood Im aiming for.
Junk rules as my raw materials: I find that bottle caps, metal tins, wire, stamps, tools, and toys are all somehow inherently evocative of the past. 
One of my favorite things to do is to force distance between an object and a viewer. Here, a small bouquet of dried flowers lingers behind a sheet of yellow plexiglass; partially visible but out of reach.

One of my favorite things to do is to force distance between an object and a viewer. Here, a small bouquet of dried flowers lingers behind a sheet of yellow plexiglass; partially visible but out of reach.

Photo: Jeff Rudell

I come from acquisitive stock; everyone in my family has a healthy (and not) devotion to collecting. My grandmother collected teacups from all over the world—each an orphan from its set—which she kept, unused and wrapped in tissue, in a cardboard box that had been worn to suedelike finish under her kitchen counter. She was also an avid collector of photographs, most of which depicted the unhappy faces of her—and my—German ancestors.

My mother, a baker and quilter and farm wife in addition to mother of three, collected recipes and scraps of fabric and, I fear, unhappy memories of difficult winters, poor crop yields, and crushing bills.

My father, who collected a complementary set of the aforementioned unhappy memories, also collected tools and nuts and bolts and bits of wire, all of which (well, the tools, at least) he kept in an array of wooden and plastic boxes, fouled with greasy fingerprints, on shelves in our garage.

Among all of the members of my family, we shared the knowledge that each object collected brings with it two stories: the story of what it was and the story of how we came to possess it.

With such a dominant collecting-gene on display in my family tree, it will come as a surprise to no one that I have countless collections of my own. Chief among them are old snapshots of waterfalls, miniature building souvenirs, pop-up books, paperweights, cloisonne vases, cufflinks, metal type...the list is long.

Given this mania for collecting, coupled with the vast market that has arisen in the last few years centered around so-called "memory-making," people are often surprised that I don't scrapbook. "How could you not?" they ask, somewhat dumbstruck by the fact that I've missed the obvious: namely, that scrapbooking is a craft (art, skill, activity, whatever) tailor-made for someone of my ilk.

The reason I don't scrapbook is both singular and simple: In addition to passing me the collecting-gene, my parents also passed along their love of boxes, mania, even. Cardboard, pasteboard, cigar, wine, papier-mâché, whatever; if it is a box of pleasing proportion, interesting design, or charming ornament, I seem compelled to own it, save it, and eventually find a use for it.

This week, after numerous requests from members for me to show a scrapbook project, I offer the closest thing I have to such a project—a selection of cigar boxes (call them Cornell boxes or memory boxes or mini-scrap-sculptures, take your pick). Most of these live on some shelf or on an out-of-the-way corner of a room; anyplace where a guest might happen upon them accidentally. I've even hung some in the closets where they almost beg to be explored. Why I do them, what they mean, even questions about whether or not they are good, are somewhat beside the point I feel because they bring me an enormous amount of joy to make and even more pleasure when I hear a small sound of surprise coming from the next room, indicating that a friend or guest or nosy neighbor has discovered their charms for themselves.

I hope you like them.

A transparent photocopy of me (age 35) is inserted beneath the glass lid of this cigar box and forms a scrim in front of another picture of me (age 2).

Other components in this box include a 3/4-inch origami Pegasus, a pair of magnetic "Scotties" from my childhood, and my tiny pair of horn-rimmed bifocals from my childhood.


Research into my maternal grandfather led me to these photos of some ancestors from the 1920s. I lived on a lake at the time I made this box and I felt a certain affinity for the lake-dwellers pictured here.  

Some tiny wooden profile pieces were used to form small photo frames in the piece, and some local lake pebbles were added for their sensual and pleasingly tactile characteristics.

Beach glass and tiny mollusk shells reminded me of the nostalgic pleasure of finding treasures in the sand. The photo is dated 7-2-28.

Here, an unusual photo of a praying mantis inspired a somewhat abstract contemplation of hero worship. The box contains an eclectic collection of luxurious and mundane objects.

A pair of calipers delicately holds a doll's mechanical eye, while the red and green lines of a road map and a marble Roman bust reference the idea of life and awareness. A snapshot of sailors relaxing is coupled with a fishing lure and a sand dollar bearing a birthday greeting.

An old brass printing plate depicting a wrestler's face is paired with a nest of 24-karat gold leaf cradling the carcass of a bumble bee.

Note to Readers: Some have questioned my decision to title this a "How to..." post. I suppose I could easily have given it the title, "Why Not "Scrapbook" a Box" but I thought it did actually offer some guidance on how one might go about creating a similar project of ones own. The mechanics of the process seemed well within the grasp of even the novice crafter. 

The "How to..." part of the post was to show, by example -- and encourage others to consider -- that skills used in one craft can easily be transferred to another, often with unique and attractive results. The intended take-away of this post was to get people thinking of inspiring new ways to apply their craft (Why not "quilt" a front lawn or "crochet" a trellis out of a garden hose or make a summer hat out of a "Sham-Wow")

Of course, as always, this space belongs only partly to me; it is, in fact, also a place where members can upload pictures of their own projects, share their own tips, and post their own comments. For the record, I'm a huge fan of all three of these options and I welcome and encourage members to dive it and participate; comments open a dialogue and dialogue is many times more interesting to me than monologue.

Since I fell a little short above, I offer this tiny step-by-step as both a correction and an apology: 1.) Assemble some appealing scraps, 2.) Arrange them in a pleasing manner, 3.) Glue them into a box.

Did you make this?
After you make this project, show off your work to other members!
Post your project in the gallery
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Comments (13)

strazz writes: Fantastic boxes Everybody is scrapbooking so its a nice change to see yuor scrabbooking boxes.I too prefer the create a scrapbooking box. I especially like the 3d elements you add to them...I love boxes and have collected them forever.Sometimes they take years to get them to a stage where Im satisfied. You can see some of my boxes at my website
Keep up the good work!

Posted: 4:49 am on April 27th
jenny56 writes: or maybe assemblage art?
Posted: 3:42 am on July 4th
jenny56 writes: Dunno, the transparent you over the child image of you looks a bit like scrapbooking to me. Or maybe visual art.
I too am a collector of many things, but I have not yet found a way to diplay any of it apart from the digitised images which I have used over and over.

BTW is the transparent grownup over the child done on an overhead transparency?
Posted: 3:41 am on July 4th
Classyass writes: I think this serves just fine as a how-to... perfectly detailed tutorials make me crazy (Martha).. it's all about inspiration. I LOVE the flowers in the plexiglass.
Posted: 3:48 am on April 27th
lifesart writes: Beautiful, inventive, creative... Thank you, Jeffrey. I'm a painter with frustrated craft yearnings and I think you have just made given me the inspiration for a great project!
Posted: 2:31 pm on April 11th
AWilcox writes: What a beautiful and elegant box idea. I use to decoupage cigar boxes with artworks by others, never thought to use personal photos and items, might start doing that and give them as gifts to family and friends, thanks for the inspiration, I greatly admire your work.
Posted: 3:31 pm on April 9th
Aliceincrafterland writes: These are really lovely. Seeing yours made me realize I have been doing something similar without even being aware of it-little vignettes tucked away all over the house. They're quite personal and sweet.
Posted: 8:02 am on April 7th
M_i_c_h writes: I have a few little boxes tucked away which I enjoy going through once in a while. They are not planned but they all hold little stories and each box - ranging from carved wood to cardboard covered in shabby 1960's wrapping paper - is cherished. One of my sister's will often give my children gifts in a nice bag or box knowing that I will claim the packaging for my stash. My other sister has little shadow boxes hanging on the wall (20 or so compartments in each) which she has found and she has filled each box with little found objects and things from her childhood. It is a pleasure to listen to her go through each little story.For me scrapbooking is just one way to pass on something to future generations. I love the papers etc associated with 'scrapbooking' but I don't like the commercialness of it all. Recycling is in my bones I think.My mother. aunties and grandmother all used what they had, whether found, saved, traded or purchased on sale to create what they wanted and between them they had many talents.

Posted: 6:42 am on April 7th
jessajune writes: I love the idea of the transparent photo in the first example - something I wouldn't have thought of which lends itself very well to this kind of "scrapbook".
Posted: 8:24 pm on April 6th
Maureclaire writes:
You are so incredibly inspiring , Jeffery !!!
Posted: 2:22 pm on April 6th
Kaycie writes: I love these, and they seem simple to do for a crafter of any skill. They're so quirky, artful, and personal. And you are quite handsome.
Posted: 9:37 am on April 6th
Avidapper writes: I LOVE these! Thanks for sharing them.
Posted: 7:40 am on April 6th
elbowyoyo writes: These are wonderful and I really admire your work.

However, isn't this more of a showcase of your work rather than a "How to" (as the title suggests)?
Posted: 7:14 am on April 6th
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