Crafty by Nature

Crafty by Nature

How to Turn Recycling into a Nature-Inspired Shadow Box

comments (5) April 29th, 2009     

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erika_kern Erika Kern, contributor
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Nature inspires this shadow box made from brown paper, newspapers, and cardboard.
Although made of cast-offs, this shadow box is right at home amid the beauties of nature.
Recycling, glue, and some embellishments are ready to turn a plain shadow box into something extraordinary.
Nature inspires this shadow box made from brown paper, newspapers, and cardboard.

Nature inspires this shadow box made from brown paper, newspapers, and cardboard.

Photo: Erika Kern

I love shadow boxes and dioramas. All the detail and many possibilities! This shadow box brings paper and cardboard back to nature using the techniques of decoupage and papier-mache.

Want to make it?

Here's what you'll need:

  • Box or shadow box (I used this box I found at Ikea a while back, but you can use any small, shallow wood or cardboard box)
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Brown paper bags or kraft paper
  • Glue
  • Printer
  • Cutting tools (scissors, X-Acto knife)
  • Floral wire
  • Paintbrushes
  • Embellishments (flowers, glitter, etc.)

First, you'll want to cover your box. If you're using a cardboard box or shoebox, you'll want to cover both the inside and outside. I liked the look of the wood box I used, so I kept the outside natural.

To cover the walls of the box, tear up small pieces of brown paper. Using a mixture of two parts glue to one part water, decoupage the interior walls of the box with the paper.

As you decoupage, let the paper pieces cover one another. This adds texture and depth to the covering.

After covering the inside with brown paper, cut swirls and curlicues out of newspaper. Lay them out in your box, then cover them with the glue mixture to fix them into place.

Once your glue dries, cover the whole interior with another thin layer of the glue mixture. I kept my swirls plain, but you could accent them with glitter or paint to add even more interest to your piece.

Set your box aside to dry.

Now that your box is decorated, it's time to move on to the subject of your shadow box, the bird on a branch. We'll start with the branch. If you have a small twig with a shape that you like handy, you can use that as the base of your papier-mache. If you don't have a twig, you can cut out a shape from cardboard with your X-Acto knife or use wire to make the shape. 

Once you have your twig shape, you're ready to cover it with paper. Tear up some newspaper into thin strips, about 3/4 inch.  Since I wanted my newsprint to show, I made sure to avoid pictures, advertisements, and large headlines.

Glue mixture and paper strips will soon become the twig upon which the bird will rest.

Dip your strips into the glue mixture, wiping off the excess moisture. Wrap the paper around your base structure. If you use cardboard as a base, like I did, you might find that your twig gets a bit floppy as you work. Don't worry; as you add layers, this flexibility will go away. 

The first layer of papier-mache on the twig.

Let your work dry thoroughly between layers. You can speed up this process by putting the branch in a 200-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. The thickness of your structure will dictate how many layers your papier-mache twig will need. I used four layers for my cardboard structure.

When you finish the last layer of your twig, set it aside to dry and move on to your bird.

I found my bird image in this book (illustration 641, page 145), but you can find a ton of images with this Google image search. If you find an image in a book, just scan it into your computer, and you're ready to print.

Print your bird image onto brown paper. Just cut your paper to the size of printer paper and you'll have no problem.

Glue the bird image onto a piece of cardboard and use an X-Acto knife to cut out the body of the image. Don't worry about the legs; stronger legs will be made with a bit of floral wire.

Here is the bird cutout and wire for the legs. The wire should be cut about 3 inches long.

Fold your wire in half and twist it, leaving the ends separated. Dip the folded end in a bit of glue and insert it into the cardboard of your bird.

Use small, thin strips of brown paper and the glue mixture to cover the wire legs. You can make the third toe of the bird's foot by rolling up a small piece of the glue-covered paper and inserting it in between the wire toes.

Allow the bird legs to dry.


Glue the bird onto the branch.


Glue the branch into the box.

Once your glue has dried, you can add flowers and other decoration to your box to finish the piece. I had a few silk apple blossoms left over from an old project, so I used those to add just a touch of color to this beautiful box.

Although made of cast-offs, this shadow box is right at home amid the beauties of nature.
posted in: recycle, shadow box, newspaper

Comments (5)

Jewelles writes: ya know I have some old draws i found like twenty years ago along side the road and I thought huh they could come in handy.. and for years they did holding years of hobby paints and candle making stuff and other craft items.. but then I reorganized into a craft room and emptied the old draws.. now I can make a shadow box with them. and I think I know what to do with my old baby cloths my mom will be dropping off. She reminded me that my great aunt made them before I was born.. over 54 years ago! Got to love my mom lol but what a great way to display them!
Posted: 8:46 pm on July 14th
Gymbohannah writes: I am so inspired by this!!! AWESOME WORK!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted: 7:08 pm on May 2nd
erika_kern writes: Thanks so much!
Posted: 8:09 pm on April 29th
annquill writes: Really pretty. It's great how such simple supplies can lead to a classy project.
Posted: 5:49 pm on April 29th
TaDaBoutique writes: I love it. You are very talented and crafty. I love how you used different textures and especially the way you made the bird. Just can't say enough. WOW.
Posted: 4:30 pm on April 29th
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