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A Box of Art

Updated on May 12, 2013

I Made a Box Into An Artwork for My Grandson's 12th Birthday

I like to make boxes, find boxes or buy boxes to create works of mixed-media art. Occasionally I give one of these boxes as a gift for a very special person.

Not all my boxes are made of paper or cellulose products, although most are.

I've made boxes of wire mesh, treating them as if they are just very stiff and strong paper. In fact, these are among my favorite handmade boxes.

This article is about the tiny box I made for my young grandson. His family had taken him and his siblings on a great move, away from Grandma (sadly), from one border of the country to another. I hadn't seen him for at least five years so I misjudged how much a twelve year old can understand and presented him with adult fare.

Titled Home Down There, it's made from a small box I purchased at a packaging products store. I keep a few containers of small odds and ends in my studio - repositories for bits of metal in in a small wood case, pieces of electric devices I've dismantled, and printed images and text that I've created.

When I start a box project it feels as if the whole world is at my fingertips, but just beyond reach until I select the first pieces around which to build my idea. From then on it's all play.

In this case the original idea was "Luke" and then I let my intuition fly. Luke's dad, my son, had joined his brother and their dad to rebuild winter-damaged Forest Service trails over one Summer when their dad was preparing to go into business for himself.

I'm not sure how much my son shared of these adventures, with my grandson, but I remembered many of the tales as I worked on this piece.

When it comes right down to it, these boxes are very simple and fun to make, mostly from everyday materials. You could even make one too.

ALL Photographs copyrighted 2006 by Leslie Sinclair

all rights reserved


There's Many Faces to Art Boxes

Would you like to receive an art box as a gift?

Project Stuff You Might Want to Buy for Art Box Making of Your Own - If you're already rarin' to go - here are some art supplies

Value Pack Mache Box 4/5/6 Inch Squares
Value Pack Mache Box 4/5/6 Inch Squares

These little paper mache boxes are perfect for playing around with.

Acid-free White Tissue Paper 15 x 20", Pack of 20 Sheets
Acid-free White Tissue Paper 15 x 20", Pack of 20 Sheets

Use ink or paint to color the white tissue, or leave it white.

When you layer tissue over ink drawings, or photocopies, or even photographs, you get an extra layer of interest.

Crumple it up into a ball and then smooth it out. That makes it bendable. A thin strip of crumpled tissue even works as a tiny rope to make a handle, or to dangle from the top, holding a bead or other tiny object.

Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint 8.45-oz tube, Titanium White
Liquitex BASICS Acrylic Paint 8.45-oz tube, Titanium White

Low cost white acrylic frees you up to play around. Acrylic can be thinned down or used thick, for heavy covering and a slicker finish.

BIC Mark-It Permanent Marker, Fine Point, Black, 3 Markers (GPMP31-Blk)
BIC Mark-It Permanent Marker, Fine Point, Black, 3 Markers (GPMP31-Blk)

Low cost white acrylic frees you up to play around. Acrylic can be thinned down or used thick, for heavy covering and a slicker finish.


The Top Of The Box Lid

The Top Of The Box Lid
The Top Of The Box Lid

The Box's Top

Home Down There is informed by the western American experience.

My grandson, his daddy, and both of his parents were born in West Coast American states, and his daddy was raised in the rural areas of Washington State. The rugged attitudes handed down by early American pioneers and enhanced by grandparents and their parents on both sides of our family defined his paternal heritage.

The helicopter was my first selection, an image from a magazine, that I photocopied and printed on acid free paper. The bamboo is a cutout from a print of one of my oil paintings, and it's a stand-in for the western forests.

The circular metal piece came from an old piece of jewelry, making a very practical hint of sunshine. In a former life the length of chain held a tiny cabinet from opening all the way.

The background at the top of the image is from cut and torn pieces of security lining of old envelopes.

Building Things, Like Boxes

When I say artist

I mean the one who

is building things

- some with a brush

- some with a shovel

- some choose a pen.

Jackson Pollock


Inside The Lid

It's even fun to look at the underside of the lid.

My son, (the daddy) had a horse since he was ten years old, adding one more horse to the others on our country acreage. Although there were no horses in my grandson's life, the horse image could occasion stories of his dad's equestrian activities.

Backed by a vibrant purple tissue paper layer, the spirited horse faces one of my favorite mixed-media additions - a childhood jingle bell.

Along the bottom edge of the scene are a series of shapes and marks that serve to ground the image. They are simply sections cut from black and white photocopies of shapes from my Chemo Journal Drawings.

Looking Down At The Box Inside

Miniatures of prints of crossword puzzles line the box. Up the side are rows of circular items - buttons and findings from jewelry and electrical devices I've taken apart.

Emphasizing the vertical thrust of the Eiffel Tower newspaper print are some leftover pieces from some cheap jewelry made of plastic and brass piece that I never wore, but couldn't discard.

Anchoring the image is a 3d pansy image based on one of my photographs.

How much a twelve year old could enjoy the content I wasn't sure, but I did guess that he would think it was more than just a bunch of junk.

The Box Bottom Carries Its Own Visual Weight

Here I combined more Chemo Journal Drawings imagery with a photocopy of an advertisement for a toy car set. Since I hadn't been around him as a child I wasn't sure, but guessed, that he had his own hot wheels or similar racing car set up.

Glued under a flat wood jewelry piece small pieces of electrical wiring curve around outside the box's corner. And on one side of the bottom a wire is linked to a stubby used paint brush.

I like to use a variety of materials, maybe black tea, or coffee, or ink, to color the white acrylic that is a staple medium of my box artwork. At times I mix the tinted acrylic, or watercolor, with egg yolk for a waxy look.

The overall effect is one of school lunch bags or the old fashioned onionskin brown (old-style typing paper weight) sheets of paper with which people his Grandma's age used to wrap their schoolbooks, as a background that ties all the sides together.

Art Is Incomprehensible

As my artist’s statement explains,

my work is

utterly incomprehensible

and is therefore

full of deep significance

Calvin and Hobbes


You Can Do This Too

I very seldom have any idea of how my artwork will turn out. Once I have the bare bones of an idea and select or draw the first image, I abandon myself to the fun.

Just pick some idea or thought or person or quality and then go from there. Don't sweat it and feel the pleasure!

A Few More Items You Might Want

M. Graham Tube Watercolor Paint Shades of Summer 5-Color Set, 1/2-Ounce
M. Graham Tube Watercolor Paint Shades of Summer 5-Color Set, 1/2-Ounce

A simple basic set like this won't set you back any and the colors can be mixed with white and with each other.

eCrafty EC-5633 Jewelry Maker's Stamped Metal Charms and Pendants Mix, 50gm
eCrafty EC-5633 Jewelry Maker's Stamped Metal Charms and Pendants Mix, 50gm

You'll consider this your bucket of buried treasure when it comes to elaborating on the two dimensional imagery of drawings, shapes and pictures.

If you don't have a small collection of old jewelry and electrical and clock parts, then do the next best thing, and buy this super set.

Delta Creative Stencil Mania Stencil, 7 by 10-Inch, 970610710 Decor Accents
Delta Creative Stencil Mania Stencil, 7 by 10-Inch, 970610710 Decor Accents

Another way to incorporate a recognizable, but not too literal, image is to use a variety of stencils. It's just play, after all!


What Do You Think About Art Boxes? About Art? About Anything You're Thinking Right Now?

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    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @smine27: Such a reward, to help open up ways of thinking.

    • smine27 profile image

      Shinichi Mine 4 years ago from Tokyo, Japan

      You are amazing! I can't believe your creativity is unbelievable. I will never look at boxes the same again.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      This is an excellent idea for completely personal gifts.

    • wiseriverman profile image

      wiseriverman 4 years ago

      I really enjoyed this. I've always had a thing for boxes and have found many unusual ones over the years that have captured my attention. Some of my favorites have been antique candy or cigarette boxes.

      Thanks for a terrific lens about one of my favorite things.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 4 years ago from La Verne, CA

      The box was my first project at mosaic class. I used a paper mosaic, paint, folded paper medallions, and snips of a copy of a monoprint. The tobacco store gave me a cigar box. Great fun.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      One of a kind and totally unique handmade crafts are awesome! :)

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 4 years ago from Ireland

      I like your way of starting out with your art by having no idea of the way it will turn out. Perhaps that's the method many artists take!

    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      What a lovely project idea.