DIY Home

How to DIY the Easiest Art From... Leftover Cardboard

Read this before you tie them up and take them out.

January 11, 2021
Photo by My City Apartment

The other day I finally mustered the energy to break down and tie up all the cardboard boxes I had acquired over the course of about two months (bear in mind this was also the holiday season!) and I kid you not, my back was aching by the end of it. I made several trips out to the recycling can, identity concealed by my hat, mask, and sunglasses—mortified by the consumption that clearly went on in my home. I scurried back and forth (probably making myself look more suspect) with my bundles of paper and twine, feeling guilty all the while.

Usually, I’ll reuse leftover boxes as floor or table protection while doing a DIY project, and that does help me sleep better at night. However, I recently came across an even better way to repurpose cardboard: art! Yes, art!

Carly of MyCityApartment on Instagram, was inspired by the art of Simone Polk Dahl and wanted to create something similar with supplies she had laying around. So, instead of throwing away her stack of Christmas boxes, she cut them up and crafted a striking piece of textural art for her living room. Genius, says I. If you too, feel a twinge of guilt each time you order something to be delivered, this super-easy project is for you. Make one for yourself, and for everyone you know—we have a sneaky suspicion they’ll love it.

What You’ll Need:

  • Leftover cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Paint of your choosing (baking soda optional)
  • A canvas or frame
  • Glue (hot melt or otherwise)

What You’ll Do:

  • Start by prepping the canvas or frame you’re going to create your artwork on—you can totally reuse a canvas you already have but no longer love, cover up an old piece of art in a frame, or even work directly on a piece of posterboard—it’s up to you. I used a standard canvas I got at Michael’s, and to create a more finished look, I ripped the canvas off the frame, cut it down, and re-stapled it to the back so that the frame was exposed. I then painted the wooden frame black, and it looked like a totally custom frame job.
  • Next, start cutting out pieces of cardboard. The size and shape of them is really up to you, and I ended up adding some variation in my rectangles by cutting some smaller and shorter than others, just to make everything a little imperfect.
Photo by Caroline Mullen
Photo by Caroline Mullen
  • Arrange your pieces of cardboard how you’d like them on your chosen surface. I decided to replicate Carly’s, so I layered on a base of similarly-sized rectangles ro be followed later with more layered on top.
  • You can paint each piece individually, or glue them down and paint them altogether. Carly used acrylic paint mixed with baking soda (to add even more texture) so I followed suit. I also used hot glue, but really whatever glue you have on hand will work.
  • Once the base layer is dry, you can add any detail pieces you’d like. Again, I loved Carly’s so much that I just replicated the black lines on top of the white—it looks like just enough modern detail, and makes the whole piece feel very purposeful.
Photo by Caroline Mullen
Photo by Caroline Mullen

Would you try this DIY with leftover boxes? Let us know below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rhonda35
    Rhonda35
  • Clare Duval-DeFord
    Clare Duval-DeFord
  • Stephanie
    Stephanie
  • Tmack101
    Tmack101
  • Kay-Lynne Schaller
    Kay-Lynne Schaller
When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.

51 Comments

Rhonda35 February 19, 2021
Check out artist Barbara Ziselberger @barbaraziselberger on Instagram. She makes gorgeous contemporary pieces from cardboard boxes - love her work!
 
Clare D. February 10, 2021
Exactly. All of those materials would be wonderful to use in a found object sculpture...
 
Stephanie February 10, 2021
It also occured to me, that this could be a beautiful way to use not only cardboard, but many of the other materials that arose during pandemic shopping - plastic bags, brightly colored nets that contained bulk purchases of avocados/lemons etc....Mixed media collage art...
 
Clare D. February 10, 2021
I agree its inspiring. Im using corrugated cardboard and matt board plus home made paper in an art object. Masking tape works well and takes paint pretty well also. Possibilities are endless.
 
Stephanie February 10, 2021
Thank you for sharing. It sparked an idea for me to try a color story experiment, using different shades within a color (individually painting the cutouts).
 
Tmack101 January 31, 2021
For all the haters, here's a timely article from Nytimes about an entire modern art movement that began with paper and glue.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/01/29/arts/design/juan-gris-cubism-collage.html
 
Clare D. January 31, 2021
Great reference. Simple and to the point. Picasso also used bicycle seats and shovels and other everyday articles to be creative and inspire him. Andy Goldsworthy uses anything he finds in nature and his nature works are simply genius.
 
Kay-Lynne S. January 29, 2021
Well, I like it! Unfortunately I have no room for another piece in my home, but I have been looking for a cheap project to do with my Interior Design classes (I teach at the Junior High level) since we can't sew due to covid rules...I think I might try to adapt this project to a smaller piece students can do, and then have them paint with a value scale, or some other example of a color scheme. BTW, friends, we can all get along here! 😀😀😀
 
Smaug January 31, 2021
You point out something that people seem to be missing- what is suggested is merely a craft project. It's possible that something could made in this format that could be deemed art, but that would require at the least artistic intent: decent art would require artistic vision. Neither of these is so easily come by.
 
ShadowFX February 4, 2021
I am of the belief the want, not artistic intent is the driving factor of art. In 1967 someone wanted a special commission for Expo 67. Voice of Fire is an acrylic on canvas abstract painting made by American painter Barnett Newman in 1967. It consists of three equally sized vertical stripes, with the outer two painted blue and the centre painted red. Is it art? I'm not sure, but the purchase of Voice of Fire by the National Gallery of Canada for its permanent collection in 1989 at a cost of $1.8 million declared it was art. Not to be declared an art snob, I point you to Sotherby's auction in 2013, CROSSING THE LINE, where a bidder plunked down nearly $44M for this simple, or simplistic, Barnett Newman canvas. Described as " a field of blue paint crossed by a ragged white line " What I'm getting at is art, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You can say yes I like it or no I don't like it, but you can't say it isn't ART. That's just my opinion, and as with art, that's all that matters. \(*^*)/
 
Smaug February 5, 2021
I'm not clear on the distinction you're making between "want" and "intent". Truly art, like religion, can't by its nature have clear boundaries, but it seems to me that at least the artist (or perpetrator, if you prefer) should have some desire to make a point of some sort. Even "bad" art should be more than the sum of its parts.
 
Clare D. January 29, 2021
You could also strip the outer cardboard layer from some or all of the rectangles and expose the waffley layed underneath... Great idea overall.
 
Barbara January 19, 2021
A lot of these negative comments show that many people have no idea how much recycled art is being done in the world. I make jewelry - many makers use rubber tires, driftwood, found objects, string - beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I've seen bicycle tire necklaces go for over $2,000. Makes you think a different way, no?
 
Smaug January 25, 2021
Not really. A quite moderate sized box might contain 8-10 square feet of cardboard so this sort of thing isn't going to have any real impact, and after having been painted, glued up etc. it's no longer recyclable. So unless you're planning on these things enduring down the centuries, this project will actually have a negative net effect on recycling.
 
Annie January 15, 2021
There are plenty of ways to describe your dislike of something without insulting the artist. If you can't think of a way to do that, you can always follow the rule I learned in preschool: "Treat everyone else the way you would like to be treated." Of course, in preschool this rule was mostly used to prevent children from kicking each other in the shins but, I believe it works here too ;)
 
AprAmy74 January 14, 2021
AWESOME ARTICLE. Gave me so many more ideas to try. I am a new member of this site & love it! I rarely read comments but I noticed some readers had some good add'l ideas to try & noticed so many others left comments that were worthless & offered nothing helpful.
These gaggles Putrid D*ck are probably of no consequence to anyone in life. Goes to follow everyone will find their cerebral defication worthless. I'm not saying not to tell an experience u had if u attempted this project but -3 people in this world gives 2 F's about ur slithery opinion. CLEARLY doing or reading this is NOT A REQUIREMENT so choke on u. Nobody cares about u or ur opinion.
 
McLear January 13, 2021
I wonder what it would look like if the painted cardboard was finished with something glossy, like mod podge? This could be an interesting way to build other types of grid art too. I also like the way she reworked the canvas!
 
Misty January 13, 2021
Woah! These comments are pretty harsh for the critique of an article and someone's idea that they put themselves out there for. And seeing the comments, why the hell would they want to. Anyone who had anything negative to write, you are disgusting pigs. How is that for some free speech!? And btw, great idea, great execution, and good on ya for saving the planet. Don't listen to these schmucks that said no. They don't KNOW art.
 
Mrs B. January 13, 2021
Heavens, one sees quite a bit of negativity both by those who like this idea, and those who don't. In fact, this comment certainly seems to be the hand of one with "[some]thing negative to write."

The author asked specifically if readers would do this DIY project. In future, I suppose that's just a yes or no answer, with no additional feedback (unless it's positive)?

And for the record, my answer is "No." One does agree with the commenter who stated that whether art is pleasing is in the eye of the beholder. Whether this is or is not seems like a fair question.
 
Smaug January 15, 2021
Can you know art? That would seem to be out of touch with the whole concept. I've not delved into the works of Wagner or the Russian novelists to any great extent, so I can't say categorically that there's no art without humor, but I can say I don't find the notion attractive.
 
Rose R. January 12, 2021
Blah
 
Anne P. January 12, 2021
I would say this looks like a project for a 6yo. I like to reuse, and upycle, but there is nothing really charming about hot glued cardboard on canvas.
 
Clare D. January 29, 2021
You must have little or no knowledge of fine artists most of which have found ways to make art from everyday found objects and humble materials. Picasso and many many others used anything at hand to be creative and to broaden the boundaries of art. Be openminded and curious.
 
Smaug January 29, 2021
She was curious enough to read the article and form her own opinion, how much more do you figure she owes?
 
Mrs.M. January 12, 2021
White textures seems to be on trend; I recently watched this House Dream Makeover series (forget the true title) on Netflix and this interior designer was gushing in delight about these un-even tiles for the backsplash... Somehow this art reminds me of that episode from the 2nd season.

I'm all for up-recycling and like this idea, I don't know if it'll work with my space however I can appreciate this project and see the appeal.
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Dream Home Makeover! Yes, she used a white zellige tile, which is very much on trend. I definitely agree, this has a similar effect.
 
Beth M. January 12, 2021
Right now my apartment is filled with cardboard boxes...1 from a desk I ordered...2 fan boxes...& just yesterday...the new food processor I just ordered. Being somewhat of an artist...I like to cut the large flat side pieces of cardboard off & cover them w a few layers of gesso so I can use as canvas. The box the desk came in will give me 2- 56"x33" canvasses once gessoed...had I store bought they probably would've run about $50 ea. ..& then the added shipping as I have mobility issues from an injury(96lb treelimb fell on head)...so that's why I have to order everything...I also have an 8yr old granddaughter who loves to paint yet no matter how hard I try...she does not use the whole canvas...leaving much of it bare...so instead of her using my expensive canvasses I will use the smaller cardboard boxes for her...yes...even my cereal boxes...
Art is in the eye of the beholder...
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
This is so smart, Beth! I bet she'll cherish these memories of painting with you.
 
Smaug January 12, 2021
Fantastic- I'm considering gluing all my garbage to the walls. Death to the landfills!!!
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
LOL do it I dare you
 
Smaug January 12, 2021
Hey, no LOLling here, I'm a very serious person who just happens to live in a loony world. Of course it only really works if we all do it; c'mon, peoples. It seems clear that, once we've managed to exterminate one another and the dust has settled, mankind's primary legacy to the world will be our garbage; time to take some pride in our accomplishments.
 
Loveokc January 12, 2021
Oh who this has given me some ideas. I will use the cardboard and make my kids name let them paint it and then frame them and place on their room doors.
Thanks for the recycling idea
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Yay!! Tag us if you post it on social :)
 
Tracy H. January 12, 2021
I am not an artist. I wish i was.... This is a great idea i can't wait to try it ! Thx
 
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Can't wait to see!!