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The Green Life: DIY 3D Picture Frames: Think Inside the Box!

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September 27, 2012

DIY 3D Picture Frames: Think Inside the Box!

DIY Shadow BoxThe old adage goes that a picture is worth a thousand words; but what about the details that are not captured by the shutter button? Perhaps you've saved a map from every National Park you've visited or you've collected pressed leaves and flowers to mark seasons of your backyard organic garden. But if over the years your memory box has slowly turned into six bins filled with sentimental knickknacks that you'd rather not send to the landfill, it's time to breathe them back into vitality! 

Joseph Cornell, an American sculptor and one of the pioneers of box art, assembled amazing pieces of artwork in glass boxed frames, also known as shadow boxes. Inspired by fragments of beautiful and precious objects, Cornell artfully placed bric-a-brac and photographs in boxed frames. You can follow in Cornell's footsteps by creating unique art to preserve memories that photographs can't otherwise bring to three-dimensional life. At the same time, you can also dispel the myth that shadow boxes are only for the display of insects and bugs!

Here's what you will need:

  • A box frame or shadow box that has a clear glass covering. (Ideally, you'll find a used frame at a Goodwill. If not, these can be found at most craft stores.) Choose the size according to the size of your project.
  • A treasured object or photograph you would like to frame. These box sets work well with just objects, or with a combination of photographs and objects that correlate to that photograph.
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Tape
  • An eagerness to create 3D art!


 1. Measure the amount of space you have within your box frame.It is easier to take out the backside of the cover sheet the manufacturer puts in the box set and use that as a foundation or base for your backdrop. It will make it easier to arrange your objects/photographs so that they do not go outside of the frame's perimeter. For a more sturdy foundation, cut out and glue onto the back of the cover sheet a piece of cardstock or thin cardboard that is the same size.

DIY Shadow Box

2. You can choose to either:

a. Cut out a patterned or colored sheet of paper to create a backdrop for your box frame. Think of this as the backdrop of your project that sets the tone for what you want your display to convey. (You can utilize multiple colors patterns as long as it does not overwhelm the rest of your box frame, unless that chaotic and traumatic moment of your high school prom is what you're going for!)

b. Use one or more photographs as as the entirety of your backdrop.

c. Place one or multiple pieces of cloth or fabric as your backdrop (all of which relate to your project's sentimental value, such as different squares of your first born's quilt, burp cloths, and/or mittens, etc.).

3. Use your completed backdrop as the stage for your arrangements. Decide what you would like to be at the forefront of your box frame, whether it is an object, photograph, or combination

DIY Shadow Box

4. Decide what other objects or pieces will be surrounding the forefront of your box frame and arrange aesthetically. There are a myriad of possibilities. . . pick the one that conveys your vision most accurately!

DIY Shadow Box

5. Glue or tape the items into position on your backdrop or into the frame itself.

DIY Shadow Box

6. Place into frame.

DIY Shadow Box

7. Hang it up or prop it against a wall.

Forget what you've been told about thinking outside the box; with this DIY project, it's all about thinking what goes within!

--Christine Nguyen / images by John Vu

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