Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories At Home Art Studio Sculpture

Cardboard Sculptures

Meg Nicoll

This week in our At Home Art Studios, we were inspired to create three-dimensional sculptures out of cardboard. Cardboard is one of our favorite materials in the Art Studio, it is strong, flexible, and can be folded and cut as needed. In this post, we will share some of our favorite ways to work with cardboard to create settings for storytelling and spaces for play. Many of the techniques we use with cardboard will also work for creating paper sculptures, so use whatever material you have available and join in! 

The first step is to find cardboard to work with. Meg found a seltzer box in the recycling bin and thought it would work well because the cardboard is thin enough to be easily cut and folded. 

Seven rectangles of cardboard arranged on a table with a pair of scissors.

Inspired by the orchard in Bobbie’s Meadow, she cut the box into smaller flat rectangles to make trees. Once Meg had cut out the cardboard pieces, she wondered how she could make trees that stand up on their own. There are lots of ways to create three-dimensional sculptures that balance, here are some that the Art Studio team came up with.  

One fold: 

Square image containing four photographs. The first shows a piece of cardboard folded at a right angle. The second shows that piece of cardboard standing up on a tabletop, supported by the folded base. The third image shows a tree cut out of the cardboard standing on the base. The final image shows the same tree with leaves made out of textured green paper.

Meg folded a rectangle of cardboard once to create a tab at the bottom to act like a foot for her tree. She then cut out a tree trunk and branches and ripped some paper from her collage bin. She thought that she could tape or glue the tab to a surface if she wanted the tree to stay in place, or leave it as is to move around and combine with other objects in a scene.  

A series of three images side by side. The first shows a cardboard tree trunk made of several smaller pieces of cardboard. The second shows a piece of oval shaped green paper with a slot cut partway down. The final image shows several of the green papers attached to the cardboard tree trunk but fitting the slots over the cardboard.

If you don’t have adhesives like tape or glue, you can attach cardboard and paper together by cutting slots and fitting them together. Here’s a tree Meg made for her orchard without using adhesives.  

Four images side by side showing the process of a cardboard figure being cut out, standing through the use of a folded tab at the base, and a supporting cardboard rectangle at the back.

Megan was inspired to make a character who could explore the cardboard settings. She drew the character on cardboard, and used one of the folds already created by the box to make a base. Instead of trying to cut out difficult small details and interior areas, she filled them in with a black marker. She also taped a support to the back of her sculpture to help it stand. 

A series of three side by side images showing the process of using a tissue to create a dress of the cardboard figure, complete with green paper belt.

Megan used a piece of tissue paper, and crumpled it around the body to create a costume. She traced around the head and created a fun animal mask for the character out of construction paper.

Tow side by side images, the first showing the side of a convertible car cut out of cardboard with a supporting tab at the base to allow it to stand. The second image shows the cardboard car colored in red, with the cardboard figure standing behind waving.

She also used cardboard to create a car for the character. Megan again used one of the folds created by the box to make the base, and decorated it with marker and construction paper. 

Two or more folds: 

A cardboard city made of cardboard folded to stand up. Buildings are colored in with windows, doors and architectural details. Some are labelled with the building's function such as "Library" and "Observatory for Science".

When Sara was thinking about making a cardboard sculpture, she liked the idea of creating a town that could be re-arranged and played within. She decided to balance her cardboard buildings on a cardboard base, rather than attach them, so the building locations could be changed. 

Two side by side images, the first showing a cardboard city from the front, the second shows the cardboard city from above, revealing how the cardboard is folded to allow the buildings to balance and stand up.

To help the buildings balance, Sara folded the cardboard so there were two or three sides to the structures. Three sides gave the buildings the most stability, but it was fun to try and balance with only two sides. Sara enjoyed thinking about what buildings she might like within her town, and designing their facades. She also discovered that drawing with crayons on brown cardboard made the buildings really vibrant. 

Two side by side images, the first showing a cardboard birdhouse on top of a pole, at the base is a tab that has been cut in half with one half folded forward and the other half folded back. The second image shows the birdhouse standing, supported by these tabs.

Just as Sara found that her two-sided buildings were less stable, Meg found that her one-fold trees sometimes leaned one way more than the other. To problem solve this, she experimented with creating a base with two tabs on opposite sides, like on this birdhouse. This makes the structure more balanced and less likely that the object will lean one way or the other. 

Boxes and Stacking: 

Two side by side images, the first showing a cardboard box from above with one side removed. The interior of the box has been colored in to create a beach scene. The second image shows how the removed side of the cardboard box has been cut into the shape of waves.

Mackenzie found half of a box and was inspired to create a beach scene. To begin, she cut waves out of one side of the box.  She then used colored pencils to create a blue and white ocean and sky, and yellow sand.  

Cardboard waves are added to the back of the cardboard box to create a beach scene.

She assembled the pieces together by placing the waves panel at the back of the scene. Now Mackenzie has a seascape with interchangeable parts! She could take out the big waves in the back of the scene to reveal calm waves behind. The base of the box also provides a fantastic space to add details. One new detail she added was a scrap of striped cardboard for a beach towel. 

Silhouettes of trees, a birdhouse, and a tree stump cut out of a side of a cardboard box

Meg also experimented with using the structure of a box to create a scene with depth. Using one side of a box, she cut out an orchard backdrop. The connected second side became the orchard’s ground. Meg then added some trees in front, taping the tabs down to the base.  

A series of three side by side images. The first shows cardboard folded into a rectangular volume sitting on top of a piece of blue tissue paper. The second shows that volume now covered with the blue tissue paper standing next to a piece of cardboard rolled into a tube. The final image shows two cardboard cubes covered with patterned tissue paper.

Stacking is another way to create balanced structures. You can use existing cardboard boxes, or create your own building blocks. Meg taped these shapes together and then wrapped them in collage papers to create textured and patterned blocks ready to stack. 

Cardboard tree silhouettes cut out of a box sit in front of a window with a view of hills, trees, and sky.

In the Art Studio, guests often contribute their artwork to a growing installation, and we find that any shelf or ledge can become a wonderful space for sharing sculptures. Meg placed her orchard and meadow sculpture on a window near where she works from home as a reminder of The Carle’s meadow outside the Art Studio window. She added some rocks to the arrangement and might add leaves to the apple trees at the same time leaves appear on trees outside her window so her installation continues to grow and change.  

We look forward to seeing your three-dimensional cardboard and paper sculptures! Tag us @CarleMuseum and use #AtHomeArtStudio so we can see and share what you are making. 


Meg smiling in the Art Studio.

Meg Nicoll

Art Educator at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art from 2016 to 2023, Meg enjoys working with artists, educators, and people of all ages to create opportunities for art-making.