Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Infants and Toddlers Nature Sculpture Theory and Resources

The Lifecycle of a Cardboard Box

Meg Nicoll

Over the past few months we have been experimenting with cardboard boxes and they have provided ongoing inspiration for Art Studio guests and Art Educators alike. We are always fascinated to see how many ways we can interact with and transform one material over time. We just can’t stop exploring cardboard as one idea leads to another!

Our experiments with cardboard started when we collected recycled boxes for Materials Play, a program offered at The Carle for preschoolers and their families. By cutting out two sides of the boxes and perforating the other surfaces with holes, the boxes provided an interesting structure for guests to weave yarn and ribbons around, in and out of.

We were struck by the way the ribbons and yarn patterned the surfaces of the box. We wanted to use the boxes to create theaters for a puppet-making project in the Art Studio, and the weaving gave us an idea for how we could turn these theaters into an interactive and engaging visual display. We continued weaving and lined the inside of the boxes with brightly colored paper. By cutting the bottoms out of the boxes, puppets (and people!) could pop up into the theaters to perform.

The theaters provided a fun platform for storytelling, drama and imagination. The different colors inside the boxes suggested a variety of scenes and scenarios to explore, from an ocean to the surface of Mars.

After the puppet project wrapped up we still weren’t ready to say goodbye to the boxes. We decided to deconstruct them to see what we could reuse. We find that sometimes by changing the material and then re-organizing it, we are able to look with fresh eyes and new ideas emerge.

During the process of deconstruction, an Art Studio guest became intrigued by the open structure of the box once the sides had been cut out. They used it as a structure to hang their mobiles. Yet another way to use a box!

As we cut the sides off of the boxes we noticed that they created large flat surfaces with holes, and these holes reminded us of craters on the moon. We had been searching for new display ideas for the Art Studio and we decided to create a lunar cycle out of our boxes. We used a compass to trace large circles and cut these out carefully with a box cutter.

We drew different phases of the moon onto the cardboard circles.

Recalling how much we liked the weaving effect on the cardboard, we used warm tones of yarn to weave the different shapes of the phases. Our team worked on these weavings over a week, picking up where others left off if they had a moment between studio tasks.

We used extra circles to make a similarly constructed window hanging.

Seeing the circles against the window gave us another idea and we used the last of our cardboard boxes to create rings filled with cellophane and tissue paper to create colorful hangings for the window.

Some of the circles are attached directly to the window with glue dots, and others hang from fishing line so that guests can move the rings and overlap the colors and patterns to explore light and color mixing. At this stage the boxes have been used in at least five different projects and displays in the Art Studio over the course of four months. We can’t wait to see where cardboard takes us next!


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.