Article Type Making Art Together Making Art Together Categories Painting Sculpture

Transforming Space with Cardboard Sculptures

David Feinstein

Our ongoing fascination with cardboard boxes continues to evolve – there’s seemingly no end to the possibilities offered by this accessible, reusable material! Over the past month, the educational team at The Carle has collaborated on several projects exploring how cardboard boxes can transform a space. As part of a recent outreach program at Dorman Elementary School in Springfield, families painted and assembled cardboard to build large, colorful sculptures.

Inspired by the bright murals depicted in the book Maybe Something Beautiful, I was curious how families might collaborate on a large scale to re-see the classroom.

Painting a mural posed too many practical challenges. Was there a way for participants to temporarily transform the space and make individual decisions about the process? Though I had planned for us to work inside, the gorgeous spring weather proved irresistible, and we took our materials outside. Before my visit, I’d used an exacto knife to cut cardboard boxes into panels of various shapes and sizes, adding a few slits to each piece:

In the courtyard in front of the classroom, I laid the pre-cut pieces alongside washable tempera paints in no-spill paint cups (drop clothes recommended). Listening to music and making their brushes dance to different rhythms, participants covered their large cardboard panels with vibrant designs.

Several of the kids wound up working individually on figural paintings, and had difficulty sharing the paint cups. If I were to try this activity again, I’d place all the paint cups on a single table, and have kids take one at a time.


One of the amazing properties of flat cardboard is that it’s easy to store. Once the paint dried, I packed up all the panels and put them in my trunk.

The next week, I returned. Now that we had all these beautiful cardboard pieces, what else could we do with them? In order to brainstorm possibilities, families were given a set of thick white paper and scissors and challenged to make their flat paper stand up.

Working together, kids and grown-ups found several ways to stack and connect their pieces by folding, cutting slits, or balancing their papers.

After observing one another’s paper sculptures, I asked what we should do with our big pile of painted cardboard. “Build a big house!” one child screamed. “Build a rocket ship,” another chimed in. Taking turns selecting and adding pieces, families worked in small groups to construct their sculptures.


Though I had pre-cut slits into the cardboard, several decided to use their scissors to make new slits to accommodate their designs. The kids enjoyed playing games in and around their constructions. Some used nooks to hide in. Others used holes to spy through.

Inevitably, it all fell down…

…to cheers of “Let’s make something new!” “Yea, something beautiful!”

Families took their painted panels home to continue building in other spaces. The rest I packed up and brought back to the museum, where they were used again during a Construct a Collaborative Colorscape project at The Carle’s Children’s Book Festival.


David Feinstein in front of red Eric Carle mural.

David Feinstein

Literacy Educator at The Carle since 2017, David enjoys working with artists, educators, and families to create and share their stories.