Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Create a Custom Shadowbox: Holiday Style (and GIVEAWAY)

Well, due to unexpected drama, this post took a wee bit longer than anticipated to get up. But trust me, it's worth it. And yes, it's photo heavy so buckle up, grab a coffee, and get ready for some holiday shadowbox goodness.

Once again, many thanks to the fine folks at Elmer's for sending me some goodies and inspiring me to make such a fun and personal project.

How to Make a Custom Shadowbox
  also known as How to make your own Advent Calendar Shadowbox
      additionally known as How to make Your Own Custom Printer's Tray

Yes, that's right. I'm making just a plain old 12 compartment open-faced shadowbox, but you could totally adapt this to make it a little deeper and put in little paper drawers for an advent thing, or make it shallower and have it look like a printer's tray. Totally up to you.

Here's what you will need:
First, you'll need to decide how big you want your finished box to be. I decided to keep the back the same width as the original board, so I would only need to trim down the sides and then add a "top" and "bottom" of the box frame.

I took the tri-fold foam board (looks like this: |_| when you put the "arms" at a 90 degree angle) and trimmed the two "arms" so that they were about 3.5 gridblocks wide.  I then trimmed the "back" and the arms vertically so that the whole thing was about 13.5 inches long.

I used the leftover trim from the "arms" to cut a "top" and a "bottom" for the box. I trimmed them so they fit on the "inside" of the main foam board piece.

Once you've got the pieces cut for the box, use the clear packing tape on the sides and back (the flat side) to hold all three pieces together snugly. Make sure your walls are straight and at a 90-degree angle (you know, like a normal box).

I used a few of my holiday knickknacks to help me determine how deep the project "walls" were going to be. Fortunately, the foam board had some grid lines, which really helped me to keep things straight.

Start putting in your goodies (or use other projects found online) to plan where your compartments are going to go. I started putting in some vertical wall to help me get a sense of where everything would fit.

For the sake of structural integrity, I decided to have vertical walls that ran the length of the box and that way I could individually reinforce the horizontal pieces that things would "sit" on for each box.  Here was my first attempt at placement.

I took the walls out a few times to play with proportion and placement.
And here's what it looks like with the mostly final compartment configuration in place.

Once I found a configuration I was happy with, I got out my trusty glue gun and got to work. I took a photo to reference the placement of the compartments and used a pencil to mark where the sections were on the inside of the box. I then took everything out of the box and started gluing all around the inside corners to reinforce what the clear packing tape had done on the outside. Then I glued in the large vertical pieces. Finally, I glued in the little shelves. I glued every single join in each compartment separately. I glued especially heavy on the underneath side (to ensure that the shelves wouldn't sag later on).

If you were going to spraypaing this bad boy, now would be the time. Since I knew I would be covering up the whole thing with paint and tape, I didn't bother with any painting.

I covered the back wall of each compartment with paper scraps from my-almost-finished 2010 December Daily. Papers include things from the Basic Grey Jovial line, some American Crafts and a stamped background using a stamp from Purple Onion (designed by the lovely Steph)

I then covered all four of the inside compartment edges with some paper from an old french book I've used for collage work in the past. I purposefully placed the text at different orientations for visual interest. Also, I did this while watching episodes of Grimm and Once Upon a Time on hulu. It was quite enjoyable.

I covered the sides and the back edges of the box with the vintage book papers as well. A single piece of (slightly antiqued) patterened paper was glued to the back.

I used tissue tape to cover up the edges of the papers and to help reinforce the joins on the boxes. Again, to help things look nice, I started by taping up the horizontal shelves, then did the long vertical walls, and finally, the outside edges all got covered.

I ran some more Antique Linen distress ink over the tissue tape to help age it a bit. And here's what my table started to look like....

And then it was time to glue on the feet! I got out the glue gun and wiggled them into place.

Then you start gluing all your goodies into place. I used extra bits of the foam board to make my own foam dimensional adhesive squares (aka pop dots). Here's a shot of the fully assembled box:

But wait, there's more. Every one of these twelve compartments has an item(s) that is meaningful to me in terms of things I love about the holidays. Let's go into detail, shall we?

Box Number One: Glass Glitter phial with key and jingle bell
I am not a glitter girl. I don't like it normally... but when it comes to the holidays I'm all about the shine of vintage glass. I love those old mercury glass ornaments. I love tinsel and sparkle. Red twine is also one of my favorite things to use. I like to use it on tags and presents. And who doesn't love jingle bells?

Box Number Two: Glass Bubble Magnet and Teeny Christmas Card
This box is one that represents good crafty times. The first time I ever sold at a real life craft bazaar, I sold bubble magnets and holiday cards. The post for that is over here, if you'd like to see it. And the tutorial for the bubble magnets is over here. The gold dove represents peace and good luck. Because man, do I need some of those.

Box Number Three: Nutcracker and Wreath
I used to love watching the Nutcracker Ballet movie during the holidays as a child. I think they are a quintessential part of any holiday decor scheme; over the years I've received several as gifts and I think they're great. The wreath is in there because at one point, we decided to stop having a tree (roommates, no space, etc), but I needed SOME kind of greenery in the house, so I began a tradition of having a wall of wreaths instead.

Box Number Four: Star Tree Topper and Stamped Tag
I love a good star tree topper. and thought this tiny one was a perfect representation of the one I've had on my big trees in the past. The tag in the back was actually from a make and take at a CKC Seattle a few years ago. Another fine holiday tradition (stamping and making stuff during the holidays, yay!)

Box Number Five: The Red Cup and Bow
Ah, the red cup. Gingerbread lattes at Starbucks are a must have. I also love the little Starbucks ornaments. I have a whole little tree of them that I put up at work every year (it's not weird, because I work for Starbucks, right?). The gold bow is from a present I got last year. It's been recycled a few times (because that's how my peeps roll). In past years, whenever you got a present with a bow like this, you had to put it on your head and looking like a silly bow head was totally cool. Happy memories indeed.

Box Number Six: Boughs, Pinecones and Twenty-Five Sign
This represents the tradition of having a tree and the twenty five is of course, for December 25th. I found this little greenery sprig in the craft section at M's. And that glitter went everywhere.

Box Seven: Presents and Tag
The presents and ornaments again are great reminders of how much I love giving and getting gifts. And also appreciate tree trimming activities. True fact: at one point I could sing all of Oh Tannebaum in German. (I can no longer remember this due to lack of use in my old age, but still, a good memory.) And that tag? That's one I made this year as part of a feature for the blog (that's right, I'm getting all proactive. Hah!)

Box Eight: Merry Christmas Rosette

Ah, the centerpiece. I knew I needed something big and showy, and this little rosette fit the bill. It reminds me of my favorite holiday movie A Christmas Story. I took some Glassine paper and folded it up in to a rosette, then layered with an ornament from Target, a Making Memories metal frame and this lovely red Christmas sign ornament. (Reminds me a bit of the one I used in my "snowglobe" tutorial)

Box Nine: Holiday Train
One of my happiest memories as a child was watching my grandparents (and later parents) set up and run a HO model train set around the bottom of the tree every year. It was pretty freaking magical. I could watch that train for what seemed like hours. Through the snowy villages delivering tiny presents to tiny people. Sigh. Also, Polar Express (the book, NOT the movie) was such a great part of my childhood. :)

Box Ten: Mini Snowglobe
Greg likes to tease me and call me "first snowflake freakout lady" due to the fact that I may have issues with driving in the snow (due to a traumatic experience where my car went sideways down 6th avenue on year), but I really do like snowdays. Especially when I don't have to go into work and can stay home.

Box Eleven: Tiny Tree and Bingo Circle
I love me some bottlebrush trees. Especially when they are bleached white (tutorial for that is over here). I really like the classic green look here though.

Box Twelve: Holiday Bottlecap Magnets

Ah, my number one tutorial. Thank you for being so fun to make and for bringing so many nice folks to the blog. I love you, tiny holiday bottlecaps. Even though I hate my lack of photography skill on that post.

And that's it for this project! Here's the whole thing again:

Hope you had fun reading this GIANT post! If you end up making something inspired by this project, I'd love to see it.

The lovely folks at Elmer's are giving away a second prize pack, the same as in the previous giveaway. Leave me a comment telling me which of the compartments was your favorite by end of day Tuesday and I'll pick a winner.


  1. Box 10- Mini Snow Globe is my favorite. I'm a sucker for anything with snowflakes. I was overjoyed when the post office came out with microscope photos of snowflakes for their Christmas postage stamps a few years ago.

  2. LOVE your gorgeous -vintagey- Christmas shadowbox creation!

    WHERE does one find the -Merry Christmas- sign ornie in Box 8 & incredible mini snowflake snow globe in Box 10?

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. What a beautiful project! It was a tough choice for me between the glitter vial (ooh shiney!) and the really sweet snow globe (LOVE snowflakes), but I'm going to pick the mini snow globe because it's too dang cute and fun!

  4. Great project! I like the compartment with the bottlecaps best. Thanks!

  5. Omgosh...that is just beautiful! I can't even pick one compartment...I loved them all. But...since I have to pick I will pick the Starbucks one only because I love coffee!

  6. i LOVED the Starbucks cup. My favorite treat for a hard day of shopping is a mocha.

    Love your shadowbox!

  7. Box 5 (red cup) gets my vote too ... such a perfect start to the season!

    PS This is simply amazing - I love how all of the boxes represent memories of your Christmas!

  8. Wow!
    This really inspired me to make a shadow box! Never thought to have the components picked out and used for the measurement of the compartments... great idea!

    I love the very first compartment, with the glitter, key and jingle bell!

    What a great project!

  9. You crafty genius! I love it! I think box 8 is my favorite, but I really love the entire thing!!! Thank you for the chance!

  10. Stunning!!!!!
    Amazing project!
    thanks for sharing

  11. That box is beautiful!! I loved this post!

  12. I know this is an older post but I just stumbled upon it through Pinterest. This is amazing! Thanks for breaking down the steps - if I only saw the finished piece I would assume it would be impossible to do. But now the idea is rattling around in my brain.

  13. I too have just came across this on pinterest.Have been looking for a easy tutorial to follow also thought there would be a lot of work involved cutting wood ect,I had all the bits for the project but not the box so will definatley be giving this a try
    Thanks for sharing and the inspiration

  14. How Lovely ! I have been looking for gifts combination ideas for such a long time but never been seeing something beautiful stunning ideas! Thanks for sharing ������❤️

  15. Love this so much! I was looking for a diy printers tray on Pinterest and this was just what I was looking for.