AIM DIY: Ampersand Shadow Box

From 2014-2016 I chronicled my crafty endeavors on the site Adventures-in-Making. I’ve selected a few of those DIY’s, Recipes, and other posts to share on the site.

Over the last couple of years I have started to accumulate little tchotchkes, despite my best efforts to “collect no functionless thing.” Every little piece has a special connection to my family and memory, so they’ll all just have to stay.

My mom’s house had shadowboxes everywhere, but most of them were type cases that I have since stolen and use for their original purpose (holding lead type for letterpress printing.) I decided to use scrap materials to make a shadowbox of my own, and since I love letters it turned into an ampersand.

Supplies for the Base

• Scrap Cardboard- lots of it, including one piece that was at least 12×12
• Printed Letter or Symbol – approximately 12″ x 12″. I printed on, and tape together several pieces of letter-sized paper to make my template.
• Pencil
• Scotch Tape
• Carbon Paper (if you have it)
• X-acto Knife
Gummed Paper Tape (and wet sponge) or Wide Masking Tape – I like using gummed tape on projects like this because you can slide the tape while it is wet and get the placement just right.
• Scissors

Supplies for Paper Mache Layer

• Black and White Printed Newsprint (or other thin paper)
• Bowl
• All Purpose Flour
• Water

First I print out and pieced together the template using scissors and scotch tape. I lightly taped the template to a large piece of cardboard (at least 12″x12″), slipped the carbon paper underneath and traced along it with a pencil- checking periodically to make sure that I was making an impression on the cardboard. (Alternately you can cut the letter shape out of your template, and trace around it with pencil.)

I darkened the lines with pencil to make sure I knew where to cut.

Carefully I started cutting the shape out of the cardboard.


To make the sides of the shadowbox, I cut several 2″ strips of cardboard, making sure that the corrugation ran the short way. (See image above.)

Since there are a lot of curves in the ampersand, I gave myself a head start by slitting along the ribs on one side of each of the strips. This allowed the strip to flex more easily along the curves.

Slowly I started covering each edge of the ampersand piece with the cardboard strips, following around each side.

I attached each piece using gummed paper tape (masking tape would work as well.) On heavy curves, I stuck the tape to the side first, then made small cuts that overlap and lay flat on the back side. (Everything will be covered with with paper mache, so little mistakes are a-okay.) I cut and began a new piece at each sharp corner, and connected them with gummed tape.  REMEMBER: It’s just cardboard, so if you mess up it’s okay! Just toss that piece and try again. I messed up a lot.


After I had the whole shape outlined and taped, I made a few more strips of board for shelves. These strips are 1.75″ each, so that they are a little less deep than the outside walls.
I took a good look at what I wanted to store, and tried to leave space for each item. (If you have larger or smaller nicknacks you might want your shelves placed differently.) I trimmed the shelves to size, and attached them to the walls using more gummed tape pieces.

With the cardboard base built, I got everything ready for paper mache. I typically combine water and flour in a bowl until I have something that resembles very runny pancake batter.

I tore newspaper into small strips, and dipped it into the flour mixture, then laid a single layer or pieces all along the base, including the sides and back. (Again, mistakes are OK! You can always remove a piece and replace it.)

A gloppy mess.

After I had the base completely covered, I let it dry in front of a heater for a few hours, then went back and added a few more pieces to the spots I had missed. (You can add a whole second layer if you want, it will make the form looks smoother, and give you a little extra strength.)

Well, I’m done for now. I love the way my keepsakes fit into this shadowbox… and happy that I made it using only scrap materials.


Other Things I Might Try

• Sealing it with a spray sealant. I’m skipping this step for now, but if everything falls apart, I’ll let you know!
• Painting the whole shape, or just the inside. If you mix acrylic paint with glue you can make a partially translucent color. That way the print will still show through.
• Do a whole word of shadowboxes.

What would you make?

3 thoughts on “AIM DIY: Ampersand Shadow Box

    1. Thanks! For the picture I actually just used a couple of nails in the open parts of the figure. (You can kinda see one inside the loop at the top.)

      There are a variety of other (more secure) ways you could mount it, including putting a picture style hook on the back, or nailing/screwing directly though the back piece into the wall.

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