DIY Home

How to DIY the Easiest Art From... Leftover Cardboard

Read this before you tie them up and take them out.

January 11, 2021
Photo by My City Apartment

The other day I finally mustered the energy to break down and tie up all the cardboard boxes I had acquired over the course of about two months (bear in mind this was also the holiday season!) and I kid you not, my back was aching by the end of it. I made several trips out to the recycling can, identity concealed by my hat, mask, and sunglasses—mortified by the consumption that clearly went on in my home. I scurried back and forth (probably making myself look more suspect) with my bundles of paper and twine, feeling guilty all the while.

Usually, I’ll reuse leftover boxes as floor or table protection while doing a DIY project, and that does help me sleep better at night. However, I recently came across an even better way to repurpose cardboard: art! Yes, art!

Carly of MyCityApartment on Instagram, was inspired by the art of Simone Polk Dahl and wanted to create something similar with supplies she had laying around. So, instead of throwing away her stack of Christmas boxes, she cut them up and crafted a striking piece of textural art for her living room. Genius, says I. If you too, feel a twinge of guilt each time you order something to be delivered, this super-easy project is for you. Make one for yourself, and for everyone you know—we have a sneaky suspicion they’ll love it.

What You’ll Need:

  • Leftover cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Paint of your choosing (baking soda optional)
  • A canvas or frame
  • Glue (hot melt or otherwise)

What You’ll Do:

  • Start by prepping the canvas or frame you’re going to create your artwork on—you can totally reuse a canvas you already have but no longer love, cover up an old piece of art in a frame, or even work directly on a piece of posterboard—it’s up to you. I used a standard canvas I got at Michael’s, and to create a more finished look, I ripped the canvas off the frame, cut it down, and re-stapled it to the back so that the frame was exposed. I then painted the wooden frame black, and it looked like a totally custom frame job.
  • Next, start cutting out pieces of cardboard. The size and shape of them is really up to you, and I ended up adding some variation in my rectangles by cutting some smaller and shorter than others, just to make everything a little imperfect.
Photo by Caroline Mullen
Photo by Caroline Mullen
  • Arrange your pieces of cardboard how you’d like them on your chosen surface. I decided to replicate Carly’s, so I layered on a base of similarly-sized rectangles ro be followed later with more layered on top.
  • You can paint each piece individually, or glue them down and paint them altogether. Carly used acrylic paint mixed with baking soda (to add even more texture) so I followed suit. I also used hot glue, but really whatever glue you have on hand will work.
  • Once the base layer is dry, you can add any detail pieces you’d like. Again, I loved Carly’s so much that I just replicated the black lines on top of the white—it looks like just enough modern detail, and makes the whole piece feel very purposeful.
Photo by Caroline Mullen
Photo by Caroline Mullen

Would you try this DIY with leftover boxes? Let us know below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Annie
  • AprAmy74
  • McLear
  • Misty
  • Rose Russell
    Rose Russell
Assistant Editor, Home52


Annie January 15, 2021
There are plenty of ways to describe your dislike of something without insulting the artist. If you can't think of a way to do that, you can always follow the rule I learned in preschool: "Treat everyone else the way you would like to be treated." Of course, in preschool this rule was mostly used to prevent children from kicking each other in the shins but, I believe it works here too ;)
AprAmy74 January 14, 2021
AWESOME ARTICLE. Gave me so many more ideas to try. I am a new member of this site & love it! I rarely read comments but I noticed some readers had some good add'l ideas to try & noticed so many others left comments that were worthless & offered nothing helpful.
These gaggles Putrid D*ck are probably of no consequence to anyone in life. Goes to follow everyone will find their cerebral defication worthless. I'm not saying not to tell an experience u had if u attempted this project but -3 people in this world gives 2 F's about ur slithery opinion. CLEARLY doing or reading this is NOT A REQUIREMENT so choke on u. Nobody cares about u or ur opinion.
McLear January 13, 2021
I wonder what it would look like if the painted cardboard was finished with something glossy, like mod podge? This could be an interesting way to build other types of grid art too. I also like the way she reworked the canvas!
Misty January 13, 2021
Woah! These comments are pretty harsh for the critique of an article and someone's idea that they put themselves out there for. And seeing the comments, why the hell would they want to. Anyone who had anything negative to write, you are disgusting pigs. How is that for some free speech!? And btw, great idea, great execution, and good on ya for saving the planet. Don't listen to these schmucks that said no. They don't KNOW art.
Mrs B. January 13, 2021
Heavens, one sees quite a bit of negativity both by those who like this idea, and those who don't. In fact, this comment certainly seems to be the hand of one with "[some]thing negative to write."

The author asked specifically if readers would do this DIY project. In future, I suppose that's just a yes or no answer, with no additional feedback (unless it's positive)?

And for the record, my answer is "No." One does agree with the commenter who stated that whether art is pleasing is in the eye of the beholder. Whether this is or is not seems like a fair question.
Smaug January 15, 2021
Can you know art? That would seem to be out of touch with the whole concept. I've not delved into the works of Wagner or the Russian novelists to any great extent, so I can't say categorically that there's no art without humor, but I can say I don't find the notion attractive.
Rose R. January 12, 2021
Anne P. January 12, 2021
I would say this looks like a project for a 6yo. I like to reuse, and upycle, but there is nothing really charming about hot glued cardboard on canvas.
Mrs.M. January 12, 2021
White textures seems to be on trend; I recently watched this House Dream Makeover series (forget the true title) on Netflix and this interior designer was gushing in delight about these un-even tiles for the backsplash... Somehow this art reminds me of that episode from the 2nd season.

I'm all for up-recycling and like this idea, I don't know if it'll work with my space however I can appreciate this project and see the appeal.
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Dream Home Makeover! Yes, she used a white zellige tile, which is very much on trend. I definitely agree, this has a similar effect.
Beth M. January 12, 2021
Right now my apartment is filled with cardboard boxes...1 from a desk I ordered...2 fan boxes...& just yesterday...the new food processor I just ordered. Being somewhat of an artist...I like to cut the large flat side pieces of cardboard off & cover them w a few layers of gesso so I can use as canvas. The box the desk came in will give me 2- 56"x33" canvasses once gessoed...had I store bought they probably would've run about $50 ea. ..& then the added shipping as I have mobility issues from an injury(96lb treelimb fell on head) that's why I have to order everything...I also have an 8yr old granddaughter who loves to paint yet no matter how hard I try...she does not use the whole canvas...leaving much of it instead of her using my expensive canvasses I will use the smaller cardboard boxes for her...yes...even my cereal boxes...
Art is in the eye of the beholder...
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
This is so smart, Beth! I bet she'll cherish these memories of painting with you.
Smaug January 12, 2021
Fantastic- I'm considering gluing all my garbage to the walls. Death to the landfills!!!
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
LOL do it I dare you
Smaug January 12, 2021
Hey, no LOLling here, I'm a very serious person who just happens to live in a loony world. Of course it only really works if we all do it; c'mon, peoples. It seems clear that, once we've managed to exterminate one another and the dust has settled, mankind's primary legacy to the world will be our garbage; time to take some pride in our accomplishments.
Loveokc January 12, 2021
Oh who this has given me some ideas. I will use the cardboard and make my kids name let them paint it and then frame them and place on their room doors.
Thanks for the recycling idea
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Yay!! Tag us if you post it on social :)
Tracy H. January 12, 2021
I am not an artist. I wish i was.... This is a great idea i can't wait to try it ! Thx
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Can't wait to see!!
Karen F. January 11, 2021
I'm an artist. No.
Raquel L. January 13, 2021
Your name says it all KAREN lol . I'm also an artist who actually earns a living selling my art. I say yes. A true artist can create art with anything and everything. You lack creativity and also an eye for art. You also should know as an artist, not to criticize anyone's work because you are not fit to do so. Many did this to Monet. Stick to your paint by numbers KAREN
Alf M. January 11, 2021
Not everybody has a vision for art! specially for modern/contemporary/abstract ones...The contemporary thing in art and literature is the thing which doesn't make enough difference to the people of that generation so that they can accept it or reject it. (Gertrude Stein)
Kitty G. January 11, 2021
So the composition doesn't appeal to everyone? No reason to be "embarrassed for.." or insensitive to the artist. There are many ways to upcycle or repurpose virtually anything. I applaud the dual efforts to create art and taking the initiative to repurpose over filling landfills and recycling centers. Well done!
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 12, 2021
Thank you, Kitty!!
LCMiles January 11, 2021
Alternately, post your boxes on your local Buy Nothing or neighborhood Facebook group. I'm moving this week and have gotten nearly all of my boxes and packing materials from generous neighbors. Much cheaper than buying boxes and eco-freindly.
ShadowFX January 11, 2021
Well, apparently not to the taste of some of the viewing followers. Personally, I think the idea 💡 great. I have no idea who your referenced artists are, but the concept, brilliant. Personally I would recreate the background as a section of Subway Tile, old, cracked and chipped. Then paint urban graphics (graffiti)
Just saying. Thanks for the inspiration. \*^°/
Arati M. January 11, 2021
If you ever go ahead with that one, we'd love to see it!!!
Beth M. January 12, 2021
Great idea...I love the subway graffiti look...I love the diversity while riding subways...
AntoniaJames January 11, 2021
It's not April 1 so I know this is intended to be serious. No, I would never, ever do this. I'm embarrassed for Food52. ;o)
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 11, 2021
Lol! We're always trying to rethink waste materials, especially with fun DIYs!
Smaug January 12, 2021
Perhaps glue some leftover yoghurt containers to it and fill them with miniature JackO'Lanterns, which age interestingly- for some reason this reminds me of some art projects done by Phoebe on "Friends". Cardboard makes a fine mulching material when removing lawns and such.
Brandi January 11, 2021
This is not good. Its terrible
Author Comment
Caroline M. January 11, 2021
Haha art is definitely subjective!!
Karen F. January 11, 2021
No. Just no.
Karen B. January 12, 2021
So am I. There are many textural artists and I was exposed to it very early on. Art isn't just painting. I would do this. I enjoy many expressions of art.