Three steps for creating a shadow box

Black Voices, Black Joy: Shadow Box Tutorial

August 18, 2020
– By Kenturah Davis

This book describes things that bring happiness to 7 year old, Layla. The book begins with Layla describing what she loves about the night. Pages later, we see a beautiful scene of Layla's mom reading her poetry in the dark. In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a shadow box to create a mini landscape to play with at night.

Supplies for shadow box


  • Cardboard box
  • Box cutters
  • Scissors
  • Parchment paper (or something similar)
  • Skewers or popsicle sticks
  • Tape
  • Black sharpie
  • Black construction paper
  • Light/lamp
  • String
  • Stuff! You need small objects that fit in your box that will create interesting silhouettes. I used some plant stems, a glass bottle and extra cardboard that I cut into shapes.


  • Color pencils or markers to decorate the box
  • Old magazines that can be used to trace and cut out interesting shapes

1. Cut a rectangular opening in the side of your box. Ask for help from your grown-up if you need it! Then, cut a piece of parchment (or wax paper) large enough to cover the opening of your box. Cover the rectangular opening with your parchment paper from the inside, using tape. This will be the front of your shadow box and will work like a screen once the lights are off.

Cut out rectangle

2. Cut a hole on the opposite side of the box large enough to shine your light through.

Cut a hole for your light source

3. Gather various things that you want to use to create the scene in your shadow box. I grabbed my plant stems and trimmed them to different heights. I will use this to create a grassy foreground.

Miscellaneous materials to create silhouettes in your shadow box.

4. I want to create some atmosphere like rain and clouds. I cut out more parchment paper and drew raindrops. I cut out smaller pieces and crumpled them up to use as clouds.

Background for shadowbox

5. Now we need to create a little character puppet. You may use your own picture books to find an interesting character. I used an image of Layla from the book and traced her using the parchment paper. Be sure to choose an image with a nice silhouette (outline).

Outline your character using marker and parchment.

6. Now use the tracing paper to trace and cut out the shape with the black construction paper. Using tape I attached the wooden skewer to the back so I can easily move her around in the box.

Cutout of character

7. Begin to arrange your objects in the box. The things that are closer to the front screen will be more clear. Objects placed in the middle or the back of the box will be more obscure. I taped the plant stems inside the box at the front. I placed a glass bottle with more stems inside to make a tree-like silhouette. I suspended the parchment paper with the rain drops in the middle of the box with tape. I used string to thread the clouds and also suspended them from the top of the box. I cut out some cardboard in the shape of mountains and positioned it behind the other objects. Place your light at the hole cut out in the back.

Set your scene!

8. Turn off the lights! Move your character around. Make additional characters if you wish. Experiment with moving things around to see how the landscape changes. Make up a story and act it out with your characters in the shadow box.

Final shadowbox image

Tag us @hammer_museum to show us what you've made!