Build a Shadow Box

| May 16, 2009


Build a shadow box

Since I usually paint on weekends, I don’t always have the luxury of painting outside when the weather decides not to cooperate. My indoor studio is pretty well set up but I did not have a easy way to stage and light a still life scene. I would usually get a bit frustrated trying to prop this that and the other up while establishing ideal lighting conditions. To minimize the hassle and provide a way to set up and start painting quickly, I decided to built a shadow box.

This project, which took about three hours to complete, is pretty easy to do with the exception of cutting the corner molding. I used a power miter box to make my cuts but you can use a simple miter box setup from Home Depot if you like. Here is my materials list:

The dimensions can be any size depending on the size of your studio. I made my box 24″ wide, by 20″ tall, and 20″ deep. This size will accommodate a variety of objects including wine bottles or large vases.  Here are the basic steps for completing the box:

  • Cut all pieces of foamboard first and dry fit the assembly using blue low-tack painter’s tape.
  • You will need to make slight adjustments to the sizes of the panels on some joints to account for the thickness of the board.
  • Make sure you cut the back piece about two inches shorter so there will be a horizontal slot at the top that you can feed cloth through for backdrops. This will make it much easier to place and secure for your scenes. (see photo album above)
  • On the top piece, I cut a square hole on the right side measuring about 6″ x 14″ so I can light my subjects from above. Save the left over pieces of foamboard to adjust the size of the hole later when setting up your lighting. (see photo album above)
  • Now is where the fun starts. As you can see in one of the pictures in the album above, I made frames for the top and bottom of the box by cutting the corner moulding and affixing it with the double sided automotive moulding tape. This tape is used to secure the moulding to new cars and it is VERY strong, making it perfect for this application. The moulding will stiffen up the foamboard and allow you to assemble the box.
  • I used the tape and moulding to make the vertical back joints as well.
  • I applied the tape to the inside of both sides of the corner moulding, then peeled the backing off of the other side and started putting the foamboard pieces together. Once the tape contacts the foamboard, you will not be able to reposition it, so take your time.
  • I cut and added another piece of foamboard to the inside bottom to strengthen the base and make the thickness match the height of the corner moulding on the bottom. I just used more tape to stick the new panel to the bottom piece of the box.
  • You can make minor adjustments to the design as you like. It is important to dry fit everything with tape first so you know your final assembly will go well.
  • The final result is a sturdy shadow box that is perfect for setting up and lighting your still life scenes.

Click on the album above to see larger pictures at Picasa. I put a few subjects in the box and tried some lighting set ups with good results. I hope you find this post helpful should you choose to make a shadow box for yourself. Now I need to get busy and actually do some painting!

Category: Fine Art and Painting

Comments (5)

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  1. Pettinari says:

    Thanks for the comment on my blog…and congratulation for your shadow box . Régis .

  2. Perry says:

    This box is a work of art within itself. I can’t wait to see the painting of the arrangement you set up in the demo photos-looks nice!

  3. Lee says:

    Regis, thank you as well. You are my first visitor from France!

    Thanks Perry. I just finished sketching the composition and am planning to start painting shortly. I think I will take progress pictures along the way with the camera on a tripod. I think the embedded Picasa slide show could be nifty for animating the progress. Way too much fun!

  4. Mike Bailey says:

    Lee . . . beautiful job!! I built one from a cardboard box two years ago. It is dog eared and floppy by now. Would love to build a box similar to yours. Any chance of emailing the measurements to me? In exchange, I’ll link your blog to mine. BTW, your blog is VERY well done!!! One of the best!

  5. Lee says:

    Thanks for the feedback Mike! I am happy to send the dimensions to you. I will send them via email shortly. I sincerely appreciate the offer of a link on your site! Best, /Lee