I know I promised I’d be doing a lot more crafting for the non crafty moms out there, which I will! But I’ll also be sharing some crafty favorites like these self-portrait shadow boxes because they are just so cool I can’t resist. Plus, if you read my last post about paint mixing, I said I’d share what we did with our painted boxes. This is my all time favorite art project to do with kids. It’s a bit of a commitment, but it’s so worth it because it makes the best keep sake. You can hang it on the wall or put it on a desk or shelf. It’s just awesome. If it looks a little intimidating though, I get it. Scroll down to the end and I give some tips to make an easier version. If you’re ready to get your craft on, keep reading.
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I’ve posted about self portrait shadow boxes before, but I’ve learned a ton since then and I have some easy updates that will make this way easier and more fun. Also, I couldn’t hold onto these pics another minute. Click here for the full tutorial and keep reading for the updates. I also go over most of the steps briefly below.
transparency paper, a box, a box cutter, paint , wire or pipe cleaner, beads (optional) and sharpies (on sale right now!) or FunChalk Markers, a photo
I love this project for many reasons. The outcome is amazing, yes, but the process is just as good and the kids feel so crazy proud of themselves when they complete it. We start with the boxes. I had a few extra boxes from the post office hanging around, but you can also use cereal boxes, cardboard boxes or gift boxes. Prepare the box by cutting a rectangle out of one side with a box cutter. Make the rectangle smaller than 8 and a half by 11 so standard transparency paper covers it easily. I prime the box with white gesso before painting but you can skip that part if you want.
Time to paint. One of the things we did differently this go around, is we mixed our own paints for the boxes. All the paint we used was from the 3 primary colors and white. That’s it. Are you impressed? Mixing paints with kids is so much fun in addition to having great learning value. Check out this post on paint mixing with kids for a step by step tutorial.
After the boxes were painted I punctured two holes with a scissor at the top for the handle. When I first did this I spent way too much time trying to insert rubber bands and string and blah, blah, I made it way too complicated. Now it’s super easy. Just make a beaded piece of wire or pipe cleaner and insert through the holes. Stick your hand up through the box and make a little mush of wire so it can’t come out the other side and you’ve got a great handle.
Now it’s time to design your image. Place a photo under the transparency and tape it to the table. Invite kids to find the shapes and lines in their photograph and go over them with marker. I printed pics of the kids in black and white on regular printer paper.
Another change we made this go around was using chalk markers instead of black sharpie. Chalk markers are pretty amazing. Our favorite brand is FunChalk Markers. The colors are crazy vibrant and you can wipe off any mistakes you make and start again. That can be a curse or a blessing with kids, especially if you have a perfectionist in the bunch. I had to set down the law (no erasing aloud, just go with it rule number 57) with one child who kept trying to get it “right.” One great way to present this is to say that often art is whacky. Sometimes it makes you laugh, so don’t try to do this perfectly, just have fun with it. Your face might look really funny/whacky/crazy and that’s ok, just like at Halloween. This usually helps kids understand that it’s ok for it not to be perfect. If you do have a perfectionist in the bunch, stick with sharpies. They can’t erase and just repeat my mantra over and over again “just go with it,” when they want to start all over. I talk about “just going with it” before art projects with kids all the time, including my own 3.5 year old.
Once you have the painted boxes with handles and the transparency and photo, you are ready to construct your box. Glue the photo into the box centered behind the cutout. Place the transparency over the edges of the cutout and tape it down with clear tape. You did it!
The kids can carry it around, show their friends and family and feel totally proud of themselves.
They can deliver their self portrait to grandma and grandpa for Grandparents Day. This will knock their socks off. Whatever you decide to do with it, this is a fantastic process from start to finish and I encourage you to give it a shot.
If you’re looking for a simpler version, buy one of these frames, skip the painting, put the photo in the frame and have your kids just do the markers right on top of the frame. Easy peezy and still super cute. See, I kept my promise.
I hope you’re inspired to try some self portrait shadow boxes. You can see some other similar projects like these photo ornaments and these spin art shadow boxes, which you can make in this same way. Have fun! Meri
Woaw woaw woaw!!! So impressed!
Ha! Nothing like getting a great comment like that the minute after I post. THANK YOU!!! This is my very favorite project to do with kids. It’s amazing!!! Thanks Carla! How did the paint mixing go?
Meri, this is really the best! I am so trying it with my kids, I will let you know how it turns out 🙂 thanks for the inspiration!
Yay!!! I’m so excited! Can’t wait to hear how it goes and let me know if you have any questions. Have fun!
This is adorable-can’t wait to do with grandchildren. What are and where do you get chalk markers? Love your name-my maiden name was Merrie England-very fun during the Beatles era.
Ha! Merrie England is a good one : ) So happy you’ll give this a try. I link to the chalk markers in the post. You can get them on Amazon and most craft stores. They are paint filled markers that glide on plastic and other surfaces. Really fun to use. Have fun and let me know how it goes!
These (as well as so many of your posts) are awesome! Thanks!
Thank you Thank you for reading along! I’m so glad.
We did it! My husband was really impressed! A great project!!!! I have pics but not sure how to post them. Meri, we live in GA but home is Southern California and we will be the for a few weeks in the end of July and would love to visit! We are inspired by your site!
Hi Erin! I am soooo happy to hear you did this. I think I said in the post, this is one of my all time fav projects to do with kids. Are you on instagram? You can post and tag me and hashtag #letthempaint I always check that one. You can also upload to my fb page or email me directly at mericherryla@gmail Would love to see! Always love to hear when the husband is impressed too. Well done! Would be happy to connect somehow when you’re in town. Sounds fun!
Really cool project and thank you for sharing! before buying the chalk markers I’d like to ask – did you have trouble with the chalk marker rubbing off after the project was complete? If so, would you recommend varnish or something to set the chalk marker? If not… super cool!!
Hi! As long as you don’t rub the markers, they won’t come off. We still have ours and it looks great! Hope that is helpful.
I found your website while googling ideas for my 4 year old’s birthday party. This idea sounded great, and it was SUCH a success. Thank you!!! The kids loved this project–it took us about an hour to complete– and the parents were impressed too. Some of them were doubtful that their kids would do art for an hour, but all the kids were fully engaged.
Oh I’m so glad to hear this!! This is one of my all time favorite projects. Thanks so much for letting me know.
I LOVE this project!! Like selfies for toddlers! Start ’em young . . .
How do you do this project in one session? Looks like you need to take close up photos and then print them out. Once they’ve painted the boxes – they need to dry. Can you elaborate? Thanks!!
Thanks Betsy. This is definitely a two part project. I go into detail in the post links. I have the step by step for the two days. Definitely worth the effort. It’s a fantastic keep sake with a great wow factor.
This is so rad. Doing this ASAP with my boy and my niece! I’ll be heading back to your site here for sure. Thank you! 🙂
Great! have fun!
This is an amazing project idea. I was wondering what size photo you printed for this? 8×10?
Thank you. I think that sounds about right. Don’t worry, any size will be great xo