We had a TON of boxes in our spare room after the holidays, between ordering supplies and receiving gifts, and it was kind of all just festering there, creating a fire hazard. One day I said, “We really need to recycle all that cardboard or start making art out of it… HEY! Wait a minute!”
With that sudden burst of inspiration, I started considering what I could do with the cardboard to make art. I have long admired the work of assemblage artists like my friend Scott Rolfe, and wondered what kind of assemblage-like work I would create, given the materials and the opportunity. So, when presented with this pile of cardboard and the desire to make art with it, I realized that cardboard was really ideal for the types of earthy, nature themed artwork that I enjoy making.
The first idea I had was to make a great blue heron, but I was worried that was biting off a bit more than I was ready for, at least until I had an idea how this process was going to work. So, for my inaugural cardboard assemblage art, I chose one of my most favorite art topics, a tree!
I sketched out a rough outline of what I wanted to create on piece of gator board coated in gesso, and essentially began cutting out random strips of cardboard and layering them here and there to create the tree. Before too long I realized that if I peeled off the top layer of paper, the corrugations made an excellent tree bark texture. With that, I began cutting the strips more deliberately to ensure that the lines of the corrugation were going the direction I wanted them to.
I didn’t want to use one large piece cut into the tree or tree branch shape, I felt that would make it too flat. I wanted the different sizes and shapes of pieces to add to the texture of the tree and create what I felt would look more like a natural roughness and variations to the tree bark. I created not just branches, but roots, to give it a balanced, kind of “Tree of Life” feel.
Once I had all the branches and roots I felt I wanted done in the cardboard, I applied another layer of gesso over everything, and began by painting the background. I had debated actually creating the whole background first and then attaching the tree, but I wasn’t sure how well that would go, and decided that it was probably better worth the effort to just paint around everything.
I really let the background paint overlap over the branches a lot, which made it a little harder when it came time to paint the tree, but helped to make sure I got it into all the nooks and crannies. Incidentally, I was originally planning to paint the tree bark brown until I saw the white of the gesso against the background and thought it was really cool, so then I said, hey, it can be a birch tree!
I added in smaller branches and roots with a brush to give it a bit more background depth and detail. And used pale greys, browns and silver to create the “birch colors”. All the while I was creating it, I was pondering how I would do the leaves. I realized that nothing less than 3D leaves would look good, so I finally hit upon the idea to use the paper that I had peeled off the cardboard to create the leaves. I started out cutting them out and painting them individually, but thankfully realized that was kind of dumb pretty fast! I then took larger sheets of the paper, painted it in assorted shades of green, yellow and gold, then cut out dozens of leaves, which I then attached to the branches, letting them reach beyond the edges of the board to continue the 3D effect.
This original is sold!
Thanks for reading!