It might seem horrible to tear up a book for art, or for anything for that matter. But how useful are books such as Audels Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Guide from 1944, or a 1965 edition of Modern Science and Engineering, complete with penned scrawlings in the margins? These books have already served their purpose in society. Now they are heading towards nowhere good—perhaps a landfill, a compost pile, or even, of all atrocities, tossed into a fireplace.
So think of it not as destroying, but breathing new life into these old books, giving them a new purpose. That's why, when I saw a pitiful pile of old textbooks laying in someone's trash, waiting for either the rain or the trash truck, I took them to turn them into art.
One of these books had a playful, red checkered cover, and when I flipped it open, it landed on a chapter titled "Of Cunning". I decided I would change the book to a piece of art portraying a scene from the tale of Red Riding Hood as she walked through the forest into the path of the cunning wolf.
Except for the circuit running the LEDs, and some wire and tape, I made it entirely out of paper. Before you begin, let me warn you this project is not a coffee break project, nor even a several coffee breaks project (unless you have unusually long coffee breaks). You will need a lot of patience and time to complete this piece of art—but the result is more than worth it.
Let's get started.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
2. X-acto knife
4. Measuring cup
5. Mason jar (or really any other container)
8. Red marker
10. Solder (optional)
11. Charcoal (optional)
12. Compass (or a small circular object like a plastic cup with a diameter of two to four inches)
13. Cardboard box (make sure that the side of it is large enought to fit one of the open books)
14. Two books (you can make do with one, but two is ideal)
15. Tape (I used duck tape, but any tape will work)
19. Black paper (has to be enough to completely cover the inside and outside of the cardboard box and approximately another two square feet)
20. Battery holder (should hold three AAA batteries)
21. Three white LEDs
23. Electrical wire
24. Sheet of white paper
25. Floral wire
Step 2: Papier-Mâché Paste
There are millions of different recipes for papier-mâché paste out there, most of them requiring specialized ingredients and precise measurements. However, I opted for this simple, foolproof recipe that worked perfectly for my project.
Boil approximately five cups of water in a pot, then add about one cup of flour. Squeeze in some glue and stir until it reaches a pancake-batter-like consistency. Store in a mason jar or any other container.
Pure rocket science.
Step 3: Making the Base
What you'll need for this step:
In this step you'll set up the shadow box that the book will be housed in. It'll also hold the battery holder, switch, and the moon.
First, cut off the box's flaps—but save them! We'll need them later. Now tear or cut off a squarish section from the roll of black paper, dip your paint brush in the papier-mâché paste and evenly spread it over the paper. Use your hands to press the paper (sticky side down) onto your box and to squeeze out any crinkles or air bubbles. Brush more paste onto the paper, but make sure it's a thin layer, or else it'll warp as it dries.
Repeat this process until the entire box is covered inside and out with black paper, then let it dry.
Turn the box onto its side. It'll remain in this position from this point on. Retrieve one of the two books and open it. Spread glue onto its cover and place it cover-down in your box.
Turn your box around so the back is facing you. Use a pair of scissors or an x-acto knife to poke a hole in the bottom left corner of the box. Eventually you will install wires through it. Move across to the upper right corner of the back of the box, and, using a compass (or that circle shaped object I mentioned in the material list) trace a moon-sized circle—basically whatever size circle you think is moon-sized. Use the x-acto knife to cut it out.
Now the base is finished. We'll work on other parts of the project that'll eventually add onto it.
Step 4: Making the Circuit
For this step you'll need:
This is the circuit that runs the three LEDs that highlight the finished scene of Red Riding Hood, so make sure to follow along carefully. That being said, this circuit is very simple, requiring no beforehand knowledge of electrical wiring. If you have access to a solder and know how to use it, you can solder the connections in the circuit together. If you don't, you can do what I did, which was wrap the exposed wire around what it's being connected to and tape it in place. This project isn't going to be jostled or moved that much, so taping will be fine.
On to the project. Get the electrical wire and cut it to the following specifications: two pieces that can stretch the diagonal length of the back of the cardboard box, two that are the width of it, and two more that are about one-and-a-half times the length of it.
Now get the battery holder, the switch, and one of the cardboard flaps I told you earlier to save. Cut the cardboard into three equal rectangles. Place the battery holder in the middle of one of these pieces and trace around it with the pencil, then use the x-acto knife to cut the outline. Cut a small switch-sized hole in the bottom left corner of the cardboard. Repeat with the remaining two pieces of cardboard.
Glue all three sheets together, then papier-mâché black paper over it, the same way you covered the cardboard box. Now fit the battery holder and the switch into their designated cut out spots. Flip it around and connect one of the wires from the switch to one of the terminals of the batter holder.
Go back to the electric wires, and split the pairs up so you have two groups of three varying lengths. Attach one of these groups to the open wire from the switch, and the other group to the open terminal of the battery holder.
Bunch together the pairs of shortest and longest length wires and insert all of them through the small hole you made in the bottom left of the cardboard box. Glue the stacked cardboard sheets to the box, letting the pair of middle length wires protrude.
The last part of this step is to attach the LEDs to the ends of the three pairs of wire. But before permanently attaching them, test them first by flipping the switch. If an LED doesn't light up, reverse it so its terminals are connected to the opposite wire.
Step 5: Making the Trees
What you'll need for this step:
"I am the Lorax and I speak for the trees..."
I'm telling you that without the trees this project doesn't look half as good. Seriously, the trees greatly enhance the Red Riding Hood scene. After all, she was walking through the forest, not the desert. I'd say this is the most complicated part of the project, and thus needs the most time. This is where the second book comes in. I tore the pages from it to make the trees, and although you could tear out pages from the book that you glued in the box, it may leave small gaps throughout the pages. Yes, I know it's not exactly a disaster, but I'm really picky, so I used the second book.
To prepare for making the trees, tear out a page from the book and tear it lengthwise into thin strips. Repeat until you have a large pile of shredded paper. You'll need a lot.
Cut two or more lengths of floral wire at random lengths. There's really no measurement to this step, as long as the wire is shorter than the height of the cardboard box.
Put the wires in a bundle, making sure the ends are all at different heights, then tape them together. Bend the wires out at the top to form the shape of the branches, then do the same to the bottom to make the roots. To thicken the skeleton of the tree, tear another sheet of paper from the book, crumple it, and tape it around the trunk. Do the same to the branches and roots.
Now you can begin wrapping it with the strips of paper you tore beforehand. Dip a strip in the papier-mâché paste and carefully wrap it around the trunk of the tree at a diagonal angle. Continue wrapping, working from the base of the trunk to the branches and lastly the roots. It's okay if there are wrinkles, because it'll only add to the uniqueness of the tree. Real trees aren't all exactly the same.
As it dries, you can start cutting out the leaves. Since it would take a very long time to cut out the leaves individually, I devised a method to greatly speed up the process. Tear out a page from the book and fold a small part of it lengthwise. The width of this fold will determine how long your leaves are, so fold it however you like. Now flip the page over and fold it lengthwise the same width as the first fold. Flip the page again, and do the same thing. Repeat until you've run out of space on the page. Use scissors to cut off any excess, then cut out the shape of your leaves sideways all the way up the folded paper. You should end up with a lot more leaves than you would have if you'd cut them out individually.
By the time you've finished making these leaves, the tree should have dried and you can begin attaching the foliage. This is a very monotonous step that will require a lot of patience to complete. You will need to glue every individual leaf to the branches. There is no secret method to hurry up the process. Just put some glue on the edge of a leaf, stick it wherever you want on a branch, and repeat. It's okay if the leaves droop or don't stay exactly where you want them to. When they've dried you can bend them to the position you like.
And once that's done, you've finished your tree. Admire it, show it off to friends, and keep in mind that it's only one tree in a forest.
Step 6: Installing the Moon
What you'll need for this step:
—papier mache paste
Here comes the... moon? The moon is a nice detail in the scene of Red Riding Hood, and helps add some extra light to it. You've already cut out a hole in the cardboard box for it, now you just need to install the moon.
Use the compass (or the circular shaped object you used earlier) to trace out a circle (the same size as the circle you cut in the cardboard box) from a page from the book—preferably a circle holding a quote or words you like. Add some glue to the edges and press it into the hole in the box. Since there's no sun in your project to give the moon light, you'll have to add your own light with an LED. However, if the LED is too close to the moon, there will be a concentrated circle of light in the center of it instead of the diffused light that the real moon naturally has.
Get those extra flaps of cardboard you still haven't used, and cut out four rectangles with a width of about one-and-a-half inches and with a length that is a little bit longer than the diameter of your moon. Now cut out a square with side lengths the same as the length of the rectangles. Use glue to build a box shape from these five pieces of cardboard, with the square as the base.
Use scissors to poke a small LED sized hole in the middle of the base, then use more glue to attach the box (base facing outward) over the back of the moon to the big box. Papier-mâché it with black paper, insert the LED into the hole in the base, and gaze in wonder at the glowing moon you've just installed.
Step 7: Working on the Book
What you'll need for this step:
—sheet of white paper
Now we'll create little Red Riding Hood and the wolf, who are the main characters of the story, so this is a pretty important step.
Start by tracing the outline of little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. Draw it however you picture them, but remember it'll mostly be the outline of them you'll see, so draw accordingly.
Cut the figures out, place little Red Riding Hood on the bottom left page and the wolf on the upper right page, and trace around them with a pencil. The reason I said to draw them on a separate piece of paper first was so that if you messed up, you could start over instead of ruining the page of the book (vintage books tend to not take too kindly to erasing).
Place a sheet of cardboard (such as the flap I told you to save way earlier) under one of the pages of the book, then use the x-acto knife to cut out the outline of the figure on that page. Important! Make sure to leave the feet of the figures attached to the page! Repeat for the other page. Color little Red Riding Hood—you guessed it—red with a marker. I decided to use a piece of charcoal to darken the wolf and make him seem much, well, darker. Fold the figures upwards to a ninety degree angle to the page. You may need to add a drop of glue to the back of their feet to keep them propped up.
Use the x-acto knife to cut a hole through about thirty pages at the base of little Red Riding Hood's and the wolf's feet. Take the LED attached to the longer wires coming from the hole in the back of the box and push it up into the hole by little Red Riding Hood. Do the same thing with the remaining LED to the wolf.
Good. You've added the highlights of the scene. Now all that remains is to put it all together.
Step 8: Putting It All Together
What you'll need for this step:
—everything you've made so far
Here it is: the moment when the completion of your project comes into sight. The last bit is easy, too. Add glue to the bottom of the trees and arrange them however you like on the pages of the book. Add some artistic details, such as sprinkled leaves, a strip of paper glued down to serve as little Red Riding Hood's path, pasted quotes, tree roots curled around the edges of the book—remember it's the little details that matter.
And you're done.
Step 9: Admire
Just several more photos to show different parts of the scene. Enjoy!