I think it’s pretty normal to collect treasures and souvenirs while on vacation. I still come home with pockets of shells, rocks and twigs after hikes and beach visits. But what do you do with these “treasures” once you return home? We make vacation shadow boxes.Our favorite type of shadow box to make is the “diorama style,” which includes a background image — postcard or printed photo — a natural element from the destination and some kind of text such as a ticket stub, napkin doodle, coaster; basically, any little scraps you find in your pocket when you unpack but can’t seem to throw away. The collage you make can be as elaborate or basic as you like.
Since there is no right or wrong way to make these, they are a fantastic project for kids as young as five.
Shadow boxes (the deeper the width, the more room you will have to work with. Ours were only about 1-inch deep)
Photos, postcards, maps etc.
Natural elements like rocks, twigs, shells, sand*
Travel trinkets from gift shops, or interesting found objects
Foam paint brush
Tape or glue
Paper and pen
Computer and printer
Select your background image and cut it to size if it’s too large to fit within your frame. We often use landscapes, but you can use whatever you like. Paint the inside of your frame with Mod Podge and press the background image in place. Gently smooth out any air bubbles with your thumb.We made a paper version of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, because it’s so iconic (and because we’re a little obsessed with Yo Gabba Gabba’s version). Crafting homemade versions of landmarks adds charm and personality to shadow boxes. While the topcoat of Mod Podge was drying on the paper arch, we painted a coat of Mod Podge on the background photo to seal it, and give it a little extra luster. We also took this time to look at all of the items we wanted to incorporate into the shadow box, and thought about how to position them. Typically, you want to work from back to front.
To give a little illusion of depth in a very shallow shadow box, grab an old sponge-tipped paint brush, some glue and a pair of scissors.
We cut the sponge- tip in three pieces, dipped both sides of the sponge in glue and sandwiched them between the front of the background image and the back of the arch.This trick works great behind anything you want to keep in the foreground or middle ground of your shadow box, like a cutout of a family member, as shown here. If you opt to leave the glass panel off of your shadow box, the sponge support will deter curious fingers that may be tempted to poke at anything that isn’t flat.
With the background complete and our arch in place, we wanted to cover the floor of the box. Since none of us took handfuls of the red sand common in the eastern part of Utah, we dabbed the floor of the box with some Mod Podge, and carefully dusted on some glitter.
With no ticket stubs or maps left over from our travels, we printed out the name of the National Park we visited, cut it out and glued it in place. I said that we typically like to work from back to front, but sometimes the creative process dictates otherwise.
If you are working with a postcard that is smaller than your shadow box interior, consider using decorative tape, like Washi tape, in thick pieces on the corners of the card for more of a stylized look. You should still glue your postcard in place, as decorative tapes are sometimes not terribly sticky.Once your background is in place, add as many or as few souvenirs as you like.
Think outside the box, literally. On a recent trip to the Sequoias, we marveled at how tall the trees were and joked that they didn’t even fit in the postcards. Extending elements beyond the confines of the shadow box give it a quirky appeal.
Shadow boxes work really well to “scrapbook” more than just vacations. Consider commemorating milestones like birthdays, holidays, graduations and sports accomplishments. They also make really sweet gifts for friends who are moving. No matter how you put your shadow boxes together, remember that the most important rule is to have fun. These are your memories and inside jokes, and putting them on display is a fantastic way to keep them fresh in your minds.
* Remember not to collect things within a National Park. You can find similar items just outside of the park boundaries.
All photos by: Megan Andersen