"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

Travel Shadow Boxes: How to Design a Trip Collage

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Do you like to save travel mementos like ticket stubs, foreign coins and other little doo-dads?

Create a one-of-a-kind souvenir by designing a shadow box collage from your trip. Instead of shoving your travel mementos into a drawer or closet somewhere, why not display them in a framed work of art? Compiling your memories into a colorful shadow box is an excellent way to milk your trip and enjoy your travel experience even more.

Ideally, your shadow box collection begins while you are traveling. Keep an eye out for small mementos that might seem like trash at first, like bottle caps and candy wrappers. Hold onto paper documents and brochures that you could cut into pieces for the collage, and gather cheap little souvenirs when you see them. 3-D items are crucial to make your artwork literally stand out and give it that “shadow box” effect.

Once you start paying attention to shadow box-worthy items on your trips, you’ll see them everywhere:

  • Itineraries
  • Maps
  • Business cards
  • Travel brochures
  • Menus
  • Ticket stubs, flight coupons & entrance stickers
  • Local food packages: tea, coffee, candy, sodas
  • Small toys
  • Postcards
  • Key chains
  • Magnets
  • Dried leaves, grass & flowers
  • Pieces of pottery & tile
  • Souvenir stickers – full size or cut up
  • Currency – bills & coins
  • Spices & herbs
  • Artwork
  • Pictures from magazines
  • Beach sand
  • Seashells & rocks
  • Airplane baggage stickers
  • Coasters
  • Matchboxes
  • Receipts
  • Bottle caps
  • Pens & pencils
  • Necklaces, bracelets & jewelry
  • Newspaper scraps in foreign language
  • Pieces of textiles: cut up hats, tee-shirts or placemats
  • Pins
  • Decorated note cards
  • Small toiletries: sunblock caps, tubes of lip balm, blister pads
  • Things you broke on your trip, like sunglasses or jewelry
  • Notes or poems that you wrote
  • Writing in foreign language – get a local to write down your name or the name of your destination

Now get artsy!

Burning Man

Burning Man

1. Buy a shadow box frame so you know the size of collage you are working with. If you think you might want to do a series of shadow boxes (one for each trip), use a standard frame size that is easily available. Use Elmer’s Glue, which makes it easy to rip up and redo things if you don’t get it right the first time. Collages aren’t about being perfect.

2. Dump out all your travel mementos into one pile, ideally as you are emptying your suitcase from the trip. As you look through them, you will start to see a color scheme emerge: blue and gold for Morocco, bright greens and red for Peru, dusty neons for Burning Man. Don’t throw anything away until you’ve decided on the entire design – you never know what little tidbits you might use towards the end.

3. Don’t design your collage on the actual backing board that you plan to use, which is probably the one that came with the frame. Instead, use a spare piece of cardboard or heavy paper that is cut to the exact same size. This will make it much easier when you start gluing things down. Be sure to measure from the inside of the smallest part of the frame, which always seems to turn out a little smaller than you thought it would.

4. Maps are a great starting point for any travel collage. If you didn’t use a map on the trip (or if the map you have is too ugly/big/small/ripped), you can always print one from the web.  Plan to trace your itinerary in glitter glue, a paint pen, yarn or colored marker. To add more details, cut out city names from existing memorabilia, or just print them from your computer. No map? Larger textile pieces also make a great backdrop.

5. Each memento you have can be used whole or cut/broken into pieces. Look at each piece both ways to see which works best. What else does the item remind you of? A bright gold coin could be the sun, a bracelet could be a river, or dried herbs could double as grass.

6. Make it personal by adding tiny photos from your trip. Print the photos in color, cut out extraneous border pieces and add them to your collage.

7. Supplement the scene with purchased items if your collage needs a little juicing up. Not everything in your shadow box has to come from the country you visited! Shop the toy department for little palm trees, animals and other figurines. You can also buy gemstones, tiny tiles, glitter and all sorts of add-ons at arts and craft stores.

8. Finally, add something loose for style: beach sand, dried leaves, feathers, beads from a broken necklace, tiny rocks or shells – anything small and numerous. Remember that these loose items will mostly fall to the bottom, so leave a little space for these extras. You can also glue things directly to the frame, or even on the outside of the glass for a neat effect.

9. Arrange, cut, design and crucially: wait. Some shadow box designs come together right away, while others take a while to coalesce. Don’t glue anything down until your design is complete. Make sure that every piece you want to use is thin enough to fit in the shadow box, which sometimes seem deeper than they are. If you aren’t sure, test it out before committing!

10. Once you’re satisfied with the final design, look over your pile of “trash” mementos and paper pieces that you haven’t thrown away. Are there any final touches you can add? Next, look at your collage with a crucial eye to see if any extra pieces need to be removed.

Peru - The "Pre-Glue" Pic

Peru – The “Pre-Glue” Pic

11. Now take a picture of the collage before you begin gluing everything down, which will need to be done in layers. Refer to this blueprint if you forget which pieces go where! Don’t use Elmer’s Glue on paper items; it can cause wrinkles when it dries. Instead, use a glue stick or rubber cement. Heavier items may require hot glue.

12. Let everything dry overnight to make sure the design is set before hanging your shadow box. Now you have a beautiful 3-D collage of your trip that you can enjoy when you look at it every day.

Happy gluing!



Author: worldromper

I write, wrestle wiener dogs, win big at skee-ball and wander at large on a world-size scale.

One thought on “Travel Shadow Boxes: How to Design a Trip Collage

  1. I seriously love this shadowbox idea. I’ve always been afraid of making one because I feel like I’d forget the placement of things. However, that suggestion to take a photo of how you want things arranged seems like the perfect solution.

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