Making a Still Life Box

My Alla Prima Still Life art class has started, and I have been faced with a problem that has plagued me in this kind of class in the past; too much ceiling light in the class room. You want to be able to control the light on your subject, whether it is a live model or a still life set-up. So, I went home and built some small, portable, still life boxes. In this post, I will show how I did it.

Here are the supplies I used: a sheet of 1/4″ Black Foamcore, a ruler, a long straight edge, scissors, a pencil, black fabric tape (I used 1-inch wide Gorilla Tape), and a box cutter (Actually, I used a table saw instead of the box cutter…more on that later.)

Still Life Box Supplies

Step 1: Using your ruler and pencil (pencil shows up very well on the black Foamcore) mark your Foamcore with the following shapes

  • Two 10″ x 10″ squares  (These will be the sides of the box.)
  • Two 10″ x 12″ rectangles  (These will be the back and floor of the box)
  • One 14″ x 16″ rectangle  (This will be the roof)

Step 2: Cut out these shapes with a very sharp box cutter or any other sharp blade you have. Since I was making eight of these boxes, my husband (bless his soul) stepped in and powered up the table saw. That made quick work of it and cut the Foamcore with ease using a combination blade he has on the machine. If you go this route, be sure to wear your protective eye gear and keep your precious fingers away from the moving blade.

Step 3: Place the following, in order, on a flat work surface:

  1. one side piece  10″ x 10″
  2. one back piece  10″ x 12″
  3. one side piece  10″ x 10″

Still Life Box - Sides

Step 4: Using a long straight edge, line up the bottom edges of the three pieces to ensure the box sides will be even across the bottom when they stand up. Tape the two seams so that all three pieces become one unit. The scissors are for cutting the fabric tape. Keep cleaning the sticky residue from the scissors as you go along. This side of the Foamcore pieces will be the inside walls of your box.

Still Life Box - Tape Sides

Step 5: Reinforce the backside of each taped seam by folding in the side walls and centering a piece of tape along the outside edges of both folds. (Only one of those folds is shown taped here.)

Still Life Box - Tape

Step 6: Bend the tape edges over on both sides and press to seal.

Still Life Box - Fold Tape

Step 7: One-inch tape will not provide enough overlap and will pull away (Yes, even with the Gorilla Tape.), so lay another piece of tape along each edge, overlapping the tape edge to secure it in place. This should provide a sturdy fold, almost like a book binding. Do this for the back side of both taped seams.

Still Life Box - Reinforce Tape

Step 8: You’re Done!! I guess this really isn’t a step. Here is the finished wall of your still life box. The inside seams should only have a single strip of tape. The outside of the seams should have three strips of tape. This causes the sides of the box to fold inward rather than flop back and forth.

Still Life Box - Sides Finished

There are several ways to keep the sides from collapsing too far inward. One way is to lay the removable floor (the other 10″ x 12″ rectangle) within the walls (shown being inserted below). Another way is to place the lid (the 14″ x 16″ rectangle) on top with a small weight. Although, the friction of the lid is enough to keep the walls from floating inward (see top photo).

Still Life Box - Floor

Here is your finished, collapsable, still life box, ready to go to your next class or to be folded away until you need it. Below are some suggested uses and lighting ideas.

Still Life Box - Original Photo

Idea Section:

The lid is cut larger to provide more or less over hang, depending on how much light you want to block. In the photo at left my still life is lit from the front right. The lid is placed with its longest length forward (the 16″ side) providing for a dark background.  In the photo at right my still life is lit from the back providing a more dramatic feel. This was done by pulling the lid forward so that a gap is left at the rear of the ceiling. Then I positioned my light to shine into the gap and thus behind the still life causing the shadows to be cast forward.

Still Life Box - Front Lighting    Still Life Box - Backlighting

How about this idea… Remove the floor and position your box (with its lid in place) on granite or wood (both setups are lit from the front).

Still Life Box - Wood       Still Life Box - Granite

Or maybe… Remove the lid and add a drape (dark colored drape on the left, light colored drape on the right). Then replace the lid to cast the shadow you want.

Still Life Box - Dark Drape       Still Life Box - Light Drape

Well, on and on it goes… Try using your left over Foamcore pieces to make different shaped holes in the ceiling for your light to shine through. The possibilities are endless…now that you’ve made a still life box!


2 Comments on Making a Still Life Box

  • Bobbi Heien says:
    March 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I love your work, especially how you work with light. The realism is amazing. Thank you for the tutorial on creating a still life box, it will be very helpful in my work.


    • Brenda Hash says:
      March 26, 2014 at 5:59 pm

      Bobbi, I’m so pleased you found the tutorial to be helpful.


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