Not-Paper or, How to Make Trees

So…would you like to know how to make trees out of a Cheez-Its box?

Okay, let’s back up a little. In the middle of April I decided on a whim to make a diorama. Like a shoe-box diorama. Random, I know, but sometimes you just can’t deny these whims. I haven’t finished it yet, and I probably won’t get to until June because of science stuff, but I did make some awesome trees.  There are probably many ways to make something like this, but here’s how I like to do it. And you end up with great texture.

Props to Rob Murphey and my Intro to Theatrical Design class for this technique.


  • lightweight cardboard box (cereal or cracker boxes–like Cheez-It’s!–work great)
  • pencil
  • scissors
  • old paint brush
  • glue
  • water
  • paper towel, tissues, or TP (something textured can add pizzaz)
  • gesso (or another good primer)
  • paint (I like acrylics)
  • newspaper
  • small pie tin or a bowl you don’t mind getting gluey

Design your tree
Cut open your cereal/cracker box and lay it flat. Draw an outline of your tree. It doesn’t have to look pretty now, as it will get covered up. Also, branches that are too close together or intersecting can be a major pain. Next, cut out your tree! (The box for my diorama is pretty small, which is why I didn’t finish the tops of my tree.)

Find a paper towel, tissue, or bit of toilet paper with a texture that suits your fancy and ideally is large enough to completely cover your tree. Most paper towels and toilet papers are 2-ply. Peel apart these layers–you only need one (more than that doesn’t glue very well).

Next, create a glue/water solution a bowl. The proportions don’t really matter, but it should be pretty watery. Mix well. Protect your working surface with newspaper and, while gluing, some extra cardboard from your leftover cereal boxes.


Place your now 1-ply paper towel on top of your tree. Use your brush to paint on the glue/water mixture. While everything is still wet, push in the paper towel from the sides with your brush to create raised sections. This texture will make your tree awesome.  When your tree is satisfactorily glued and textured, let it sit for a while to dry.

When your tree is dry, carefully peel it up. Some bits may come unglued–that’s okay, you can fix it during the next step. Trim the paper towel within a quarter-inch or so of the branches. Make small cuts in the paper towel perpendicular and up to the tree to make little tabs (see below). Additional tabs around curves are helpful. Wrap these little tabs around the back and glue them down with your glue/water solution. This is a good time to fix those pesky spots that released. Let dry.


Now that your tree is good and textured, it’s time to add character! Prime your tree with gesso–this allows the paint to stick really well (gesso is also great for priming things that normally don’t take paint well…like shoes, for example…). When dry, paint your tree! Embrace the texture you created, and have fun!

You caught me, this is actually a different tree than in the other pictures. This is the original! The other is its photo double.


More trees with this technique (including parts of this diorama):

I still have some paint touch-ups to make on these.

Tissues allow you to better create your own texture (right). Paper towel and TP often comes with its own texture (left).

From an old project.


Don’t limit yourself to trees. Experiment!   Oh, and do post a link to what you create! :)


About Gail McCormick

Science writer at Penn State University; papercrafter, ecologist, theatre-lover.
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