Introduction: Lord of the Rings-themed Layer Papercutting

About: I'm a senior in college majoring in Journalism with a minor in Graphic Design. I love art of all kinds and enjoy browsing--and making--projects here on Instructables.

The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece trilogy written by J.R.R. Tolkien. When I was a child, my mother read the books to me and my siblings and afterwards we watched the stunning movies. I was enchanted by the magical world of Middle-Earth, and am a super fan of Lord of the Rings today. The books and movies in fact inspired me to begin writing on my own, and from there I have written five novels with more in progress.

When I saw the Fandom contest, I knew at once that I wanted to make something LOTR-related. I love making papercuttings, so I decided to incorporate papercuttings into art, but I wanted the final project to have more than the usual one layer of delicate paper cut-out. Therefore, I decided to make a unique artwork made of seven "layers" of papercuttings. Each layer has something symbolic about it that related back to LOTR and Middle-earth, so if you are a mega-fan like me, you might be able to see some hidden meanings!

So if you want to craft some art that would rival that of the finest craftsman of Lord Elrond in the Hidden Valley of Imladris, read my instructable below and make your own Elven art to display on your walls!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

The supplies for this project are simple and cheap if you don't have them already.

-A wooden shadowbox. Mine measures 19.5x19.5x9.5 centimeters. I got it in a 2-piece set at Michael's.

-Black paint. Any kind will work as long as you can apply it to wood.


-X-acto or craft knife

-Sheets of white computer/printing paper. You could use another kind, but the thicker it is, the harder it is to cut.

-Pencil (Not pictured)

-Tape (Not pictured)

-Rubber Cement glue. It has to be this kind because it has a relatively strong bond while not puckering up and warping the paper.

-Cutting mat. You could use a cutting board if you don't have or want to invest in one.

-Ruler. I use a 2-foot ruler but yours could be longer or shorter as desired.

Make sure you have all the above materials. The only optional item is the paint. Instead of paint you could leave the wood unfinished, stain it, or use some other finish. Just make sure it is not oily or it could harm the paper.

Step 2: Paint Your Shadowbox

This is the easy part! Use your paintbrush to coat all sides of the shadowbox. I did two coats. You could do only one or more than two if you want. Two coats gave me the look I wanted: sleek black without any of the pale wood showing.

Make sure you work on a protected surface. I placed my shadowbox on sheets of paper so the paint wouldn't spoil my desk. Wear gloves, respirator, or any other protective equipment if you think you may be affected negatively by the paint fumes. Make sure the area is well ventilated.

Step 3: Fold and Cut

This is a rather complicated step where if you make a mistake, you may have to start over at the end, and that would not be nice at all!

There are seven rows of papercuttings. That means that we will need at least seven pieces of paper for those layers.

First things first, though. Use your ruler to measure the inside of your shadowbox, both the height and width. The depth of the box doesn't matter as much. If you keep going, you will see that we could always trim some to adjust the depth if the need occurs.

My box turned out to be around 17.5 cm for both the height and width since it is square. (Image 1)

The way I will secure each layer is to glue a strip to the top and bottom of the box. The strip with be one centimeter wide. Add each of those centimeters to the height of the box and you will come up with 19.5 cm. That is how long each sheet of paper needs to be. There is no attaching strip on the sides of the box, which means your sheets should end up being around 19.5 x 17.5 cm. Of course these measurements only work for a box exactly this large. Make sure you adjust your measurements accordingly.

Great! Now you can cut. Use the craft knife and ruler to cut 7 sheets to those measurements. (Image 2)

Now fold each end of the short side for the flaps that will be glued to the top and bottom of your box. The fold needs to be 1 cm wide. (Image 3) Your final sheet should look like Image 4. With the flaps folded down, the square should measure 17.5 cm on all sides.. Make sure both folds face the same side. Now repeat for the other 6 sheets. (Image 6)

Now, stop and think a minute. How do you think we can get the designs of what to cut out onto the paper? What if we make a mistake and can see pencil marks? That would spoil the beautifully pure Elven-white paper forest.

Don't worry, I have the solution. Besides the sheet that will be cut out, we will also need a "template" to draw the design on. Therefore, make another seven folded sheets exactly like those we have already. If that sounds confusing to you, trust me. It will make sense in the next few steps. Keep scrolling down ;)

Step 4: Drawing the Designs

At this point, you will need to draw the designs on the templates. Make sure you use pencil so that you can correct any mistakes or make changes or improvements. Draw on the right side as shown in the pictures, because the fold needs to pointing up.

Feel free to use my designs. If you need inspiration, just google your subject.

The back two rows I designed to have more trees on purpose. This was to create the illusion of trees going into the distance, and they put more focus on the Elven figure near the front.

Make changes to the designs as you like. If you look closely, you can see places where I erased my marks to make a change. This is mostly due to the fact that there was a part of each layer that I wanted to be seen from the front. Manipulate your trees to be positioned for this. Adding a "dead branch" here and there with only a skeletal branch helps to open it up more, too.

Notice how each drawing is completely connected, so that there are no aspects of the design that are "suspended" in the drawing without being connected. Obviously the paper can't be suspended in midair in when it is cut out, so make sure everything attaches to something else. It is also imperative that the designs connect to both the top and bottom strips for securing to the top and bottom.

That's all the instruction for the designs that I have. I think here is a great place to explain the hidden objects in each slide!

Slide 1: The tree resembles one of the Elven-trees inscribed on the Gates of Moria. You can see this design in the Fellowship of the Rings book or the movie with the same title. Also on the tree is some Elvish. If you are a true LOTR scholar, you could translate its meaning: Lothlorien. "Lothlorien" is the name of the powerful magic forest of Lady Galadriel.

Slide 2: Obviously, the focal point of the artwork of this piece is the elf you can see here. I intended for him to be Legolas Greenleaf. Legolas is my favorite character from the movies, so I designed the elf seen here after him.

Slide 3: Mushrooms! Most people who have seen the movies or even read the books may have overlooked these mushrooms. Hobbits are known to avid lovers of mushrooms. They were very fitting to add in this artwork! Beside the mushrooms on the tree is also inscribed a strange rune. This is the sign of the wizard, Gandalf the Gray, which he scratched on Biblbo's door in the book "The Hobbit." (Yes, I had to add some "Hobbit" stuff here, too, since that sets up the entire story of LOTR.) In my defense, the readers out there will also know this is the same sign that Gandalf scratched on a rock on Weathertop Hill in Eriador when the wizard was attacked by the Nazgul. Frodo and his company found this sign when they came up the hill after Gandalf fled. That scene is in the Fellowship of the Rings.

Slide 4: Any reader of the books or viewer of the movies definitely remembers what the ents are, but you might have mistaken the tree-like giant in this artwork for a tree! The Ents played a major role in the fall of Isengard and the defeat of Saruman in both movies and books.

Slide 5: "The Eagles are coming!" These famous words were actually both in the final scenes of the Battle of Five Armies in "The Hobbit" and the last battle in "The Return of the King." The eagles remain rather mysterious in Middle-earth, and their history goes way back to the beginning of time, in Tolkien's book "The Silmarillion." But that's going way back, so we won't get into all that! But the eagles do play a brief but important part in the defeat of Sauron and they helped Gandalf, so I think the addition of one here is a great idea.

Slide 6: The farthest tree to the right represents the second tree seen on the Gates of Moria (refer to Slide 1).

Slide 7: It's a hobbit hole! This was one of my favorite additions. If you look carefully in the finished work, you can see it peeking around the tree. (Warning: this was one of the more difficult parts of the entire cutting, so be careful when you make it!) You can also see flames licking up the branches of the conifer tree on the left side. That was another throwback to "The Hobbit." Remember the scene where Gandalf, Bilbo, and the Dwarves were trapped in the trees and the Orcs set fire to the trees?

I officially made myself want to go see the movies again with those paragraphs! Now you can see what a big LOTR geek I am! Keep reading to finish the project.

Step 5: Secure the Page and Begin Cutting

This is the point when you begin to cut out your designs! First you will need to prepare your template on top of the plain paper on your cutting mat.

Carefully lay the plain paper onto the cutting mat with the folded flap on the underside. (Image 1)

Lay the template directly on top of that. (Image 2)

Tape each corner down securely. Now the plain paper will not be damaged by the tape, and the penciled design is clearly seen on top. Your secured papers should look like image 4.

Using your craft knife, begin to cut out the design. CAUTION: BE VERY CAREFUL WITH THE SHARP BLADE! If there are smaller pieces that can be cut out, do those first. Look at images 5-7 to see what I mean. You want to cut out any smaller pieces first. Then, starting in the middle of the sheet, cut out the larger areas that will be removed.

Step 6: Finish Cutting

Keep working away at cutting out from the middle of the design. If you have a "landlocked" piece and are having trouble removing it, try stabbing the craft knife blade into the paper and lifting it up. (Image 1). Cutting away from the middle should look like Image 2.

Image 3 is what your hobbit hole door should look like. Change up the design if you think this is too delicate for you.

Finish cutting everything out. Now use your knife to cut along the paper at the corners so that the tape is no longer holding it down. Then lift up one corner and carefully lift the template up. Sometimes this part can be a little bit tricky because as you cut, the paper can kind of "attach" on some of the edges if there was enough pressure. You probably won't have any issues, though. If you do, just carefully pry the two apart. Even though the paper looks very delicate, it is surprisingly strong. Nevertheless, be careful! Your finished first slide should look like Image 5.

Image 6 is how you should carry your papercuttings. spread out one hand as wide as you can, and slide the papercutting onto it so that as much of the design is supported by your fingers as possible.Lay the papercutting onto a plain piece of paper and set another sheet on top of that. This is the way you can keep the cutting safe. You can keep stacking your papercuttings between sheets of paper, like a multi-layered sandwich. (Image 7)

Step 7: The Finished Slides

So these are the pictures of what your slides should look like. As I already mentioned, make sure you have a 1-cm folded flap on both the top and bottom, and it is vital that the cutting should all be connected to those flaps. If you want to change the design you can, but these slides are what I recommend if you want to end up with the final project looking as good as mine.

NOTE: the finished Hobbit Hole should look a little bit different than you see in this photo. Originally, this was how I wanted to make it, but I decided to make a little more detail!

Step 8: Connecting the Slides

Now this is the most confusing part about the project, but make sure you do it properly or the whole thing may not work out properly.

First, cut a piece of paper 17.5 cm wide. It should be exactly as wide as your slides.

Make sure the paper flaps are folded the right way, as shown in Image 1.

Spread glue on the flap. (Image 2)

Carefully, CAREFULLY, set the glued edge down at the end of the sheet of paper, like you can see in Image 3. Make sure all the edges line up perfectly.

No need to let the glue dry to keep going. Rubber cement glue has a surprisingly strong bond right away and it dries quickly. Repeat for Slide 2. Make sure you butt it right up against the base of Slide 1. (Image 4)

Repeat for the remaining slides. You should end up having all seven slides glued down like in Image 5. Make sure they are all precisely beside each other and in the right order.

Cut off the excess paper as seen at the bottom of Image 6.

Try to fold all seven slides flat. Start with the back one and work your way up so that the slides don't rub against each other and catch. You should have the top flaps line up beside each other so that it looks like seven strips of paper set beside each other.

Use tape to secure each "Strip-flap" to each other. (Images 7-9) When you are done, all of the flaps should be strongly connected with tape at the ends and middle.

Measure the area of the segmented strip rectangle. Mine turned out (of course) to be 17.5 cm long, and around 7 cm. wide. Cut a piece of paper to that exact size. (Image 10)

Spread glue on one side of the 17.5x7 piece of paper and carefully set it down on the top flaps taped together. (Image 11) This is simply to add more strength and stiffness than a few pieces of tape.

Now the artwork should look like Image 12. You're almost done!

Step 9: Install the Structure

Pick up the paper structure and carefully see if it will fit inside the shadowbox. Some of your ends will likely be poking out slightly; if so, carefully trim them off. (See what I mean by looking at Image 1) Hopefully, your structure will now be able to sit snugly inside the box.

Apply a heavy layer of rubber cement glue to the bottom of your shadowbox. (Image 2)

Carefully set the bottom of the papercutting structure onto the glue. Press it down firmly and carefully make sure it is parallel to the front and back of the box and pushed as far towards the front as possible. (Image 3)

Repeat the gluing process for the top side of the papercutting structure. Turn the box upside down to do this.

Now it should be firmly glued in place!

You might have an issue, however. Because there is no anchor for the sides, you may have some tree branches that flop down. (Image 4) To fix this, carefully spread a line of glue on the edge of the floppy branch, on the flat line. (Image 5) Very, very carefully press it against the shadowbox side where it is at the same level as the rest of the slide it is a part of.

And we are done! Check out the next step for some of my improvements I would do next time.

Step 10: Improvements

Well, after reading how to make this project I suppose you can see how much I love doing art, and how much I love the Lord of the Rings! Making this project was a challenge for me, and it ended up exactly as I envisioned it. However, I do have a few ideas I would add for improvement.

-Possibly make some sort of anchor on the sides as well as the top and bottom. Although it works well as is, having something to hold the sides would help the overall structure to hold together better.

-Add some grass or other plants to the ground.

-Make it bigger! It turned out super cool, but I think making one in a larger size would allow for a lot more detail and more hidden objects.

-Use colored paper or paint the paper. I think that might add some interest to the artwork.

And that's about it! I thoroughly enjoyed making this lovely Elven-art and I hope you will enjoy it too! Thanks for reading my Instructable.

Fandom Contest

Participated in the
Fandom Contest