Secret CompARTment




About: In which I turn the thoughts from my head into objects in my hands

A few years ago, I made a hanging origami model for my mom. When I saw it again, I realized what an amazing place it would be to hide miscellaneous objects. Each box is a hidden compartment, only one flap can open each box, and because it's hanging art, most people would only look to admire it, not shake it up and down until they hear the telltale rattle of concealed objects.

My version uses origami, but you could also adapt this concept of hiding things in art created from colored boxes by using different materials. Your boxes could be made from wood, for example, and have magnetic closures per box.

Step 1: Materials

  • origami paper (thicker is better so that your objects don't tear through the paper or make the paper sag)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • tape
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • OPTIONAL: cardboard, poster board
These are only the materials for my origami version, but again, you could also adapt this concept of hiding things in pixel art by using different materials.

Step 2: Designing the Artwork

Plan the pixel design first. Keep in mind what you'll be hiding inside each box, and how big each box will need to be, and thus how big your overall design will be. Big object = big box. You can make different size cubes if your design has big and small pixels, but just make sure that whatever objects you want to hide will fit.

I wanted all my boxes to be 3.5cm by 3.5cm by 3.5cm so that my final artwork would be 17.5cm long, 17.5cm wide, and 3.5cm high because my design was a 5 X 5 grid. NOTE: My final design turned out to be 18cm X 18cm X 3.5, so account for the slightly larger result.

I'd suggest looking up perler bead or cross-stitching designs for inspiration if you have enough time to make many boxes. Each box is fairly easy to make; perhaps 5-10 minutes per box once you get the hang of it.

Step 3: Paper Sizing

Now that you have the size(s) of the boxes you need, time to cut the paper corresponding to the size(s). Each side length of your origami paper should be 5 times the side length of your finished box size. Because I wanted all my boxes to be 3.5cm X 3.5cm X 3.5cm, my paper was 3.5 x 5 = 17.5cm by 17.5cm.

Step 4: Making the Boxes

The origami diagram I used is called Pandora's Box by Yami Yamauchi. Follow these directions to make the boxes. Make as many as your art design requires; I made 25 for a 5 X 5 grid of boxes.

Step 5: Connecting the Boxes

Using your glue and/or tape, arrange the boxes however you planned your design. Make sure that for each box, an X (not a smooth side) is facing upward; this is the "opening" of each box. If your design is a straightforward pixel, rectangular design, I suggest that you glue boxes by rows first before gluing the rows together. When you arrange the rows to dry, keep them vertically standing up and put something on top to keep the boxes firmly stuck together as the glue dries.

Use cardboard to make a backing to stick the boxes in the arrangement if it's not a grid-like design.

Now you can either lean it on your desk against a wall or hang it up (just attach some string on the back and tape the string to your wall). I'd suggest hanging it up because then people can't (I quote from my intro page) "shake it up and down until they hear the telltale rattle of concealed objects." (If people reach for it, just shout and defend the artwork's fragility. Or chuck something at them as a warning.)

Step 6: Optional: Frame -- Cutting and Folding

I like to frame my work so I decided to make a frame using a poster board (22in X 28in). To do this, I drew a simple design for it in MS Paint (see colorful picture above). The idea is that I would make a hole in the paper for the artwork to fit in, and then I'd fold and glue the extra paper to the back, out of sight.

I measured the borders of my final design (18cm X 18cm X 3.5cm)and decided that I wanted the frame to be a bit higher than the artwork. SO:
  • white square's dimensions = artwork's dimension = 18cm X 18cm
  • black square's dimensions: 21cm X 21cm (so frame will provide a 1.5cm border)
  • green rectangles' dimensions: 4cm X 21cm (The 4cm part determines the height of the frame so my frame will be about -- actually a little less than -- 0.5cm taller than the artwork.)
  • white tabs'/trapezoids' height = green rectangles' height = 4cm
  • so pink square's dimensions: 10cm X 10cm
  • yellow tabs' height: 2.5cm (any measurement here is fine as long as the tab ends up big enough for gluing later)
  • blue rectangles' dimensions: 21cm X 10.5cm (I got 10.5cm from dividing the length of the black square in half -- 21cm/2.) (if you run out of paper, the 10.5cm can be any measurement as long as it's longer than the border provided by the frame)
I drew the pattern on my poster board, using those measurements as guidance, before cutting it out.
HELPFUL TIP: for folding and creasing thick paper, it's easier to lightly score the paper (drag the blade of your scissors or use a knife on the line) before folding along a line.

Step 7: Optional: Frame -- Gluing

Glue the blue rectangles (from MS Paint image) in a pinwheel formation. Don't forget the four smaller yellow (MS Paint image) trapezoidal tabs too. Also don't overestimate the drying time of your glue. I thought that it would take longer for my glue to dry so I had to rip open some parts and re-glue them in the correct position.

Then put glue on the four larger trapezoids and gently push your artwork in.

Step 8: Hide Your Objects

To hide objects, simply lift a flap of a box (note that there is only one flap that will open the box), open the box, slip your object(s) inside, and close the box as you did in the last step of the origami process. You have many places to hide things -- each box is a hidden compartment.

What will you hide?

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    28 Discussions


    Reply 3 years ago

    I think you spelled "amazing" incorrectly. :)


    3 years ago

    this is extremly hard for begginner oragami makers is there another EASIER way

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Sorry; I understand that this is a difficult origami diagram. There are plenty of other origami box models out there, but this remains the only one that I know of that actually opens from the top instead of from lifting a lid or from the side. Perhaps give this model another try, or search for another similar-but-easier diagram? Sorry that I couldn't help much.. :(


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Haha thanks! The idea hit me with the force of a right hook, and I really loved the concept too.


    5 years ago

    Got my vote, you should enter it into the paper craft contest too!

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you so much! I actually can't enter it for that contest because it's published before January 27th. But you could check out my other contest submission; instead of water, it's colored like fire. ;)


    5 years ago

    This is so cool, love it, have to try making it! Thanks so much! You got my vote ;)

    1 reply

    Thanks for your comment! It took a while to design and make everything, so I'm really happy with how it turned out. :3


    5 years ago

    This is very convenient and great. I love origami and have little projects all over my room, no one will know xD

    1 reply