How to Make a Shadow Box from an Altoids Tin

Altoids Tin Shadow Boxes

Karen Burene is originally from Flint, Mich., but now resides in the suburbs south of the city. She, like many children, got her first craving for art in class at school, working with paper, cardboard, chalk, markers, glue and yes, dried macaroni. Coming from a creative household didn't hurt either. Her immediate and extended family took part in everything from poetry and metalwork to music and painting. These early days definitely served as creative inspiration. In altered and assembled art, Burene found a medium that recalled her school art classes, and one that allowed her to dive right in as a self-taught artist.

She was originally inspired to become a tinnovator after seeing some other Altoids tin artwork in online blogs. Like many crafters, she took an "I can do that" attitude and got to work creating her own version of the Altoids shadow box. Burene draws much of her inspiration from the ocean, which is evident in her artwork. Her very first box was a mermaid scene that used real seashells and starfish. She's also worked with a Parisian theme with her "Moulin Rouge" shadow box, and some Asian and circus inspired boxes. In the future, she plans to put to good use the small, rusted metal parts she's been collecting for some steam punk-inspired shadow boxes.

Burene uses a variety of materials to create her shadow boxes. The only tools she needs is some needle-nose pliers to remove the tin top, but she uses vintage materials, lace, ribbon, string, wire and any kind of found object she thinks might work. While she does paint some of the tins, the priming and preparation time takes a little too long for her taste. Burene gets around this time consuming task by creatively using fabric and vintage paper products to cover the tins.

In order to make shadow boxes from Altoids tins, there's one material you can't do without -- the tin itself. She gets most of these from buying her own and eating the mints, but she does get some donated from friends and family and occasionally has to purchase the empty tins online. While Burene hasn't hooked up with any other tinnovators yet, she's eager to do so. She keeps up with what's going on in the tinnovation world as a member of two different Altoid art Flickr groups. She draws inspiration from other Altoids artists and pairs it with her own imagination.

While the main reason behind Burene's artwork is for a fun, creative outlet and a good way to make a little money, there is another factor at play -- the environment. The way she sees it, every Altoids tin she can repackage as art is one less piece of metal sitting in a landfill. As the artist herself puts it, "They're just too cool to throw away."

You can find Burene's art at and

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "Altered Altoids Tins.", August 3, 2007.
  • Burene, Karen. Interview, June 30, 2009.