Make: A Cardboard City Landscape Book

Open the pages of this oversized book, and a big, bold colorful foldout city is revealed! Made entirely of cardboard and paper, you don’t need anything more than scrap cardboard, colorful construction paper, scissors, and a glue stick to make your own as a big backdrop for imaginative play!

Inspired by one of my very favorite artists, Stuart Davis, and the work of a few classic mid-century animators (Bob McIntosh, Jules Engel, Saul Bass and John Sutherland, to name a few) this project is one part art, one part construction and 2 parts play!

Want a little preview of the process and a peek at the inside of our book? Check out the video below!

This is a fabulous exercise in the practice of building layers to create depth and perspective! Because we used simple square cutout paper shapes, it’s easy to move things around, try out different compositions, and learn the basics of creating perspective in 2D art.

Building the cutout paper layers of our city landscape book | via barley & birch

The best part of this project is bringing it to life with your own toys and DIY accessories (or DIY cardboard food trucks) or by adding a few Mid-Century modern shoebox houses. You can even add a small city block park with our cardboard fold-out secret garden!

To make your own cardboard city landscape book you’ll need:


  • A big cardboard box or large cardboard scraps
  • A box cutter
  • Water-activated kraft tape (we use this kind from Eco-Enclose)
  • Acrylic or tempera paint and foam brush
  • Colorful construction paper
  • Scissors
  • A glue stick


DIY Cardboard City Landscape Book Instructions:

  1. Cut 3 large rectangles from a big cardboard box

    To create our landscape book pages, we used a box cutter to cut out 3 large rectangles that measured 12 inches wide by 16 inches tall.

    Cut out the large cardboard pages for your city landscape book | via barley & birch

  2. Bind the pages of your landscape book with tape

    To hold our book pages together, I used water-activated kraft tape (you can find the link to the exact kind I prefer up in the supply list). I know this probably *isn’t* something you have laying around the house, but there are a couple of reasons I prefer it. ONE: it completely disappears when you paint over it, and TWO: it’s biodegradable! If you make a lot of cardboard projects, it’s well worth a special order!

    To bind, simply trim a piece of tape to length, brush with water, and fold over the edges or place along the inner page seams. Notice that there’s a bit of room between the cardboard pieces so they will lay flat on top of each other when folded. If you fold the tape over the outside seams while the cardboard pages are stacked on top of each other, it will ensure you have enough room to lay yours flat too.
    Bind the cardboard pages for your city landscape book | via barley & birch
    As an alternative to this water-activated tape, you can use reinforced kraft packing tape OR wait to tape the pages together until the very end and use clear packing tape.

  3. Paint a “sky” background onto your cardboard book pages

    With your book unfolded and flat, use a light blue (or any color you prefer!) paint and foam brush to add paint a “sky” background onto your cardboard.
    Paint the cardboard pages for your city landscape book | via barley & birch

  4. Paint a simple “street” in the foreground

    Using a light gray (or any color you prefer), paint a simple flattened hill shape onto the bottom half of your cardboard book (see our example below).
    Paint a simple background for your city landscape book | via barley & birch

    This is going to become the “street” in our city landscape. The edges will be covered with your paper buildings, so don’t worry too much about making it look just like ours or keeping the edges clean.

  5. Cut out simple square building shapes from colorful paper

    Cut out large colorful squares from construction paper or cardstock. You can choose a specific color palette, cut squares from magazines & newspapers, or use patterned or textured papers for a different look!
    Cut simple shapes to build the buildings for your city landscape book | via barley & birch
    These are going to be the buildings of our cityscape, so lay them on your cardboard pieces to make sure you’re cutting them to the scale you prefer. Because our cardboard pages are big, our buildings are fairly big too!

  6. Cut and layout your square shapes to create simple buildings in perspective

    Take a look at our cut paper shapes below, can you see how we’ve cut some edges off of our squares and aligned them to give the illusion of perspective?
    Simple cut shapes align to create buildings in perspective for your city landscape book | via barley & birch
    TIP: To make it look like one side of a building is in shadow, use a darker color paper. This adds to the sense of perspective!

  7. Glue your buildings on to your cardboard pages

    Before you begin gluing, lay your buildings on your cardboard to make sure you’re happy with your composition. I used lighter papers for the buildings in the background so they’d recede, and brighter colors toward the front so those buildings would pop forward.

    NOTE: Because this folds up, I aligned the paper edges of our buildings with the sides of the cardboard pages – leaving a small opening along the creases. This will ensure everything still lays flat when folded, and there aren’t any crinkly bubbles in your buildings when your landscape book is opened up.
    Glue down the building pieces for your city landscape book | via barley & birch
    Once you’re happy with the layout, use a glue stick to glue all your building pieces to the cardboard.

  8. Add windows to your buildings with cut paper and glue

    It’s time to add some windows! We cut simple squares and rectangles out of black paper, then glued them to the buildings with a glue stick. For some variation, you can use different shapes or colors of paper. What kinds of windows do you see in your neighborhood?
    Add windows to the building pieces for your city landscape book | via barley & birch
    You can also add some awnings to your buildings as we did! Can you see how we cut a parallelogram out and glued it over the tops of our windows and doors?

  9. Add details to your city landscape with colored pencils or oil pastels

    To finish our cityscape, we added some simple hand-drawn details with a white colored pencil (you can use oil pastels as well, just be sure whatever you use isn’t going to smudge when you close your book!).
    Add details to your cityscape with colored pencil or oil pastel for your city landscape book | via barley & birch
    Can you see how we angled the lines of our street to add perspective? And we chose to draw in light windows for our background buildings. Just as in real life, the farther you get from a building, the less detail you can see clearly – we wanted the details to fade into the buildings.

  10. Glue a ribbon to the back of your book for a tie closure

    Just for fun, we painted the outside of our book a bright color, but you may want to skip that to move right on to play – it’s completely up to you! To finish your book, use a glue gun or craft glue to add a few dabs of glue in the middle of the back of your book. Press a long piece of ribbon into the glue and let dry. Now you have a simple way to tie your book closed so you can slip it on your bookshelf when it’s not in use!Glue a ribbon to the back of your city landscape book so you can tie it closed | via barley & birch

  11. Add a title label to front of your book

    As an optional final step, you can add a label to the front of your book as we did.
    This is the first in a series of landscape books we plan on making, so we wanted an easy way to quickly identify each landscape book and tell them apart!
    This oversized DIY cardboard book opens to create a bright and bold colorful city backdrop for imaginative play! | via barley & birch

If you think your city landscape book is going to see some heavy usage, or you’ll want to be able to add some removable details later for play, you may want to coat your city landscape with a layer of mod podge.

This DIY foldout cardboard city landscape book is an art project and reusable play backdrop all in one! | via barley & birch

You can also pair this fun retro backdrop with our recycled cardboard box city neighborhood, or download a set of city vehicles you can print and color or decorate to add your cityscape!

City Landscape Car & Truck Template Previews

If these cardboard houses set your heart a-flutter, you might also like our torn paper landscape art project, Burga-inspired cardboard building block castles, upcycled toadstool gnome home, or recycled pet play tank (a great way to use up a cardboard box!). Be sure to check out our 100 Little Homes STEAM-Building Challange as well!

Check back for our DIY cardboard SEASON landscape books coming soon!

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Amanda E.
With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.


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