Make: Cardboard Tube Assemblages

Using a single household supply and a simple process, turn recycled paper roll tubes into sophisticated and striking cardboard tube assemblages!

One of our cardboard tube assemblages hanging against a black surface

I’ve laid out a basic project step-by-step below, but keep in mind there are so many opportunities to make this much more about the process if that’s your jam. I’ve included a few ideas and variations to explore at the bottom of the post.

Press play on the video to watch the simple project setup process…

When you keep it simple with one supply, more time can be spent investigating the material and focusing on its many possibilities…

  • How do the paper roll tube rings look when I turn them on their side?
  • How do things look if I use different sizes of cardboard rings?
  • Can I make different kinds of shape outlines with the cardboard tube rings beyond ovals or circles?
  • What happens if I crush the cardboard roll?
  • What happens if I tear apart the tube?
  • How does it look if I paint the cardboard rolls?
A side view of one of our cardboard tube assemblages hanging against a black surface

You can also use this project to dig into composition and discuss art elements and principles. Shape, form, space, balance, proportion, rhythm, unity, and variety in composition – this has it all (an art class keeper!).

Looking for more ways to turn old cardboard into art? Try our scrap stamp shape collages or recycled cardboard castle building blocks!

For your own cardboard tube assemblages you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts, Etsy, Blick Art Materials, and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • A piece of scrap cardboard or heavy cardstock
  • 4-5 cardboard tubes
  • Scissors
  • Craft glue or a hot glue gun (I like using this adjustable temp kind with kids)

DECORATIVE SUPPLIES:

  • Paints and a paintbrush
  • Foam boards for larger collaborative works
  • Playdough

How to Make Cardboard Tube Assemblages – DIY Instructions:

  1. Gather a variety of cardboard tubes

    The pieces shown here as examples probably only used about four cardboard tubes each, so if you only have short, brown paper tubes, that will work just fine.
    how to make recycled cardboard tube assemblage art
    BUT, if you do have different types (longer paper towel roll tubes, different colors of tubes) the variety is a nice bonus!

  2. Use a piece of scrap cardboard for a base

    Find a piece of scrap cardboard, heavy cardstock, watercolor paper, or another sturdy flat material for the base. The side of a cereal box would also work well.
    how to make recycled cardboard tube assemblage art
    Consider the canvas you want to work on. Do you want to make a square or rectangular piece of artwork? A circle? And would you like it to be horizontal or vertical?

  3. Paint the cardboard tubes (optional)

    This is an optional step, and if you’re going for simplicity and low-prep, you can skip this.

    If you would like to add a little color or more variation to your tubes, it’s easiest to paint them now while they’re still in one piece.

    If this art project is more about the process (and it’s a good one!) you may choose to introduce paint after kids have had a chance to fully explore the plain tubes first.

  4. Cut the cardboard tubes into multiple rings

    Use scissors to cut the tubes into rings of varying sizes. I cut a few long pieces and a few shorter pieces so there would be an interesting dimensional aspect to explore.
    how to make recycled cardboard tube assemblage art

  5. Arrange and play with a composition

    And now it’s time to play! See what kinds of compositions and designs you can create with your cardboard tube selection!
    how to make recycled cardboard tube assemblage art

  6. Glue your final composition to the cardboard base

    Once finished you can use craft glue or a glue gun to glue all of your cardboard pieces to the base. I tried both, and found it was easiest to fill a shallow bowl (I actually used an old peanut butter jar lid, and it worked perfectly) with regular old Elmer’s school glue, then dip the rings in. It’s the fastest and simplest way to cover all of the edges and is less fussy than trying to use a hot glue gun.
    how to make recycled cardboard tube assemblage art
    You can skip this step and just allow kids to continue playing with the tubes. Maybe they want to create towers, or mix in a few different supplies?

  7. Tape a simple wire or string hanger to the back (optional)

    Use masking or duct tape to secure a simple wire or string hanger to the upper center of the back of your artwork. You can skip this and display these as sculptural tabletop pieces as well.

Your cardboard tube assemblage is ready to hang on the wall! From one simple supply…a star of the art room is born!

Two cardboard tube assemblages hanging on a black surface

Variations on our cardboard tube art

We kept our cardboard art fairly simple, but there are so many lovely ways to decorate your assemblages! For more ways to work in different art mediums and nature items you can...

  • Working with younger kids or looking for art that’s a little less permanent and maybe gives a bit more room for play? Instead of gluing cardboard pieces to a backing, roll out some playdough and set out with quite a few cut cardboard pieces. Let kids experiment with making patterns, using the tubes to stamp into the play dough, or just see where the materials take them! You can also fill the cardboard rings with different hues of colored rice.
  • Fill your finished artwork with color. You can experiment with combining different mediums like paints and chalk pastels.
  • Introduce new supplies like pebbles, sticks, bottle caps, or buttons to give the project an entirely different feel.
  • Using loose cardboard tubes and rings, try using the pieces to create 2D representations of objects like flowers, trees, etc. – a fun invitation to “draw” with the cardboard.
  • Turn this project into one big collaborative art wall. You can have kids design their own squares or diptychs (sets of two), then hang them all together, or hang large pieces of cardboard or chipboard on a bulletin board and slowly fill in throughout a season or semester.
A side view of one of our cardboard tube assemblages hanging against a black surface

For more process-oriented art projects, visit our scrap wood sculptures, melted crayon art, or process art play tiles.

For more art favorites, stop by our tutorials for kinetic paper shape art or Memphis paper shape sculptures. or use ALL of these ideas with our free printable kids’ art challenge for an epic exploration of art mediums!

*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Blick Art Materials, Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

Amanda Eldridge
Amanda Eldridge

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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