Upcycled Treasure Box, Using Acrylic Skins

Upcycling is taking something you might throw out and turning into something wonderful, practical, or just plain pretty. I’m a container freak–I love containers for storage, for decorating, and most of all, for gift-giving. A pretty container that holds a surprise is always welcome.

box1Today we are going to take a small cardboard box and dress it up using poured acrylics. Instead of acrylic paints, we are going to use Splash Inks from Yasutomo. Here’s the finished project, so you know where we are going.

I’ve already painted the box a creamy off-white and black, because it’s a sophisticated color combination. I’m planning on filling this drawer-shaped, upcycled, 3-inch x 3-inch box and filling it with mini journal pages. The pages are done with ink-techniques, but today we are working on the acrylic skins covering the box.

Niji1You’ll need the full set of Splash Inks–all four bottles–you can see mine get a lot of use. Also, gather:

  • teflon craft sheet
  • dropper
  • dish palette for mixing Splash Ink colors
  • stirrer (you can use the back of a paint brush, but this one came in my cappuccino from Starbucks
  • Clear Tar Gel–it’s not clear till it dries.

You’ll also need a container of water for rinsing the dropper and stirrer, and some Niji gold sumi-e watercolor.

Mix your favorite colors using the color-mix instructions on the card that comes with the inks, or free-mix your own favorites. I mixed a variety–teal, orange, midnight blue, red, and yellow-orange. In a separate compartment, add a concentrated mix of the sumi-e gold watercolor.


Pour three or four puddles of tar gel directly onto the teflon craft sheet. About two tablespoons of tar gel makes a good size finished piece. I’ve tried glue and acrylic gloss medium for this project, but I find that clear-drying tar gel gives the best results.

drip2Using the dropper, put three or four drops of different colors in each puddle of tar gel. Rinse the dropper well between each color to prevent further blending. It’s fine to overlap some of the colors. The tar gel will slowly spread out until the puddle is the same depth throughout. That’s what “self-leveling” means.

drip4Using the stirrer, blend the colors by dragging the stirrer through the tar medium and colors. I start at one edge and draw the stirrer through to the other side, then circle and cross through the colors like you would if you were incorporating beaten egg whites into a batter–always cutting through the middle.

You don’t want to mix the colors so thoroughly that they blend, but you do want to get swirls of color.

drip3Don’t be afraid to add a drop into the swirls and let it settle and develop on its own.


The gold adds a dramatic effect, but add it last. Because it contains a lot of pigment, it likes to settle to the bottom.

Now comes the hardest part of this project. You have to wait for the puddles to dry completely. It will take at least 24 hours. You can use a hair dryer, but be careful. You don’t want to push the shape around. Do not put this project in the stove or microwave to dry it. Patience produces the best results. If you live in a damp climate, it may take three days to dry.  Here in Phoenix, it takes 24 hours.

You’ll know the pieces are dry when:

  1. The pieces are no longer white, but clear where there is no paint
  2. Touching the top, center feels dry and firm, not sticky, and
  3. You can run your fingernail around the edge and then peel it back without any sticking

Niji5The pieces will want to stick to each other, so separate them with parchment if you are storing them in a box.

Find a piece that is attractive and matches what you plan to place into the box. paint the back with clear-drying glue. Do not use tar gel as glue.

box1It’s nice to have one edge wrap over the edge of the box. Place carefully. Don’t slide the gel skin because the glue will leave a mark on the box. Because the tar gel dries perfectly clear, the skin allows the color of the painted box to show through.

box2Here, I used a large one on the front of the box, and a smaller one on the back of the box. The upcycled box is now a handsome gift box, ready to hold the small journal sheets or other surprise!

–Quinn McDonald is a Niji Design Team member, a collage artist, blogger,and the author of Inner Hero Creative Art Journal, released this week from North Light books.