Egg Carton Torment: Tips and Tricks for Bricks, Flagstones, and More

When I’m not writing (or sleeping, or eating, or…you know), I’m making something. Usually miniatures of one kind or another. The project in the featured image is one from a while ago; my current project can be found on Instagram (glorious_twelfth) and Facebook. I’ve improved a lot as an artist (I think) since then, but I’m still using the same materials: a little plastic, here and there, a strip of wood or two, and…cardboard. Full disclosure: I love cardboard. I started using it to make things when I was a kid. We barely scraped by, most of the time; we didn’t have money for traditional art supplies. Which in some ways turned out to be a blessing–necessity is also, on occasion, the mother of creativity. My grandparents helped me collect things that looked interesting, and imagine what to do with them. I slowly transitioned from making toys for myself to making toys for others, too.

I learned back then that cardboard comes in many interesting densities, and textures. The best of these, at least to me, is found in egg cartons. I’m certainly not the only person who’s made this discovery; lots of miniaturists, and other makers, use them. I can create a tutorial on my specific technique if anyone’s interested, but for the time being I figured I’d stick to some basic do’s and don’t’s. Most of these are based on questions I’ve received recently.

DO buy your egg cartons in bulk. I usually look on Amazon, or in the feed store circular. You certainly can buy them with eggs in them, the regular old way, but that’s a very expensive–and time consuming–means of collecting a material. For the project I’m working on now, I’m using 125 egg cartons. Which I bought, all at the same time, for about fifty bucks. Expensive, you say? Look up the price of a few other options, and get back to me.

Price aside, though, I love the level of detail I can achieve when I start–truly, completely–from scratch. There’s nothing wrong with buying “dollhouse stone,” or whatever, or even real stone. The scale, though, never seems quite right. And really, how could it be? There’s no “right” answer, here, art is what makes you feel something; personally, though, my focus is on replicating the correct look, finally, rather than the correct materials.

DO use an X-ACTO knife and CHANGE YOUR BLADES OFTEN. I cannot stress this enough! Dull blades make for inexact results but, more importantly, they’re also extremely unsafe. You have to push harder, which means you can (much) more easily lose control of the blade. I budget at least one blade per egg carton; this is tough material, it wears through just about everything quickly. So I buy them online, in bulk, just like almost everything else.

DO subscribe to Spotify, or Hulu, or Netflix, or…something. I’m currently in the middle of cutting, and shaping, about 5,700 stones and that’s just for the exterior cladding on one part of the house. I’m only halfway through cutting the bricks (I often make those in batches as large as 10,000 at a time, since I can use them on so many different projects), and I haven’t even started on the flagstones yet. Sure, it’s zen, but…having a documentary I like on in the background sure helps me to remember that.

DO plan ahead. I draw elevations, now. Of everything. Years ago, I winged it. Which…was confusing, and occasionally produced questionable results.  For my current project, meanwhile, I know pretty much exactly what I need–of everything–and how much.

DO make extra. I aim for at least 10% more than I (think I) need. Accidents happen, and it’s really stressful to have to stop what you’re doing and hunt for a completely different set of materials as suddenly you need a few dozen more flagstones.

DO label everything. Trust me, you won’t remember what’s for what. And even if you do, that’s a lot of wasted energy trying to keep everything straight when you don’t have to. The more organized I am, I find, the more energy I have for what I’m actually doing. I also organize, and reorganize my work area constantly. Clutter is just another thing that makes for mistakes. I put away whatever I’m not working on at the moment, whatever I don’t need at the moment. I can always bring it out again, later.

Right now, the only things on my desk are the things I need to prep the rest of this wall. I’ll probably post a picture of my work area, later, on Facebook. It’s a lot more exciting than my other work area, for writing. That’s pretty much…wherever my laptop and I are, usually in front of the fireplace. Especially this time of year.

DO buy flat topped egg cartons. They can be tricky to find, but they’re the only ones that really work. It’s not that you can’t get bricks out of the other ones, you just can’t get very many. I also tend to, after my egg cartons arrive, process them all down by removing the parts I know I won’t use and tossing them. A hundred or so egg cartons take up a lot of room! This way, too, I can examine each one for particularly interesting textures. For example, I tend to use my smoother ones for floors and my rougher ones for walls.

So now I’ll ask you:

What are your favorite nontraditional supplies?

For art, for making, for writing?

What do you turn to, for inspiration?