Webster’s Dictionary defines manufacturing as, “the process of making wares by hand or by machinery especially when carried on systematically with a division of labor.” While not undertaken in the traditional sense, Japanese artist Monami Ohno has nonetheless manufactured large works of art on a small scale—and the level of detail she puts into those works is nothing short of impressive.
Her medium of choice is Amazon corrugated cardboard boxes, which she uses to create an eclectic array of artworks ranging from automatic weapons to futuristic robots. What’s astounding is that she creates them with a level of detail normally only achieved by using precision machine tools. Except, in her case, they’re created using implements normally found in a desk drawer: scissors, box cutters, glue, masking tape, and rulers.
Monami isn’t exactly alone in her cardboard artwork endeavors, as others have used the medium to create their own interesting pieces using more than just hand tools. Poplar Zhou, for instance, creates DIY cardboard sculpture kits employing a laser cutting machine for precision manufacturing. All of his sculpture kits are created from recycled cardboard rendered from what has to be CAD images (what exactly he uses for a template model is unknown) and pieced together using plastic posts and a little glue.
Using a laser cutter on cardboard seems counterintuitive, as heat and paper don’t get along well with one another. You could mask the area with tape while deploying the laser, but you risk tearing the surface of the cardboard when removing the film. This means the power setting needs to be precise—too much, and you risk burning uneven edges; too little, and you won’t cut through. So the laser must be tuned to match the thickness of the board.
CAD platforms and laser cutters are the optimum tools to use if you’re looking to manufacture more than just one of any project, but what happens if you don’t have one on hand? Well, you could always use a CNC machine. And if you don’t have one, you can always build one…out of cardboard.
Dan Chen’s 3-Axis Cardboard CNC Machine isn’t designed for cutting, but rather, transferring 2D CAD-based art designs to paper (although you could affix a laser head if needed). To build his CNC machine, Chen used a single 36-×-24 in. piece of 200-lb. test corrugated cardboard for the machine's gantry, which is pieced together using cut slots and M3 nuts and bolts for the hardware mounting holes.
Beyond the cardboard, Dan’s machine is outfitted with three Nema 17 stepper motors, a TinyG motor controller, several 8mm linear motion shafts, lead screws, and ball bearings. On the software side, Chen employed ChiliPepper to produce the G-code needed to run the machine, which is both free and easy to use, and allows the machine to perfectly match any 2D design. Best of all, his CNC machine is relatively cheap: It cost less than $400 to build.
Regardless of whether you prefer power or hand tools, manufacturing and creating artwork using something as mundane as cardboard can result in beautiful creations. For Monami Ohno, it was a matter of money (or rather, the lack of it) that propelled her to internet and media print fame with her ability to create just about anything using the medium.
Ohno was originally trained in 3D animation while attending the Osaka School of Arts in Japan. However, due to the cost of attending the school, she couldn’t cover the shop fees associated with it and had to find another way to complete her class projects.
After noticing a repository of empty Amazon boxes she was holding on to, she decided to repurpose them for the medium she needed to create those projects. Six years later, she still uses it to create her beautiful works of art. She even holds workshops for those interested in using cardboard to create their own unique projects.