Illuminated Menagerie – DIY on a Budget

With the introduction of the new year and the ending of the holiday season, we are surrounded by clearance sales. This is a wonderful time for crafters. Hello, LED Christmas lights!

Menagerie 7But what to do with your haul?

Have any faeries the attic? A manticore loose in the garden? A few small dragons in need of storage space?

How about an illuminated menagerie? Organize your somewhat-imaginary friends and put those clearance rack beacons to good use.

Here’s what you’ll need. Don’t be daunted by the length of the list. Most items are two bucks or less.


Menagerie 1Hot glue gun (opt. hammer and nails)

X-Acto Knife


Paint brush

Sand paper


Foam board (or plywood/heavy cardboard)

White tissue paper

Black construction paper

Three frames of equal size

Acrylic paint (black and metallic)

Thumb tacks

LED string lights


1 – First, turn your three frames into one. You may need to sand down the sides so they fit evenly (or nearly evenly). Once you know how they fit together, measure them for your box.

2 – Now it’s time to make the box. I made a lighter piece that won’t be able to take much wear and tear. If you aren’t worried about your creation outlasting you (or doing a lot of traveling), I suggest using foam board and attaching the seams with hot glue like I did. If you would like to make a stronger project, use light wood and nails instead.

You will need a back panel the same size as your combined frame. Depending on how you wish to attach it (more on that later), you may want to make it slightly larger than the front frame. That way you have an overlapping edge to work with. If you’re using foam board, it will be easy to shave down to size later if you change your mind. Be sure to cut off a corner of the board so you can slip the end of the lights out. You will also need two side pieces and a top cover. Remember, especially if you’re using foam board, that the front will be heavier than the back, so make sure your box is deep enough to prevent overbalancing. No one wants a fainting menagerie.

3 – Make your creatures. You can make anything you want, including profiles of loved ones, abstract shapes, or just other beasties. On the other hand, you are welcome to copy these. Feel free to print, cut-out, or trace them.

Menagerie 2

4 – Glue the glass into the frames if it is not already attached. Some frames have the glass built in, but many still have it loose, wedged in by the back of the frame (which you will not be using).

5 – Attach a folded piece of white tissue paper to the back of the frames, fold at the bottom, open end at the top. The idea is that the tissue paper will act as a pocket, so separate the sections by gluing the paper together, subdividing it into three pockets. Also, be careful to align the bottom of the pocket with the bottom of the windows in the frames, not the bottoms of the frames themselves. This way, it won’t look like your creatures lost their feet. Once your paper is secure, slip in the figures. Be careful not to rip the paper, or you’ll have to backtrack.

Menagerie 8

6 – Put together the box. Start with the sides, gluing them to the frames. Once they’ve dried, put on the top. Leave the back off for the time being.

7 – Paint it! I used black frames, so I painted my poster board to match before dry-brushing a couple layers of bronze. I added a drip effect on the sides because I wanted to break up the boxy shape. You can add as much or as little decoration as you like.

8 – Fix your lights to the back board. I left this piece unpainted because I have my menagerie set against a wall, so no one will see the back, anyway. To fix the lights, use something reversible. I used broad thumb tacks in overlapping clusters of three or four to wedge down sections of cord. You could also glue twisty-ties to the board and wrap those around the lights. DO NOT PIERCE THE CORD, AND ONLY WORK ON ELECTRICAL PIECES WHEN THEY ARE UNPLUGGED. I love bacon as much as the next nerd, but fried readers just aren’t the same.

Menagerie 9

9 – The only step left is to attach the back. Again, I highly recommend doing something reversible. You want to be able to easily access the lights, and though the bottom is always open, it probably won’t be wide enough to make any changes/replacements easily. You can use something like sticky-tack, or even certain kinds of Command strips. If you have built something with stronger materials, you might consider adding leather hinges or metal clasps. Whatever fits your budget and vision – go for it. If you have the menagerie against a wall, you can even leave the back loose.

10 – Light it up! And enjoy

Flourish 3

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