Real Readers: Corrugated Art


Real Readers is an series featuring the stories of real people making a difference in the world. Are you or someone you know going above and beyond to do something for the Earth? Tell us about it!

After’s most recent fiasco involving corrugated cardboard, we set out to find out what a real professional can do with this common household item.

At the intersection of Reuse and Creativity, we found Mark Langan, an Ohio-based artist whose cardboard creations are being seen around the world, from California to Israel.

Setting out on his crusade to make something beautiful from trash, Langan began his corrugated art endeavors in 2004 in his home workshop. Using nothing but cardboard, non-toxic wood glue, a cutting mat, razor edge and knife, he makes everything from corporate logos to representations of art masterpieces.

Mimicking Munch's famous Getting Started

“I’ve been an artist my whole life, even as a kid with crayons. I carve, sculpt, paint, airbrush, etc,” said Langan. “As an artist I always did quirky things. I stayed to the more abstract things.”

Langan noticed the potential in cardboard as an artistic medium when breaking down boxes. Seeing the texture inside, he knew he had found something unique. “People look corrugated and think ‘oh it’s just boxes,” he said.

The first piece he created was for a neighbor, who gave Langan all of the boxes from their recent move. “It had undulating lines and was sculpturally correct. The way the artwork is perceived from different views, it captures light differently,” he said. “I showed a couple people who thought I was a nutball, but really liked it. My neighbor bought his piece,” he added.

Praise and Criticism

Regarding selling his pieces, Langan notes that “It’s a weird thing to market, because it’s so different. They think the art has a lesser value because it’s made of boxes, but watercolor is just paint on paper.”

When it comes to the popularity of art like this, Langan’s take is that “some people love it, some hate it.”

At first, Langan kept his art to private buyers. For example, one buyer at a gallery where his pieces were being shown liked it for its acoustical property and wanted it to diffuse sound in a music room. But then a window to corporate art opened when another person,  who worked for an international paper company, walked into the gallery. “He was in the business of making corrugated. From there, I started targeting box manufacturers and packaging companies,” he said. “Some companies send me their scrap to create art from it. It’s been a multifaceted way of selling art for me, from manufacturers to people with green initiatives to art in general.”

Langan also creates personal pieces for families. “Most recently, I did an interpretive Jewish Star of David for a family, for a son’s bar mitzvah that has a recycling theme. Then, I started writing the Jerusalem Post, the Museum of Jewish heritage […] When I was doing that Star of David, a gentleman called me from Israel, and now I’m doing my first artwork that’s going to take a trip to another continent for him.”

This logo is made from cardboard, with a background created from a mix of shred scraps and glue mix.Green Scene

“The artwork itself in its essence is green” said Langan. “It’s neat because I do utilize recycled boxes. In fact, the more ‘script’ that is on the boxes [such as the weight, ‘fragile,’ ‘team lift,’ etc] the better.” Langan also added that he is “just trying to get people to take a look at it, not only for its green aspects, but for its art aspects.”

Using a recycled material isn’t easy. Langan advises that, “It takes a while to master. Paper is really strange, you have to be careful when you glue it, or it will bend and stretch.” Langan is also well-versed in lettering and sign-making, and probably gets his drive from growing up with an entrepreneurial father who owned a printing company and would be “proud” of what he is doing now.

With “easily 80 to 100 hours” required for each piece, corrugated art is a labor of love for Langan. Allowing him to work from home, he can spend time with his two children and wife and pick up where he left off later.

In the future, Langan is hoping to continue to grow his exposure across a number of avenues, from museum’s in Oslo to eco-based companies. He’s also going to be featured in an upcoming issue of the Italian issue of Elle, adding that “it’s so interesting, the different people you meet.”

All in all, Langan is happy to be doing a bit of good for the Earth, “with a bunch of boxes. Who’d of thunk it?”

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