September 28, 2023

Just Around the Riverbend – LEGO® Shadowbox Art

As kids, my sisters and I knew the lyrics to every contemporary Disney song. If I’m being honest, they still occupy a lot more neuronal memory space than they should… Much to my parents’ “enjoyment”, belting out these tunes formed the soundtrack to many family road trips. Among our favorites was Just Around the Riverbend from Pocahontas. For that reason, the Pocahontas Minifigure from the recent Disney 100 collection meant a lot to me. Recently, my younger sister and brother-in-law moved into a new house. As a small housewarming gift, I decided to make them a little LEGO® art piece inspired by the Pocahontas riverbend scene.

Just Around the Riverbend shadowbox

I purchased a 12.7 cm x 17.7 cm (5″ x 7″) shadowbox from Michaels. I cost about $14. The shadowboxes came in varying sizes from much larger to smaller. I thought this was good length and width for a Minifigure display. However, I wanted something deeper. My original vision consisted of a layered forest scene of silhouetted trees. I wanted the canoe floating in front of them. However, the layered background takes up too much space, leaving little for a canoe and none for the paddle. In fact, the paddle barely fit with no background at all. Sadly, deeper boxes only came in much larger sizes. I didn’t want this to be a huge display since the recipients are not big into LEGO® and appreciate the character more than the bricks. The minifig would get lost in a larger set-up. Consequently, I decided to make do with the smaller size.

I could have built a shadowbox from LEGO® bricks, but opted not to.

My Just Around the Riverbend shadowbox was built on a base 24 studs long and 16 studs wide, which fit perfectly into the shadowbox.

Why not build a shadowbox à la Batcave, you ask? Truthfully, I am on the fence about how it looks. The box is very square and doesn’t look as nice close-up as it does in the pictures. While I could build slopes and curves into the frame, I again considered my target audience here. They are not LEGO® fans, but would appreciate the Pocahontas Minifigure. I wanted a frame a little more tasteful than a block of black bricks. You can build nice frames out of LEGO® elements. However, this one needs to blend in with other non-LEGO® décor.

I removed the foam board (black section in the above image) in order to fit the LEGO® base I built.

After scrapping my layered forest idea, I opted for a top down view of the canoe navigating a riverbend. This perspective allowed the canoe and paddle to fit. I constructed a base 24 studs wide and 16 studs high. Incidentally, this fit onto the supporting lip on the inside of the shadowbox. However, the rear cover of the shadowbox has a foam board attached. I removed that to accommodate my LEGO® base. Even with the foam removed, I needed to modify the rear cover in order for it to close. I shaved the edge of the cover by each of the rotating plates that hold the rear cover in the place. This created a downward angle rather than a 90° edge. Subsequently, I bent the metal plates very slightly in order for them to fit into the grooves in the frame that hold the rear cover in place.

A 12.7 x 17.7 cm shadowbox accommodates 24 x 16 stud LEGO® backdrop after slight modification.

A one-stud-wide frame allows the scene to sit on the supporting lip inside the shadowbox.

Next, I framed the LEGO® base with one row of one-stud-wide tiles. This area sits on the supporting lip in the shadowbox, helping center the scene. You can leave it as studs, which means you don’t have to modify the rear cover of the shadowbox as much (you still have to remove the foam). However, I felt the exposed studs made the scene look incomplete. Subsequently, I decided on where my shorelines would be. Each shore sits two plates high above the 24 x 16 stud base. Additionally, there is a “grass” layer above that. The water tiles sit directly on the base. Consequently, you can overlap the top level of the shore on the water.

Just Around the Riverbend top view
“I look once more, just around the riverbend…”

With the bird’s eye view, I still wanted Pocahontas clearly identifiable. Consequently, I opted to place the canoe on an angle. This had the added effect of giving more life to water and scene in general. I achieved the look using two 2×2 turntable elements placed diagonally in the water area. A 1×2 hinge brick and associated 2×2 hinge top plate connected to each turntable. Additionally, I used a 1×2 slope to keep the proper tilt angle. The angle makes Pocahontas’ face and torso detailing more visible when the shadowbox is upright.

I angled the canoe using the technique shown above. This structure is not very visible in the final shadowbox set up because the scene can’t be viewed from the side.

After opting for a bird’s eye view, I angled my character to make her features identifiable.

With the water, shorelines, and canoe in place, I completed the scene with some vegetation. Additionally, I added the pug from LEGO® Friends to represent Percy. My sister and I always loved Percy. With everything in place and box sealed up, my Just Around the Riverbend creation is ready to display! I think it turned out quite nicely and I am inclined to create more of these shadowbox scenes for other favorite Minifigures. What do you think? What Minifigures would you build shadowbox scenes for? Let me know in the comments or reach out on social media.

Until next time,


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4 thoughts on “Just Around the Riverbend – LEGO® Shadowbox Art

  1. Fantastic idea.
    Thank you for including details on the build.
    I might have to try it using a different theme.
    A small pirate boat and minifigure comes to mind.

    1. Thank you! I have no doubt you can do it too 🙂 Sometimes, all you need to do is start tinkering with a vague idea and a beautiful build takes shape. In my case, the build doesn’t always come in the first sitting. I sat down different times with this build before an idea really came forward.

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