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Photo cans

If you asked me today to choose a medium in which to focus my future artistic energies, I’d have to go with the photo can. After finding this great Photojojo tutorial yesterday on using tin cans and glass jars as photo frames, I selected three recent pictures I’d taken and made this can triptych:

Photo Cans

So cool! And simple too. I didn’t follow Photojojo’s directions exactly and I have a few observations to offer for those looking to play around with this:

  • Paper quality. I just used regular old printer paper, not glossy photo paper or anything like that. This made the photos look more like actual cheap labels. I also didn’t worry too much about being careful with the glue. Again, a little mistake here and there actually enhances the effect.
  • Glue. I removed the original label from the can and glued the photo directly to the can itself. Instead of rubber cement, I used a glue stick with acid-free acrylic emulsion. The glue stick made application really easy. And I didn’t apply the glue all the way around the can. I just glued down one end to the can, waited for that to dry, wrapped the photo around the can, pulled it tight, and glued the underside of that end to the end already affixed to the can. (When I tore the existing label off the can, I noticed that’s how it was glued on there, so I tried the same thing and it worked.)
  • Can size, etc. Shopping in the canned food aisle of the supermarket takes on a different meaning when you’re not attempting to find green beans for dinner but trying to find aesthetically pleasing art supplies. I went with a larger can, one with stewed tomatoes; its proportions seemed more pleasing than those of a soup can. The problem was that when I got it home, it was almost 13 inches around, meaning that 8 1/2” x 11” paper wasn’t going to work. (I ended up getting some 8 1/2” x 14” paper.) So bring your tape measure to the grocery store with you to make sure the desired can will work with your paper size.
  • No pop-tops. A lot of soup cans now feature pop-tops. Get the old fashioned kind instead…the last thing you want is Uncle Steve lifting your photo can off of the coffee table, fiddling with the pop-top, and, hey!, Chunky Vegetable three years past its expiration date all over the place.
  • Botulism? Speaking of past the expiration date, what’s the shelf life of your artwork? The answer seems to be almost indefinitely when kept at temperatures at or below 75 degrees F, but I wouldn’t advise eating anything from your photo cans after a year or two. The risk of botulism is almost nonexistent in contemporary commercially canned food, but if you see any of your art swelling up, throw it out. In addition, botulism dislikes acidic environments, so you’re probably better off selecting cans with acidic food items in them, like tomatoes, fruits (without sweet syrups), and sauerkraut. But be careful not to get items that are too acidic…over a long period of time, the acid may eat through the can.

Good luck!

Reader comments

Eric StollerSep 26, 2006 at 3:20PM

I think these would be great as pen/pencils holders for my desk!
1) Remove the lid
2) clean the can
3) apply a photo.
4) insert pens, pencils, letter opener, etc.

megnutSep 26, 2006 at 3:31PM

Eric, I had almost the same idea, except I want to use them on the kitchen counter to hold spoons, whisks, and spatulas.

WaylanSep 26, 2006 at 3:37PM

> Eric Stoller says:
> I think these would be great as pen/pencils holders for my desk!
> 1) Remove the lid

Just be sure to remove any and all sharp edges. I have a nasty scar from a tuna can a few years back.

Unrelated to that scar, I also made my own custom can label in much the same manner as a prop for a video editing project back in high school. Unfortunetly I no longer have either the can or a copy of the video. It was fun though and I got extra points for the custom work.

ChrisSep 26, 2006 at 4:11PM

did Andy Warhol do this too? Or just the soup cans?

JustinSep 26, 2006 at 4:44PM

How about decoupage/collage? Print on really flimsy paper and apply glue to both sites of the photo(s). The part I like most about that: the can's ribs show through.

gregSep 26, 2006 at 5:46PM

Thanks for the tips. The last thing I'd want is for my photos to get botulism.

JohnSep 26, 2006 at 6:07PM

You can get one of those safety can openers that cuts around the top edge of the can, instead of puncturing the top of the can. It's a slick opener (with no finger cutting risk) and you can USE the contents of the can, wash it out, fill it with a non-botulistic filler, and maybe superglue the top back on. Or use it as a pen/pencil cup. Your call.

KrisSep 26, 2006 at 6:58PM

I think I'm going to try this - has anyone tried warping the image so that it's corrected for the distortion of the cylindrical can? I have little to no photoshop skillz, but it might be a neat optical illusion if the thing only looks right from one direction.

idogcowSep 26, 2006 at 7:42PM

I guess I am showing my age but does anyone remember the "put your gift in a can" kiosks that sprung up in the malls each december (circa 1975)?

I still have the can that I begged my mom to put a t-shirt in. Have no idea *what* t-shirt it was anymore.... ;)

shelley NobleSep 26, 2006 at 8:30PM

Online friend dudes, I saw this JoJo too and quick like a rabbit thought of super SEXY, fresh as daisies, pint and quart empty paint cans available at your local home centers, etc.! Why?--because they're already spankingly clean, they have RESEALABLE (sorry to shout) paint can type lids and are perfect to put little gifts or special photo albums inside on soft beds of colorful shred or whathaveyou, wrap with your best photos in the same urbane way and live strong and free forever.

Look, par example:

Amit GuptaSep 26, 2006 at 9:50PM

Kris, that's a really cool idea! If you try it, will you send me a link?

pzilligSep 27, 2006 at 3:31AM

An old italian lady give me the advise how to open very old tomato concentrate cans to avoid tomato concentrate on the ceiling: OPEN UNDER COOLD WATER YOUNG MAN! :-P

judsonSep 27, 2006 at 11:21AM


I did this in grade school in the sixties. You are easily thrilled.

ambikaSep 27, 2006 at 11:42AM

I really like this idea. I can remember clumsily painting emptied, cleaned cans in grade school for terrible gifts but never using photos. Will definitely give this a try.

TerralSep 27, 2006 at 12:09PM

In regards to perspective a friend sent us some images of an artist who has the technique down pat.


MikeSep 28, 2006 at 1:31AM

Smooth-Edge Can Opener
- I've got one of these, and it works great!

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.