Shadow puppet of a cat

Use a flashlight to cast shadows with your puppets!

Make Art @ Home—Shadow Puppets

April 28, 2020
Rosanne Kleinerman, Teaching Artist

The LACMA team is working together from our respective homes to bring you interesting content and creative activities while the museum is temporarily closed to the public. We may not be able to gather together, but we can still create something beautiful.

Shadow puppets are an ancient form of storytelling. Artists made flat puppets out of thin leather and sticks. An oil lamp was used to shine a light onto the puppets so they would cast shadows onto a cloth sheet. Think of it as early cinema! You can make your own puppets to tell your own stories with materials you already have at home.

Gather your supplies from around your house!
Gather your supplies from around your house!

Step One: Gather Your Supplies

Before you gather your supplies, wash your hands! Use soap and sing your favorite song twice. Rinse and dry. Now you are ready to make art.


  • Card stock
  • Markers, crayons, or pencils
  • A pair of scissors
  • A hole puncher if you have one
  • Any kind of tape
  • A popsicle stick, a straw, or a twig you found outside

Make your puppets out of sturdy paper called card stock. Don’t have any? You can use a cereal box.

First, ask an adult if it’s okay to take the bag of cereal out of the box. Then make sure you don’t accidentally spill all of the cereal on the floor. Put the cereal in a safe place so you can find it in the morning. Now stop thinking about cereal!

Open up the top and bottom flaps of the box. Cut along the small side panel of the box, open it up, and you will have plenty of room to draw on the inside.

Step Two: Look at Art

Taikan Monju, Puppeteer, 1827, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the Robert and Helen Kuhn Family Trust, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA
Taikan Monju, Puppeteer, 1827, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of the Robert and Helen Kuhn Family Trust, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

Since ancient times, puppets have been used in rituals and ceremonies. Here in this ink and color painting, a puppeteer works his puppets for an audience. What story do you think the puppets are telling?

Step Three: Make Your Puppet

Draw your puppet. Is it an animal? A person? A thingy ma-jingy? I knew it! It looks just like that.

Decorate your drawing. You want your puppets to look as beautiful in the daylight as they do at night.

Cut out your puppets. Watch your fingers, and try to cut carefully so your puppets cast beautiful shadows.

Now think about how the light will shine through your puppet. Use a hole puncher to make polka dots or eyeballs.

Cut holes in your puppets to create interesting shadows.
Cut holes in your puppets to create interesting shadows.

Do you need to cut a larger hole out of your puppet? Here’s how: Draw the shape you want to cut out. Make a small fold inside of the shape. Carefully make a little snip with your scissors. Now put one blade inside the hole you snipped, and start cutting along the lines you drew.

Look, you made a hole!

When you finish decorating your puppet, tape a stick to the back.

You are ready for your puppet show. But first, go wash your hands! You have marker all over your fingers. Use soap and make up a song about your puppets. Sing it twice, rinse and dry. Now you are ready for your puppet show!

You can go outside in the sun and cast shadows on the sidewalk. Or you can act out your bed time story on a wall in your room. Ask someone to shine a flashlight on your puppets so you can see their shadows on the wall. What story will you tell? Is it a musical? A comedy? A musical comedy?

Keep creating new characters!
Keep creating new characters!

In the next few days, keep making character puppets so you can add to your story. Film your puppet show or perform it for your family! Serve cereal. But first, go wash your hands! And make sure to use soap.

We would love to see your artwork! Have an adult post your creation to social media and tag @lacma.

Elsa Casillas says:
April 28, 2020 at 12:49 pm
My family and I really enjoyed making our puppets. The instructions were so easy to follow and the materials were items we already had at home. My kids are walking around the house with their puppets in hand. In the next few days, we’ll make more puppets to add to our collection. I want to thank the artist and LACMA for providing a worthwhile activity for us in these extraordinary times.
Rose Selevy says:
April 28, 2020 at 4:15 pm
Christine Goethals says:
April 29, 2020 at 9:28 pm
So fun! I can't wait to make a variety of puppets to star in my next short film. This could be THE DIY activity to master. Hooray for new ideas and delightful directions that made me giggle! Oh, and cereal.
Christine Goethals says:
April 30, 2020 at 10:29 am
LOVE this project! Thank you for the delightful, giggle-inducing directions and inspiration. Maybe I'll make a million puppets and film their adventures? Good luck to all you puppeteers out there. Stay strong!