I have wanted for some time to have a fun way to keep a collection of photographs of our most immediate relatives so that Josiah can “get to know” them from a distance. (We live in Colorado, but our families live in Nebraska and Tennessee.) At first I was thinking a book, or just laminating the pictures as flashcards….and then it struck me that I could incorporate this idea into a set of handmade blocks.

I decided this would be a perfect 2nd birthday present.

I thought I’d share the process with you all in case you have a special little someone who might love their own set of blocks!

In addition to photos of family members, I decided to include the alphabet, numbers, colors, and maybe shapes on the various sides of the blocks. Josiah really likes his flashcards and educational books (identifying objects, numbers, colors, and shapes) so I though this would be a fun alternative. We scoped out wood options at the hardware store and decided to use 2x2s. Please note before starting your block project that the actual dimensions of a 2×2 are very slightly under 1.5 inches by 1.5 inches! Each of our blocks would be approximately a 1.5 inch cube.  (I remember as a child my mom joking that women must be smarter than men because when you go to a fabric store and ask for a yard of fabric they gave you a yard of fabric, but when you go to a hardware store to get a 2 inch by 4 inch piece of wood, they gave you one that measured somewhere around 1.5 inches by 3 inches…so true.)

The first step was finding a photo of everyone. With the help of my hubby (who knows better than I do how to mess around with photos in Photoshop), we cropped each photo into a 1.5 by 1.5 inch square and put them together to print as 4x6s.

I’ll admit this step would be more difficult if you don’t have Photoshop. Of course you could just print 4x6s of all the photos and cut out the faces, but you run the risk of them being too small or too large to fit on the block properly. I am sure you can do something similar to what we did in Photoshop with other photo-editing programs as well, but I’ll have to leave you to figure that out on your own.

I still had extra block faces to fill, and decided that it would be fun to incorporate a puzzle. Based on a tentative plan I have for an airplane themed big boy room, and the fact that I wanted to incorporate bright primary colors onto the other faces of the blocks, we decided a toy bi-plane would work well. We found an image on the internet we liked.

Because there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there are 26 blocks in this set. The image we found of the plane had the dimensions of a 4×6 photo. It would take 24 blocks for a 4 block by 6 block grid puzzle and the completed puzzle would measure 6 inches by 9 inches (4×1.5=6 and 6×1.5=9). Again we used Photoshop to adjust the image size and place the 6×9 on an 8×10 canvas to develop it, and also did some crosshatch editing to make it look more like a painting or drawing than a photograph. (We could have also cut the photo up into 1.5 inch squares to print on 4x6s…but that is not what we did.) Again, I am assuming you can do something similar with your own photo-editing program if you don’t have Photoshop…but be sure that if you want it to print certain dimensions (6×9) you put it on the a standard size canvas (like 8×10), otherwise the machines at your photo center will probably auto-crop it in ways you don’t want. (We have run into this problem in the past).

OK, the most complicated, technical part is behind us. Now it is time to craft! I found some scrapbook papers that I liked. It doesn’t take very much…one 12×12 piece will cover one side of each block with lots of leftover.

I cut up the photos into 1.5 inch squares.

And did the same with the paper.

I put the cut up photos and papers in stacks as I planned out how to cover all six faces of 26 blocks:

–One side would contain 26 letters…the letters I used were something I already had in my scrapbooking stuff, I think from a project my sister did several years ago. They were little stacks of letters (not stickers) that pulled apart.

–Another side would have numbers: 10 numeral blocks (written with sharpie) to match up with 10 blocks with dots to count (made with a paper punch). The additional 6 blocks could be the colors of the rainbow. (10+10+6 = 26 blocks)

–Another side would be for the 22 family photos and 4 shapes (square, circle, triangle, and rectangle). (22+4 = 26 blocks)

–Another side would have the puzzle, which would take 24 blocks. The additional 2 blocks would have additional colors: black and brown (24 + 2 = 26).

–This left two sides of the blocks to be filled by blank scrapbook paper.

As I did this, the hubby cut up the 2x2s into blocks with a miter saw in the garage. I actually really like crafting with wood…and took several shop class electives in high school…but I’ve discovered that I like it even better when my man does it for me. 🙂

One side at a time, I glued the squares to the blocks with Mod Podge.

It look a while, but it worked out pretty well that by the time I got through one side of 26 blocks the Mod Podge was dry enough on the first one to start on the next side.

When they were all done I left the Mod Podge to dry more completely for about 24 hours.

Then I sanded the edges. I have no photos of this step…but it probably took a cumulative 5-6 hours, so you’ll definitely need to plan for that! First I used an 80 grit paper, then softened it with 220 grit. I suppose you don’t need to sand the edges…but I wanted softer corners so that Josiah’s baby brothers and sisters wouldn’t lose any eyes down the road, and was also going for a bit of a vintage look.

After they were all sanded, I sprayed them with clear spray paint to seal and protect them. (The top layer of Mod Podge peeled off of almost all of the photo surfaces as I sanded….it was really old Mod Podge so that may have been the reason or maybe even brand new stuff would do the same, I am not sure).

I learned several lessons of things to avoid in the future. Let me share so you don’t make the same mistakes.

#1. See the big scratch on this picture? That happened when a little splinter of wood got stuck in my foam brush and scratched the photo as I was Mod Podging. This could be avoiding my sanding rough edges of the blocks of wood before gluing the photos on (knowing I would be sanding at the end of the project, I didn’t do so at the beginning).

#2. See all the little scratches along the edge of this photo? That is from the 80 grit sandpaper and could have been avoided just by being a bit more careful not to scratch the photos in the sanding process.

#3. See all the bumps obscuring my sister’s beautiful face? I am pretty sure this is the result of saw dust that got sealed under the spray paint. Although I did clean off blocks before spray-painting, clearly I didn’t do a good enough job. Bummer.

While the blocks were drying, I made a bucket to store the blocks in from an old paint can. This was an afterthought I had after my hubby brought the blocks in from the garage in a bucket about that size. I had saved some paint cans from past painting projects knowing they would come in handy some day 🙂 In the future, I will try to do a better job cleaning the buckets up when the paint is wet…but it worked out fine to scrape off what I could and cover the rest with sliver spray paint.

I used some of the same scrapbook paper and letters that I had used for the blocks and mod podged it to the paint can. I was really pleased by how this simple project so nicely completed the gift!

Click here to see my post showcasing the finished project.


I’m linking up to these fun blog parties:

MixitupThe Southern InstituteMakingSumo's Sweet StuffSew Chatty Keeping It SimpleBecolorfulDIY projects and craftsA Marvelous Messmop it up mondaysBeneath the Rowan Tree The Girl CreativeTip Junkie handmade projectsTodays Creative Blog Confessions of a Stay At Home Mommyworks for me wednesday at we are that family Pincushion Creations Creations by KaraSomewhat SimpleCatch a Glimpse ButtonThe 36th AvenueA Little Knick KnackTickled Pink at 504 MainOne Artsy MamaKitchenFunHere Comes the SunA Little InspirationJoin  us Saturdays at tatertotsandjello.com for the weekend wrap   up           party!Funky Junk's Saturday Nite SpecialPhotobucket

My entry into Strut your Stuff sponsored by Appliances Online and the Bosch Washing Machines

  1. Amanda says:

    I love these! They’re super cute. I really like that you planned out the various sides for an adorable project. My only question? Are these going to be safe if the child chews on them?

  2. Sarah says:

    Oh these are so cute! I just think my little kids would love seeing pictures of themselves on toy blocks. Thanks for linking your projects up!

  3. Alisha says:

    Amanda –

    I gave these to my son for his 2nd birthday…so he was over the stage of putting toys in his mouth, so this was not a consideration of mine. My 10 month old now plays with these now too…and I have still never worried about it. Thin coats of spray paint form a very tight bond, and these look as good (and unchipped) as when I first made them. I would suggest giving these to older children if you are worried about the spray paint coating (the puzzle, number, alphabet, etc. that are on the different sides are not really geared toward babies anyway. For babies, I have made cloth blocks with pockets to insert pictures: maybe I’ll put together a tutorial for those, too.


  4. Janis says:

    I love love LOVE these! I’ve gotta learn how to use my Photoshop…ugh! You have inspired me!!! Excited to be a new follower!

  5. MiaB says:

    You did such a great job. I’m going to put this on my list of things that I have to do 🙂 Thanks for sharing at Sharing Saturday.

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