How To Make Awesome Layered Wall Art With Plywood And Paint

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases (more).

Featured Image

Even the hottest art can be made cooler in some way. I like to impart a new dimension onto flat pictures by recreating them on layered plywood “canvases”. This topographical technique takes it to a level you’ve got to see in person to fully appreciate. While this 7 layered fireplace painting may seem a bit daunting, the same technique works with just about any image. It’s especially well suited to (and easier to pull off with) comic panels and animation cells. When you’re ready to liven up that wall space beside the faded Bob Ross poster – and you’re up for some beginner level woodworking and painting tasks – this layered wall art project will give the critic in you something to rave about (see bonus 3D photo gallery at the end)! Let me show you how to make your own layered wall art.

A Versatile Technique For Creating Amazing Layered Wall Art

The foundation of this project is 7 layers of 3/16” underlayment plywood.

I usually use this technique with comic panels and love the results. But to really test its potential, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and try an actual painting. When you dare to try something new you expand your knowledge and skill set. It’s how you grow as a maker and craftsperson (not to be confused with my expanding gut, which grows because of food makers and craft beer).

Art Made Easy

Cinnamon Cooney: Fireplace
This is the original Fireplace painting by Cinnamon Cooney, The Art Sherpa. Used with artist’s permission.

I collaborated with a fellow creator, The Art Sherpa, to bring you this wonderful fireplace themed layered wall art in an easy, approachable manner. For a full, step by step tutorial on how to paint the fireplace, check out her video at the end of this article.

I’ve painted lots of projects; but I’ve never actually “done a painting”. This is literally my first attempt ever at a real painting. So trust me when I say this project is within your grasp. I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that! You’ve got this!

Layered Wall Art – Pattern Seeker

Image with all layers
All 7 layers of the pattern superimposed.

The process begins by designing a set of patterns. In this case, I’ve already done the work for you. Download the free pattern set here: Fireplace art pattern set (Wood ‘n’ Stuff_The Art Sherpa).

I have two different methods for creating patterns. If it’s a line drawing – such as a comic or animation cell – I’ll usually print several black and white copies of the image (one for each layer plus a spare in case I make an error) and use those to plot my layers. When the image is more complicated (like this painting), Photoshop, Inkscape, or some other image-creating software with “layers” does the job.

First look at your source image and identify which elements of the picture are closer and which are farther. Then decide how many layers you want (keeping in mind that each layer is 3/16” thick).

Peeling Back The Layers

All lines
This is how all the layers stack to form the layered wall art.

I usually start with the background and work my way forward. Most of the time the background layer is just a rectangle sized to the overall dimensions of the entire picture.

After I decide what will be expressed on a given layer, I cut it out with scissors (when designing from paper copies). Then I grab another copy of the picture and cut out the next layer. At this point we’re only deciding each layer’s overall shape; the details will be added later.

Making Layered Wall Art Patterns On The Computer

First add “nodes” between the apexes of the various curves.
Smoothed lines
Then go back and shape the lines to follow the arcs.

When designing patterns on computer, I use the software’s “layers” feature so that I can superimpose my lines for the various layers while keeping them as separate, distinct entities.

Floating flames
Parts of a layer I want to be distinct from the lower levels are allowed to “float” in space.

It’s a rather straight-forward process when making a basic two-layered piece. However, when more than a couple distinct depths are involved, it can get trickier. Keep in mind that each layer tends to cover the same area as the ones above it, plus whatever it itself adds to the picture.

But sometimes you may want part of a given layer to “float”. In this project, the surround and some of the flames float in front of lower levels. That is, they have parts that don’t contact the layer below them.

Layered logs
In between the flames you can see how the logs are present in multiple layers.

Areas that flow from layer to layer – like the logs in the above picture – are represented in each associated layer, giving them thickness.

Adding Information When Making Layered Wall Art

No longer hidden
This is the background of another layered wall art project I made. Most of the fence you see was hidden behind a character in the original artwork. But now you can peek around and see it!

There’s a very interesting feature of this technique that may not be obvious at first: Not only is depth being added to the fireplace picture by converting it to layered wall art, but parts of the scene that were intrinsically hidden in the original artwork can now be experienced!

The ability to have “floating” elements means that you can include parts of the scene that were never visible before, things the original artist never even knew were present in their own artwork! And, you can do so without disturbing the original composition at all! It’s like you’re magically imbuing the picture with holographic qualities.

Paper Patterns

Here are six of the eight patterns you’ll need to print.

No matter how you go about creating your patterns, you’ll ultimately need them in paper form (unless you’re cutting yours with a CNC machine). Print the patterns ( Fireplace art pattern set (Wood ‘n’ Stuff_The Art Sherpa) ), trim away the margins and tape them together. There are only seven layers, but two of them (layers 4 & 5) each get a spacer.

Poster print the patterns
Set your printer to “poster” print the patterns across 4 sheets of paper.

Each pattern should be printed across four sheets of standard 8-1/2” x 11” printer paper. Resize them as you see fit; just be sure to scale them all the same.

Layered wall art spacer pattern
These spacers need to be included in both layers 4 & 5. They function as a standoff for the fireplace surround.

Layered 3D Wall Art – Fill In The Blanks

Layer blanks
With a table saw, I cut my layer blanks to match the overall size of the paper patterns.

I used my table saw to cut seven 16-1/2” x 21-5/8” blanks from a little over half a sheet of 3/16” home center underlayment plywood.

3/16" plywood
This inexpensive 3/16” plywood is the perfect material for these layered wall art projects.
Layered wall art rocks pattern
You could condense these rocks and cut them from a smaller piece of material. But cutting them out this way gives you an alignment template that might come in handy later on.

Pattern Transfer

Pattern transfer
Pattern transferred with carbon paper.

The paper patterns can be adhered to the wood using spray adhesive. In this case, I transferred them with carbon paper, using a pencil to trace the lines.

Layer 5 plus spacer
This is layer 5 (top log and flame) with the added spacer.

Cutting Up Some Fire Wood

Cutting layers with a scroll saw
Cutting layers with a scroll saw.

Now that the patterns are transferred, cut them out with a scroll saw or coping saw.

Cutting close up
You don’t have to follow the line exactly. Just stick to it the best you can.

I used a spiral blade because it will cut in all directions. That way the workpiece doesn’t have to be rotated to follow the line; a real bonus with larger pieces. Some people find spiral blades harder to use but I actually find them easier and a lot faster on this thin plywood. Take it slow at first and you’ll get the hang of it.

Layer 5
This piece will become embers, flames and part of the front log.

Sanding The Layers

Pay the most attention to the corners around all the edges.

With many projects, sanding can be a time consuming hassle; but not this time! The faces of the plywood are already smooth enough that light sanding is all it takes. And the edges shouldn’t require much work, if any. So all the tight inside curves aren’t really an issue and can be ignored for the most part (providing your cuts are relatively accurate and clean). If you hate sanding as much as I, you’ll find this to be a refreshing experience.

Most of the sanding is in knocking down the rough, hard corners on all of the cut edges (but not the original outside edges). With 120 grit paper on a cushioned sanding block – or a medium sanding sponge – smoothing this project is quick and easy. Knock down the corners by holding the sanding block at an angle, as shown above. Just take care not to catch and break any of the flames.

Removing dust
Remove the sanding dust with compressed air or a tack cloth.

Layered Wall Art – Marking Where To Paint

Trace the layers
Trace the outline of each layer onto the layer directly below it.

It can be tricky to know exactly where to paint when working with discrete layers. Make life easier by lightly tracing the outline of each layer onto the one directly below it, ignoring any floating areas. Place the second layer onto the background and trace its outline. Then add the next layer and so on.

Use the waste wood as needed to position the parts exactly where they need to be.
Waste wood as a stencil
Sometimes it’s easier to use the waste wood as a stencil rather than the individual pieces themselves, especially with the rocks around the outside.

Painting The Layered Wall Art

Image with all lines
Print this picture from the free pattern set as a visual guide to help you align your painting to the layers.

Here’s where the project temporarily diverges, depending upon the picture you’re creating. It may also be where some of you start to get nervous. If you’re making this fireplace picture, I highly recommend following along with the step by step fireplace painting tutorial video at the end of this article. Combine that with what you learn here and you’ll be in good shape.

If the thought of trying to paint this frightens you and the tutorial doesn’t ease your fears: it’s OK! Your own layered wall art can be as basic or complicated as you desire. This method works perfectly well with simple pictures too; even better in many cases.

Layered Wall Art With Comic Panels

Carbon paper
Carbon paper is used to transfer the lines.

As I keep pointing out, cartoon and comic panels look amazing when done in this style. Painting is a more like coloring in a book than channeling DaVinci. It’s much easier to pull off, too, because the picture elements are usually outlined with bold black lines, making pattern creation a lot more intuitive.

Adding color to layered wall art
The carbon paper lines define the color boundaries and show where to paint the black lines. (This is from another layered wall art project I made.)

Lines Matter – Coloring Comic Panel Layered Wall Art

To paint comic panels and cartoon cells, use carbon paper to transfer the lines. Keep the traced lines narrower than the originals. You want to be able to paint your lines wider than the carbon tracings so that they are all hidden in the final product.

Paint the colors first, then the black lines. Remember that in most cases the shapes cut into the layers will follow black lines in the artwork. So be sure to paint the scroll sawn edges (and not just the faces of the layers) black as needed.

Painting the black lines
After coloring, paint in the black areas and lines, including those previously traced from the higher layers.

Back To The Fireplace

Black layered wall art canvas
This painting is done on a black canvas. The unpainted areas you see are where the rocks will be glued.

This particular painting begins with a black canvas. I used matte black acrylic paint on every visible surface. Notice I didn’t paint the areas that will be hidden by other layers. I also did not paint the rocks themselves black.

Layered wall art spacers
The two spacers only need paint on the inside edges. The rest will be hidden by other layers.
Background layer. I used matte (flat) paints. It only looks glossy because the paint is still wet.
Layer 2
Layer 2

Be sure to paint over and slightly beyond the lines traced from the higher layers to make sure no unpainted surfaces peek through when the layers are stacked.

Color Me Impressed

Color palette
The entire fireplace painting was accomplished with only these six paints.

The painting tutorial recommends specific paints/colors. But I’m a rebel; and I’m cheap. Basically, I’ll rebel as long as it doesn’t cost too much! High quality paints can quickly drag a low budget from the black to the red. The ones I use, however, are only about $0.59 each and they’re perfect for this type of project.

As for the gray, I’ve been milking that same bottle for almost 15 years now. Amazingly, it’s still in great condition!

I just grabbed the closest colors I could find at the local big box store. In the original painting, orange was produced by mixing yellow and red. But the particular yellow and red I used didn’t yield a satisfactory orange, no matter what ratio I tried. Therefor, I shunned the resulting baby vomit and added “apricot” to my palette.

An ugly orange
I wasn’t loving these orange tones produced by my yellow and red. For an orange that better suits the fireplace color palette, I bought a premixed “apricot” color instead.

Since these are matte finish paints, expect everything to look a bit dull and boring at first. After the project is fully assembled, a clear gloss coat will make it pop with vibrancy. In my experience, these layered wall art pieces look best with matte paints followed by clear spray lacquer. Resist the temptation to use glossy paints.

Getting Off To A Rocky Start

Gray rocks
Instead of black, the rocks were base coated gray.

I used three distinct shades of gray to color and “texture” the rocks; the original and two that were created by mixing with white in varying proportions.

Gluing the rocks
When spreading the glue, leave a small margin around the edges to avoid messy squeeze out.

After painting, the rocks were glued to the fireplace surround and set aside on a flat surface until final assembly.

Progress so far
Here’s what we have so far. At this point, only the rocks are glued in place.
Painting tutorial
Having the Art Sherpa painting tutorial close at hand made life much easier.

I’m no painter (I was serious when I said this is my first painting attempt. Since preschool, at least). And I’m definitely not qualified to teach painting. So – for the rest of the painting process – I refer you to the expert. I’ll just throw in some work-in-progress photos to help clarify how it all translates to the layered version.

We’ll resume woodworking when it’s time to make the frame.

Your Many Beautiful Layers

Paint all edges
These black edges might work with comic panels, but here they stand out like a sore thumb.
Painting the log edges
Don’t forget to paint the edges as necessary.

It’s easy to get confused when breaking a picture up into a bunch of layers. If you get lost, just re-stack the layers to get your bearings.

Here’s what some of my layers looked like at various stages during the painting process:

Log sans flame
Layer 5 before painting the flames.
Log with flames
Layer 5 with flames. A few more little edge details and this layer will be done.
Finished background for layered wall art
Finished background for the fireplace layered wall art.
Layer 3 partially completed
Layer 3 partially completed. This one may be tricky to wrap your head around. If you get confused, re-stack the layers and refer to the reference picture to get yourself back on course.

Assembling The Layered wall Art

Marking layer overhang
Marking the layer overhang from behind.

Before gluing together the layered wall art, let’s determine exactly where glue should be. If glue is applied to the floating flames, it may run down and cause a mess. So stack the layers upside down and mark off any floating areas.

Glue on layer 2
Layer 2 with glue on the back and ready to be mated to the background.

As with the rocks, apply glue to the backs of the various layers, not the faces. The background layer, of course, gets no glue. Leave a small margin around the edges to prevent squeeze-out.

Redneck clamps
The layers can be “clamped” by stacking weight on top.

The glue up should be done on a flat surface. Carefully stack the layers and cover them with a flat board that is larger than the pieces being glued. Then stack weight on top of that. Check that the outside edges of the layers are properly aligned and be careful that nothing slides around. For best results, glue only one layer at a time, waiting for the glue to dry before moving on to the next layer.

Layers 1-2
Layers 1-2
Added layer 3.
Added layer 3.
Layer 4 with spacer
Added layer 4 plus a spacer.
Layer 5 with spacer
Added layer 5 plus another spacer.
Layers 6 and 7
Added layers 6 (surround) and 7 (rocks).

Frame The Flame

Wood for flame
These will become the frame.

Now that the hard part is done, let’s frame our masterpiece. The frame is cut from “1 by” (3/4”) pine board to a width slightly larger than the stacked layers are tall, so that the frame will stick out approx. 1/16” farther than the top of the rocks. In my case, that was 1-11/16”.

With shallower pictures, I make my frames stick out at least a 1/2”. But actual dimensions depend on whatever looks best with a given project.

Mitering the ends
Cut a miter on one end of the frame piece. Nothing fancy here; the jig just holds the wood at 45° to the table saw blade.
The bottom of my jig has a pair of UHMW (Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene) plastic runners that ride in the saw’s miter slots.

After ripping a sufficient length of 3/4” x 1-11/16” pieces for the frame, I put my mitering jig on the table saw and cut a 45° angle on end of the first piece. You can use a miter gauge or a different saw to make the cuts, but a good jig makes it easy to be dead accurate.

Align the corner
Align the mitered corner with the corner of the layered wall art.
Marking for miter
Mark for the inside corner on the other end and cut another 45° angle. Make sure the two miters angle in towards each other.
Laying out next side
The other sides are laid out by mating two miters at a corner and marking the other end as before.

Paint The Layered Wall Art Frame

Frame pieces
The frame pieces ready to be installed.

Paint the four frame pieces black on the front and back, the outsides and the inside portions that will be visible. I also painted a fiery glow on the inside of the bottom frame piece. This little touch adds a lot to the finished project, as the frame becomes part of the painting.

Gluing The Frame To The Layered Wall Art

Glue applied
Apply glue to all areas that will contact other wood (the unpainted areas on this piece).

With a picture this large, I feel more comfortable gluing only one frame piece at a time. Once the glue has had a little time to set up, unclamp the assembly and move to the next side. Apply a thin layer of glue to both mating surfaces, but take care to avoid squeeze-out as much as possible.

Applying glue
Spread glue on the frame and the edges of the plywood layers.
Applying glue to bottom
When gluing on the bottom frame piece, remember that more of the wood will be exposed.
Bottom of frame
Be careful where you put the glue on this piece.
Layered wall art clamped up
I used a picture frame band clamp to pull the corners tightly together. Then I added a parallel clamp to the center of the top and bottom.

Layered 3D Wall Art – The Finishing Touches

A happy camper
For my first painting, I was rather happy with the result!

Once the glue dried completely, I sprayed six or seven coats of Rust-Oleum rattle can spray lacquer. This brings out the vibrancy in the colors and protects the project from dirty fingers, dust and humidity in the air. Be sure to spray from all directions to avoid “spray shadows”. Give the back a couple coats as well.

Sawtooth hangers
A pair of saw-toothed hangers were added to the back.

Finally, attach a couple metal hangers to the back and proudly display your work of art. Congratulations!

The Critic’s Review

These pictures don’t quite do the project justice. For a better viewing experience, check out the bonus 3D photo gallery at the end of this article. Then you’ll see why I love this technique so much.

Flame close-up

layered wall art made from plywood

Left side of layered wall art

Right side of layered wall art

The finished layered wall art
The finished piece.

The White Glove Treatment

We hope you’ve been inspired to step outside of your comfort zone and make some amazing art of your own. Whether you build this fireplace or apply the technique to other pictures, it will be a fun, and possibly challenging, project that you’ll be proud to show off.

Free pattern set for this project: Fireplace art pattern set (Wood ‘n’ Stuff_The Art Sherpa)

To see this build in action, check out my video:

The Art Sherpa’s Fireplace painting tutorial can be viewed here:

Bonus 3D Gallery – Beyond The Velvet Rope

In two dimensions, it’s hard to convey how cool this layered wall art really is. So, for those who know how to view stereograms – such as Magic Eye images by N.E. Thing Enterprises, which are actually auto-stereograms (because both views are represented within a single image) – we have a special treat! These are 3D images that can be viewed with the naked eye! If your eyes are clothed, please disrobe them before viewing. I’ll explain how to do it, but here’s a link to another explanation as well (see the part about “cross viewing”):


These pictures should be viewed using the cross-eye method, where you focus at a point between your eyes and the image. It may take some practice and/or cause a little eye strain at first. But that should go away as soon as you find focus and understand what to do.


Get the best 3D effect by viewing the pictures at full size. But if you have trouble, try zooming out or viewing from a farther distance until you get the hang of it.


To understand what you’re trying to do, hold up an index finger about 12 to 18 inches from of your eyes. While looking at your finger, notice how everything in the background now appears as double vision. The same effect happens with windows, though you may never notice it. But you will now!


Each picture consists of two slightly different views placed side by side. As you focus between yourself and the picture, the picture will double (becoming four images). The pictures start out with two images. But as your focal point changes those will double to become four. Let them keep spreading apart until two of the four overlap to create a third image in the middle.


If the images don’t overlap quite right, try tilting your head slightly left or right. Keep your eyes on the middle of the three images and enjoy. Best of luck to you!



Photo of author

About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get access to free prizes, product sneak-peeks, reviews, how-to's and much more!

More Info | Email Privacy

2 thoughts on “How To Make Awesome Layered Wall Art With Plywood And Paint”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.