Thursday, March 21, 2013

You Spin Me Round!

Shelburne Museum's Toy Shop is home to many spectacular toys. Amongst all there is to see, my favorite toys at the shop are those that 'trick the eyes.'  These are known as optical toys. 

Learn more about the fascinating world of stereopticons by clicking here.
(Photo from Turtle Point Press's Traveltainted Blog)
Like this stereopticon! Stereopticons make pictures look like they are really in front of you and not flat images on paper. This magic is done by showing our eyes two pictures instead of one: one seen by only the right eye and one for only the left. Our brains then combine both pictures to make one super rich image that looks real.

Stereopticons were expensive toys for some families in the 1800s. But let me introduce you to a simple optical toy that you can make at home: the thaumatrope.
A thaumatrope--also called a 'turning marvel'--is a disc with two different images on each side. The disc has strings attached on opposite ends. The holder of the thaumatrope twists one of the strings. Once it is completely twisted up, he or she takes hold of both the strings and allows the disc to start spinning. Here's the cool part: our eyes continue to see an image for a fraction of second after it has left our sight. So as the thaumatrope's images keep spinning in and out of view, our eyes make the two images appear as one picture.
You can find the original source of this photo by clicking here.

Can you imagine the two images above as one? Spinning this antique thaumatrope would make it look like the hound is chasing the wild birds!

Let me show you how easy it is to make your very own thaumatrope! Here's what you will need:

· Card stock, recycled cardboard, or posterboard (you'll want something thicker than paper so that the attached strings do not rip through your disc)
· String (for large thaumatropes)
· Rubber bands (for small thaumatropes)
· Pencil
· Colored Pencils, Crayons, or Markers (optional)
· Glue stick
I found this gift box lying around to make my thaumatrope. Think green and find an old cardboard box, poster board, or perhaps an old birthday card to make your thaumatrope disc. If what you find has images already on it, trace your disc onto regular paper, draw your designs on the paper, and then glue your illustrations on the disc faces.


I also found a cake round to use as my disc template. I made my thaumatrope really big so you could see, but I suggest making yours much smaller than mine (no wider than 3 inches). It is a lot of work twisting the string to get a big disc spinning!

Now that I have my discs, I'm ready to draw! When you are ready to draw, I recommend picking two images that 'tell' a little story. Here are some ideas to help get you started:

Man on a Horse
You can find the original source of this image by clicking here.

Flowers in a Vase
You can find the original source of this image by clicking here.

Bird in a Cage
You can find the original source of this image by clicking here.

Looking for more inspiration? Click here to see even more examples of thaumatropes!


I used a picture of myself to help me draw a likeness on one circle. Can you see the thought bubble on the other disc? What do you think I'll be thinking about?

My friend Paige helped me outline my drawing with a black marker.

It's time to punch some holes! Make sure the holes line up on each on circle.

Carefully glue the two sides together. Make sure that the holes line up, but also make sure that you glue one image upside down, just like how Paige is gluing the image of me in the picture above.


Finally, you only need to attach the strings! For large thaumatropes like mine, you'll either need really strong rubber bands or good string. But, for small thaumatropes, rubber bands work great.
So what was I thinking about on my thaumatrope? Watch this video of my 'turning marvel' in action to find out!

I was thinking about Claude Monet's Charing Cross Bridge, London, which you can see at the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building when the Museum opens for the season on May 12! Tune in next time, and I'll show you a fun art activity based on Monet's fabulous painting.


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