Isolated Moments – Magical Turner

The next in our Isolated Moments series, aiming to keep spirits buoyed and creativity alive during COVID-19 global social isolating, quarantining and social distancing measures, comes from artist Susie Turner.

During the lockdown I have spent a great deal of time sitting in my mother’s garden, walking in the local landscape and making observations of nature. I am particularly interested in the impermanence of natural processes and the idea that nothing is static or fixed in time – everything is in continual and relative motion. This has led me to explore ways of visually depicting or capturing the movement of time through the use of transient materials and natural phenomena.

This online workshop explores how the phenomena known as the persistence of vision can be used to create the illusion of movement, by making Victorian optical toys called thaumatropes.

In 1825 John Ayrton Paris, an English Physician invented the thaumatrope (also known as a Magical Turner) to demonstrate the human eye’s ability to fuse two still images into a single image when shown in rapid succession.

The thaumatrope was a single device made of paper discs illustrated on both sides. String was attached to allow the disc to be twirled in rapid motion. The two images on either side of the disc tended to be separate elements of a single image. For example, a bird on one side and a cage on the other. Optical toys of this kind were popular during the Victorian era and were important pioneers to the development of early moving image.

To make your own thaumatrope or Magical Turner, you will need:

  • Paper and card
  • Scissors
  • String or rubber bands
  • Pencils or pens
  • Glue or double-sided tape
  • Cuttings from magazines
  • Collected foliage
  • A hole punch or the tip of a pencil to make a hole
  • A circle cutter, a compass or something round to draw around

Select two separate elements for a single image – both elements should relate to each other but when viewed in rapid succession your eye will fuse the two into a single image. For example, a bee and a flower, a bird and a nest or a spider and a web. You can use photographs, cuttings from magazines, found objects or your own drawings. Keep the images simple and with a clear background.

Use a circle cutter, a compass or simply draw around a cup to make two paper discs, both approximately 8-10 cm in diameter. You can use any medium weight paper, white copier paper or card works well. Cut a third disc out of card to make your thaumatrope sturdy and easier to twirl, if necessary.

Make holes opposite each other on the edge of your paper thaumatrope using a hole punch or a pencil end. Thread through string or elastic bands and secure with a knot. Hold each length of string tightly between your fingers and thumb and twirl quickly backwards and forwards.

Susie Turner

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