Saturday Studio: Creating a Kaleidoscope

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

Many of us find ourselves with a surplus of free time at home these days. Under normal circumstances, ideally some of that time would be spent visiting cultural institutions like FWMoA. While you can still visit us virtually, that means more time looking at a screen, which I know I certainly don’t need. You may not consider yourself an artist, but think about how you’ve spent that extra time recently–maybe you’re baking or cooking a lot of new recipes, sewing masks, or tackling some neglected home-improvement projects. Or perhaps you’re finding creative ways to entertain your children, like pitching a tent in the living room. In any case, it seems more important than ever that we find ways to activate the creative parts of our brain, whether for entertainment, cultural enrichment, or out of necessity.

A pink glass sculpture by Peter Bremers in the shape of a diamond, cut-out with one line bisecting the center.
Peter Bremers, Dutch, b. 1957. Icebergs and Paraphernalia 11-219. Kiln-cast glass, 2011. Museum Purchase, 2014.87. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Luckily, there are myriad resources popping up on the web for families stuck at home during these crazy times. One of my favorites is the Instagram account Isolation Art School, which posts four or so art activities, mostly by working artists and for all ages, every day! When I saw their kaleidoscope instructions, I was reminded of FWMoA’s glass sculptures on display. One of the attributes that makes glass such a special medium is its ability to reflect and refract light—many glass sculptures really aren’t complete until they’re brought to life by beautiful lighting. Martin Blank talks about the “three-dimensional light” in Repose in Amber, how the light shining through each component of the sculpture creates another form. Peter Bremers’ Icebergs and Paraphernalia (above) casts dancing pink reflections on the wall behind it. Dale Chihuly’s Lily Gold Chandelier appears to radiate its own light. I miss seeing these works in person every day and sharing them with students; but, for now, we can make kaleidoscopes to experiment with light and reflection in our homes. This project is great because not only is it fun to make, it can also provide some learning and entertainment after it’s finished. You can view the original how-to video, but because we don’t all have the same supplies at home, I’m sharing how I made mine below. I bet you have everything you need to make your own!

Here’s what I used:

  • A toilet paper tube (anything tube-shaped will work) for the body of the scope
  • Some thin cardboard (a cereal box would be perfect)
  • An empty chip bag. This is the reflective material to go inside; the shiny side of foil might also work, but the more mirror-like, the better.
  • Glue stick
  • Scissors
  • Tape (any kind)
  • Ruler
  • Clear, thin, but rigid, smooth plastic, the kind of stuff used in a lot of packaging. I used a toothbrush package which was just big enough to cut a circle the size of the tube. This will form the window to contain the shiny things.
  • Plastic wrap
  • Small, shiny things like sequins, bits of Christmas tinsel, beads, etc.
  • Paper to decorate

Here’s how I made mine:

Make the reflective triangular prism to go inside.

1. Trace around your tube on a scrap piece of paper. Draw a roughly equilateral triangle inside, and measure the length of one side.

2. Mark the length of your tube on the cardboard. Your pieces will need to be slightly shorter than this (by about 1/8-1/4 inch) to allow space for the window at the top. The width should be a little narrower than what you measured in step 1 (since we drew around the outside of the tube and these need to fit inside).

3. Cut out 3 rectangles according to these dimensions.

4. Apply glue stick to each rectangle, then glue them down to the non-shiny side of your bag, smoothing out any wrinkles and leaving a bit of space between them so you can cut them out.

5. Use scissors to cut around each rectangle.

6. Check to make sure they fit snugly inside your tube (I originally made them to the exact measurement from step 1 and had to shave a bit off—learn from my mistakes!).

7. Tape them together along the long edges.

Make the window of bits and baubles.

1. Trace around your tube onto your clear plastic and cut out, just inside the lines (again, since we want this to fit inside the tube).

2. Stand the tube upright with the triangle inside. There should be a little space at the top. Fit the window inside the tube, trimming if needed.

3. Cut a thin strip of cardboard, the width of the space at the top of your tube, then glue this down. This will hold your window in place.

4. Now, find a variety of tiny shiny objects to fill your window! I used sequins, clear beads, and some little gold stars that I cut off some tinsel. A variety of shapes will yield more interesting results.

5. Stretch a piece of plastic wrap over the top of your tube (or if you happen to have a lid, just put it on and you’re done). I taped down one side, then, lightly stretching, the opposite side, and repeated, then taped all the way around.

Finishing touches

1. We need to cover the open end of the kaleidoscope to hold the insides in place, and to block out some light. I found some paper that I painted a watercolor wash on ages ago and used that.

2. Find a circle a bit larger than your tube to trace around, then center your tube in the middle and trace around it, too.

3. Cut around the larger circle, then cut “fringe” from the outside edge, stopping at the smaller circle.

4. Fold down the little tabs you just made, fit the cap on the end of your scope, and apply glue stick to the tabs to attach it (I got impatient holding the tabs down until they dried, so I taped around it as well). Poke a hole in the cap just big enough to look through.

5. Now, decorate the outside! You can use whatever paper you like here. Cut out a rectangle the width of your tube and long enough to wrap around the outside, then color, draw, paint, or collage. I went super simple (boring!) and used wrapping paper. Whatever your choice, use glue stick to adhere it to the outside of your kaleidoscope.

Now, look through your kaleidoscope. Try it out under different lighting conditions or use it to look at different objects around your home in a new way! When does it work the best? What makes the most interesting reflections?

Once you’ve completed your masterpiece, share it with us! Post it in the comments on our blog, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter so we can see all of your beautiful art!

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