Thaumatrope: An Optical Illusion at Your Fingertips!

Ages 4+ (Littler artists will need help stapling!)

Fun Fact: Thaumatrope literally translates to “wonder turner.” These thrilling devices have been around since the mid 1800s. 

What You’ll Need:

  • Paper: cardstock, construction, or thicker paper works best but regular ol’ paper will be fine too
  • Scissors 
  • Straws or skewers (or anything sturdy that can be held vertically) – popsicle sticks work, too, but are harder to spin since they’re flat
  • Drawing materials: pencils, colored pencils, markers (pick your favorite!)
  • Stapler
  • Tape
  • Jar, cup or mug to trace

So what is a thaumatrope? It is a spinning optical illusion toy! As seen in the image from 1825 (wow!) the artist drew a bird on one side of the circular paper and the bird’s cage on the other side. Hold the thaumatrope by the horizontal strings from each side and spin it quickly. This action makes it appear that the bird is IN its cage!! 
For our thaumatropes, we’ll use two circles attached back to back on a straw or pop stick (see example pics) but you can try the other way, too! 

Create The Parts of Your Thaumatrope:

  1. Pick your paper and trace two circles of the same size: about the size of a coffee mug
  2. Cut out both of your circles and get ready for the fun 

Create your Drawings:

  1. Think of a PAIR of drawings! A bird in its cage? A spider and its web? A hatless wizard and its hat? A goldfish in its bowl?
  2. Draw, for example, a spider on one of your circles. Draw the web on the other circle. 
    —->Any drawing material will do! Markers, crayons, pencils, even paint if you have it!
  3. For older artists, it’s fun to consider the placement of your drawings! Where will the spider be on its web once the thaumatrope is spinning?

Assemble:

  1. Tape your skewer/straw onto the BACK of one of your circles: remember you need to be able to hold it to spin so make sure most of it is exposed
  2. Place the OTHER circle on top of the taped down skewer/straw: drawing side OUT! 
  3. Staple both circles together: make sure that the straw/skewer feels very secure
  4. SPIN SPIN SPIN and watch the illusion unfold!!! 

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Philly Art Center has been cultivating creative genius in kids and adults since 2004. We inspire every student to create, play, laugh and learn! Learn more