It was almost 100 years ago that Randolph Douglas opened the Douglas Museum- House of Wonders in Castleton.
A steel worker and silversmith from Sheffield, he also became an amateur locksmith, engineer, artist, caver and collector of minerals and ethnography.
Since boyhood Douglas had been an avid follower of Houdini and emulated his daring escapology tricks as ‘Randini’ before becoming friends with the star.
Douglas also had a passion for making things in miniature- model buildings, locks, tools and machinery- he made them tiny, really tiny. He even wrote the Lords Prayer on paper so small it could be threaded through the eye of a needle!
When the House of Wonders closed in the 1970’s Buxton Museum and Art Gallery took care of his collection. The ‘Douglas collection’ is an eclectic mix of world objects, African weapons, objects of torture, magician’s tools, locks and handcuffs and of course his miniature models.
It was while looking through some of his creations that I came across some wonderful and vibrant pictures he’d made. These were also tiny, no bigger than a cigarette card or football sticker. And they were on glass- or I should say under it- because when I turned them over to look at the reverse they were layered with tinfoil- the brightly coloured type for toffees and chocolate. These pictures depicted tropical birds, local hillside scenery and Peveril Castle which he is likely to have sold to tourists and visitors to the House of Wonders – worlds apart from his interest in escapology and torture!
Ros our museum manager calls these creations the Teofani pictures because Douglas kept all his materials for these projects in his old Teofani cigarette tins. The contents of which helped me figure out how he made them.
Inside there were preparatory drawings with notes on what colours he planned to use. There were pencil and ink tracings too for each design. Douglas had even gone to the trouble of making cardboard partitioned areas in the tins for the different coloured and shaped foil.
What other materials did he use? A fine pen or brush for outlines and some subtle shading must have been done with a translucent glaze or thinned oil paint. He also must have used some sort of adhesive or varnish to stick the coloured side of the foil to the glass.
After I posted an image of one of Douglas’s Teofani pictures on Instagram a follower put me onto the trail of American ‘tinsel Painting’. Apparently, the craft had been around for centuries but had really taken off in the U.S. in the 1800’s (a craze to pacify the ambitions of creative women at risk of straying from domesticity?) Well how apt it is that some of us feel like that right now.
I wanted to try and make one. Reign it in! I’m an archetypal chaotic artist and this craft requires a methodical patience I do not possess… needless to say the first didn’t go to plan.
Neither did the second- but I’d promised to do a blog over Easter, a craft project with all those Easter egg wrappers I hoped you saved …. So here it is and how I made it:
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
Sharpie pen / pens or fine paint brush and acrylic paint
Coloured tin foil
PVA or clear varnish ( or any clear glue or egg white)
Tracing paper or greaseproof paper
Small sheet of clear plastic (instead of glass) I used a piece cut from a packet that had felt tip pens in.
WHAT YOU DO
- Draw a simple design on paper- the size you want your piece to be.
- Make a tracing of it. Flip the tracing over and trace over the drawing on the reverse.
- Now put the clear plastic over the REVERSE side of your tracing and using a sharpie pen or fine permanent marker copy your design onto the plastic. You can be adventurous here and use a fine brush and acrylic paint to lightly paint in some areas i.e white highlights, darker outlines or some fine details that you may not achieve with the foil.
- Once you have done this you can start to add your foil. Plan what coloured foil you are going to use for the different areas. Unlike making a painting you need to start with the details, smaller areas and foreground first. You can use your tracing to transfer some of the shapes onto your foil. Cut these out and apply a small amount of the clear glue/ varnish to the COLOURED side of the foil and stick coloured side down over your drawing on the plastic.
5. Build up your picture in this way- ending with the larger areas of foil as background.
- Flip your picture over and trim the sides. You can make a card mount for your work if you like.
How small can you make your tinsel picture? Share your picture on Facebook.