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Kaleidoscopes work the way they do because of a series of mirrors placed inside the tube. By changing the number and angles of the mirrors, artists are able to create a wide variety of images.
Three-mirror systems have, as you would guess, three mirrors, arranged in a triangle. This causes an endless field of patterns that continues up the whole tube.
Three-mirror mandala pictured at right is the Cadet Dichroic kaleidoscope by artist Jon Greene of Chesnik Scopes.
Most three-mirror systems' mirrors are arranged in an equilateral triangle, creating an even, six-pointed image. Some scopes with three mirrors instead use an isoceles triangle of mirrors, creating the same field of patterns, but with a larger variety of images. This is sometimes called an expanded two-mirror system.
Three-mirror, 8-point mandala pictured at right is by artist Jon Greene of Chesnik Scopes.
Peggy and Steve Kittelson of Woodland Designs have added an interesting effect to their "Sparky" scope by putting a black line along the mirror which creates this radiating look.
Another way to change a three-mirror scope is to taper the mirrors, from large to small, giving the image a 3D, "disco ball" effect. An example is Marc Tickle's "Paper Moon," pictured right.
Two-mirror systems use a triangle of mirrors, but one side is blacked out, making a single, circular design which is dramatically surrounded by black. Depending on the angle of the mirrors, the image can have 4, 5, 6, all the way up to over 100 points!
Two-mirror, 7-point mandala pictured at right is by artists Luc and Sallie Durette of Durette Studios.
Some artists experiment with the non-mirror side of their two-mirror systems. Pictured to the left is Thomas and Carol Paretti's "Sizzle" where they used a scalloped piece of wood, instead of simply blacking out the third side to outline the mandala. That scalloped wood is then reflected onto the other two sides of mirror, creating a scalloped view all around.
On the right is an image from Corki Weeks' "Starry Night," in which she etched designs on the inside of the tube and used colored paper to create a pink/purple effect.
Four-mirror systems which are arranged in a rectangle create a "parade" of images. The four-mirror rectangular mandala pictured at right is by artists Steve and Peggy Kittleson of Woodland Designs.
Like three-mirror systems, four-mirror systems can also be tapered. Artist Arny Weinstein of A. W. Scopes often experiments with tapering his four-mirror scopes. Pictured left is "Tower II," where two mirrors are tapered, and right is "Cuckoo Cocoon," where all four mirrors are tapered to differing degrees.
Four-mirror systems which are arranged in a diamond shape, also known as twin two-mirror systems, create an image with multiple focal points.
Four-mirror diamond mandala pictured is by artist David Sugich of Ultimate Reflections.
Some artists like to give viewers multiple ways of looking at an image by including several mirror systems within one kaleidoscope. One example is artist Michael Collier's "Trio" scope, which has a two-mirror view, a three-mirror view, and a one-mirror "vortex" view created using a curved mirror.
Corki Weeks also has a kaleidoscope with a particularly unique multi-system view. Her "Double Up" scope has one four-mirror "chorus line" view, and one three-mirror view with the mirrors set up in a right triangle. Both views also feature Corki's signature black cutouts over the oil chamber which create changing patterns when you turn the cell. See Corki's page for a video of this scope in action!
Artist Sue Rioux creates many scopes with dual two- and three-mirror systems. Below is an example from her "Echo's Reply" scope.