Message in a Tin

Like so many worthwhile but unlikely projects, the idea for Cigar-Tin Stories, “came from something obsessive.” Kingston author and painter Darryl Joel Berger explains: “One night, as I finished a painting on canvas, I looked over at this stack of tins and then down at the leftover paint on my palette. And I thought, ‘why can’t I paint a cigar tin? And why not put a booklet with a story inside?’”
The project has unfolded very much as the name suggests: Berger starts with an emptied cigar tin (their contents a nightly accompaniment to some schnapps on the back porch) and paints an original image on its front. Next, Berger illustrates a short story, varnishes it, and folds it, accordion-style, inside the tin.
In 2008, Berger started selling his Cigar-Tin Stories, primarily over the Internet, but also in local stores, at writer festivals and art shows, or by request from collectors. Over the last three years they’ve become more and more popular, due in part to their size and affordability ($22 per tin, including postage). They are as much art objects as illustrated storybooks, begging to be handled, opened and read.
Though Berger is a self-confessed lover of both painting on canvas and “old-fashioned” books, he aims to transcend both forms with Cigar-Tin Stories, and each piece is — as he describes — “distinct and highly personal and made from materials that most people would overlook.”
These little tins, featuring streaky and offbeat, melancholy and startling paintings on their fronts, and containing tiny illustrated stories, have crept onto mantlepieces and bookshelves around the world. Most of these paintings have an enigmatic feel to them, a prelude to something else: one features a tiny dog with a shock of white hair, another a pursed-lipped blond winding a blindfold around her face. Berger is a self-taught artist — “I did go to design school,” he explains, “but that’s a bit like learning to swim from a video game” — and an experienced writer. He is the author of a warmly reviewed book of short fiction, Punishing Ugly Children, and a list of short fiction as long as your arm, so all the stories he illustrates are his own. “I just want my stories to live as many lives as possible, by whatever means I can find,” Berger explains. “In a sense each story deserves its own container, its own separateness. Where else does that happen?” (Victoria Hetherington)
For more on Cigar-Tin Stories, you can visit


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