Blowing Up the Solar System

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   Posted by: Joy Alyssa Day in blown glass

It all started with Saturn. For years, before we started doing any glassblowing of our own, we had seen ornaments titled "Saturn" that were just a squished ball, usually in dark colors, with a very thick squished ring-blob around the center. Having a science background, I knew these were NOT Saturn! And it really cheesed me off.

BJ had been collecting ornaments that looked celestial in one way or another; mostly resembling cratered moons. These ornaments weren't intended to be planetary, they just happened to look that way to a scientist. He had wanted to collect a planetary set but there were none to be found. Enter... the two of us.

Once we started making our own sculptural pieces, a lot of them were planetary in nature - the Solar System Mobile, a working Orrery, and The Planetary Society's Cosmos Award.

After making a number of larger planets, and with Christmas coming, we decided that we could scale down our Saturn sculptures into more realistic Saturn ornaments, complete with rings etched from Cassini data. We figured there would be a number of people, like us, that would appreciate a more scientifically based ornament. We try to make them as scientifically accurate as we can, given the medium and scale that we're working in.

For example, at the size of the planet orb for an ornament, the rings would be shard-thin, so we have to adapt to single glass sheet thickness, but the rings are cut to the size and scale to the blown glass orb, and then etched correctly to show the various rings and gaps. The rings also have an iridescent sheen on them, to give them a bit of glimmering sparkle. And people love them!

Saturn Ornament

Saturn Ornament

Next we decided we could add Earth and Mars, as those would make great ornaments too. We had already made a number of Earth and Mars sculptural pieces for awards and larger sculptures, so it seemed a simple task to recreate them as ornaments.

We were wrong.

The trouble is that to make an ornament not weigh a ton, all of the detailing color has to be put on when the piece is a very small hot ball of molten glass. Once it gets blown out thin, the glass is too thin to keep reheating to get the color to blend. The glass melts over on itself and deforms into a useless blob. So, we needed to figure out a way to be able to apply the colors and the cloud layers on the ball when it is very small so that when it blows out to thin ornament size, it still looks like it should. This took a lot of finagling and practice, and we have boxes and boxes of weird Earth eggs and deformed Earth type blobs. Haven't figured out what to do with those yet......

Mars Ornament

Mars Ornament

With those three planets offered, we started getting requests for other planets as well. Funny how people have their favorite. We'd get all kinds of wonderful stories of how Neptune, Pluto, or some other planet, held a deep meaning with someone, and could we please make a realistic ornament of that planet. The stories were moving and beautiful, and we soon saw that so many other people appreciated and wanted the ornaments that actually looked like the planet they were supposed to portray, and loved that we paid attention to the details such as the location of the Red Spot, or that Venus has multi-directional wind patterns, or that the Sun actually has a varying ring of sun spots around its equator.

The colorings are based on scientific imagery from various planetary missions, and each planet has its own little details. Plus, they are all in relative scale to each other (actual scale is not possible) instead of all of them being the same darned size as all the others. It's these little details that make the difference to people. And yes, we decided to keep Pluto in the set. Pluto has always been a planet to me, no matter what decisions the science heads decide to make, so I guess that is a bit of artistic license!

Blown glass ornaments for the whole solar system

Blown glass ornaments of the whole Solar System

Blown Glass Solar System Ornament Set

Blown Glass Sun

Blown Glass Sun

So we spent the time and developed a unique recipe for each planet, building the layers of coloring that would both look like the planet in regular lighting and also have a beautiful reflective or refractive glow in the lighting of a Christmas tree. We came up with the full set, right before Christmas last year, and it was very popular. I was making sets even after the holiday season. This year. I've started earlier, and have the recipe for each planet written down so I don't have to keep trying to remember what I did when I'm frazzled on no sleep. Silly me.

What do you think? Do you like them? What's your favorite planet?

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