Planet Lamp

You know how you get exhausted easily when you travel? Sure, part of that is walking around, lugging a backpack, and Instagramming with your selfie stick, but another big part is the mental overhead of being somewhere new and not being able to switch on your autopilot. After three years on the road, that sort of just became my life. So when I settled down for a while and could autopilot my way around, I had a lot of extra braincycles to play with.

I still don’t know why, but that’s led to me taking more interest in the arts, and starting to make art of my own. My first project is my (still unfinished) Planet Lamp that I’ve been working on for a couple of months now.

If you want to build your own, you can find the files on Github. This is my first arty thing and I’d rather share it than keep it locked away. Feel free to copy, share, remix, whatever you want!


Since visiting Prague, I’ve become a big fan of the Czech Art Nouveau artist Mucha, especially his use of bold outlines and fine details. Here’s Zodiac, from 1896:


I’m passionate about space too, and wanted to incorporate something planet-y:


And Tiffany lamps are just plain beautiful:


As well as all those beautiful things, I really, really wanted to learn to use a laser cutter:


So, how to combine art nouveau, planets, lamps and laser cutting?


First step: Braindumping everything into a notebook. This has probably been the most sketching and drawing I’ve done manually in a long long time.


I’m learning (and loving) to use Rhino 3D for design work, but I have more experience in Adobe Illustrator. So I flipped between the two, dealing with imperfect exports and weird unit conversions to design the first side of my lamp, Jupiter:


I used several different models of laser cutter, so had to relearn a lot each time (one of the labs was using some hinky, buggy, web-based interface before I discovered a print driver):


After cutting a couple of the sides, I had to see if they would fit together as I wanted. Surprise surprise…they didn’t. Turned out my notching was to blame:

These notches align perfectly...when they're side by side
These notches align perfectly…when they’re side by side

A good friend had mentioned that this exact thing might happen, and I’d worked out how to fix already. So it was back to the drawing board to adjust from sheared notches (a rectangle pulled into a parallelogram) to right-angled notches (a rotated rectangle):

What’s next?

I really want to finalize the sides and make them work together visually more. Then I need to work on:

  • The top: A simple layer that will fit between notches on top of the sides. I’m experimenting with cutting stars into it, and hope those stars will show on the ceiling when the lamp is lit up.
  • The bulb support: There’s an oddly shaped hole in the latest cuts of my lamp sides. This is for a cross-shaped bulb support to rotate in. This works just fine in my mind, but I need to do a test cut to make sure it works in the real world.
  • Glass: I need to find a glass cutter to cut glass to go behind the wood
  • Painting: I want to watercolor each planet and have the colors show through the glass
  • Who knows what else…This is still a work in progress and there are bound to plenty more screw-ups and surprises. That’s what makes it fun!