Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Tiny Marbles, Big Horizons

In the midst of getting my Etsy shop back and alive with new glass in it, I've had a lot of interest in very small galaxy marbles. These days I try to avoid making really big or really little marbles; it doesn't matter how big I make a marble I always get people asking if I can make them even bigger. I not sure if they even want to buy them, I think people just want to see football sized marbles! I used to try and pump them up as much as I could, often loosing some of the nice optical illusions and depth because I pushed them too far. Not to mention the hours twirling a hot heavy marble trying to get it into shape!

I've also try to avoid doing small ones, unless it's a quick test of a new colour or technique, when they start getting under about 20mm they become really tricky to hold and shape well. And to be blunt, despite the work involved, because of the small size people expect them to be sold for pennies. So these days I try to go for a comfortable balance between sizes, going often for the size the marble wants to be.

Then about a month ago I had an interesting enquiry from a chap who was re-creating the 'Men In Black' Orion's Belt prop. For those few people who haven't seen the movie, it's a little metal pendant that hangs from a cat's (a cat called Orion) collar, inside which is a little marble which contains an entire miniature galaxy. Well, it is a sci-fi/fantasy film!

I've had a few requests like this in the past, but what has made this different is that he's been using 3D printing techniques to produce it. As yet I've not seen the kit or bits, but I've had several enquires asking for marbles 18mm or smaller!

Setting to work to make some I soon realised why I try not to work at this scale, to start with I couldn't make anything smaller than 20mm, but a few more fails and I was starting to get the hang of the smaller ones. The next problem has been trying to get the detail into them. Many of the colours I use don't work when thinned down this small. Some of the colours just vanished, others just refused to play. I had this problem before with opaque reds in flower marbles which go from vibrant colour to a mud red when they thin out. Even the dichoric glass became a problem as it's really a very thin metal coating on sheets of 3-5mm glass. This needs to have another layer of glass locked over it, sometimes 2 or 3 layers in a sandwich, so suddenly there is 6-10mm of glass. It doesn't sound much, but throw in backing colours that add up to 3mm of glass at the base, and that it's only at the extreme equator of the marble that's the thickest part and suddenly every mm counts!

They are getting better, and more detailed, as I find tricks and colours that let me get around these problems. I don't think I am ever going to ever exactly copy the CGI created original, which I know it what the people making these props really want! In the meantime it's been quite interesting to make them at such extremes, and they've seemed to go down well with marble and glass collectors too.

 While all this has been going on I've had to drastically increase my shipping charges to USA & Canada, so that I can send parcels tracked and signed for, as I've had an awful run of packages not turning up. One of these was a commission for tiny marbles as well, which were even smaller and a nightmare to make. A compensation claim from Royal Mail can take months, (and I've had them wanting to prove how much it costs in materials to make) but it's letting down customers I hate most. I'm not using small envelopes anymore either, larger ones stops them being slipped into pockets, and gives more room for all the Post Office stickers! I once had a parcel from the USA with 14 USPS and PO stickers on it, so I've no idea how many end up on the ones I send to USA!

I'm going to try and add a few more, but I will have to stop adding to my Etsy shop for a while. Along with the run up to Xmas I have the MCM Expo at the end of October which I am frantically getting ready for, plus being at Greenwich! I may not be at Greenwich on some Sundays to give me chance to get ready, but I will try and make Saturdays (and possibly some Fridays too so I can avoid travelling to London during rail engineering works!)

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