Solar System Projects: Mini Clay, Paper Mache, and Yarn Ball
Artistic solar system models can be simple enough for a preschooler or advanced enough for older kids, teens, and adults. The three science project ideas in this article can be used for almost any age level, as you can keep the creations simple or venture to the more elaborate. The learning concepts you add can be as straightforward as the names of the planets or as complex as calculating planet rotation rates. These are fun and cool space projects that everyone will enjoy. As an added bonus, the artwork is so special that you will want to keep it as a tabletop or room decoration.
How to Make a Mini Clay Solar System
My 12-year-old daughter is a mini clay food artist, so I commissioned her to use some basic clay techniques to make a mini solar system. The methods she uses are easy to learn. Some that she demonstrated are:
- using craft sand for texture (Sun),
- using a ball tool to create craters (Mercury),
- twisting and folding clay for a swirled effect (Venus, Mars, and Saturn),
- cutting out clay shapes (Earth and Jupiter),
- scraping powder from chalk pastels to add another layer of color (Uranus), and
- mixing two clay colors for a marbling effect (Neptune).
Using the instructions below, you can make your own.
- tile, cutting board, or another smooth surface to work on
- oven-bake polymer clay: black and assorted colors
- orange craft sand
- royal blue chalk pastel
- clay tools* - ball stylus tools, clay cleaning tool (looks like a mini chisel), clay blade, mini circle cutter
- small paintbrush
- black floral wire
- wire cutters*
- parchment paper
- cookie sheet
*Younger children will need adult supervision with any sharp tools.
- Create the sun, base, and eight planets as shown in the photos above. The chart below will give you ideas for clay colors and techniques you may want to use to create your own designs.
- The planets will be attached to the black base with the floral wire, so cut eight pieces of wire in ascending lengths as shown in the picture below. Attach Mercury to the shortest wire, and Neptune to the longest to accurately depict each planet's distance from the Sun. Each remaining planet should be paired with the wire that corresponds to its distance from the Sun.
- Using pliers, bend one end of each wire up (about 1/2 inch) to form a right angle so that it will hold a clay planet.
- Follow the layout of planets in the picture below or play around with your own design.
- Once you decide on the placement of the planets, stick the straight end of the shortest wire in the base and attach Mercury to the other end. Repeat the process for the other wires and planets. If one side of the model is leaning over, you may have to rearrange them.
- Before baking, remove the planets from the wires and set aside with the Sun. Place the black base with attached wires on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Follow the baking instructions for the clay you are using. (We used Sculpey clay and baked for 15 minutes at 275 degrees.)
- Let the base cool, and then add the planets to the wires. Place the Sun on the cookie sheet, but not on the base. Again, follow baking instructions for the clay you used. (We baked for 15 more minutes at 275 degrees.) Let cool.
- Once the solar system model is cooled, you can add the Sun to the base. For extra durability, you can glue it to the base.
Assembling Your ProjectClick thumbnail to view full-size
Planet Color and Technique Guide
add dots for craters
orange, gold, brown, yellow
blue, green, white
cut out land masses and ice caps
red, orange, brown
swirl colors; craft sand or chalk pastel powder for red dust; rocky texture for volcanoes, canyons and craters
orange, red, gold, beige, white
stripes; small red circle for the Great Red Spot
beige, moss green, white, black, gold
swirl colors for planet; striped rings
light blue, white
solid light blue or blue and white mix; brush on powder from darker blue chalk pastel; thin white rings
dark blue, royal blue, white
solid blue or mix in a little white with blue for a marbling effect
How to Make Paper Mache Planets
Amazing pieces of art can be made from simple ingredients such as paper, flour, water, balloons, and paint. Round planets are the perfect subject for a basic paper mache. Who doesn't love tearing paper, feeling the gluey goo, and painting? It is a messy, long process, but the results are spectacular. The finished products can be suspended from the ceiling in your child's bedroom. Follow the instructions below to make your own.
- old magazines or newspapers
- large bowl or tray
- whisk or large spoon
- acrylic paint, assorted colors
- poster board
- Blow up eight balloons for the eight planets. Make sure they are to scale!
- In a large bowl or tray, mix flour and water into a soupy glue-like substance.
- Mix in a little salt to prevent molding.
- Tie a piece of string to the knot of one balloon.
- Rip magazine pages or newspaper into 1 1/2 inch wide strips of varying lengths.
- Soak a strip of paper in the flour mixture and wipe excess liquid off by sliding between your fingers or between your finger and the side of the bowl or tray.
- Apply the wet strip to the balloon.
- Continue to add soaked paper strips until the balloon is completely covered.
- Hang balloon from a rod to dry. Protect the floor with paper or an old bed sheet.
- Repeat steps 4-9 for each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
- Repeat the process and add a second layer of paper to each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
- Repeat the process and add a third layer of paper to each balloon. Let dry for 24 hours.
- Paint each balloon to resemble the planet it represents.
- The rings of Saturn and Uranus can be painted on or made from poster board. (We painted rings directly on Uranus, but painted striped rings on poster board for Saturn.)
- Let planets dry for 24 hours, and then pop the balloons with a pin near the balloon knot.
How to Paper Mache and Paint the PlanetsClick thumbnail to view full-size
- After blowing up the balloons, write the name of each planet on them to prevent a mix-up. Hang the planets to dry in order as well.
- For the last layer of paper mache, use plain white copy paper so less paint will be needed.
- Metallic and glitter acrylic paints work well for this space project.
- Use fishing line if you decide to hang your completed project from the ceiling—it's nearly invisible!
How to Make a Yarn Ball Solar System
Yarn or string balls make beautiful holiday ornaments, but they also make really cool planets. To display this decorative project, hang the Sun from the center of a large round piece of cardboard. Hang the planets in orbit around it. Another idea is to hang them from a wooden dowel in order of their distance from the Sun. Follow these instructions to create a fantastic yarn ball solar system:
- yarn, assorted colors
- water balloons or other small balloons
- tacky glue
- large bowl or tray
- glitter, assorted colors
- wax paper
How to Make Yarn Balls Step-by-Step PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
- Blow up nine balloons to represent the Sun and eight planets.
- In a bowl or tray, mix glue with a little water to make it runny.
- Paint a balloon with the glue mixture.
- Twirl a piece of yarn around the balloon's knot and hold it in place.
- With your other hand, wrap the yarn around the balloon crisscrossing vertically many times.
- Start wrapping horizontally and then in all directions until the balloon is mostly covered.
- Tie yarn in a knot with the starting piece that is wrapped the balloon's knot.
- Leave enough excess yarn to hang the balloon up to dry.
- Soak the yarn-covered balloon in the glue mixture. Use a paintbrush to dab and saturate the thicker areas of yarn.
- Sprinkle glitter all over the yarn ball.
- Hang to dry over wax paper to protect your floors.
- Repeat the process for the rest of the balloons.
- Let dry for 24 hours.
- Once completely dry, pop the balloons with a pin or toothpick.
- Remove balloon pieces with your fingers or tweezers.
- To create Saturn's rings, follow the step-by-step pictures below.