Upcycle Inspiration: Aurora Borealis

I felt lost when first assigned this project.  Without a set of constraints, I had trouble narrowing down materials, what to make, and where to start. I looked at what I recycle in my house, but there’s only junk mail, some cardboard, and food compost.  Neither the paper nor the cardboard sparked any creativity, and I didn’t want to use rotting food for days on end for my project. 

I changed my course of action and began my thought process by narrowing down my choices.  I decided not to make anything “useful,” meaning it’s main purpose would be art, not necessarily something I interact with on a daily basis. This took out furniture, storage containers, and other industrial items.  I then started to list everything I liked: traveling, light, music, the outdoors, the quiet, sleeping, fiction, action movies, etc; the list seemed endless.  In order to narrow down my choices further, I decided to choose an aesthetic, and then determine what to make based on that.   The aesthetic would help in many ways, from determining the material used, to the shape, size, and reason for my project.

My aesthetic, and entire inspiration for upcycling, is the aurora borealis.  The aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, describes the phenomena of colors we see when charged particles from the sun enter Earth’s atmosphere and collide violently with atoms in our atmosphere, creating a dancing array of colors throughout the sky.

Figure 1: The Northern Lights

The northern lights appear to serve no real purpose except to be beautiful and enchanting.  There are lots of colors, no patterns, and they’re constantly moving. They’re virtually impossible to predict, so they emit a sense of wonder and mystery.  The northern lights evoke mystical images of fantasy, and give off a foreign, ethereal aura. They can only be seen at certain latitudes, under specific conditions.  

In order to capture the aura borealis aesthetic, I decided to create ceiling-hung artwork, reminiscent of a cross between a stained glass window and a window sun-catcher prism.  I’m going to use old Christmas lights and mirrors, to mimic the variety of colors and constantly changing landscape the northern lights produce. By hanging it outside or near a window, natural light will add shadows and rainbows that change throughout the day, and are dependent on the weather and the position of the sun, just like the northern lights.  I don’t know what shape the ornament/sun-catcher will be yet, I want to do some test runs to see how I can make the lights and mirrors interact with each other.

Figure 2: The northern lights over a reflective body of water

Figure 3: A hanging suncatcher prism ornament


Some videos of the aurora borealis:




Figure 1: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjmmePa1qTnAhVbLs0KHaI7AxMQjRx6BAgBEAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalstate.aaa.com%2Fvia%2Fplaces-visit%2Fwhere-see-northern-lights-us-world&psig=AOvVaw1xIt2kBWlzhb7O0NeRu3X_&ust=1580245307950868

Figure 2: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwitwLmE16TnAhXEVc0KHbjXCysQjRx6BAgBEAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.farmersalmanac.com%2Faurora-borealis-sightings-31684&psig=AOvVaw1xIt2kBWlzhb7O0NeRu3X_&ust=1580245307950868

Figure 3: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Handmade-Crystal-Suncatcher-Prism-Hanging-Ornament-Pendant-Gift-Decor-for-Window-/372633632771


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2 Comments. Leave new

  • I think the Aurora Borealis is a really cool inspiration. It is a natural wonder and I think it would be amazing to see how you can play with light in this. I do have a concern though, I think it will be very difficult to get enough light and color to stand out during the day. During your process I recommend continuously checking to see if you’re getting enough light and color and think of ways to add more color. I can’t wait to see how this turns out it sounds really cool.

  • Benjamin Robles
    January 29, 2020 11:35 am

    Hannah, the northern lights are an awesome inspiration! I am also very inspired and attracted to lights. The process you chose to develop your idea is very useful. If I may throw an idea at you, maybe you could involve water in your design, because water has a very unpredictable aspect to it that inspired wonder. Maybe find a compartmentalized acrylic container that you can fill with water and add a different color dye. If the light hits it and the “device” itself moves, it could create very similar lighting to that of the northern lights. Just an idea.


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