Found objects can be used as mosaic tesserae based on their color and texture and shape, as another form of tile more or less, but found-objects of symbolic value add a whole new dimension to mosaics, one that is as cerebral as it is visual.
You do not have to choose between making a found-object mosaic or a figurative mosaic. You can create visual interest in figurative mosaics by using found-objects in a spare and selective way.
I wanted to show off and discuss artist Janet Sacks’ mosaics because she has some great examples of using found objects in figurative mosaic, both in the sense of improvised tile for texture and color and in the sense of symbolic value. Janet’s work is particularly strong in my opinion because she does not overuse symbolic found objects.
Janet also has a couple of mosaics that deviate from practices that I recommend as a general rule, and I wanted to talk about why they still work.
Artist Marilyn Keating makes wonderful whimsical mosaic sculptures, and she recently completed a mixed-media mosaic mural as part of her residency at Morris-Union’s Warren, NJ Developmental Learning Centers (DLC), which provide public school programs for students with autism or autistic-like behavior.
I wanted to show pictures and talk about this mosaic because it was made with the help of young autistic people, and it is a good example of a design that is appropriate for a group project with people with different levels of focus or skill or ability to follow instructions, which is a relevant concern for most group mosaic projects no matter what the ages or issues involved.
Artist Cindy Christensen emailed us some pictures of several mosaic projects that she collaborated on with her woodworking husband, and I wanted to share them because they are all well executed and colorful. They are also great examples of how you can improve your mosaic art by partnering with someone who has more power tools or shop knowledge than you do.
Cindy says her husband made the wooden coasters and the birdhouse and the other sculptural bases, and that he helps with sanding window frames and other bases for her mosaics.
Since we also receive pictures of distressed projects from people needing advice on how to salvage the situation, I wanted to talk about the problem of accidentally misdirecting the handy person helping you and how to avoid it.
I have written in the past about “passion projects,” which is a term I use to describe first-time projects in a new medium that were executed by people with little or no training, and often executed in an explosive or emotional way after wanting to do something similar for years.
Many artists like to choose background colors after the central figures have been tiled.
It is best to tile from the middle and work toward the edges to avoid awkward spacing between at key focal points, but you should not leave the color choices for the background as a complete afterthought.
Nor should you have firm color requirement for the background and tile the central figures without placing that color next to them just to see if they work.
Avoid “painting yourself into a corner” by doing a lot of cutting and mounting without thinking ahead.
“Thinking ahead” can be as simple as placing a single tile next to what you are tiling now to see if it has adequate contrast.
The following method is only recommended for dry indoor mosaics. Artist Megan Adams recently used it to save a mosaic that had been compromised by white grout, which makes tile colors look less intense and the mosaic as a whole “bleached out” in appearance.
We put white grout in bathrooms because it is used as an indicator of cleanliness. It’s use in mosaic art is limited to making your project look like a summer camp project. Avoid it. Consider black or dark gray grout instead to make your colors look intense.
Also keep in mind that traditional sanded grout is lighter in color when it hardens, and so sometimes a light gray or light brown grout can turn out looking like an off-white and cause the same problem as if you had used white grout.
If we gave an award for best use of iridescent tile to create a sense of lighting in a scene, artist Terry Broderick’s mosaic “Pittsburgh Cityscape,” would have won it hands down. It is a must-see mosaic.
Even if you aren’t planning on using iridescent tile for lights in a night scene, Terry’s mosaic is worth taking a look because the sense of light and atmosphere he creates in it is nothing less than impressive.
If you are trying to make things like stars in a night sky or streetlights reflecting across water, this mosaic is a tutorial on how to do it right.
Artist Betty Ackerman recently used our fire-polished millefiori (the Mud-Turtle Mosaic brand) and stained glass to make a circular mosaic in the form of a rainbow-colored tree of life with a column of chakras spiraling inward on the trunk. Betty calls her mosaic “Chakra Tree of Life.” The first mosaics I ever made were found-object “mandalas” in the form of a tree of life in an oval, and so Betty’s design spoke to me.
I wanted to share this mosaic because Betty did a good job at maintaining adequate contrast between the tree and the background and between the branches and the leaves in spite of the color transition in the design. It would have been all too easy for the figurative element of the tree to become lost with this much “visual interest” going on in every square inch, and so the mosaic is worth studying.
Artist Melanie Squires recently completed a stained-glass mosaic table, and I wanted to show it off for several reasons, and not just because it looks so good. There are some materials and methods to discuss, and there is the use of impressionism for the koi, which I thought was particularly effective.
Warning: If you use a glass patio table for a mosaic, make sure the glass is thick enough to support the weight of the mosaic. It is possible to find glass patio tables at thrift shops where the original thick glass has broken and been replaced with something thinner. It is also possible to come across cheaply-made tables with thin glass, especially end tables and coffee tables.
Never use a table for an outdoor mosaic merely because that is the table you happen to have. Before you invest time, money, and materials, make sure it will last.
Vitreous glass tile has a lot fewer surface pits than it did a few decades ago, but it still has some, at least in most brands. Grout can sometimes lodge in these superficial pits if you don’t adequately sponge and haze the mosaic after grouting, and many novices find this problem particularly distressing.
The good news is that the problem can be fixed easily, and it can be avoided for the most part by correctly sponging and hazing the mosaic during the grouting process.
Avoiding The Problem
You do NOT need to find vitreous without pits to avoid the problem of pit staining.
Keep in mind that the same vitreous tile is used as an architectural covering for thousands of square feet at a time, and so common sense tells you that there has to be a way to get grout out of pits without a large amount of labor.
I feel the need to stress that point because I receive emails from beginning mosaic artists who are desperately searching for vitreous glass tile that is perfectly smooth without the occasional pit: You do NOT need to find perfectly smooth tile.