Cleaved-Glass Mosaics by Joe Moorman, composite 10/14/2021

Importance and Limitations of Small Mosaics

Making a series of smaller works instead of one large work is the best way to improve your art.

The reason is obvious: instead of investing all your time in executing the larger image, which might already be flawed or compromised long before it is completed, you get several opportunities to get it right.

In addition to getting several more chances, you also have the benefit of looking at your previous attempt and seeing what you did wrong and would like to try differently on the next work.

That is why most of the teachers and artists who recommend “a series of smalls” also recommend that the smalls be the same composition or at least variations on the same composition or theme.

Even if your small works are different compositions, you still spend a higher percentage of your studio time making and evaluating decisions (actively learning) compared to making one large work, where the decisions are made once and most of the time is spent on execution.

This shift of focus from execution to decision making via “a series of smalls” is critical in learning the medium of mosaic because mosaic takes so much more time and effort than painting or drawing, especially when the work is large. Tiles and mortar are heavy.

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Halloween Mosaic Coasters

Halloween Mosaic Coaster Kit

Ivana and Natalija have made some Halloween-themed mosaic coasters, and Natalija even put together a Halloween Mosaic Coaster Kit. The kit comes with the tile and materials needed, but it doesn’t come with a pattern.

As always, we encourage people to make their own designs, but we do have instructions for copying images to make a mosaic pattern.

Here is how you can make a mosaic pattern from any image by tracing.

Here are instructions for how to enlarge a mosaic pattern or drawing using only a ruler.

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Mosaic Tile Studio Display Jars group photo with 8mm Morjo glass

Out of Site, Out of Mind

I have always transferred my glass tile from the plastic factory bags used for shipment and into glass jars or plastic tubs. I do that for several reasons:

Rigid containers like recycled jars and plastic yogurt containers make it easier to rinse out the glass dust and slivers formed by cutting. Torn plastic bags drip water and don’t dry easily.

Glass jars and open-top tubs also make it easier to see the true color of the tiles, which is difficult when viewed through scratched and dirty plastic.

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Mosaic with original Tanjiro from the Japanese manga series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge.

Mosaic vs Mixed-Media Artwork

The Four Seasons mosaic by Marc Chagall in Chicago was originally installed outdoors in the 1970s but has since had a glass canopy installed over the top to protect it from the elements.

Part of the reason for the canopy is Chicago’s harsh freezing weather, which is hard on all mosaics, but another reason for the canopy is that Chagall painted additional details on top of the tile in places where his artist’s eye saw that that something more was needed.

Everything (except being boring) might be legal in visual art, but in mosaic, not so much. When you are making something to withstand the elements or to function as an architectural surface, you really have no choice but to use best practices and standard methods and materials. Otherwise, the artwork won’t last.

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Cleaved-Glass Mosaics, warm light photo

Using Class Mosaics For Public Art Project

I recommend that schools wanting to make a mosaic mural for their school consider “crazy quilt” displays that are assembled from individual mosaic projects all on the same size backer, say anywhere from 6×6 inches or 12×12 inches.

This allows each student a real art experience (making their own design) instead of just being a worker bee on a group project, which runs the risk of teaching mostly the craft/shop aspect of the process while being too light on individual expression/design.

A good compromise is to have the class work on a group project to “learn by doing” under supervision and them have them do small individual projects afterward. These individual mosaics are then arranged as a “crazy quilt” frame around the central group project.

It is important that any school’s visual arts class or art project actually be about students doing art (individual design and expression). Don’t lose sight of that in your school’s project.

Pre-Glue Exercise

When the students start gluing tile, you will be pre-occupied with showing inexperienced people how to glue without making a mess and won’t have much bandwidth for making sure everyone is working consistently in terms of spacing.

Showing the importance of small consistent grout gaps and how to arrange tile can be done before glue is ever involved.

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Cleaved Glass-Tile Mosaics

Cleaved-Tile As Smalti Alternative

If you like the cut-face look of smalti but don’t like the price, remember that you can cut recycled glass tiles in half and mount them on edge to get the same look and feel as smalti.

Since your “halves” of tile won’t be perfect halves, they will all be slightly different heights when turned on edge. The surface formed by these tiles make can’t help but have an interesting texture.

The slightly uneven surface emphasizes the tiles as individual pieces, and the mosaic “effect” of the image is enhanced:

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Frida Kahlo mosaic portrait by Denise Herzog detail 1

Frida Kahlo Mosaic

Artist Denise Cook’s mosaic portrait of Frida Kahlo is a great teaching example. It illustrates several important tips for making better mosaic artwork. The background and skin tones are made more visually interesting via variegation of shade and hue respectively. There is also a satisfying andamento in the background, and the use of found objects to represent pictorial elements is done seamlessly.

Visual Interest In Backgrounds

Portraits often have simple “monochromatic” backgrounds so that the central figure is more iconic.

In painting, it is easy to avoid boring uniformity in a nominally “monochrome” color field merely by being a little lazy. If the paint isn’t overmixed to perfect uniformity on the palette, every brushstroke can’t help but have a slightly different shade or hue or both.

In mosaic, you can achieve similar results by using 2 or 3 different tints of the same or similar hue. That is what Denise did in her Frida Kahlo portrait.

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Blue Venice Mosaic by Terry Broderick, iridescent view.

Design Priorities

I’ve explained about the importance of artwork being balanced and harmonious with itself.

I’ve also written about how mixed-media mosaic allows you to incorporate found objects as elements of images otherwise rendered conventionally in mosaic tile.

When do these two modes clash with each other?

Usually when there is just one of two elements that are found objects, and the rest of the mosaic is conventional mosaic.

For some viewers, the one thing that is not like the rest of the artwork distracts from whatever else the art is about.

The Atmospherics of Light at Night

Terry Broderick’s Blue Venice Mosaic has me thinking about these questions because it might be “the exception the proves [challenges] the rule.”

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Mixed-Media Mosaic Plaque by Mollie Seymour

Mixed-Media Mosaic as Bas-Relief Sculpture

Artist Mollie Seymour’s mosaic plaque is a depiction of a small pueblo of cliff dwellings in a rugged canyon with water and sky rendered in bold andamento. Mollie made this for the mosaic for the courtyard of a condominium. I wanted to share it because it is a good example of using mixed-media mosaic to make a bas-relief sculpture.

The Treachery of Images by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, 1929.
The Treachery of Images by Belgian surrealist painter RenĂ© Magritte, 1929. “This Is Not A Pipe.”

MMM: Where a Pipe Really Is a Pipe

Mixed-media mosaic (MMM) is a medium of art where elements of a composition can actually be the item being “depicted.” For example, a mosaic face could be smoking a real pipe. The artist can use a mix of found objects and elements rendered in conventional tile to produce results that engage the mind as both image and symbol all at once.

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Mosaic Lazy Susan By Kim Wilkowich.

Mosaic Lazy Susan Teaching Example

Artist Kim Wilkowich emailed me a picture of the mosaic lazy susan she recently completed, and I think any artist would be justifiably proud to have made it merely because it is so well-balanced and harmonious in multiple ways. It is a great teaching example for several fundamentals of art and composition.

Looking for instructions for making your own mosaic on a wooden lazy susan? My previous blog article uses a coaster for demonstrating how to lay up a complex design over a pattern and to be able to edit the design before you actually glue it to the wood. For a lazy susan, you would use the lazy susan to trace a large circle on some butcher paper or pieces of printer paper taped together. I would not try to wrap a circular board with contact paper. Remove paints or sealants from the wood before gluing tiles to it.

Why does this mosaic look like it could have only been made by an experienced competent artist if not a professional? Of course there is the tight execution and consistent grout gap and strong iconic designs, but for me what sets it apart more than anything else is the consistency between the different panel designs.

  • Similar levels of complexity and tesserae size between panels.
  • Colors and design elements distributed between panels.
  • Harmony of color intensity.
  • Balance amount of cool colors and warm colors.
  • Pairs of color wheel opposites used throughout the mosaic.
Mosaic Lazy Susan has similar level of complexity between panel designs.
Mosaic Lazy Susan has similar level of complexity between panel designs, even the leaves of the tree and the composite panel design at the bottom have no piece smaller than a piece used in the other iconic panels.
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