Author Archives: Joe Moorman

Mosaic Street-Number Sign by artist Monika Walter damaged

Warning: Marine Plywood Not For Mosaic

Marine plywood cannot be used as a mosaic backer for outdoor and wet mosaic.

Yes, marine plywood can withstand the outdoors and wet days for many years, but it is completely unacceptable as a mosaic backer because it swells and contracts with changes in humidity in the outside air. That amount of swelling and contracting is tiny and might not be significant in construction projects, but it is fatal for mosaic. Absolutely fatal. It’s only a matter of time, and it’s usually not long.

People recommending the use of marine plywood as a backer for outdoor mosaics are not considering one critical detail:

The swelling and contracting of wood due to humidity isn’t trivial where adhesives are concerned, and the displacement (movement) can be measured. Imagine rainy days versus dry days. The displacement is more than enough to work glass free from adhesive because the glass isn’t swelling or contracting at all.

This is not speculation. I am an engineer and have worked in a materials testing lab.

Another piece of evidence I could bring to any argument about the use of marine plywood in mosaic is that I have received photos of tragically-damaged mosaics for 17 years, and marine plywood wins hands down as far as being the worst cause of grief, and the reason is simple:

Marine plywood SEEMS like a solid safe option because contractors will talk about the life they have gotten from it on certain jobs, and so the people who make the mistake of choosing it tend to be people who are making a design with a lot of work and care for the details. They took the time to choose a “good” backer because they knew they were going to put a lot of effort into their mosaic.

Seeing these mosaics damaged is much more painful than seeing some hasty work falling apart because the technical details were just outright neglected.

That brings me to an email I received from Monika Walter.

Artist Monika Walter

Monika Walter says she doesn’t consider herself to be an “artist,” but she has some solid work at her mosaic website, and she makes tables and mirrors and clocks for craft shows. They all look well-executed to me, and a couple of her mosaics make me jealous. More about that later.

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Madre de Guadelupe Mosaic by first-time-mosaicist Irene Clifford detail

Well-Executed First-Time Mosaic

One of the most well-executed mosaics I have ever seen in terms fine details wrought in slivers of glass came to me in photos in an email last week from artist Irene Clifford.

As Natalija pointed out, ” Most people would throw away tiny pieces like that as scraps.”

The mosaic is excellent work in several ways.

The andamento of the mosaic as a whole is instinctive, and it fits the details and curves being rendered naturally (instead of being rows to cover space without much regard for the shape of the color field).

The size of details relative to tile size is optimal for creating visual interest. That and the andamento impress me more than the exceptionally well-executed details with glass slivers.

Most people could make multiple mosaics without ever coming close to this level of instinctive andamento or being able to work with tesserae that small, being more or less a sliver.

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Mosaic Table Top Steph Potter Blue Mandala

Centering Mosaic Table Top Designs

Artist Stephanie Potter‘s mosaic table top designs are mandalas that catch and hold the eye with contrast, symmetry, and visual interest. They are centered so that the outer circle of tile is at the edge of the circular table tops.

Mosaics made on wooden table tops are for indoor use. Outdoors, the wood swells and contracts with changes in humidity, and that causes tiles to pop off.

Mosaic Table Top Steph Potter Iridescent Glass Mandala
Mosaic Table Top Stephanie Potter Iridescent Glass Mandala

Of course, it is easy to explain how you keep a design centered if you draw out all the work lines for the rows of tile, which would be more or less required for such detailed, symmetrical designs like these made by Stephanie.

But how do you center a mosaic on a round table if your pattern doesn’t show every row of tile? What do you do when you want to improvise a figure in the center of a table but still surround it with concentric rings of tiles where the outermost ring of tile is at the edge of the table?

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Mosaic Coaster with Scratched Tile by artist Stefi Morrison, detail shot

When To Use Sanded Grout

This article is about why we recommend “the opposite” of what the tile industry recommends for grouting glass mosaics and mosaics with a standard grout gap. This article also explains how to avoid scratching the glass tile while grouting with sanded grout.

Industry Recommendations

The tile industry recommends using sanded grout for gaps 1/8 to 3/8 inch and adding a coarser grade of sand for gaps larger than 3/8 inch. For gaps less than 1/8 inch, which is what mosaic glass mosaics have, tile manufacturers and industry associations recommend using non-sanded grout.

At Mosaic Art Supply, I have always recommended using sanded grout for everything except mosaics with hairline gaps between the tile. Why the difference? There are three reasons.

Plaques not Walls

Many of our customers are making mosaics on small movable surfaces like plaques or tabletops not walls or floors, and these smaller mosaics are subject to being dropped and impacted and vibrated and flexed more than an architectural surface. The sand provides tensile strength and helps the grout not be knocked out of the gaps as easily.

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Artist Heather Hancock mixed media glass architectural abstract art, vertical

Geometric Architectural Perspectives

Recently I wrote about The Stylistic Range of Mosaic Art and mentioned that I am still being surprised by the different styles that artists are able to execute in the medium, especially those with formal training.

I meant formal training in art when I first wrote that, and I was thinking about how technical innovation is easier for someone who has studied the nuts and bolts of different mediums.

Later I got to thinking about the extent to which art is fertilized by study of other disciplines, and not just the example of how Renaissance artists studied mathematical perspective and anatomy.

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Mosaic Mural Backsplash Epic by artist Yulia Hanansen

The Stylistic Range of Mosaic Art

At Mosaic Art Supply, we have always tried to promote contemporary mosaic as a fine art and help people of every skill level create original work instead of selling overpriced craft kits for making cliche designs. This may have hurt us some financially, but I have never regretted taking the high moral ground. After all, if I wanted to help people mass produce junk, I could have remained an engineer in the corporate world.

One of the things that I have found particularly rewarding is seeing great art made by ordinary people with no formal training in art. I have also enjoyed seeing the range of styles that professional artists have been able to execute in mosaic, proving that the medium is as versatile as oil painting, perhaps even more so because of the found object and textural elements that mosaic can incorporate.

Mosaic Jupiter Great Red Spot Detail by artist Yulia Hanansen
Mosaic Jupiter Great Red Spot Detail by artist Yulia Hanansen

Recently one of my employees showed me the work of artist Yulia Hanansen, and I was intrigued for several reasons, and not merely because of the stylistic range of her work, which is impressive in itself.

It would be difficult for me to say which piece is my favorite, but I particularly like the kitchen backsplash with the paleolithic cave painting images from the epic period of human prehistory known as “The Great Hunt.” I like how its cool cyan color scheme complements the warm wood cabinets. It is not only an interesting and original mosaic. It is also a well-integrated part of the room’s interior design.

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mosaic-science-mural-detail

Public Art and Commissioned Mosaics

Artist Steven “Stevo” Sadvary has a broad mosaic portfolio of pet portraits, cityscapes, signage, educational murals and other public art, all solidly rendered.

I like public art that inspires people to make their own art, especially children, and I think there are a few things about Stevo’s art that make it optimal in that way.

Mosaic Sign Phoenix Dragon Tiger Tortoise
Mosaic Sign Phoenix Dragon Tiger Tortoise by artist Steven “Stevo” Sadvary.
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Prairie Diptych Mosaic, 4 ft x 2 ft

River and Prairie Mosaics

Artist Janet Flom used some of our vitreous tile in some pubic space mosaics in 2016-17 that are photorealistic and well-executed, and I wanted to show them off as inspiration. The subjects of the mosaics are prairie wildflower patches and landscapes of the upper Mississippi River.

Andamento

I say Janet’s mosaics are well-executed because the tiles are arranged in lines that correspond to the shape being rendered instead of being placed in a grid where each tile is nothing more than a pixel.

I greatly prefer mosaics that have this added element of visual interest and think it is worth the extra effort.

Using an andamento that follows the shapes being rendered also allows you to capture smaller details with larger pieces.

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peony-mosaic-bowl-susan-klug-kahan

Mosaic Bowls and Platters

Mosaics cannot be a “food safe” surface as defined by the Food and Drug Administration because grout is porous and cannot be cleaned easily or completely, and it sheds material over time. That being said, you can still make mosaic bowls and platters as centerpieces for holding fruit and other decorative uses.

Artist Susan Klug Kahan emailed me some photos of her peony mosaic bowl and asked my advice on grout color. Susan used a narrow grout gap, and so the visual impact of grouting and grout color would be minimal, but there was still a lot of incentive to get it right: The design was all about harmonious colors, and so a poor choice of grout color would be particularly conspicuous.

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Crucifix Installed in Niche in Altarpiece by artist Nicholas Vasko

Imitation Gold Glass for Altarpieces and Icons

Religious icons make heavy use of gold leaf glass to represent halos and divine light but also to adorn the figures and to communicate the preciousness of the image. Of course we carry 24 kt Gold Leaf Glass for use in icons and other mosaics, but the material is expensive for obvious reasons, and so the question becomes what do you use when you need to make something larger, such as an altarpiece or a life-size icon?

The answer is the silver-foil glass product known as Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass, which has an epoxy coating over the silver backing to prevent oxidation and blackening by adhesives.

Artist Nicholas Vasco emailed us some pictures of a couple of his recent projects using Imitation Gold Glass, and they are impressive. Both the altarpiece and the mosaic inserts of the chapel entrance way are very well done and worth talking about for several reasons.

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