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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I recently saw some stained-glass mosaics by artist Debra D’Souza, and they reaffirmed my belief in the mosaic business and actually cheered me up after a day of work poop. To explain why Debra’s mosaics make me so happy, I first have to explain a problem that really haunts me as a retailer of arts and craft supplies.
Not Rocks with Fake Skins
Most of the stones you see used in mosaic artwork are rounded river rocks, which is fine when they are unique stones collected from beaches and hikes and real life, but all too often they are the epoxy-coated or urethane-coated river rocks of the same type of stone from the same factory no matter where you buy them, which is really sad to me.
The pattern for a mosaic is sometimes referred to as a cartoon because it is just an outline with no attempt at shading or color. The purpose of the cartoon is merely to map out the major work lines and color fields, and so the cartoon is relatively simple, even for photorealistic work. The texture and color mottling and finer details come from the tile.
Simplified Yet Exact
The cartoon is not required to have all the lines needed to create an image, but what lines it does have should be exact. For example, you shouldn’t try to draw all the flecks of color in the iris of an eye, but you should have that iris drawn exactly where it goes.
Many people are drawn to the idea of making mosaics from marble and stone, mostly because that was the material used by the ancient Romans but also because they would like to make a mosaic from natural materials in subdued colors.
Nevertheless, as soon as these people start trying to source materials, they quickly become frustrated with how limited the color palette is in marble mosaic, and they usually end up mixing the stone with smalti or ceramic or porcelain tiles, or they use dyed stone or synthetic stone for certain colors.
In either case, the mosaic usually doesn’t have the look and feel that was desired, which is really a tragedy because superior results could have been more easily and cheaply accomplished had the artist used all glass and merely restricted the color palette to more subtle hues.
Before you convince yourself you need to work in stone, spend some time looking at glass mosaics made from subdued color pallets.
There is tremendous power in getting the colors right. No matter how loosely executed, an impressionistic landscape painting takes on photorealistic qualities merely by having the correct colors for a scene with its particular light.
For that reason, most people wanting to make a mosaic portrait begin by trying to find the “right” color for the skin type they are trying to render, whether it be a pinkish northern European skin tone or a Latino coffee color or whatever.
When these people email us asking questions like, “which tile would you use to render the skin of a caucasian person?” or “which tile color would you use to make a mosaic of Polynesian faces?” my answer isn’t what these people are expecting or wanting:
Mosaic portraits should not be thought of in terms of one particular color that generally represents the skin tone of a race or individual. Instead, look at the highlights and shadows of the model photograph and think in terms of rendering those areas in a way that gets their colors right.