Category Archives: Improving Your Art

Articles with ideas to take your art to the next level.

Class Photo With Mosaics

Opus Pixellatum Mosaic Class Photos and Videos

Frederic Lecut’s “Opus Pixellatum” Mosaic Class was a lot of fun, and I think the mosaics were very successful, especially the improvised tweaking and colorization that students did in phase two of the process. In the photo above, instructor Frederic Lecut kneels in front of the class.

When people are in position at the end of the video, here is who you are looking at from left to right:

  • Robbintina Harrison holding her adorable granddaughter’s portrait.
  • Joanne Remppel holding her rescue dog’s portrait.
  • Kate Carroll holding her friend Martha Barton’s portrait.
  • Daniel Adams holding his self portrait.
  • Amy Galbavy holding her self portrait.
  • Apryl Howard holding her self portrait.
  • Daniel Baxley holding his self portrait.
  • Stephanie Cosenza holding her son Danny’s portrait.
  • Sandra Atherton holding her self portrait.

Continue reading

La Primavera Mosaic Michael Kruzich.

Mosaic Artist Michael Kruzich’s Must-See Work

Mosaic Artist Michael Kruzich has a body of work worth taking a look at, especially if you have any doubts about how well dramatic lighting can be rendered in mosaic portraiture and other figurative mosaic artwork.

But that’s not all that you need to see of his work. Michael has also made some mosaic-clad figurative sculpture that is as interesting in it’s abstract geometrical textural elements as it is in it verisimilitude –plus he has some stylized, classical and medieval interpretations. These stylized pieces are as eye catching as Michael’s naturalistic work. The reason is simple: All of Kruzich’s mosaics make great use of contrasting light and dark elements in addition to using strong pairs of complementary colors.  Continue reading

Marlene Dietrich Mosaic

Inspiring Mosaic Portraits Using A Grid Pattern

David Armstrong has created some inspiring mosaic portraits, and he did it using whole tiles arranged in a grid instead of irregular pieces cut and fit as needed. Normally, I dislike mosaic designs based on grids because they lack the extra visual element provided by tile arrangement (andamento), but David’s work has tons of visual interest that more than compensates for this. Continue reading

Class with Mosaic Master Frederic Lecut

Artist Frederic Lecut has agreed to teach a class in which student will create a naturalistic mosaic portrait of their own eyes using Frederic’s Opus Pixellatum technique. We are very excited!

Take a look at Frederic’s mosaic eye portraits to get an idea what you will make in this course, and we think you will be excited too. This course will definitely improve your mosaic skills regardless of what style you work in. Continue reading

Pan's Head mosaic in progress

Pan’s Head Mosaic: A Classical Interpretation

Artist Frederic Lecut’s “Pan’s Head” mosaic has a style that matches its theme, and it is a great example of using classical elements in a contemporary mosaic.

The face of the “goat-footed god of Attica” or Pan is the subject of Lecut’s mosaic, and consequently the artist incorporates several aspects of ancient Greek mosaic in his design. Continue reading

Interpreting Artwork In A Different Medium

Interpreting a work of art in a different medium is a matter of capturing the essence of the original without being an exact copy, although most people would prefer to see a copy that had no departures than something that was unrecognizable. With that in mind, the first step in creating an interpretation of an existing work is to identify what features are most important about it, what things define it in essence. It depends on the work of art. It isn’t always a particular detail or figure. It isn’t always the colors.

A Case Study

Cypress Bayou Painting by Joe Moorman

Cypress Bayou Painting by Joe Moorman

Cypress Bayou quilt by Jackie Iglehart

Cypress Bayou quilt panel by Jackie Iglehart. Click the the image to see a larger version.

Recently, artist Jackie Iglehart created a quilt panel interpretation of my painting “Cypress Bayou” and won this year’s quilting challenge at the Valley Forge Homestead Quilters Guild in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I was blown away by the results. Jackie’s quilt panel captures the look and feel of my painting to an extent that I doubted was possible in that medium. Continue reading

Mosaic Interpretation of Picasso Painting

Brian Kyle’s mosaic interpretation of Picasso’s painting “Man With Ice Cream Cone” is a refreshing departure from the cute themes that seem to dominate contemporary mosaic artwork. Brian calls his mosaic “The Lecher” and says that some people are creeped out by it. I say that makes it real Art (with a capital A) in the sense of being worth thinking and talking about.

Picasso Mosaic Interpretation

Mosaic Interpretation of Picasso’s “Man With Ice-Cream Cone” by Brian Kyle. Notice how the working lines of the black background all converge on the ice cream to make it a focal point.

Improving Picasso?

Brian’s mosaic is also noteworthy because it has some interesting elements that actually build on what Picasso was doing, which is no small trick. (Successfully improving or extending a master’s work is a fairly significant accomplishment any day of the week.) Notice how the working lines of the black background all converge on the ice cream to make it a focal point. I think Picasso would have approved and possibly even been jealous of how Brian used the lines of the background to focus even more attention on the cartoonish black tongue licking the white ice cream.

Glass Beads For Texture and Depth

Another thing that makes Brian’s mosaic worth looking at is that the artist successfully used glass beads with ordinary flat glass tile to give the surface texture and depth.

Glass Beads in The Lecher Mosaic

Glass Beads in “The Lecher” Mosaic give the surface a texture that begs to be touched.

Work In Progress

Brian also sent us a good photograph of the mosaic in progress, which shows the classic direct method of drawing the pattern on the backer and mosaicing directly on that surface.

Picasso Mosaic In Progress

Work In Progress photo of “The Lecher” Mosaic shows the pattern drawn directly on the backer.

 

Creating Visual Interest In Mosaics

Contrast is a good way to create visual interest in your mosaic, and when contrast comes in the form of highlights and shadows, it also creates verisimilitude (the appearance of being real). Highlights and shadows can be as simple as shading the edges of a figure and leaving the center lighter so that the figure looks rounded instead of flat. Or you can be more ambitious and model the folds of fabric and clothing using contrasting regions of light and dark tile.

Highlights On Garment Folds

Artist Claudia Benavente’s mosaics are a great example of making images more “real” and visually interesting using highlights on folds of garments and hair. The gold background of the nativity scene below was made using our silver leaf imitation gold mosaic glass.

Mosaic after the facade of Siena Cathedral

Mosaic after the facade of Siena Cathedral by artist Claudia Benavente is rich with visual interest that was created by modeling garment folds as regions of lighter and darker colors. These colors can be shades of similar hues (Mary’s robes) or different colors entirely (Joseph’s robes).

Texture From Mottled Colors

Notice how the stone blocks in the above mosaic are not made from one gray color or even two grays. Instead, the artist uses perhaps six or seven different colors so that the blocks have texture. Think about how much more interesting these blocks are with their mottled colors than if they were made from one color.

Hair and Vegetation

Caramel Colored Horse Mosaic

Caramel Colored Horse Mosaic by artist Claudia Benavente. You can feel the wind in the horse’s tousled mane thanks to the contrasting colors used in the different strands. The use of color in the horse’s body gives it life and motion.

Hair and vegetation are also opportunities to breath life into your work. Instead of making monochromatic shapes or silhouettes to represent these elements, show the internal details.

Light and Dark / Warm and Cool

Red Horse Mosaic

Red Horse Mosaic by artist Claudia Benavente uses two different methods of creating contrast: light and dark colors and warm and cool colors.

In my opinion, the Guggenheim museum owns several billion dollars in abstract paintings that aren’t nearly as interesting as the background of this mosaic. Just look at it, and you want to touch it and feel the texture created by the mottling of warm colors with light and dark colors. Notice how the cool blues and indigos of the horse’s nose and eyes contrast with the fiery red background. Notice how this mosaic looks more intensely red with the other colors mixed in than it would have if it were solid red. Contrast is the key to many aspects of visual art, including color intensity.

How To Choose A Mosaic Background Color

The background in a work of mosaic art serves two purposes:

  1. contrast the colors of the figures in the foreground.
  2. suggest motion by arranging the tile in contours around figures.

The first point is obvious, but the second is often overlooked even though it can make the difference between a great mosaic and a mediocre mosaic. The background isn’t supposed to be just empty space to be filled as quickly as possible with a grid of tile similar to how bathrooms are tiled. Consider Van Gogh’s Starry Night and how motion is conveyed in the directionality of the brush strokes:

van-gogh-starry-night

Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night is the best example I can think of for illustrating how brush strokes and lines of tile can be used to convey a sense of motion in visual art.

A Good Teaching Example

A friend recently emailed me a photo of a mosaic in progress and asked me for advice. Specifically, he wanted to know what type of tile and what color would best work for the background of a mosaic of a bass (fish) he had made from the 12mm C3 Recycled Glass Tile. The project was interesting because he wanted to make the background from a different type of tile than he had used for the fish, and there were other color constraints: the bass would be swallowing a large blue glass cabochon gem, and there would be green water grasses at the bottom.

These constraints made the project a good teaching example for the simple reason that many artists work this way, especially naive artists and artists who work in a more exploratory way (as I do). Instead of copying an existing design verbatim, these artists will create the central figure or figures first, and then select a background color and additional figures based on how well they work with the central figure already in place. This mode of designing by trial and error is a natural consequence of working with limited color palettes. (Tile colors can’t be custom blended to any hue or shade like paint, so you have to select a background colors from what is available.) The trial-and-error mode also comes naturally when you are trying to incorporate specific found objects into a mosaic, such as the blue cabochon gem that my friend wanted to use in his.

mosaic bass in progress

Greenish and bluish metallic glass mosaic tile would be a poor choice for background because they do not adequately contrast the colors used in the bass.

Use Contrasting Colors

The image above was included in the original email requesting my advice. My fresh unbiased eyes could immediately see that the green metallic tiles would not fully contrast the colors in the bass. I could also see that even the blue metallic would not work because the golden sparkle of the copper aventurine dust gives the blue glass an overall greenish cast.

In fact, using blue tile of any type would be problematic if the blue cabochon gem is used. So I presented two alternatives:

  1. Use light pink or orange colors for the water, such as might be seen in late afternoon.
  2. Replace the blue cabochon with an orange cabochon.

The first alternative appealed to me for two reasons. First, warm colors such as light pink or orange are more appealing in general. (Basic biopsychology: the brain likes warm colors.) Second, art with non-obvious color choices is usually more interesting. (If the sky ain’t always blue, why do we always have to color it blue without first questioning the instinct to do so?)

An esoteric digression: This second point touches more sophisticated questions about visual art: Does an object have an intrinsic hue, or are the colors (plural) it reflects at a given instant a function of the color of the light shining on it at that particular instant? The answer is obvious to our eyes but not to our memories. Our memories tend to be more verbal than visual, and we remember things in a more archetypical mode: monochromatic “green trees” and “blue skies” and not the myriad of hues that they are in real life.

Following Design Fundamentals Won’t Do You Wrong

My friend decided to replace the blue gem with a golden yellow one and use blue tile for the water. These conservative design decisions work because they follow fundamental principles: The blue tiles contrast the greens of the fish and water grasses and the yellow of the cabochon.

Of course my friend could have tried light oranges or light pinks for the water, but that would have involved more risk and more trial and error than would have been advisable on an early project such as this. I will write an additional blog post about how this particular mosaic could have been improved, but I will also write about the problems of artistic advice and how advice in general doesn’t work well in a one-size-fits-all mode.

mosaic bass completed

My friend’s finished mosaic of a large mouth bass swallowing a cabochon gem makes successful use of contrasting colors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long-Term Art-Studio Experiments and the Pace of Mosaic Composition

Don’t Rush The Design Process

It is easier for me to explain what I mean about pace and long term experiments if I discuss my painting instead of my mosaic artwork. Compared to most mediums of visual art, mosaic isn’t typically executed in a rush because the amount of work usually requires multiple sessions in the studio. (You don’t slap on some tile quite as quickly as you do paint.) However,  the point I make about my painting has a lot of relevance to the process of DESIGNING or CONCEIVING a mosaic composition and how you reflect on the work in progress and evaluate color decisions as you go along. Never blindly execute what you initially guessed to be a good decision. The design “mode” should never be turned off if your are trying to make great art.

joe's painting studio

I think the highest form of visual art is finding objects in clouds. This is an aspect of dreaming that occurs while we are awake. I like my paintings to resolve into compositions as I go along with figures emerging from a dance of color and texture.

Artificial Deadlines Are A Double-Edged Sword

Accomplishment builds confidence, but what are you accomplishing if you aren’t happy with the results?

Not long after starting Mosaic Art Supply, I found myself working on painting more than mosaic, at least in the studio time that I set aside for my own projects. (Go figure.) I made the decision to work on my painting in the following way: I would complete a small painting in a single session each night and then write something about creating it (personal significance or techniques) and then publish the painting’s photograph and text online. I didn’t use a blog format, but it was essentially a blog, with pages named for the artwork in question and no dating. Most of my paintings at Riverson Fine Art were created in this way.

This one-painting-each-night approach was great for getting me accustomed to “finishing” work, but the constant artificial deadline of having to be done that night also made me hectically overwork some paintings (because I didn’t spend enough time looking at what I was painting and felt a rush to go with snap decisions). I also didn’t allow enough time to figure out technical questions before the lack of knowledge showed on the canvas in a clear way.

It became clear that this exercise of doing rapid experiments each night could only teach me so much, and it had clearly taught me some bad habits that I had to unlearn somehow.

Kids Don’t Try This At Home

My solution was to totally change the pace of how I created art and not worry about publishing it or showing it. (The mosaic business was giving me more of a public presence than I wanted anyway.) But I did much more than this: I went to the opposite extreme. I didn’t even think about individual compositions or at least completing them as compositions. I drew up long lists of technical questions I needed to answer (such as how to mix up any color, ANY color I might need, shade or hue), and then I laid out what experiments I needed to do to find the answers.

More than that, I allowed myself to digress into a series of smaller investigations if I got stumped on a particular color or problem, no matter how irrelevant the issue seemed by itself. It was merely enough that I couldn’t answer the question, and I worked until I figured it out. I wanted to know how to do whatever it was in the event the same issue ever came up later when I started painting figurative compositions again.

This might seem obsessive on the surface, but I had already painted enough canvasses in a completely unsatisfactory way to know that I wouldn’t have the confidence to complete anything until I was more technically competent.

In the case of how to mix up any shade or hue, I simply painted a series of mixing grids, such as recommended and discussed in most books about how to paint.

To get the type of effects I wanted, I also needed to know how these colors looked when imperfectly layered over a canvas textured with peaks of modeling paste so that the layer underneath showed in the valleys. This greatly multiplied the number of variables I had to figure out.

How would these look when color complements were paired? What about warm on warm or cool on cool? How would they look with dark on light or vice versa? How did making the upper layer more translucent with medium affect the hue of the layer underneath? How did varying the size and type of texture affect ALL of the above?

Should the texture be rounded or sharp? Should texture run in raised ridges at the edges of figures? What would be the most effective way of duplicating specific results I found pleasing? How controlled or random should the sequence of layering be?

And then there was my META question: If I mastered all of these variables, could I use the resulting techniques to make quick-drying acrylic paint look as visually interesting and complex as slow-drying oil paint, which naturally diffused creating soft edges and subtle transitions of hue?

The answer could only be found by executing all of these combinations in a lengthy series of large abstract canvasses that took literally years. Each canvas was painted 10, 20 times, maybe 50 or more. Not 50 layers of paint. I mean 50 uses of the canvas for different “compositions” of multiple layers with all the accumulating texture that provided. Some of my canvasses from this period are almost as heavy as mosaics.

Finally, just 6 months ago, I felt that I had investigated enough unknowns to have a vocabulary of techniques sufficient to attempt a figurative composition again with confidence. So I started painting figurative works again, or rather, I started trying to paint figurative compositions again, and I felt anything but confident.

For starters, it wasn’t that easy to stop digressing each time I had a question about hue, texture or other variables in combination. I had gotten in the mode of “find out how” not “wing it to complete the composition.”

Also, I had to factor in how I developed compositions. I don’t work from a model in front of me. I work from hundreds of remembered models arranged in imaginative compositions. I draw from the imagination. I also work interactively with the canvas to allow figures to evolve from seemingly random strokes. I like to let the design emerge from the canvas in a way similar to how the mind sees objects in clouds, which I think is one of the highest forms of visual art.

All of this is fairly absorbing and cannot be done if I am having to concentrate too much on how to get the effects I want.

The long and the short of it is that I finally have a painting near enough completion to show after years of one long extended series of experiments that took over 4 years.

Color Dance unfinished painting

This painting is unfinished. I am thinking of calling it “Color Dance.”

Parallels with Mosaic Art

In a mosaic, you may not have layering of color as a variable, but you definitely have juxtaposition of color, and you have variegation of color fields and color field transition. You also have how all of these variables are affected by tile size and work lines (andamento: how the tiles are arranged in contours to show motion or  arranged randomly or grid-like). Think about all these variables and how they might be used to make your composition stronger. Of course, you don’t have to go completely mental like I did with painting and try to think about every combination of variables, but do spend some time thinking about what else might be before you begin setting tile in concrete.

A Practical Way To Experiment In Mosaic

Draw a cartoon (outline) of your design on the mosaic backer with a pencil, and then just place tile in the different color fields. At first, think about just different pairs of complementary colors, and try to get the basic color layout planned. Then think about how each color field might be made more visually complex by adding a few related hues or shades to the color field instead of using only one hue or shade. Once that is fairly worked out, then think about what size the tiles should be and how they should be arranged. It is hard to go wrong by arranging tiles in lines parallel to the outlines of figures. These contoured work line suggest motion, and this almost always looks more interesting than random patterns or grids. Remember, you aren’t tiling a shower or bricking a wall. You are rendering an image, so take advantage of all the trompe l’oeil you can, especially andamento!

The meta message is this: You can’t tile over an unsuccessful part of a mosaic the same way you can quickly paint over an unsuccessful part of a painting. This means that designs are enhanced when you do quick experiments with your cartoon BEFORE you start mounting tile: merely lay the tile out loosely on your outline and see how the colors work together. Try different combinations. You can’t try them after the tile is glued down, or at least as easily. Make haste slowly and avoid the need to chisel off glass tile.