Category Archives: Improving Your Art

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

Stone Mosaic Backsplash before grouting cropped

Grout Color for Stone Backsplash

Randy Evans emailed me a photo of his stone mosaic backsplash and asked for advice in choosing a grout color.

Even though this project isn’t figurative mosaic, and the grout gaps have the width of masonry joints (much larger than the gaps recommended for small glass mosaic tiles), it still makes a good teaching example about how to choose a grout color for your own mosaic for these reasons.

  1. Randy worked through the decision in a thorough way using basic methods BEFORE testing colors in hidden places in the backsplash.
  2. Randy took some good photos of his experiments, plus one of the installation as a whole that shows the importance of hue in making a backsplash work with the room’s color scheme.

You could use the same approach for picking out the color mortar you wanted to use for a stone or masonry surface.

TIP: You can minimize the color impact of grouting glass mosaic by using smaller grout gaps. It also makes grouting easier. Highly recommended.

CAUTION: A grout gap is needed in architectural mosaics because the grout is needed to seal out water, which can’t be sealed out merely by making the tiles touch each other.

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Eastern Screech Owl Mosaic by artist Linda Lawton

Owl Mosaics and The Importance of Andamento

Linda Lawton emailed me some pics of her recent owl mosaics, and one of them had an issue that made it a good teaching example about the importance of andamento. That mosaic also became a case study for how to mosaic on top of part of an existing mosaic if you want to rework a detail.

Three Owl Mosaics by artist Linda Lawton. Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Barn Owl
Three Owl Mosaics by artist Linda Lawton. Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Barn Owl

Since Linda is serious about her art and is always working to improve it, I felt like I could be honest with her in a way I couldn’t when critiquing the artwork of “someone I didn’t know.”

Over the past few years, Linda had emailed me about several different mosaics where she had ripped up tiles and re-executed details she wasn’t happy with. Some people have the true artist’s obsession with art and making it better, and it shows no matter the age or skill level.

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mosaic-moses-and-the-burning-bush

Shipping Resumed

We have resumed operations and are now shipping packages normally.

Please be decent to people in these hard times.

APOLOGY AND CONFESSION

My apologies to anyone who I have offended with my criticism of Donald Trump in my previous post Coronavirus Helmets, but you might want to give me a pass on that for several reasons:

My ex-wife is from NYC, and I was aware of all the deeply disturbing things that local people knew about Donald Trump BEFORE he entered politics, including assessments by very conservative bankers and tradesmen who hated Hillary Clinton with a passion. Most anyone who worked with Trump described him as a crook and cheat with too many ties to the wrong sort of Russians.

I have other insider information that makes me feel guilty for not speaking out sooner.

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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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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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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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Big Falls Stained Glass Mosaic Landscape

Use of Natural Stone in Landscape Mosaics

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.

Flame Lake Stained Glass Mosaic Landscape
Flame Lake Stained Glass Mosaic Landscape by artist Debra D’Suza 24 x36 in

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.

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