The Blue Crab mosaic I recently completed is a good example of how to create a grout gap by making use of imperfect cuts instead of spacing the tiles intentionally.
The “imperfect cut” method makes the process of creating a mosaic faster, easier, and less tedious -first in the of cutting and placing of tiles but also in the grouting process.
That “error” will create the grout gap for you.
Artist Caroline Bommer’s recent Sunset Mosaic is a great example of an exception to the rules of mosaic art that I harp on in all my online content. After seeing the finished mosaic, I actually wanted to title this article, “Don’t Listen to Me. I Don’t Know Anything about Mosaic.”Exceptions to Rules of Art
I have often written about how much I like exceptions to general rules and how problematic artistic advice can be, especially when dispensed and consumed as a one-size-fits-all way.
First, there are many different styles of art. If you are trying to paint in a loose Impressionistic style, then following advice about how to paint in the French Academic style with all its crisp rendering will leave you farther from your goal.
I would caution anyone reading different art instruction books to keep that in mind.
I even recommend that you avoid reading some content out of idle curiosity when you know the style being discussed is different from what you are trying to do.
My 13-year-old son made some mosaics on our 4-inch bamboo coasters with me. His designs are also figurative and iconic, but unlike the mosaics I have been making, his designs use whole uncut tiles.
My son’s designs are all Minecraft-inspired images, and so the blocky nature of uncut square 8-mm tiles was perfect:Minecraft-Inspired Mosaics by my Son
He challenged me to design some of my own mosaics using whole uncut tiles, and so I did.
In my previous post, I wrote about Peggy Pugh’s excellent use of color variegation and the potential for this technique to cause figures to lose definition when there is variegation in both the figure and the background.
In response, artist Jill Gatwood emailed me photos of a student’s work where the problem had caused the central figure to lose all definition and disappear into the background.
My apologies for the low resolution of the photo, but I was glad to receive it because it is a great illustration of the problem:Kokopelli Mosaic with original grout. If you didn’t know what I meant by figures getting lost in backgrounds, this mosaic is a prime example of what can happen when the figure and the background are both variegated in color.
I forgot to write about some of the teaching points from Peggy Pugh’s mosaic backsplash.
Variegated and mottled colors create more visual interest in mosaic artwork than monochromatic color fields.
However, there is a limit to how much variation you can put into an area of color and still render an element as a distinct element and make it look separate from the background.
Peggy Pugh’s mosaic backsplash makes me wish the vent hood for the range didn’t have to be installed!
The backsplash design is a mosaic interpretation of the view from the window opposite to it in Peggy’s kitchen. The view is of Peggy’s flower gardens with Upper Back Bay in Newport, California in the background.
Peggy says this about her inspiration and the results of her work:
It is a peaceful and everchanging scene of tides, sky, birds and wetlands. The birds are those I see in the yard or the Back Bay, a very inspiring view.
I am thoroughly delighted with the way it turned out. It is not often that my idea of something matches the finished product.-the artist
My recent blog article about small mosaics has a section at the end that explains how to take catalog-ready photos of mosaic art. My article about mosaic frames includes some discussion about the best light for photographing artwork and the need to avoid foreshortening.
I know why the issue is coming up more and more in my thoughts.
People are emailing me photos of amazing artwork, but all too often the photos leave me wanting to know what the artwork really looks like without lighting or angle issues. I can tell that the art is good and that the photos don’t do it justice.
Some artists are bad about photographing their artwork because they are always consumed by their latest project and drop artwork quickly once it is deemed complete.
I have been making some small mosaics on our bamboo mosaic coaster backers, and I wanted to share a photo of the collection so far and talk about some more advantages of working in a series of smalls.
Each of these coasters will be a “tile” that is used in a large sculpture that is in the form of a framed altarpiece with a small door at the center. An altarpiece is a backdrop for an altar or sacred relic. The wall in which the door is set is tiled with these coasters and makes up most of the area of the flat altarpiece.
I’m thinking I will use the sculpture as a removable cover for my generically-tiled fireplace. Then I could make a little art shrine in front of that, nothing elaborate, mostly found-object curios for my cats to knock over.
The whole assembly will be called the Doorway of Curiosity. It will be fun to hear what little kids ask about it. I’ll put the dinosaur bones and gold ore in front of it.
Back to the advantages of a series of smalls.Many Are Called
“Many are called, but few are chosen.”
Not all of these mosaics will make the cut and end up on my sculpture, and that is a very good thing.
Being able to take a risk and try something different without being committed to using the results is very liberating.
I will use most of these coasters as tiles for my sculpture, the vast majority in fact, but I can tell right now that the cat mosaic won’t be used. It doesn’t have the right mood. The cat looks sad and scared. That’s not the right feel for a doorway of curiosity.
If you design a larger project built from small studies, you put yourself in the position of being able to use only the best of what you make for the actual project.Art Versus Real Life
My mind never designs just one version of anything. My mind spends a lot of time detailing alternative versions even though they won’t be the version I actually make.
I think this problem is shared by a lot of visual artists and creative makers.
Small works help me with that overwhelming feeling of having more ideas than time. For me, that feeling can strike pretty hard if I am working on a larger project that keeps getting interrupted by real life.
We all have periods when life stuff gets out of hand and studio time is limited.
How do you keep working on your art during the busier periods in your life?
The beauty of working in a series of smalls is that they can be completed in shorter studio sessions, sessions that might be frustratingly inadequate for a larger work.
Over the past twelve months, I rewired my house and worked on a ton of ecology projects and did a lot of maintenance that I had put off over the pandemic.
Choosing this series of small mosaics as the art project for this busy period was the right thing for me.
When I was younger, I noticed that busy periods resulted in more frustration with my art because I would suddenly find myself binging on a project that had exploded out of my mind.
Those passion projects that explode out of nowhere like that usually aren’t small or practical. It’s better to conceive of projects that can accommodate time limitations, and a series of smalls does that.Mosaic Coasters by Joe Moorman with the artist’s toes and the spot where I spilled stuff last week. Photographing Your Artwork
It’s fairly easy to make catalog-worthy photos of your artwork, even with a smartphone, which is how I made these photos (Samsung Galaxy 8).
Take at least one photo with the camera pointed directly at the artwork. Don’t photograph two-dimensional artwork from an angle so that it is foreshortened in some way.
Don’t photograph your artwork indoors under yellow artificial light.
Here’s how you do it.Photograph your artwork outside, but not in direct or saturated sunlight. Late afternoons and overcast days are good.Lay your artwork flat on the ground and photograph it straight down. Use a stepladder if needed. Make sure that there is a straight gap of background showing all the way around the artwork. If the gaps run at an angle to the edge of the artwork, then the camera isn’t being held perfectly perpendicular to the artwork.
A stylized logo or pattern is different from a picture of an object. In a picture, the goal is to create a sense of verisimilitude (likeness) by including small details and visual complexity. In a logo, there is an opposite emphasis. To create a logo, images are “posterized” and every element is reduced to monochromatic color fields and small details are eliminated.
Before I write about how well artist Curt Gassmann used gridded element in his Minnesota Vikings logo, I need to explain why you shouldn’t use them in a mosaic picture if your goal is to make the image as interesting as possible.
Artist Marianne Limandri’s mosaics are good examples of how to create more interesting designs by thinking in terms of curves instead of straight lines.
Straight line segments (or their imperfect representations) occur all the time in nature, from cactus needles all the way up to the endless horizon on the open sea, but they are the exception more than the rule. Nearly every other element in any given natural scene will be anything other than a line.Lines by Default
Straight lines are much more common in human artifacts and architecture. If you are trying to train your mind to see and depict the natural world, you need to unlearn some default modes of visualization.
Start thinking of lines as temporary starting points and design aids that are discarded as the work progresses.