Category Archives: Improving Your Art

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

Mosaic with original Tanjiro from the Japanese manga series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge.

Mosaic vs Mixed-Media Artwork

The Four Seasons mosaic by Marc Chagall in Chicago was originally installed outdoors in the 1970s but has since had a glass canopy installed over the top to protect it from the elements.

Part of the reason for the canopy is Chicago’s harsh freezing weather, which is hard on all mosaics, but another reason for the canopy is that Chagall painted additional details on top of the tile in places where his artist’s eye saw that that something more was needed.

Everything (except being boring) might be legal in visual art, but in mosaic, not so much. When you are making something to withstand the elements or to function as an architectural surface, you really have no choice but to use best practices and standard methods and materials. Otherwise, the artwork won’t last.

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Cleaved-Glass Mosaics, warm light photo

Using Class Mosaics For Public Art Project

I recommend that schools wanting to make a mosaic mural for their school consider “crazy quilt” displays that are assembled from individual mosaic projects all on the same size backer, say anywhere from 6×6 inches or 12×12 inches.

This allows each student a real art experience (making their own design) instead of just being a worker bee on a group project, which runs the risk of teaching mostly the craft/shop aspect of the process while being too light on individual expression/design.

A good compromise is to have the class work on a group project to “learn by doing” under supervision and them have them do small individual projects afterward. These individual mosaics are then arranged as a “crazy quilt” frame around the central group project.

It is important that any school’s visual arts class or art project actually be about students doing art (individual design and expression). Don’t lose sight of that in your school’s project.

Pre-Glue Exercise

When the students start gluing tile, you will be pre-occupied with showing inexperienced people how to glue without making a mess and won’t have much bandwidth for making sure everyone is working consistently in terms of spacing.

Showing the importance of small consistent grout gaps and how to arrange tile can be done before glue is ever involved.

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Cleaved Glass-Tile Mosaics

Cleaved-Tile As Smalti Alternative

If you like the cut-face look of smalti but don’t like the price, remember that you can cut recycled glass tiles in half and mount them on edge to get the same look and feel as smalti.

Since your “halves” of tile won’t be perfect halves, they will all be slightly different heights when turned on edge. The surface formed by these tiles make can’t help but have an interesting texture.

The slightly uneven surface emphasizes the tiles as individual pieces, and the mosaic “effect” of the image is enhanced:

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Frida Kahlo mosaic portrait by Denise Herzog detail 1

Frida Kahlo Mosaic

Artist Denise Cook’s mosaic portrait of Frida Kahlo is a great teaching example. It illustrates several important tips for making better mosaic artwork. The background and skin tones are made more visually interesting via variegation of shade and hue respectively. There is also a satisfying andamento in the background, and the use of found objects to represent pictorial elements is done seamlessly.

Visual Interest In Backgrounds

Portraits often have simple “monochromatic” backgrounds so that the central figure is more iconic.

In painting, it is easy to avoid boring uniformity in a nominally “monochrome” color field merely by being a little lazy. If the paint isn’t overmixed to perfect uniformity on the palette, every brushstroke can’t help but have a slightly different shade or hue or both.

In mosaic, you can achieve similar results by using 2 or 3 different tints of the same or similar hue. That is what Denise did in her Frida Kahlo portrait.

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Blue Venice Mosaic by Terry Broderick, iridescent view.

Design Priorities

I’ve explained about the importance of artwork being balanced and harmonious with itself.

I’ve also written about how mixed-media mosaic allows you to incorporate found objects as elements of images otherwise rendered conventionally in mosaic tile.

When do these two modes clash with each other?

Usually when there is just one of two elements that are found objects, and the rest of the mosaic is conventional mosaic.

For some viewers, the one thing that is not like the rest of the artwork distracts from whatever else the art is about.

The Atmospherics of Light at Night

Terry Broderick’s Blue Venice Mosaic has me thinking about these questions because it might be “the exception the proves [challenges] the rule.”

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Mosaic Lazy Susan By Kim Wilkowich.

Mosaic Lazy Susan Teaching Example

Artist Kim Wilkowich emailed me a picture of the mosaic lazy susan she recently completed, and I think any artist would be justifiably proud to have made it merely because it is so well-balanced and harmonious in multiple ways. It is a great teaching example for several fundamentals of art and composition.

Looking for instructions for making your own mosaic on a wooden lazy susan? My previous blog article uses a coaster for demonstrating how to lay up a complex design over a pattern and to be able to edit the design before you actually glue it to the wood. For a lazy susan, you would use the lazy susan to trace a large circle on some butcher paper or pieces of printer paper taped together. I would not try to wrap a circular board with contact paper. Remove paints or sealants from the wood before gluing tiles to it.

Why does this mosaic look like it could have only been made by an experienced competent artist if not a professional? Of course there is the tight execution and consistent grout gap and strong iconic designs, but for me what sets it apart more than anything else is the consistency between the different panel designs.

  • Similar levels of complexity and tesserae size between panels.
  • Colors and design elements distributed between panels.
  • Harmony of color intensity.
  • Balance amount of cool colors and warm colors.
  • Pairs of color wheel opposites used throughout the mosaic.
Mosaic Lazy Susan has similar level of complexity between panel designs.
Mosaic Lazy Susan has similar level of complexity between panel designs, even the leaves of the tree and the composite panel design at the bottom have no piece smaller than a piece used in the other iconic panels.
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Porch Mosaics series by art therapist Ellis Eisener, photo collage

Art Therapy Projects

Art Therapist Ellis Eisner sent me some photos of her client’s mosaics and her own work, and I wanted to share them with you and use them to illustrate several points.

Mosaic the Gateway Medium

Mosaic holds a special place in art education and art therapy in my opinion.

Often all that is required to get that process started is let people play with some tiles and a backer.

People who say they have no artistic ability will suddenly find that they are sliding tiles around to form simple pictures and shapes and designs.

Sorting a pile of small colorful objects is even more elemental than doodling with pen. It’s something animals do.

Handling objects is less abstract than drawing. It matters that the tiles are objects with weight and not paper-thin, not merely 2-D shapes.

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Mosaic Art One-Moment In Time by Candy Hahn

Composition and Correcting the Model

Artist Candy Hahn emailed me a picture of her recent mosaic and the photograph she used as a model. It is a solid mosaic interpretation, and it reminded me that I am overdue to write about using photographs as models for mosaic art.

Sometimes a composition is made stronger by deviating from the model, especially when mosaicing or painting from a photograph.

Candy cropped the photograph so that the central figures were large enough to be the subject of the mosaic instead of being a small detail in the background.

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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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