Category Archives: Improving Your Art

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

concrete-sculpture-mosaic-before-after

Mosaic Lawn Sculptures by Bernie Taylor

Recently artist Bernie Taylor emailed me some pictures of his mosaic lawn sculptures including some concrete bird baths and benches, and he has an impressive body of work. Bernie’s work is also a great example of how you can buy factory-made concrete sculptures and make them unique works of art by covering them with mosaic.

Ceramic or Glass?

Bernie used glazed ceramic tile for his sculptures in Florida, but keep in mind that ceramic tile is vulnerable to freeze cracking while glass tile isn’t (because it is non-porous). Glass tile is also more affordable, easier to cut, and more widely available in more colors.

Glass tile is also smaller and thus easier to fit to curved surfaces. I am very impressed that Bernie was able to tile the complex curves of his sculptures and consistently do such a good job with it. Continue reading

Mosaic Redwoods by Tracy Kaplan Grouted.

Choosing Grout Color Using Tile Test Swatches

Tracy Kaplan recently emailed us a picture of her FIRST mosaic, and it is nice solid work, impressive even, especially considering that her instructor gave her some problematic advice concerning the grout color.  Tracy’s teacher had recommended a chocolate or nutmeg colored grout, but Tracy wisely considered how a dark brown might cause adjacent tree trunks to no longer be distinct and separate.

Perhaps Tracy’s instructor had meant a lighter shade of those browns, but I still think that those could have caused problems with the adjacent tree trunks.

Most likely, the instructor only saw a portion of the mosaic without adjacent tree trunks. Tracy admits that she only finished about an eighth of the work during the course and spent many months afterward working to complete it.

If so, this is yet another example of how artistic advice isn’t one-size-fits-all and can be counterproductive or even disastrous if the advice isn’t specific to a particular artist or even a particular work of art in its entirety.

Fortunately, Tracy emailed us for advice. Continue reading

Mosaic Chair by Janie Wright, back detail

Mosaic Furniture Pique Assiette Alternative

Mosaic furniture can be made from glass mosaic tile more easily and more affordably than it can be made from pieces cut from antique china and other patterned dinnerware. It’s also much more colorful! The choices available range from bright rainbow colors to soft pastels to different color families, earth tones, black and white.

You can even render portraits and landscapes on things like headboards because you have a complete rendering tool.

When you use glass tile instead of whatever you could scrounge up from months of yard sales and thrift shops, you start with a lot of horsepower on your side. Continue reading

Garden Retaining Wall

Mosaic Mural Surface Preparation

The best way to mount an outdoor mosaic mural is to use thinset mortar and mount it directly to a brick, stone, or concrete wall.

You can make mosaic murals on foam-core backer board and mount these backers onto wooden fences with screws, but that is less than ideal for several reasons, and the weight could cause the fence to lean if its posts aren’t securely anchored. That is why we recommend mounting mosaics directly on masonry surfaces (brick, stone, or concrete).

Masonry surfaces need to be cleaned and possibly smoothed before the mosaic is mounted, but that isn’t too difficult, and it is well worth doing if you want the mosaic to last any time at all. Continue reading

Mosaic Hummingbird

Repeating Motifs and Abstract Mosaics

Repeating simple designs or motifs is an effective way to make iconic compositions that catch the eye, and you can take this technique to its extreme to produce abstract art where the pattern itself becomes the subject of the art and not just a tool for rendering figures.

Karla Conmy’s River Meanders mosaic is a good example of repeating motifs taken to the level of abstraction, and Sally Scardino’s Hummingbird mosaic is a good example of using a repeated motif to make a figurative composition stronger. Continue reading

Mosaic St. Michael the Archangel

Mosaic Saints, Angels, and Icons

Historically, mosaic icons were made with traditional materials like smalti, marble, and gold leaf glass. Those traditional mosaic materials might be preferred if you are trying to make a reproduction that looks historically accurate, but they are more expensive and more difficult to work with.

Do You Need Smalti?

If you have any latitude in choosing your materials, remember that it is possible to make striking and realistic images using ordinary vitreous glass mosaic tile, which is both affordable and easy to work with.

Vitreous is the same thickness as the gold leaf glass we sell, and so you could still incorporate gold in your icon if you decided to nix the smalti and stone. In fact, it would be easier to use our gold leaf glass with vitreous than with the thicker smalti and stone.

Continue reading

Mosaic Street Number Plaque

Mosaic Letters and Numerals

You can make mosaic street numbers and signs using a grid, but mosaics made from irregular shapes of non-gridded tesserae are more interesting, especially if you use concentric andamento for the background surrounding the figures.

Sara Sommers emailed us some pictures of her mosaic street number plaque, and it is made from cut pieces of tile in strongly contrasting colors. It is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of making a piece with large mosaic letters or numerals.

Contrasting Colors

For starters, Sara uses strong color contrast between her numerals and background, which is critical for making eye-catching art. She also uses multiple related colors and variegated patterns instead of solid monochromatic color fields. Continue reading

Mosaic Fish by Debbie Watson

Beginner Mosaic Artwork

Mosaic is a great medium for beginners because it is accessible for people who don’t have much confidence in their ability to draw. Images can be rendered merely by arranging tile by trial and error until you like what you see.

Of course it helps to have a simple outline or pattern of the image you want to create, but you can easily create mosaic patterns without drawing, and you can easily transfer the pattern by tracing. You can also enlarge a pattern using only a ruler and pencil to draw grids.

Artist Debbie Watson emailed me some photos of her work and described herself as a newbie, saying that she has only been doing mosaic “since about February,” but it is fair to say that she has spent some time looking at mosaic art and thinking about what she would like to make.

Debbie’s mosaics have interesting elements and personality in spite of being relatively simple designs, and that is no small thing. Continue reading

Second Layer of Mesh

Making Foam-Core Mosaic Backers For Outdoor Projects

Artist Jill Gatwood uses the following method to make water-resistant foam-core mosaic backers for exterior mosaics, such as the Pet Memorial Name Plaques she does for clients who need something that is lighter weight and easier to ship than stone or solid concrete. The method wraps the foam in three or four successive layers of fiberglass mesh and thinset mortar, and that coating is pretty tough, tougher than stone. (The combination of polymer-modified cement and fiberglass can withstand blows that would easily crack granite of the same thickness.) Continue reading

jingo-pet-name-mosaic

Pet Memorial Name Plaques

For people wanting to make a portrait of their furry friend, I wrote an article on pet memorial mosaics using April Costigan’s work as illustrations of what is possible in terms of capturing likeness. The problem is that for many people, the task of rendering a realistic portrait of their pet is beyond their current skill level.

Fortunately, it is possible to make a pet memorial mosaic without the pet’s portrait and still make it personalized and specific to that pet. For example, instead of attempting an image of your pet, consider spelling their name in mosaic and making the surrounding area significant in terms of colors and found objects. More on that later.

Artist Jill Gatwood emailed us some pictures of some pet memorial name plaques that she has made, and they are good examples of the visual interest that can be created in the background with patterns of contrasting colors. I wanted to show these off because I think people who aren’t confident in their ability to draw will be inspired to make their own versions. Continue reading