Category: Improving Your Art
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.
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.
Paints can be blended to any shade or hue, but the mosaic medium requires that an artist render an image in a limited set of fixed colors.
The color palettes of molded glass tile product lines are limited to 40 to 60-ish colors, and this limitation seems to encourage novice artists to work in a posterized style of monochromatic color fields.
You can fight this tendency toward dullness and increase visual interest by variegating your monochromatic color fields with multiple shades of the same hue or a set of related hues.
Natalija has filmed a video of her laying out a rose mosaic inset for her new home, and it’s a good demonstration of cutting and fitting tile and other basic techniques. More importantly, it shows the process of design evolution by trial and error, something that is lacking in most craft videos.
I’ve already written about Brad Srebnik’s first mosaic and how impressive it is. It’s also amazing how well Brad documented the process as he was learning it.
Brad emailed me a summary of his methods and the lessons he learn from the project. He has some good photos of some important steps, including making a small study before the main project.
The small study is a huge help when everything about tile mosaic is new to an artist: cutting tile, using thinset, spacing tile, selecting colors, selecting grout color, etc.
The small study lets you get things right. It also lets you work more efficiently on the main project.
Improving your efficiency as a first-time novice can be absolutely critical, especially if your mosaic is highly detailed or large or an architectural covering.
Designs are said to be elegant when they “don’t try to push things uphill” but instead go with the natural flow of materials and forces.
Consider the Roman arch versus a rectangular doorway with a flat lintel on the top. The flat lintel could be constructed from a superior material than that used in the arch, but the arch is likely to be in place centuries or even millennia after the lintel has cracked and fallen.
The arch is intrinsically stronger because all its members are in compression. It’s simply a more elegant design.Practical Glass Tile Cutting (Mosaic 1 inch or less cut by wheel-blade cutting pliers)
A similar concept applies to making art: There are methods that are artificially labor-intensive and problematic, and there are methods that make use of how materials tend to behave on their own.
This is particularly true when cutting molded glass tile with a special pair of pliers known as a Wheel-Blade Mosaic Glass Cutter or Glass Nipper.
I once had an employee-artist who became angry with me for encouraging people who didn’t think they could draw to trace artwork or photos to make patterns.
I explained that we wanted to reach all skill levels and that included some people who would be attempting mosaic or even art for the first time.
I explained that it was a learning exercise that had value in itself and wouldn’t necessarily dull people’s imagination.
Chagall was the most imaginative of all the painters of the early 20th century, and his introduction to art as a school boy began by copying illustrations from books.
I can safely say that I’m not against people making exact copies of existing artwork on principle.
But why would you want to do that with a mosaic?
Artist Jill Gatwood sent me some photos of mosaics made by her and her students as examples where white grout was used with good results.
Jill says she didn’t used to offer white grout as an option for grouting in her class, but has since done so with some surprising discoveries.
The featured mosaic for this article is a backsplash Jill made with different panels, some grouted in black and some in white.Craft Aesthetic
At one point, we sold white grout, and I put a caveat in the product description about using white grout in mosaic artwork:
“White grout makes most mosaics look like a summer camp project, and that probably isn’t the look you are going for in your project.”
Artist Laura Adams emailed me for advice on selecting a grout color for her glass-on-glass mosaic, and it is a good case study for several reasons.
First, the sky of the mosaic is a whitish gray.
Second, Laura made sure to photograph the mosaic with two different lighting regimes: backlit from behind and regular lighting from the front.
Given that a glass-on-glass mosaic looks very different when backlit, it wouldn’t be possible to make an informed choice without taking both situations into account.
Most artists are aware of how much personality a work of art can assume during the process of creation, especially when the piece of art requires a long period to complete. Artist Peter Vogelaar says he often spoke to his “Rebirth” mosaic matryoshka sculpture while working on her and referred to her as Natalija.
A matryoshka (“little mother”) is a traditional Russian doll made from painted wood and hollowed out for a series of smaller wooden dolls inside with the same design. These recursively-nested dolls symbolize fertility and the continuity of life and the family.
Peter made his mosaic sculpture Rebirth in the shape and styling of matryoshka dolls but clothed her in illustrations of the forest’s power of renewal instead of traditional costume.