Category Archives: Art Review

Reviews of modern mosaic art.

Lighthouse Mosaic By Natalija Moss

Making Pictures With Colored Mirror Tile

Natalija improvised this picture of a lighthouse using the Colored Mirror Tiles to show that they can be used to render an image. We added these tiles last year, but I haven’t had time to use them in anything.

In Praise of Colored Mirror Tiles

I can say that the Colored Mirror Tile ranks the highest of all our product lines in terms of being “pretty shiny things” in a rainbow of colors. (Sure the 24kt Gold Mosaic Glass is dazzling, but that is only one color, and things like beads and gemstones are more accents than they are materials for rendering.)

The colored mirror tile seems pretty durable in terms of the oxidation protection on the silver backing. There was some left-over bleach water at the warehouse, I dumped in some cut up Colored Mirror Tile, and the bleach water completely dried up without the tile oxidizing.

As an engineer that has experience in materials testing, I know that a more meaningful test would be to put them in straight bleach for a period of months, AND MULTIPLE SPECIMENS OF ALL COLORS would need to be tested, but I was still surprised that cut edges could be exposed to bleach water for days without any visible effect.

That sort of protection on the silver backing means that you can definitely use a white PVA adhesive like Weldbond without any worries about it compromising the the silver, which is something you can’t say about the cheap colored mirror stock that other suppliers cut up for tiles.

I wouldn’t use our Colored Mirror Tile in a chlorinated swimming pool just because I am an engineer and want anything I make to last as long as things made by the ancient Roman. But the manufacturer says that they are being used in swimming pools.

I did note that the manufacturer states that the Colored Mirror Tiles shouldn’t be exposed to sulfur. I guess that means as long as you do not practice alchemy on your mosaic coffee table, these should be good to go…

Suitable Mosaic Backers For Indoors

If you are going to use materials like colored glass tile, which take a lot of fossil fuel and minerals to make, then the environmental cost of these materials dictate that you use a durable backer for any mosaic you make with them.

Natalija made this mosaic on a whim, and she made it on a piece of pallet wood instead of a more suitable piece of plywood, which we have tons of in the studio. Pallets are made from the cheapest variety of wood, which is porous and brittle, and so this was not the best choice.

To compensate for using such a vulnerable backer, Natalija painted the sides of the backer with several coats of artists acrylic paint and sealed the bottom with Weldbond. That should lock out moisture and keep the wood from warping or splitting over time.

Note that you would want to paint or seal the sides of the sanded plywood Mosaic Backer Boards we sell, but you wouldn’t have to seal the bottoms, which come sealed in clear polyurethane.

Marlene Dietrich Mosaic

Inspiring Mosaic Portraits Using A Grid Pattern

David Armstrong has created some inspiring mosaic portraits, and he did it using whole tiles arranged in a grid instead of irregular pieces cut and fit as needed. Normally, I dislike mosaic designs based on grids because they lack the extra visual element provided by tile arrangement (andamento), but David’s work has tons of visual interest that more than compensates for this. Continue reading

Pan's Head mosaic in progress

Pan’s Head Mosaic: A Classical Interpretation

Artist Frederic Lecut’s “Pan’s Head” mosaic has a style that matches its theme, and it is a great example of using classical elements in a contemporary mosaic.

The face of the “goat-footed god of Attica” or Pan is the subject of Lecut’s mosaic, and consequently the artist incorporates several aspects of ancient Greek mosaic in his design. Continue reading

The Afghan Girl's Eyes Mosaic by artist Frederic Lecut.

Mosaic Artist Frederic Lecut’s Opus Pixellatum Technique

Artist Frederic Lecut’s Opus Pixellatum Technique is a tool for rapidly creating original photorealistic mosaics and incorporating improvised elements.

Artist Frederic Lecut

Mosaic Artist Frederic Lecut creates striking portraits of people’s eyes, mosaics that are photorealistic in execution and powerful as compositions because they are cropped closely and look almost like eyes seen in a Niqab. Continue reading

Mosaic Patio Table with bench seats by Naomi Haas.

Glass or Ceramic Tile for Mosaic Patio Table?

Ceramic tile can be used for outdoor mosaic patio tables provided you live someplace warm year round, but otherwise glass tile should be used because it is impervious to moisture and freeze damage. There are other reasons to use glass tile explained later in this article.

Concrete Patio Table Set

Artist Naomi Haas recently completed a mosaic patio table set that included concrete benches, and I really liked it for several reasons. For starters, the table base and benches she had were sturdy and stable and appropriate for an outdoor mosaic (and not wood or rusted light-gauge metal or some of the other junk people email us about using).

Mosaic Bench 1 of 3

Mosaic Bench 1 of 3 uses a design of solid colors instead of being a copy of the other benches.

I also like the color scheme. Naomi colored the un-mosaiced surfaces black and used black grout to make the bright festive colors of the Mexican Talavera tile stand out. To make the concrete black, Naomi used a product called Flex Seal, but black spray paint could have been used. Another thing that draws me to this project is that Naomi made a different design for each bench instead of making them the same.

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Mosaic Art Untitled Valri Castleman

How To Price Mosaic Art

Pricing art is difficult because it is subjective, and pricing mosaic artwork is even more problematic due to the extra labor required to make it, but there is a structured way to determine a hard number, even if the buyer is a friend or relative.

Recently artist Valri Castleman emailed my a photo of her untitled mosaic shown above and asked for my advice on how to price it for a family member. Normally I am not drawn to mosaics made from triangular pieces, but I like Valri’s mosaic and think it is worth sharing for several reason. For starters, there is some sophisticated “figure-ground-reversal” going on that reminds me of Picasso and the Cubists. There is also some interesting use of grout lines to outline figures. Lastly, the mosaic is a good case study for how to price your art for sale to a friend.

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How To Add Texture To Mosaic Art

Mosaic artwork can include rough textural elements that would be impractical in architectural tiling such as a shower wall, which needs to be smooth for cleaning and safety. Note that smooth does not mean flat. You can have textural elements in an architectural surface, but they need to be rounded and not jagged. (Cheese-grater walls in the shower or even your hallway would be problematic.)

Serendipity

For the past few months or more, I have been meaning to create a mosaic which uses cut pieces of tile mounted on their side so that I could demonstrate how a “hand-cut” smalti look and feel could be created with ordinary molded mosaic tile, which is significantly cheaper than smalti. But work and other art projects kept getting in the way, until finally one day out of the blue artist Dee Ruff emails me some pictures of her work, and they illustrate exactly what I had in mind!

We Are Stardust Mosaic Side View

“We Are Stardust” Mosaic Side View by Artist Dee Ruff shows the beautiful texture and hand-cleaved look that can be had from ordinary molded tile.

We Are Stardust Mosaic

“We Are Stardust Mosaic” by Artist Dee Ruff includes a “portal” (glass panel painted on the reverse side).

Mixed Media and Texture

"In the Garden" Mosaic

“In the Garden” Mosaic by Dee Ruff features ceramic figures by Atlanta-based artist Martha Coursey.

"Nature" Mosaic by Dee Ruff

“Nature” Mosaic by Dee Ruff includes a stained glass inset that matches the “color wash” gradient of the tile.

Dee’s “In the Garden” mosaic really caught my eye because I have always been drawn to mixed-media mosaics and mosaics where the work lines of the background interact with figurative elements in the foreground. This mosaic has both. Plus as a subtle color wash gradient in the background. Plus a hand-cleaved texture made from molded recycled glass tile that was cut and mounted on edge. (It was almost as if this mosaic were made to order for me. Imagine my surprise when Dee emailed it to me.)

Dee says “in the Garden” is one of her favorite pieces. Note that the flowers are made from ceramic figures by Atlanta-based artist Martha Coursey, who does amazing work. I like how the smooth glazed ceramic pieces contrast with the rough cleaved texture of the sky.

Backers, Substrates, and Mounting

Dee makes her panels from recycled expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam)  covered in alkali-resistant fiberglass mesh and multiple coats of thinset mortar colored with concrete dye. The “hollow” core makes the substrates lightweight, and the skin of thinset and mesh makes them strong and tough (impact resistant). Dee says that she builds the mounting hardware directly into the skin so that it is anchored by layers of thinset reinforced by fiberglass mesh.

Dee uses the Wedi brand of hardware, but brass picture hanging rings sold by building material stores should work, provided you use the heavier gauges. Note that no mounting hardware will be strong enough if you hang them on a nail in drywall, which is weak and fails easily. Nails or screws for mosaics and paintings of any size should go through the drywall and into the stud inside the wall (use a stud finder) or in the crown molding at the top of the wall with a hooked rod hanging down.

Note the safest and most robust mounting system is probably the French cleat. See Natalija’s Instructions for French Cleat Mounting.

More Of Dee Ruff’s Art

Dee Ruff currently has work available at the The Mosaic Love Gallery in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Dee’s website is Black Cat Mosaics, and she has some interesting multimedia mosaics and collaborations online there.

 

 

Lisa Jones Patio Mosaic

Patio Mosaic Alternatives

Patios are excellent locations for mosaics, but the patio floor itself is not as good a surface for a mosaic as a surrounding wall or brick planter would be. The main reason is simple: metal patio furniture will crack and crush glass tile, and glass is the preferred material because it is frost proof, economical, and comes in many colors. Also, the floor of the patio is not as visible as a nearby vertical surface is likely to be, especially when furniture, grills, and the usual patio accessories are present.

Recently artist Lisa Jones emailed me some photos of her patio mosaic, and I was taken with it in spite of my preference for designs that use free-form placement of pieces of tile instead of gridded patterns of whole tile.

Lisa Jones Patio Mosaic right side

Lisa Jones Patio Mosaic right side continues with the garden theme and flower and bee motifs.


Continue reading

Mosaic Interpretation of Picasso Painting

Brian Kyle’s mosaic interpretation of Picasso’s painting “Man With Ice Cream Cone” is a refreshing departure from the cute themes that seem to dominate contemporary mosaic artwork. Brian calls his mosaic “The Lecher” and says that some people are creeped out by it. I say that makes it real Art (with a capital A) in the sense of being worth thinking and talking about.

Picasso Mosaic Interpretation

Mosaic Interpretation of Picasso’s “Man With Ice-Cream Cone” by Brian Kyle. Notice how the working lines of the black background all converge on the ice cream to make it a focal point.

Improving Picasso?

Brian’s mosaic is also noteworthy because it has some interesting elements that actually build on what Picasso was doing, which is no small trick. (Successfully improving or extending a master’s work is a fairly significant accomplishment any day of the week.) Notice how the working lines of the black background all converge on the ice cream to make it a focal point. I think Picasso would have approved and possibly even been jealous of how Brian used the lines of the background to focus even more attention on the cartoonish black tongue licking the white ice cream.

Glass Beads For Texture and Depth

Another thing that makes Brian’s mosaic worth looking at is that the artist successfully used glass beads with ordinary flat glass tile to give the surface texture and depth.

Glass Beads in The Lecher Mosaic

Glass Beads in “The Lecher” Mosaic give the surface a texture that begs to be touched.

Work In Progress

Brian also sent us a good photograph of the mosaic in progress, which shows the classic direct method of drawing the pattern on the backer and mosaicing directly on that surface.

Picasso Mosaic In Progress

Work In Progress photo of “The Lecher” Mosaic shows the pattern drawn directly on the backer.

 

Doraemon Japanese Manga Mosaic Installation Video

Rolando Jose made a mosaic of his favorite cartoon character Doraemon using broken pieces of glazed ceramic tile obtained locally in Panama and our black 12mm recycled glass tile for outlining. Rolando Jose made a video of creating and installing the mosaic and used Doraemon’s theme song for the soundtrack. Doraemon is a Japanese manga character.

The Birth of (Rolando Jose’s) Doraemon

This mosaic seems to have been what I call a “passion project” for Dr. Rolando Jose Rodríguez De León, who is a media and communications professor specializing in animation at the University of Panama. Like many passion projects, Rolando Jose’s results are impressive in spite of the lack of experience.

Passion Projects

“Passion project” is a term I use to describe one of these art projects where people have spent years or most of their lives thinking that one day they would finally make a mosaic mural or a sew a quilt or do some other big project in a medium of art they have never done before. Usually what happens is one day they can’t put it off any longer, and suddenly they have started the project. For this reason, there usually isn’t a lot of preliminary research beyond finding basic tools and methods, but any lack of knowledge is more than compensated by the artist’s willingness to figure things out as they go along and experiment as needed.

Many times these new mosaic artists work without knowing all the basics or the most efficient ways of doing things, but they don’t fret if things take much more time and effort than what they had originally anticipated, and they often work around difficulties and setbacks that would discourage a more experienced artist. Their passion for what they are doing bears them up and keeps them happily moving forward.

I love it when people email me pictures of their passion projects. It reaffirms my faith in the mosaic supply business and humanity in general!

Humidity Warps Plywood

Rolando Jose mounted his mosaic on a sheet of marine plywood so that it could be taken with them if they move. Hardiboard and concrete backer board are preferred outdoors and in wet locations. Humidity makes plywood warp and delaminate.  If you do use plywood outdoors, use marine plywood and paint the back side and edges with three coats of exterior paint (oil-based preferred). Don’t paint or seal the face of the plywood with anything except the same type glue you will be using because you want the tile attached directly to the backer. The finished grouted mosaic should be sealed with a tile and grout sealer from the building material store.

Mosaic Doraemon in progress

Mosaic Doraemon in progress

Should You Use Fiberglass Mesh?

Fiberglass mesh is used to lay up mosaic designs as sheets of tile in advance of the final installation. If you are mounting the mosaic on a panel or table top, then you can skip the mesh and glue the tiles directly on the panel or table top. To do that, you first need to transfer the pattern directly to the surface, and that isn’t difficult. I wrote instructions for enlarging and transferring mosaic patterns using only a ruler.

Mosaic Doraemon Outline

Mosaic Doraemon being outlined using 1/2-inch black glass mosaic tiles.

Rolando Jose laid his mosaic up on fiberglass mesh. To so this, he first taped his pattern to the work surface and covered it with clear plastic so that the mesh would not get glued to the pattern. Then it was just a process of outlining the image by gluing black tiles along the lines of his pattern and filing in the monochromatic color fields.

The Right Tools for the Job

The artist adds doraemon's blue tiles.

The artist adding Doraemon’s blue tiles to the mesh using Weldbond Adhesive. Notice the sheet of cardboard used as an improvised cutting tray. We use shallow plastic dishpans for cutting trays. You can repurpose many common household items for use in the art studio, but specialty tools like tile nippers and marble files are indispensable.

Grouting A Large Mosaic

We sell convenience-sized tubs of dry sanded grout for use in small indoor art projects. If you think you need more than one of these 2-pound containers, then you should be buying your grout at your local building material store. For large mosaics murals, you need to buy the 60-pound bags of grout. You can buy it much cheaper in these large bags, and you also save on shipping.

If your mural is large enough to require more than one large bag of grout, you should also consider buying a mixing paddle, the kind that fits in an electric drill. Even with a powered mixing paddle, it is still a lot of physical work to mix up that much grout.

Artist Grouting Mosaic Doraemon

The Artist Grouting Mosaic Doraemon. Note the white haze that will be buffed off following the application of the grout. Make sure you press the grout down into the gaps and work it in thoroughly to ensure that no voids or bubbles are left at the bottom of the gaps.