Category Archives: Art Review

Reviews of modern mosaic art.

Kat Hammer Mosaic Sunflowers light vs dark grout

Grout Color and Variegated Mosaic Backgrounds

I have examples throughout this blog illustrating why darker grouts work much better for mosaic artwork than light colored grouts do. I also have examples of using complex color fields of related hues and explanations why they provide more visual interest than monochromatic color fields.

I repeat these two points so often because they are easy ways to make your mosaics look much better.

Artist Kat Hammer recently started making mosaics, and her first two mosaics of sunflowers are great examples of both points. Actually, her second mosaic of sunflowers is a great teaching example of when NOT to use a complex color field for the background and when a simple monochromatic background is preferred.

That last detail is very important, and I haven’t talked enough about it.

First I need to point out how darn good a darker grout looks:

Kat Hammer Mosaic Sunflowers dark grout
Kat Hammer Mosaic Sunflowers dark grout
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Mosaic Watering Can, ungrouted, composite view

Best Grout Gap For Mosaic Artwork

The best grout gap for mosaic artwork depends on whether or not the mosaic will be outdoors or in a potentially wet location such as a backsplash.

When Do You Need A Grout Gap?

If the mosaic might get wet or exposed to humid air, you can’t have the tiles touch each other. You need a gap for the grout to fit into to seal out moisture.

Tiles that touch can never touch close enough to seal out moisture.

If the mosaic is a small indoor icon or plaque, you don’t have to worry about sealing out moisture, and so you can fit the tiles tightly together and skip grouting.

TIP: You might want to grout anyway to fill in any small incidental gaps left by imperfectly shaped tesserae, especially if your mosaic is a “dry” tabletop or architectural surface. (If those surfaces are in the kitchen or bathroom, you should consider them “wet” and use a grout gap.)

Smaller Gaps Preferred

Smaller gaps are preferred because they make grouting easier, and they minimize the color impact of grouting.

A grout gap only needs to be large enough to ensure that grout can fill the gap all the way to the bottom and not just a smear across the top and hide a void underneath.

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Abstract Mosaic-Covered River Stones by Barbara Stutts

Abstract Mosaics As “Quilt” Elements

Artist Barbara Stutts recently emailed me some photos of her abstract mosaic stepping stones and mosaic-covered river stones, and they resonated with me for several reasons.

Barbara says she is relatively new to mosaic, but her abstract mosaics are worth sharing because they are well executed and serve as good teaching examples.

In this case, one of the lessons needing a teaching example is what beautiful art you can make without drawing or rending an image in any way.

Abstract Mosaic Plaque p1 by Barbara Stutts
Abstract Mosaic Stepping Stone p1 by Barbara Stutts

Mosaic stepping stones such as these can be made directly on concrete stepping stones using thinset mortar, and you can purchase both products at a local building material store.

If you need something lighter and thinner for a mosaic that will be mounted vertically on an outdoor wall, you could use a large porcelain floor tile in either 12 inch or 18 inch size as the backer.

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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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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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Mixed-Media Mosaic Plaque by Mollie Seymour

Mixed-Media Mosaic as Bas-Relief Sculpture

Artist Mollie Seymour’s mosaic plaque is a depiction of a small pueblo of cliff dwellings in a rugged canyon with water and sky rendered in bold andamento. Mollie made this for the mosaic for the courtyard of a condominium. I wanted to share it because it is a good example of using mixed-media mosaic to make a bas-relief sculpture.

The Treachery of Images by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte, 1929.
The Treachery of Images by Belgian surrealist painter RenĂ© Magritte, 1929. “This Is Not A Pipe.”

MMM: Where a Pipe Really Is a Pipe

Mixed-media mosaic (MMM) is a medium of art where elements of a composition can actually be the item being “depicted.” For example, a mosaic face could be smoking a real pipe. The artist can use a mix of found objects and elements rendered in conventional tile to produce results that engage the mind as both image and symbol all at once.

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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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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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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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