Category Archives: Art Review

Reviews of modern mosaic art.

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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Mosaic Street-Number Sign by artist Monika Walter damaged

Warning: Marine Plywood Not For Mosaic

Marine plywood cannot be used as a mosaic backer for outdoor and wet mosaic.

Yes, marine plywood can withstand the outdoors and wet days for many years, but it is completely unacceptable as a mosaic backer because it swells and contracts with changes in humidity in the outside air. That amount of swelling and contracting is tiny and might not be significant in construction projects, but it is fatal for mosaic. Absolutely fatal. It’s only a matter of time, and it’s usually not long.

People recommending the use of marine plywood as a backer for outdoor mosaics are not considering one critical detail:

The swelling and contracting of wood due to humidity isn’t trivial where adhesives are concerned, and the displacement (movement) can be measured. Imagine rainy days versus dry days. The displacement is more than enough to work glass free from adhesive because the glass isn’t swelling or contracting at all.

This is not speculation. I am an engineer and have worked in a materials testing lab.

Another piece of evidence I could bring to any argument about the use of marine plywood in mosaic is that I have received photos of tragically-damaged mosaics for 17 years, and marine plywood wins hands down as far as being the worst cause of grief, and the reason is simple:

Marine plywood SEEMS like a solid safe option because contractors will talk about the life they have gotten from it on certain jobs, and so the people who make the mistake of choosing it tend to be people who are making a design with a lot of work and care for the details. They took the time to choose a “good” backer because they knew they were going to put a lot of effort into their mosaic.

Seeing these mosaics damaged is much more painful than seeing some hasty work falling apart because the technical details were just outright neglected.

That brings me to an email I received from Monika Walter.

Artist Monika Walter

Monika Walter says she doesn’t consider herself to be an “artist,” but she has some solid work at her mosaic website, and she makes tables and mirrors and clocks for craft shows. They all look well-executed to me, and a couple of her mosaics make me jealous. More about that later.

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Mosaic Table Top Steph Potter Blue Mandala

Centering Mosaic Table Top Designs

Artist Stephanie Potter‘s mosaic table top designs are mandalas that catch and hold the eye with contrast, symmetry, and visual interest. They are centered so that the outer circle of tile is at the edge of the circular table tops.

Mosaics made on wooden table tops are for indoor use. Outdoors, the wood swells and contracts with changes in humidity, and that causes tiles to pop off.

Mosaic Table Top Steph Potter Iridescent Glass Mandala
Mosaic Table Top Stephanie Potter Iridescent Glass Mandala

Of course, it is easy to explain how you keep a design centered if you draw out all the work lines for the rows of tile, which would be more or less required for such detailed, symmetrical designs like these made by Stephanie.

But how do you center a mosaic on a round table if your pattern doesn’t show every row of tile? What do you do when you want to improvise a figure in the center of a table but still surround it with concentric rings of tiles where the outermost ring of tile is at the edge of the table?

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Artist Heather Hancock mixed media glass architectural abstract art, vertical

Geometric Architectural Perspectives

Recently I wrote about The Stylistic Range of Mosaic Art and mentioned that I am still being surprised by the different styles that artists are able to execute in the medium, especially those with formal training.

I meant formal training in art when I first wrote that, and I was thinking about how technical innovation is easier for someone who has studied the nuts and bolts of different mediums.

Later I got to thinking about the extent to which art is fertilized by study of other disciplines, and not just the example of how Renaissance artists studied mathematical perspective and anatomy.

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mosaic-science-mural-detail

Public Art and Commissioned Mosaics

Artist Steven “Stevo” Sadvary has a broad mosaic portfolio of pet portraits, cityscapes, signage, educational murals and other public art, all solidly rendered.

I like public art that inspires people to make their own art, especially children, and I think there are a few things about Stevo’s art that make it optimal in that way.

Mosaic Sign Phoenix Dragon Tiger Tortoise
Mosaic Sign Phoenix Dragon Tiger Tortoise by artist Steven “Stevo” Sadvary.
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Prairie Diptych Mosaic, 4 ft x 2 ft

River and Prairie Mosaics

Artist Janet Flom used some of our vitreous tile in some pubic space mosaics in 2016-17 that are photorealistic and well-executed, and I wanted to show them off as inspiration. The subjects of the mosaics are prairie wildflower patches and landscapes of the upper Mississippi River.

Andamento

I say Janet’s mosaics are well-executed because the tiles are arranged in lines that correspond to the shape being rendered instead of being placed in a grid where each tile is nothing more than a pixel.

I greatly prefer mosaics that have this added element of visual interest and think it is worth the extra effort.

Using an andamento that follows the shapes being rendered also allows you to capture smaller details with larger pieces.

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peony-mosaic-bowl-susan-klug-kahan

Mosaic Bowls and Platters

Mosaics cannot be a “food safe” surface as defined by the Food and Drug Administration because grout is porous and cannot be cleaned easily or completely, and it sheds material over time. That being said, you can still make mosaic bowls and platters as centerpieces for holding fruit and other decorative uses.

Artist Susan Klug Kahan emailed me some photos of her peony mosaic bowl and asked my advice on grout color. Susan used a narrow grout gap, and so the visual impact of grouting and grout color would be minimal, but there was still a lot of incentive to get it right: The design was all about harmonious colors, and so a poor choice of grout color would be particularly conspicuous.

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Crucifix Installed in Niche in Altarpiece by artist Nicholas Vasko

Imitation Gold Glass for Altarpieces and Icons

Religious icons make heavy use of gold leaf glass to represent halos and divine light but also to adorn the figures and to communicate the preciousness of the image. Of course we carry 24 kt Gold Leaf Glass for use in icons and other mosaics, but the material is expensive for obvious reasons, and so the question becomes what do you use when you need to make something larger, such as an altarpiece or a life-size icon?

The answer is the silver-foil glass product known as Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass, which has an epoxy coating over the silver backing to prevent oxidation and blackening by adhesives.

Artist Nicholas Vasco emailed us some pictures of a couple of his recent projects using Imitation Gold Glass, and they are impressive. Both the altarpiece and the mosaic inserts of the chapel entrance way are very well done and worth talking about for several reasons.

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Big Falls Stained Glass Mosaic Landscape

Use of Natural Stone in Landscape Mosaics

I recently saw some stained-glass mosaics by artist Debra D’Souza, and they reaffirmed my belief in the mosaic business and actually cheered me up after a day of work poop. To explain why Debra’s mosaics make me so happy, I first have to explain a problem that really haunts me as a retailer of arts and craft supplies.

Flame Lake Stained Glass Mosaic Landscape
Flame Lake Stained Glass Mosaic Landscape by artist Debra D’Suza 24 x36 in

Not Rocks with Fake Skins

Most of the stones you see used in mosaic artwork are rounded river rocks, which is fine when they are unique stones collected from beaches and hikes and real life, but all too often they are the epoxy-coated or urethane-coated river rocks of the same type of stone from the same factory no matter where you buy them, which is really sad to me.

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Mosaic Pet Portrait Cali

Cartoon Patterns and Mosaic Pet Portraits

The pattern for a mosaic is sometimes referred to as a cartoon because it is just an outline with no attempt at shading or color. The purpose of the cartoon is merely to map out the major work lines and color fields, and so the cartoon is relatively simple, even for photorealistic work. The texture and color mottling and finer details come from the tile.

Mosaic Pet Portrait Cali WIP2
Mosaic Pet Portrait Cali work-in-progress 2 by artist Donna Van Hooser

Simplified Yet Exact

The cartoon is not required to have all the lines needed to create an image, but what lines it does have should be exact. For example, you shouldn’t try to draw all the flecks of color in the iris of an eye, but you should have that iris drawn exactly where it goes.

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