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.
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.
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 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
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
“Amateur” artist Tobin recently completed his Four Elements garden mosaic, and it is amazing for several reasons, the least of which is the fact that it was created over a span of six years with the artist getting up at 5 am to spend 45 minutes on it before leaving for his day job in corporate project management.
Here’s what I find impressive about Tobin’s mosaic:
Mosaic Swallowtail Butterfly. Note the uniformity of the grout gap in the background, which is as impressive as the detail in the butterfly.
- Each figure is well executed with a level of detail and precision that is remarkable. An experienced artist following a digitally generated pattern couldn’t do much better if at all. Continue reading
Artist Jen Vollmer recently completed a shower mosaic which features fish and flowing water executed in the same colors as the surrounding mosaic tiling. Jen says that in retrospect, she wishes she would have used a darker grey grout and blue/green glass tiles instead of the light blue, which would have increased the contrast.
I’m partial to intense colors and strong contrast, and those are required for an image to be eye-catching, but what struck me about Jen’s mosaic was that it is subtle in a professional way, integrated with the existing tile work and intentionally calculated to not stand out too strongly.
It was almost as if a client had commissioned the work and said, “Make the design figurative and naturalistic and have its own flowing andamento, but make it also integrate visually with the grids of tile that it runs through, and do that as seamlessly as possible.” Continue reading
Artist Megan Heazlewood makes strong use of contrasting colors in her iconic mosaics, and I think her work is inspiring for that reason.
Egyptian Musicians Contemporary Mosaic by Artist Megan Heazlewood
There are several contrasting color pairs in Megan’s mosaic of ancient Egyptian musicians: the teal and pink of the lotus flowers, the blue and gold, the white robes and the different skin tones, the blues and greens versus the burnt orange.
If you search Google Images for “kitchen backsplash mosaics,” you can see some good work, but you will also see way too many photos of beige and gray tile work that really doesn’t help too much in the way of inspiration, especially if you are wanting to make an original figurative mosaic or use colors other than the monotonous earth tones that dominate the coverings industry.
Artist Heather Speers emailed me some photos of her recent kitchen backsplash mosaic, and it is a solid example of how figurative mosaics rendered in brighter colors can work for this location. Continue reading
One of the things I always notice in cities like New York or San Francisco are the older buildings that still have entrance ways and bathrooms with mosaics made from whole porcelain tile. These mosaics are very simple in design, sometimes merely a border around plain tile, or maybe a simple repeating geometric pattern. If there are objects or figures, they are simple stylized abstract motifs almost like those seen in Persian carpets.
Rebecca Stoops recently emailed us some photos of her bathroom mosaic project, and the design could be described as a re-imaging of those classic geometric designs, only executed in intense colors of vitreous glass tile instead of porcelain.
I have written many times about black grout and why I recommend it for making tile colors look more intense, but I don’t think I have ever taken the time to talk about using black tile for the same reason.
Artist Carol Jasin recently emailed me some photos of her work, and she makes great use of black tile to make a her mosaics look more colorful and more substantial. Continue reading