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.
I recommend that schools wanting to make a mosaic mural for their school consider “crazy quilt” displays that are assembled from individual mosaic projects all on the same size backer, say anywhere from 6×6 inches or 12×12 inches.
This allows each student a real art experience (making their own design) instead of just being a worker bee on a group project, which runs the risk of teaching mostly the craft/shop aspect of the process while being too light on individual expression/design.
A good compromise is to have the class work on a group project to “learn by doing” under supervision and them have them do small individual projects afterward. These individual mosaics are then arranged as a “crazy quilt” frame around the central group project.
It is important that any school’s visual arts class or art project actually be about students doing art (individual design and expression). Don’t lose sight of that in your school’s project.
When the students start gluing tile, you will be pre-occupied with showing inexperienced people how to glue without making a mess and won’t have much bandwidth for making sure everyone is working consistently in terms of spacing.
Showing the importance of small consistent grout gaps and how to arrange tile can be done before glue is ever involved.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Artist Terry Broderick‘s latest mosaic is titled “Red Light District / Amsterdam,” and it is an interesting follow up to his Pittsburgh Cityscape mosaic, which is equally impressive. I feel like both mosaics could be part of a show called “Stalking Van Gogh in Mosaic.”
I like the Amsterdam mosaic for several reasons: It’s a good teaching example of perspective and vanishing point and creating a sense of depth. It’s a very fine job of capturing the “temperature of light” and the look of things at night and how you can feel that it is night in the scene.
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.
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.
My son and I took a short break from planting our native and heirloom vegetable garden and digging a second tadpole pond and made Coronavirus Helmets, which are an essential piece of equipment these days. The Coronavirus Helmet featured in this post is mine. I have more about Henry’s helmet later in this post.
As I write, there is almost as much proof that these helmets repel Coronavirus as there is proof that malaria meds work for Coronavirus -at least not any better than any number of existing pharmaceuticals that were designed for viruses and not a protozoa like malaria.
That is why I feel like I have contributed as much in the fight against the pandemic as Donald Trump has.
More actually. I spent much of February warning friends and relatives of the coming catastrophe and encouraging them to buy groceries and make other preparations as soon as possible.
What did the President do in February? He repeatedly claimed everything was under control and played golf.
My apologies to anyone who is offended by that comment, but you might want to give me a pass for several reasons:
My ex-wife is from NYC, and I was aware of all the deeply disturbing things that local people knew about Trump BEFORE he entered politics, including assessments by deeply conservative bankers and tradesmen who hated Hillary Clinton with a passion. Most anyone who worked with Trump described him as a crook and cheat with too many ties to the wrong sort of Russians.
Like any experienced manufacturing engineer, I had a complete safety plan for my employees to work solo shifts wearing N95 masks I purchased well in advance of the crisis, having dealt with outbreaks of flu and stomach virus in production lines before. My criticism of Donald Trump’s lack of a timely response is from professional experience.
The mosaic business is merely one of my activities, and I spent the past year looking into developing an aptameric alternative to protein-based drugs such as Humira. My masters thesis involved microbiology and the University of Georgia patented it.
-Joe Moorman, MS, engineer
How does a guy who has 8 part-time employees outperform the President of the United States? And how did I do it when my decisions were only based on basic information accessible to anyone who follows international news?
I don’t often use words like doddamn and futhermucker when I speak to my momma on the phone, but I did when I called her and explained why she needed to stop watching Fox News.
One of the most well-executed mosaics I have ever seen in terms fine details wrought in slivers of glass came to me in photos in an email last week from artist Irene Clifford.
As Natalija pointed out, ” Most people would throw away tiny pieces like that as scraps.”
The mosaic is excellent work in several ways.
The andamento of the mosaic as a whole is instinctive, and it fits the details and curves being rendered naturally (instead of being rows to cover space without much regard for the shape of the color field).
The size of details relative to tile size is optimal for creating visual interest. That and the andamento impress me more than the exceptionally well-executed details with glass slivers.
Most people could make multiple mosaics without ever coming close to this level of instinctive andamento or being able to work with tesserae that small, being more or less a sliver.