There is tremendous power in getting the colors right. No matter how loosely executed, an impressionistic landscape painting takes on photorealistic qualities merely by having the correct colors for a scene with its particular light.
For that reason, most people wanting to make a mosaic portrait begin by trying to find the “right” color for the skin type they are trying to render, whether it be a pinkish northern European skin tone or a Latino coffee color or whatever.
When these people email us asking questions like, “which tile would you use to render the skin of a caucasian person?” or “which tile color would you use to make a mosaic of Polynesian faces?” my answer isn’t what these people are expecting or wanting:
Mosaic portraits should not be thought of in terms of one particular color that generally represents the skin tone of a race or individual. Instead, look at the highlights and shadows of the model photograph and think in terms of rendering those areas in a way that gets their colors right.
Found objects can be used as mosaic tesserae based on their color and texture and shape, as another form of tile more or less, but found-objects of symbolic value add a whole new dimension to mosaics, one that is as cerebral as it is visual.
You do not have to choose between making a found-object mosaic or a figurative mosaic. You can create visual interest in figurative mosaics by using found-objects in a spare and selective way.
I wanted to show off and discuss artist Janet Sacks’ mosaics because she has some great examples of using found objects in figurative mosaic, both in the sense of improvised tile for texture and color and in the sense of symbolic value. Janet’s work is particularly strong in my opinion because she does not overuse symbolic found objects.
Janet also has a couple of mosaics that deviate from practices that I recommend as a general rule, and I wanted to talk about why they still work.
Artist Marilyn Keating makes wonderful whimsical mosaic sculptures, and she recently completed a mixed-media mosaic mural as part of her residency at Morris-Union’s Warren, NJ Developmental Learning Centers (DLC), which provide public school programs for students with autism or autistic-like behavior.
I wanted to show pictures and talk about this mosaic because it was made with the help of young autistic people, and it is a good example of a design that is appropriate for a group project with people with different levels of focus or skill or ability to follow instructions, which is a relevant concern for most group mosaic projects no matter what the ages or issues involved.
Artist Cindy Christensen emailed us some pictures of several mosaic projects that she collaborated on with her woodworking husband, and I wanted to share them because they are all well executed and colorful. They are also great examples of how you can improve your mosaic art by partnering with someone who has more power tools or shop knowledge than you do.
Cindy says her husband made the wooden coasters and the birdhouse and the other sculptural bases, and that he helps with sanding window frames and other bases for her mosaics.
Since we also receive pictures of distressed projects from people needing advice on how to salvage the situation, I wanted to talk about the problem of accidentally misdirecting the handy person helping you and how to avoid it.
I have written in the past about “passion projects,” which is a term I use to describe first-time projects in a new medium that were executed by people with little or no training, and often executed in an explosive or emotional way after wanting to do something similar for years.
If we gave an award for best use of iridescent tile to create a sense of lighting in a scene, artist Terry Broderick’s mosaic “Pittsburgh Cityscape,” would have won it hands down. It is a must-see mosaic.
Even if you aren’t planning on using iridescent tile for lights in a night scene, Terry’s mosaic is worth taking a look because the sense of light and atmosphere he creates in it is nothing less than impressive.
If you are trying to make things like stars in a night sky or streetlights reflecting across water, this mosaic is a tutorial on how to do it right.
Artist Betty Ackerman recently used our fire-polished millefiori (the Mud-Turtle Mosaic brand) and stained glass to make a circular mosaic in the form of a rainbow-colored tree of life with a column of chakras spiraling inward on the trunk. Betty calls her mosaic “Chakra Tree of Life.” The first mosaics I ever made were found-object “mandalas” in the form of a tree of life in an oval, and so Betty’s design spoke to me.
I wanted to share this mosaic because Betty did a good job at maintaining adequate contrast between the tree and the background and between the branches and the leaves in spite of the color transition in the design. It would have been all too easy for the figurative element of the tree to become lost with this much “visual interest” going on in every square inch, and so the mosaic is worth studying.
Artist Melanie Squires recently completed a stained-glass mosaic table, and I wanted to show it off for several reasons, and not just because it looks so good. There are some materials and methods to discuss, and there is the use of impressionism for the koi, which I thought was particularly effective.
Warning: If you use a glass patio table for a mosaic, make sure the glass is thick enough to support the weight of the mosaic. It is possible to find glass patio tables at thrift shops where the original thick glass has broken and been replaced with something thinner. It is also possible to come across cheaply-made tables with thin glass, especially end tables and coffee tables.
Never use a table for an outdoor mosaic merely because that is the table you happen to have. Before you invest time, money, and materials, make sure it will last.
Recently artist Bernie Taylor emailed me some pictures of his mosaic lawn sculptures including some concrete bird baths and benches, and he has an impressive body of work. Bernie’s work is also a great example of how you can buy factory-made concrete sculptures and make them unique works of art by covering them with mosaic.
Ceramic or Glass?
Bernie used glazed ceramic tile for his sculptures in Florida, but keep in mind that ceramic tile is vulnerable to freeze cracking while glass tile isn’t (because it is non-porous). Glass tile is also more affordable, easier to cut, and more widely available in more colors.
Glass tile is also smaller and thus easier to fit to curved surfaces. I am very impressed that Bernie was able to tile the complex curves of his sculptures and consistently do such a good job with it. Continue reading →
Artist RJ Spurr recently completed two mosaic tables for his home, and I wanted to share them because the level of craft work is excellent, and the designs are integrated with the color schemes of rooms where they were installed.
The great thing about dry indoor mosaics is that you can use wood as a base, and that means you can put mosaics on wooden tables. Thrift shops, yard sales, and unfinished furniture stores are great sources for tables, but you can also breath new life into old tables you already have on hand. Continue reading →