Artist Apryl Howard sent me some pictures of her recent Arizona Sunset Mosaic, and it is the exception to several “rules” I have recommended over the years. It is also a great silhouette landscape that captures the color of light and is worth seeing merely for inspiration and ideas for your own artwork. Continue reading
Background colors for mosaics should be chosen based on how well they contrast with the colors used in figures. For this reason, most mosaic artists will tile their figures first and then choose their background colors by a trial-and-error process of placing tiles on the mosaic backer and just seeing how they look.
The same approach can be used to decide what pattern of placement (andamento) you should use for the background. You look at what you have in the figures in the foreground and choose a background pattern that is compatible. Continue reading
Frederic Lecut’s “Opus Pixellatum” Mosaic Class was a lot of fun, and I think the mosaics were very successful, especially with the improvised tweaking and colorization that students did in phase two of the process. In the photo above, instructor Frederic Lecut kneels in front of the class.
When people are in position at the end of the video, here is who you are looking at from left to right:
- Robbintina Harrison holding her adorable granddaughter’s portrait.
- Joanne Remppel holding her rescue dog’s portrait.
- Kate Carroll holding her friend Martha Barton’s portrait.
- Daniel Adams holding his self portrait.
- Amy Galbavy holding her self portrait.
- Apryl Howard holding her self portrait.
- Daniel Baxley holding his self portrait.
- Stephanie Cosenza holding her son Danny’s portrait.
- Sandra Atherton holding her self portrait.
Mosaic Artist Michael Kruzich has a body of work worth taking a look at, especially if you have any doubts about how well dramatic lighting can be rendered in mosaic portraiture and other figurative mosaic artwork.
But that’s not all that you need to see of his work. Michael has also made some mosaic-clad figurative sculpture that is as interesting in it’s abstract geometrical textural elements as it is in it verisimilitude –plus he has some stylized, classical and medieval interpretations. These stylized pieces are as eye catching as Michael’s naturalistic work. The reason is simple: All of Kruzich’s mosaics make great use of contrasting light and dark elements in addition to using strong pairs of complementary colors. Continue reading
Figurative mosaic art (mosaic pictures) can be used as an element of interior design in the same way that paintings are used. The only difference is that a stronger, more secure way of mounting the artwork to the wall is needed.
Natalija wrote an article about using a French cleat mounting system to securely hang a mosaic if you need more information about how to do that, and I discuss some concerns about using picture wire toward the end of this article, but first I want to talk about aesthetic considerations and how to make sure a mosaic looks right in a room. Continue reading
A few years ago, Karen J created a mosaic bench in her backyard using mining debris (large stones), cement, and chicken wire to form the base, which is similar the methods we recommend in our instructions for creating bases for outdoor mosaic sculptures. Karen modeled her bench after those made by the great mosaic architect Gaudi in Park Guell in sunny Barcelona, and she used brightly colored ceramic tile just as Gaudi had used. The problem is that Karen’s backyard is in Colorado, and so her mosaic experienced many long and hard freezes that a mosaic in Barcelona would never see.
Ceramic Tile Is Vulnerable To Freeze Damage
Glass mosaic tile is non-porous, and so water cannot seep in and freeze and crack it, and so glass is preferred for outdoor use, as is porcelain tile for the same reason. On the other hand, ceramic tile tile is very porous and soft, and so water can penetrate it (through tiny cracks in the glazing). Once this water freezes and expands, it cracks the ceramic tile and often causes the face of the tile to flake off.
In the photo above, you can see how some colors were more resistant to freeze damage than others. This difference was not due to the color but to the variety of the tile: some brands of ceramic are harder and less porous than others. Also, some brands have thicker glazes, and that can also affect how permeable the tile is to water.
Preventing Freeze Damage
You can minimize freeze damage by sealing your finished mosaic with multiple applications of a tile and grout sealer from your local building material store. Avoid ordering sealers online during winter months because water-based silicone sealers ruin if they freeze during shipment. You should also clean and reseal the mosaic each fall. Small mosaics such as mosaic stepping stones can be brought inside for the winter.
Mosaic Fireplace and Oven Surrounds: The Basics
A couple of years ago, I wrote a page explaining how glass, ceramic, and stone tiles can be used for mosaic fireplace surrounds and how the tiles should be mounted with thinset mortar or white PVA (polyvinyl acetate) adhesives such as Weldbond. But we are talking about the SURROUNDS, not inside the firebox. For inside the firebox, your need to use refractory materials (brick or stone) that can resist combustion temperatures. For the hearth, the issue is not temperature resistance so much as impact resistance: It doesn’t make sense to use glass tiles that are easily cracked by a metal poker or small tiles that are easily knocked loose. Stylistic concerns should never outweigh performance and durability, else the work won’t look good for long.
Problems with a Mosaic Pizza Oven
Recently, artist Kristina Young emailed me concerning a problem she was having with a mosaic she installed on the outer surface of an Italian pizza oven. The problem was that the mosaic was cracking over the door of the oven, and that caused me some concern because that should not happen with traditional fireplaces and pizza ovens constructed with brick or stone, and I have been telling people for years that there was no reason why they could not put mosaics on these surfaces in spite of the heat. Had I overlooked some basic technical principle and made recommendations that could ruin hundreds of people’s projects? The engineer in me became completely paranoid, and I could not wait for Kristina to email me back with answers to my initial questions.
Spoiler Alert: The good news is that the cracking is reparable and that the cracking is by the iron frame of the oven door, not the masonry elements of the oven itself, which means that there is no reason to expect similar problems with traditional fireplaces and ovens that are made from all stone or brick or concrete.
The Case of the Cracking Mosaic
When Kristina first contacted me, she was concerned that the cracking might have been caused by heating the oven not long after the mosaic was completed. That is a potential issue because thinset mortar takes time to harden, and like concrete, it hardens by bonding moisture not by drying out. (Concrete, mortars, grouts, and other portland cement products will be soft and crumbly if they are dried out by heat or dried air. They need to incorporate the water mixed into them, not have it removed artificially.)
Humidify, Don’t Heat
I don’t think that the oven was heated prematurely or that premature heating caused the cracking. The crack is location specific, and if the mortar was artificially dried out before it could harden, then the problem would be seen all over the mosaic in the form of cracks and missing tiles. That being said, I would avoid heating fireplaces and ovens for several days after a mosaic has been applied to them and grouted. The usual practice is to run humidifiers near a new mosaic to protect them from AC or central heat –not build a fire under them!
Except for the notable exception of ice, most materials expand when they are heated. (Water expands when it freezes, and that is why ice floats: it is less dense than the water beneath it.) The problem with thermal expansion is that materials expand at different rates, and metals like iron expand more rapidly than stone, brick, and concrete. Kristina had already told me that the crack started on the front of the oven just over the door, and so as soon as she sent me a picture of the oven showing that the door had an iron frame, it was obvious to me why the crack had started there: The glass and mortar mosaic expands at roughly the same rate as the brick and concrete oven underneath it, but the iron door frame and the other iron structural elements expand even faster. They push the mosaic up like a shell on the outside of the oven, and when the oven and frame cool back down and contract, the crack appears.
The Right Repair Materials
An “expansion joint” spontaneously forming in the middle of your mosaic might have most people panicking and thinking of repairing the crack with a flexible material such as caulk. Caulk is problematic because it will not age well. It will yellow and shrink and crack. It will look more and more like the synthetic material that it is, a material that looks out of place on tile, a material which does not age.
Grout could be used to fill the crack. After all, grout is the concrete product that is used to grout gaps between tiles in the first place. However, thinset mortar is a better choice because it is harder and tougher and more adhering than grout,, and it can tolerate slight displacement (movement) while grout cannot. In fact, it would have been best if the entire mosaic had been “grouted” with thinset. I suspect that heating and cooling the oven in cycles over time may cause other cracks to appear or reappear, and these should have thinset rubbed into them as needed. Hopefully any new cracks or reappearing cracks will be smaller, but in any case, thinset is better equipped to withstand the stresses of expanding and contracting than grout.
Aesthetics and Authenticity
Think of high-end restaurants in reclaimed urban warehouse spaces: the exposed beams, the plaster chipped away in places to reveal the stone walls underneath, the different architectural elements like fire doors and hoists deliberately left in place to call attention to the space’s past industrial use.
To me, one of the more interesting things you can see in the mosaics of Mexico and the Mediterranean basin are the repairs that have been made to these over the years following earthquakes and other damage. I’m not thinking of the repairs that were made in modern times by archaeologists or professional conservators sparing no expense to make the mosaic look as if the damage had never occurred. I’m thinking of repairs made in the distant past by inexpert hands or by people with limited access to materials. I’m thinking of repairs like mortar-filled voids and replacement tiles of not-quite-the-right color and how you can sometimes see a series of these inexact repairs apparently made at different times in response to different injuries. To me, these inexact repairs more than anything else give me a sense of how ancient the mosaics are and how much history they have witnessed, endured even: earthquakes, fires, wars with slings and arrows, wars with bullets and bombs.
A large part of the ethos of mosaic art is it being an enduring relic of the past. If I were wanting to design a mosaic to look like an old relic, I might consider deliberately including mortar-filled voids and cracks to simulate past damage or maybe re-mosaicing some of these regions with coarser tile. With that in mind, is a crack appearing in a new mosaic in an Italian or Mexican restaurant a problem or a windfall? I’m thinking not. I’m thinking of the kid who deliberately scuffs up his new baseball glove so that it doesn’t look the unused glove of a rookie.
We now sell 24kt gold mosaic glass, and it really is gold and not the brass alloy imitation products that some competitors are rather shamefully selling as gold. We also sell the imitation gold brass foil glass. but we have it correctly labeled and appropriately priced.
The real 24 kt gold glass is molded tiles and have the bevels on the sides like vitreous glass tile, while the imitation brass foil tiles are hand cut and have flat sides. The real gold mosaic is superior to most of what I see on the market because the our gold leaf is fused into the FACES of the glass instead of being laminated on the bottom of a piece of glass. Our gold is inside the glass, but is close to the top surface and makes the tiles look AMAZING!
Mini 3/8-Inch Gold Mosaic
We also have these in the 3/8-inch MINI size. They look like little jewels, maybe earrings missing their studs!
Smooth Gold Mosaic Available Too
An Economical Alternative
We carry the Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass at competitive prices, but unlike some of our competitors, we sell them as what the really are and do not try to pass them off as counterfeits. They are a great material in their own right.
A competitor is selling crafts-grade tiles that are clear glass with a thin coat of color that scratches off. They have search engine ads that have “Mosaic art supply” in the title of their ads! That is why you think you bought the tiles from us, but they are not MosaicArtSupply.com, and this is not our product.
You can help stop this competitor from damaging my business name. READ TO THE END TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU CAN DO.
Earlier this year, a manufacturer sent use a set of samples that included colored and textured mirror tiles of various types like those you have been purchasing on competitor websites. We were very excited to get these, but testing revealed some disturbing problems.
Foil Comes Off When Cut
We thought the textured-bottom mirror tiles were a clever product because they came in odd trapezoidal shapes so that the user could avoid cutting the tiles and breaking the coating on the reflective foil that protects the foil from being oxidized and tarnished by adhesives.
However, some people will want to cut the tile anyway no matter what is recommended, and so this problem with the foil delaminating and coming off the glass is a real issue,
A More Serious Issue: Clear Glass
The problem with the foil pales in comparison with what else cutting revealed: The glass itself is clear, and the coloring is a surface treatment that is easily scratched by sand and grit!
Color Scratches Off
The clear glass with a colored surface was not the only serious problem we found. Some of the manufacturer’s other types of mirror tile had a much thinner type of protective coating to keep the reflective metal from getting oxidized by the glue –more like the coating on generic mirror stock than tile.
They Are Not MosaicArtSupply.com
A competitor is using the phrase “Mosaic art supply” in the title of their search engine ads, and that is why you think you ordered the mirror tiles from us. We only sell materials that are architectural and fine art quality.
I have contacted Google explaining why I think the competitor’s use of “Mosaic art supply” as the title of their ad is a deliberate attempt to create confusion between websites:
“Mosaic art supply” is not a valuable keyword phrase for an ad based on the number of searches. Based on search frequency compared to other mosaic phrases, this keyword phase would sell for well under half a dollar per click. but currently costs several dollars and rising. The ad rate would not be worth paying if not for our use of the phrase as our domain name. Any Internet retailer can tell you that many people do not pay attention to the URL and that ad titles are often equated with business name.
What You Can Do
Mosaic Art Supply is a small LLC that exists to provide resume-building day jobs for emerging artists, who would otherwise be waiting tables or answering phones in more stressful environments.
We don’t have the budget to respond to questionable ad campaigns by a competitor who supplies craft-grade materials to discount stores. What we do have is some standing in the mosaic community.
What we are asking from you and others is that you create links to favorite products and instructions on our website from any appropriate venue (Facebook, your blog, your website, social networking sites, forums, etc.). Linking to some of our more useful blog articles would also help.
With sincere thanks,
Joe Moorman, owner Mosaic Art Supply
Artist and MAS employee Natalija Moss has recently completed a series of mosaics made from stained glass, and they are definitely worth seeing and discussing for several reasons. Natalija’s other artwork and video game plugins can be seen at her Lady Natalya website.
Stained glass can be used in mosaic artwork in two different ways. The stained glass can be cut up into small tesserae (pieces) just like glass mosaic tile in a typical mosaic approach, or it can be used in larger pieces similar to how it is used in stained glass artwork. This latter approach preserves the large swirls of color which cutting into smaller pieces tends to break up, and this allows “the glass to do the work” as stained glass artists often say as a maxim. What they mean by that expression is allowing the swirls in the stained glass to create visual interest and suggest details such as ripples in water instead of rendering each ripple individually as a separate piece of glass.
I tend to think of mosaic artwork in terms of the traditional mosaic approach and cut any stained glass I use into tiny tiles, but I was impressed by how successful Natalija’s mosaics were and how conspicuously different they were from my preconceptions.
Compare Natalija’s “Erza” mosaic to Doug and Carly’s “Van Gogh Self Portrait” mosaic. Notice how the flowing andamento so crucial to the the Van Gogh mosaic is COMPLETELY absent in Natalija’s work.
On reflection, I can see that Natalija’s use of stained glass in larger pieces instead of many small tesserae is merely stained glass artwork as stained glass artwork is typically done, but there are two reasons that Natalija’s work still stands out. First, she didn’t give up the stained glass convention of larger piece sizes merely because she was mounting on an opaque background to make a mosaic.
The second reason Natalija’s work caught my notice was the freshness of her themes/subjects. As a rule, stained glass artwork tends to use some of the most cliche designs to be found in art and crafts marketing (which is saying quite a bit), so Natalija’s use of subjects from Japanimation is fairly novel for that medium. I think that grabbed my attention as much as the absence of andamento.
A Digression On The Failings of Stained Glass Retailers
It has been very easy for me to ignore stained glass artwork for the most part in the 13+ years I have been running Mosaic Art Supply because so much of it I came across by chance was so cliche and dated. The butterflies, bald eagles and tulips you see so much of now in stained glass catalogs appear to be the exact same patterns I saw 15 years ago and as a boy in the 1970’s.
I think the people who sell stained glass have done a disservice to their customers and to their own wallets by promoting their industry in such a tired way. Sure, there will always be people who want sappy stuff because they like sappy stuff or think it is easier to make, but I think that sort of approach tends to kill interest in the medium over time by not attracting younger people and people with more serious interests in art. This converging on the cliche by stained glass marketers has also meant that their patterns were more easily mass produced by countless Chinese competitors, which further destroys profit margins as everyone “races to the bottom” to compete solely on lowest price.
All of my product decisions at Mosaic Art Supply were made with one eye toward avoiding these traps, and this is why we have always avoided selling the mosaic craft kits we see on the market. I want to promote a serious interest in Art with a capital A because I think it is in the best interest of my industry, and because if I wanted to help distribute mass-produced junk, I could have stayed in the corporate world. In the sense of being something a person creates for deeply personal reasons, Art is one of the few intrinsically sacred things in a world where everything is increasingly profaned and commercialized. That is why the prevalence of cliche stained glass patterns has always struck me as being nothing less than a tragedy, a huge opportunity lost. Even if you prefer those particular subjects/themes, it should still strike you as conspicuously strange that you don’t often see alternatives to those themes being offered as patterns by stained glass retailers.