I frequently get emails asking me what is the best color mosaic tile we sell for rendering skin tones. I then have to explain that the question doesn’t have a straightforward answer, even if the person specifies the particular race or ethnicity of the skin to be depicted. The reason the question is problematic is that even a simplistic rendering of a face will require more than one color of tile so that you can show the features of the face, preferably through the use of shading and highlights instead of mere outlining.
Instead of talking about what I mean, an illustrated example will make the point instantly obvious:
Artist Harjeet Singh Sandhu’s mosaic portrait of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was NOT made by searching for the ONE most beautiful pinky white color of mosaic tile or stained glass we sell. Instead, Sandhu uses a variety of colors: muted pinks, off whites and browns in contrasting values (light versus dark) to show depth, shadow and highlights. Also note that the material Sandhu used was not stained glass or smalti or some other expensive variety of premium art glass, which is what people tend to search for when they think they need one particular color in order to be able to create a realistic image. The mosaic above was made from 3/8-inch vitreous mosaic tile, which has a fairly limited color palette and is produced primarily as a building material and not as an art supply.
More of Sandhu’s work and portrait by other mosaic artists can be seen on our page for mosaic portraits.
I take great pleasure in showing off Sandhu’s portraits, particularly when people express frustration in the lack of flesh tones available in vitreous glass tile or complain about the lack of intensity in the colors available. But I don’t do it in a self-righteous way. It took me forever to learn a few simple lessons about using color myself, especially this very important one:
The intensity of a color is determined in large part by the use of contrasting colors around it. If you want a fiery red, surround it by blues and greens, not oranges. Value (brightness or shade) also works by contrast. A warm cream looks bright when surrounded by dark brown and relatively dark when surrounded by pure white. Whether you use complementing colors to create contrast or light and dark, the key to creating visual interest is contrast.
Once you get the hang of experimenting and putting colors side by side to see how they contrast and compliment each other, you will be surprised at what complex images you can create from seemingly ordinary colors. I hardly ever see a random spill of mixed tile on the floor of the warehouse that I don’t start thinking about what sort of image I could render using only those colors, although I always end by thinking of what colors I would add to balance them (or which to subtract.) Just as you can learn a lot about painting by brushing pigment of canvas, you can learn about how to render in tile merely by playing with tile and making different arrangements.
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