I’ve already written about Brad Srebnik’s first mosaic and how impressive it is. It’s also amazing how well Brad documented the process as he was learning it.
Brad emailed me a summary of his methods and the lessons he learn from the project. He has some good photos of some important steps, including making a small study before the main project.
The small study is a huge help when everything about tile mosaic is new to an artist: cutting tile, using thinset, spacing tile, selecting colors, selecting grout color, etc.
The small study lets you get things right. It also lets you work more efficiently on the main project.
Improving you efficiency as a first-time novice can be absolutely critical, especially if your mosaic is highly detailed or large or an architectural covering.
TIP: It’s possible to discover that you desperately need to use a method different from the one you had planned to use. DISCOVER THIS ISSUE ON A SMALL STUDY NOT ON YOUR PROJECT!
By comparing Brad’s study to his finished mosaic, you can see what all the small study taught him:The grout gap needs to be smaller.The grout color needs to be darker.The yellow was more intense than desired.Grout does not hide jagged cuts. Small Mosaic Study finished
Now the original plan was to merely publish what Brad wrote so that I could take the day off, but first I have a few things to say about how he worked and why it makes such a great example of the one-tile-at-a-time method. I also need to discuss whether or not you should use this method.
For example, it can be difficult to mount each tile incrementally one-at-a-time like Brad did because thinset and glue are sticky and messy, and thinset requires gloves and has sand in it. There is an alternative method you might prefer.Mosaic Subway Sign completed. Notice the tighter grout gap, the darker grout color, and the greater precision in the cuts.
Designs are said to be elegant when they “don’t try to push things uphill” but instead go with the natural flow of materials and forces.
Consider the Roman arch versus a rectangular doorway with a flat lintel on the top. The flat lintel could be constructed from a superior material than that used in the arch, but the arch is likely to be in place centuries or even millennia after the lintel has cracked and fallen.
The arch is intrinsically stronger because all its members are in compression. It’s simply a more elegant design.Practical Glass Tile Cutting (Mosaic 1 inch or less cut by wheel-blade cutting pliers)
A similar concept applies to making art: There are methods that are artificially labor-intensive and problematic, and there are methods that make use of how materials tend to behave on their own.
This is particularly true when cutting molded glass tile with a special pair of pliers known as a Wheel-Blade Mosaic Glass Cutter or Glass Nipper.
Artist Morgan Halford‘s mosaic flower pot planters are colorful geometric abstracts executed with a spooky level of precision.
I like that they are exceptions to my general recommendation to work in a looser fashion in the uniformity of the sizing, shaping, and orienting of tiles.
TIP: Most people find that they can render images more effectively if they tolerate a little error in each of the pieces. By effectively, I mean they can render an image that is truer to the model while working faster at the same time. Instead of requiring each piece fit exactly, let slight errors be your grout gap. That approach is easier than planning a larger and more uniform grout gap.
Morgan wasn’t rendering an image. She was making abstract geometric patterns, and the uniformity of the spacing was an important part of the design for her. The effect is striking.
I once had an employee-artist who became angry with me for encouraging people who didn’t think they could draw to trace artwork or photos to make patterns.
I explained that we wanted to reach all skill levels and that included some people who would be attempting mosaic or even art for the first time.
I explained that it was a learning exercise that had value in itself and wouldn’t necessarily dull people’s imagination.
Chagall was the most imaginative of all the painters of the early 20th century, and his introduction to art as a school boy began by copying illustrations from books.
I can safely say that I’m not against people making exact copies of existing artwork on principle.
But why would you want to do that with a mosaic?
Artist Jill Gatwood sent me some photos of mosaics made by her and her students as examples where white grout was used with good results.
Jill says she didn’t used to offer white grout as an option for grouting in her class, but has since done so with some surprising discoveries.
The featured mosaic for this article is a backsplash Jill made with different panels, some grouted in black and some in white.Craft Aesthetic
At one point, we sold white grout, and I put a caveat in the product description about using white grout in mosaic artwork:
“White grout makes most mosaics look like a summer camp project, and that probably isn’t the look you are going for in your project.”
Artist Laura Adams emailed me for advice on selecting a grout color for her glass-on-glass mosaic, and it is a good case study for several reasons.
First, the sky of the mosaic is a whitish gray.
Second, Laura made sure to photograph the mosaic with two different lighting regimes: backlit from behind and regular lighting from the front.
Given that a glass-on-glass mosaic looks very different when backlit, it wouldn’t be possible to make an informed choice without taking both situations into account.
Artists Angela Bortone and Natalija Moss have discovered a new way to do huge amounts of extreme physical labor in an unheated loading dock. They call this latest folly the Knight Park Mosaic Sculpture.
I know from past experiences with my own large sculptural projects that Angela and Natalija have doubted their own rationality if not sanity many times while working on this.The Agony and the Ecstasy
Why do we as artists gladly do massive amounts of labor in conditions normally experienced only by construction workers and farm laborers?Artist Angela Borton with Sculpture Base Pre Mosaic
By angels led, by demons driven. We are the lucky ones. We experience purpose at all levels in our creative process.
Most artists are aware of how much personality a work of art can assume during the process of creation, especially when the piece of art requires a long period to complete. Artist Peter Vogelaar says he often spoke to his “Rebirth” mosaic matryoshka sculpture while working on her and referred to her as Natalija.
A matryoshka (“little mother”) is a traditional Russian doll made from painted wood and hollowed out for a series of smaller wooden dolls inside with the same design. These recursively-nested dolls symbolize fertility and the continuity of life and the family.
Peter made his mosaic sculpture Rebirth in the shape and styling of matryoshka dolls but clothed her in illustrations of the forest’s power of renewal instead of traditional costume.
For those of readers who were asking for inspiring examples of no-grout mosaics, I give you the mosaics of Canadian artist Terry Nicholls.
I am amazed by Terry’s work and its continuity. It is a very focused exploration of the mosaic medium as a fine art.
There is a sense of space that Terry creates by keeping landscapes wide open and compensating for the absence of figurative detail with increased texture and pattern.
These patterned and textured areas suggest fine repetitive detail in landscape elements seen at a distance: waves on the ocean, grass-covered hills, etc.
Artist Sue Hague’s mosaic icons are reproductions of medieval, byzantine, and early Christian icons, and some are mosaic interpretations of icons that were originally paintings. The mosaics Sue produced from these paintings were made with authentic andamento and look as if ancient mosaics were copied tile by tile.
Sue describes herself as a beginner still coming to terms with the learning curve, but I don’t think most artists would be able to do that type of cross-media interpretation while maintaining a particular style, at least not as well as Sue has done.Mosaic Icon of Mary by Sue Hague after 12th century Russian icon. Left image is the mosaic after grouted with a light sandy beige grout. Right image is the mosaic after the grout was painted with an umber to increase color intensity.
Sue wasn’t happy with how the light sandy beige reduced the color intensity of the mosaic, and so she stained the grout with acrylic paint in an umber color. This increased color intensity but left the mosaic darker than Sue desired.