Tag Archives: design considerations

Lighthouse Mosaic By Natalija Moss

Making Pictures With Colored Mirror Tile

Natalija improvised this picture of a lighthouse using the Colored Mirror Tiles to show that they can be used to render an image. We added these tiles last year, but I haven’t had time to use them in anything.

In Praise of Colored Mirror Tiles

I can say that the Colored Mirror Tile ranks the highest of all our product lines in terms of being “pretty shiny things” in a rainbow of colors. (Sure the 24kt Gold Mosaic Glass is dazzling, but that is only one color, and things like beads and gemstones are more accents than they are materials for rendering.)

The colored mirror tile seems pretty durable in terms of the oxidation protection on the silver backing. There was some left-over bleach water at the warehouse, I dumped in some cut up Colored Mirror Tile, and the bleach water completely dried up without the tile oxidizing.

As an engineer that has experience in materials testing, I know that a more meaningful test would be to put them in straight bleach for a period of months, AND MULTIPLE SPECIMENS OF ALL COLORS would need to be tested, but I was still surprised that cut edges could be exposed to bleach water for days without any visible effect.

That sort of protection on the silver backing means that you can definitely use a white PVA adhesive like Weldbond without any worries about it compromising the the silver, which is something you can’t say about the cheap colored mirror stock that other suppliers cut up for tiles.

I wouldn’t use our Colored Mirror Tile in a chlorinated swimming pool just because I am an engineer and want anything I make to last as long as things made by the ancient Roman. But the manufacturer says that they are being used in swimming pools.

I did note that the manufacturer states that the Colored Mirror Tiles shouldn’t be exposed to sulfur. I guess that means as long as you do not practice alchemy on your mosaic coffee table, these should be good to go…

Suitable Mosaic Backers For Indoors

If you are going to use materials like colored glass tile, which take a lot of fossil fuel and minerals to make, then the environmental cost of these materials dictate that you use a durable backer for any mosaic you make with them.

Natalija made this mosaic on a whim, and she made it on a piece of pallet wood instead of a more suitable piece of plywood, which we have tons of in the studio. Pallets are made from the cheapest variety of wood, which is porous and brittle, and so this was not the best choice.

To compensate for using such a vulnerable backer, Natalija painted the sides of the backer with several coats of artists acrylic paint and sealed the bottom with Weldbond. That should lock out moisture and keep the wood from warping or splitting over time.

Note that you would want to paint or seal the sides of the sanded plywood Mosaic Backer Boards we sell, but you wouldn’t have to seal the bottoms, which come sealed in clear polyurethane.

Mosaic Interior Design

Figurative Mosaic Artwork As An Element of Interior Design

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

Marlene Dietrich Mosaic

Inspiring Mosaic Portraits Using A Grid Pattern

David Armstrong has created some inspiring mosaic portraits, and he did it using whole tiles arranged in a grid instead of irregular pieces cut and fit as needed. Normally, I dislike mosaic designs based on grids because they lack the extra visual element provided by tile arrangement (andamento), but David’s work has tons of visual interest that more than compensates for this. Continue reading

Pan's Head mosaic in progress

Pan’s Head Mosaic: A Classical Interpretation

Artist Frederic Lecut’s “Pan’s Head” mosaic has a style that matches its theme, and it is a great example of using classical elements in a contemporary mosaic.

The face of the “goat-footed god of Attica” or Pan is the subject of Lecut’s mosaic, and consequently the artist incorporates several aspects of ancient Greek mosaic in his design. Continue reading

The Afghan Girl's Eyes Mosaic by artist Frederic Lecut.

Mosaic Artist Frederic Lecut’s Opus Pixellatum Technique

Artist Frederic Lecut’s Opus Pixellatum Technique is a tool for rapidly creating original photorealistic mosaics and incorporating improvised elements.

Artist Frederic Lecut

Mosaic Artist Frederic Lecut creates striking portraits of people’s eyes, mosaics that are photorealistic in execution and powerful as compositions because they are cropped closely and look almost like eyes seen in a Niqab. Continue reading

Mosaic Patio Table with bench seats by Naomi Haas.

Glass or Ceramic Tile for Mosaic Patio Table?

Ceramic tile can be used for outdoor mosaic patio tables provided you live someplace warm year round, but otherwise glass tile should be used because it is impervious to moisture and freeze damage. There are other reasons to use glass tile explained later in this article.

Concrete Patio Table Set

Artist Naomi Haas recently completed a mosaic patio table set that included concrete benches, and I really liked it for several reasons. For starters, the table base and benches she had were sturdy and stable and appropriate for an outdoor mosaic (and not wood or rusted light-gauge metal or some of the other junk people email us about using).

Mosaic Bench 1 of 3

Mosaic Bench 1 of 3 uses a design of solid colors instead of being a copy of the other benches.

I also like the color scheme. Naomi colored the un-mosaiced surfaces black and used black grout to make the bright festive colors of the Mexican Talavera tile stand out. To make the concrete black, Naomi used a product called Flex Seal, but black spray paint could have been used. Another thing that draws me to this project is that Naomi made a different design for each bench instead of making them the same.

Continue reading

Mosaic Art Untitled Valri Castleman

How To Price Mosaic Art

Pricing art is difficult because it is subjective, and pricing mosaic artwork is even more problematic due to the extra labor required to make it, but there is a structured way to determine a hard number, even if the buyer is a friend or relative.

Recently artist Valri Castleman emailed my a photo of her untitled mosaic shown above and asked for my advice on how to price it for a family member. Normally I am not drawn to mosaics made from triangular pieces, but I like Valri’s mosaic and think it is worth sharing for several reason. For starters, there is some sophisticated “figure-ground-reversal” going on that reminds me of Picasso and the Cubists. There is also some interesting use of grout lines to outline figures. Lastly, the mosaic is a good case study for how to price your art for sale to a friend.

Continue reading

Interpreting Artwork In A Different Medium

Interpreting a work of art in a different medium is a matter of capturing the essence of the original without being an exact copy, although most people would prefer to see a copy that had no departures than something that was unrecognizable. With that in mind, the first step in creating an interpretation of an existing work is to identify what features are most important about it, what things define it in essence. It depends on the work of art. It isn’t always a particular detail or figure. It isn’t always the colors.

A Case Study

Cypress Bayou Painting by Joe Moorman

Cypress Bayou Painting by Joe Moorman

Cypress Bayou quilt by Jackie Iglehart

Cypress Bayou quilt panel by Jackie Iglehart. Click the the image to see a larger version.

Recently, artist Jackie Iglehart created a quilt panel interpretation of my painting “Cypress Bayou” and won this year’s quilting challenge at the Valley Forge Homestead Quilters Guild in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I was blown away by the results. Jackie’s quilt panel captures the look and feel of my painting to an extent that I doubted was possible in that medium. Continue reading

Long-Term Art-Studio Experiments and the Pace of Mosaic Composition

Don’t Rush The Design Process

It is easier for me to explain what I mean about pace and long term experiments if I discuss my painting instead of my mosaic artwork. Compared to most mediums of visual art, mosaic isn’t typically executed in a rush because the amount of work usually requires multiple sessions in the studio. (You don’t slap on some tile quite as quickly as you do paint.) However,  the point I make about my painting has a lot of relevance to the process of DESIGNING or CONCEIVING a mosaic composition and how you reflect on the work in progress and evaluate color decisions as you go along. Never blindly execute what you initially guessed to be a good decision. The design “mode” should never be turned off if your are trying to make great art.

joe's painting studio

I think the highest form of visual art is finding objects in clouds. This is an aspect of dreaming that occurs while we are awake. I like my paintings to resolve into compositions as I go along with figures emerging from a dance of color and texture.

Artificial Deadlines Are A Double-Edged Sword

Accomplishment builds confidence, but what are you accomplishing if you aren’t happy with the results?

Not long after starting Mosaic Art Supply, I found myself working on painting more than mosaic, at least in the studio time that I set aside for my own projects. (Go figure.) I made the decision to work on my painting in the following way: I would complete a small painting in a single session each night and then write something about creating it (personal significance or techniques) and then publish the painting’s photograph and text online. I didn’t use a blog format, but it was essentially a blog, with pages named for the artwork in question and no dating. Most of my paintings at Riverson Fine Art were created in this way.

This one-painting-each-night approach was great for getting me accustomed to “finishing” work, but the constant artificial deadline of having to be done that night also made me hectically overwork some paintings (because I didn’t spend enough time looking at what I was painting and felt a rush to go with snap decisions). I also didn’t allow enough time to figure out technical questions before the lack of knowledge showed on the canvas in a clear way.

It became clear that this exercise of doing rapid experiments each night could only teach me so much, and it had clearly taught me some bad habits that I had to unlearn somehow.

Kids Don’t Try This At Home

My solution was to totally change the pace of how I created art and not worry about publishing it or showing it. (The mosaic business was giving me more of a public presence than I wanted anyway.) But I did much more than this: I went to the opposite extreme. I didn’t even think about individual compositions or at least completing them as compositions. I drew up long lists of technical questions I needed to answer (such as how to mix up any color, ANY color I might need, shade or hue), and then I laid out what experiments I needed to do to find the answers.

More than that, I allowed myself to digress into a series of smaller investigations if I got stumped on a particular color or problem, no matter how irrelevant the issue seemed by itself. It was merely enough that I couldn’t answer the question, and I worked until I figured it out. I wanted to know how to do whatever it was in the event the same issue ever came up later when I started painting figurative compositions again.

This might seem obsessive on the surface, but I had already painted enough canvasses in a completely unsatisfactory way to know that I wouldn’t have the confidence to complete anything until I was more technically competent.

In the case of how to mix up any shade or hue, I simply painted a series of mixing grids, such as recommended and discussed in most books about how to paint.

To get the type of effects I wanted, I also needed to know how these colors looked when imperfectly layered over a canvas textured with peaks of modeling paste so that the layer underneath showed in the valleys. This greatly multiplied the number of variables I had to figure out.

How would these look when color complements were paired? What about warm on warm or cool on cool? How would they look with dark on light or vice versa? How did making the upper layer more translucent with medium affect the hue of the layer underneath? How did varying the size and type of texture affect ALL of the above?

Should the texture be rounded or sharp? Should texture run in raised ridges at the edges of figures? What would be the most effective way of duplicating specific results I found pleasing? How controlled or random should the sequence of layering be?

And then there was my META question: If I mastered all of these variables, could I use the resulting techniques to make quick-drying acrylic paint look as visually interesting and complex as slow-drying oil paint, which naturally diffused creating soft edges and subtle transitions of hue?

The answer could only be found by executing all of these combinations in a lengthy series of large abstract canvasses that took literally years. Each canvas was painted 10, 20 times, maybe 50 or more. Not 50 layers of paint. I mean 50 uses of the canvas for different “compositions” of multiple layers with all the accumulating texture that provided. Some of my canvasses from this period are almost as heavy as mosaics.

Finally, just 6 months ago, I felt that I had investigated enough unknowns to have a vocabulary of techniques sufficient to attempt a figurative composition again with confidence. So I started painting figurative works again, or rather, I started trying to paint figurative compositions again, and I felt anything but confident.

For starters, it wasn’t that easy to stop digressing each time I had a question about hue, texture or other variables in combination. I had gotten in the mode of “find out how” not “wing it to complete the composition.”

Also, I had to factor in how I developed compositions. I don’t work from a model in front of me. I work from hundreds of remembered models arranged in imaginative compositions. I draw from the imagination. I also work interactively with the canvas to allow figures to evolve from seemingly random strokes. I like to let the design emerge from the canvas in a way similar to how the mind sees objects in clouds, which I think is one of the highest forms of visual art.

All of this is fairly absorbing and cannot be done if I am having to concentrate too much on how to get the effects I want.

The long and the short of it is that I finally have a painting near enough completion to show after years of one long extended series of experiments that took over 4 years.

Color Dance unfinished painting

This painting is unfinished. I am thinking of calling it “Color Dance.”

Parallels with Mosaic Art

In a mosaic, you may not have layering of color as a variable, but you definitely have juxtaposition of color, and you have variegation of color fields and color field transition. You also have how all of these variables are affected by tile size and work lines (andamento: how the tiles are arranged in contours to show motion or  arranged randomly or grid-like). Think about all these variables and how they might be used to make your composition stronger. Of course, you don’t have to go completely mental like I did with painting and try to think about every combination of variables, but do spend some time thinking about what else might be before you begin setting tile in concrete.

A Practical Way To Experiment In Mosaic

Draw a cartoon (outline) of your design on the mosaic backer with a pencil, and then just place tile in the different color fields. At first, think about just different pairs of complementary colors, and try to get the basic color layout planned. Then think about how each color field might be made more visually complex by adding a few related hues or shades to the color field instead of using only one hue or shade. Once that is fairly worked out, then think about what size the tiles should be and how they should be arranged. It is hard to go wrong by arranging tiles in lines parallel to the outlines of figures. These contoured work line suggest motion, and this almost always looks more interesting than random patterns or grids. Remember, you aren’t tiling a shower or bricking a wall. You are rendering an image, so take advantage of all the trompe l’oeil you can, especially andamento!

The meta message is this: You can’t tile over an unsuccessful part of a mosaic the same way you can quickly paint over an unsuccessful part of a painting. This means that designs are enhanced when you do quick experiments with your cartoon BEFORE you start mounting tile: merely lay the tile out loosely on your outline and see how the colors work together. Try different combinations. You can’t try them after the tile is glued down, or at least as easily. Make haste slowly and avoid the need to chisel off glass tile.

Advanced Tips For Selecting A Grout Color

The primary reason for grouting tiled surfaces is to prevent water from penetrating behind the tile and weakening the adhesive or the backer and the structure beneath the backer. In mosaic artwork, the grout also has a visual function, and that is to contrast (not match) the tile colors. If the grout color does not sufficiently contrast the tile colors, than all the tiles blend together visually, and much of the “mosaic effect” is lost.

Grout Color Should Contrast Not Match

There are some novices who doubt my advice about contrasting grout color and even try to match their grout color to the tile colors. These are the people who later email me in a complete panic. They usually use the words “completely ruined” to describe what grouting did to their once beautiful mosaic, and from the pictures they send, I’m inclined to agree with them. (Note that these mosaics can be saved, but it requires either scraping the grout out with a grout removal tool or painting the grout with acrylic paint or some other ad hoc solution.)

A Medium Gray Grout

Since experience has shown time and again that the best grout color is one that contrasts tile color, the question becomes which grout color best contrasts ALL the different colors used in the mosaic. For MOST combinations of tile colors, the best contrast is usually provided by a medium to dark gray, with darker being the better guess if in doubt. Always keep in mind that the color of the grout will be significantly lighter when fully cured compared to how it looks when wet.

A Notable Exception: Lighter Blues

There are a few notable exceptions to the rule of gray grout being best. The most obvious exception is when you are using gray tile (duh), but the one that usually catches people by surprise is when tiles of lighter blue colors are used. Unfortunately, these are just the shades of blue that are popular for water and sky elements, so this is a significant exception. In this situation, a warm light brown or sand colored grout might be a good choice for contrasting the blue tile, but what if there are light brown tile used elsewhere in the mosaic? Is there a good standby color of grout for this situation? The answer is no, but there is a quick solution.

Go Look At Grout Colors With Your Tile

Building material stores such as Home Depot and Lowes usually carry about 30 or more colors of grout, and they have color swatches on the shelves and/or packaging so that you can pick out grout similar to how you pick out paint, only with much more limited options. The trick or tip is to not to try to do this from memory without the benefit of having your tile with you. Take one or two tile of each color used in the mosaic with you to the store and hold them up against the color swatches. I have even gone into the store with small mosaics, just as I have taken in parts of plumbing I was trying to match or replace. Don’t be self conscious about it. The people who work there are accustomed to seeing professionals at work, and you will be quite unobtrusive compared to the building contractors dealing with emergencies. At least you won’t be covered in dirt and holding a toilet seat or something like that.

Some “Advanced” Tips

From the many emails and pictures I have received in the past 12+ years, I can state with some confidence that novices tend to regret choosing grout colors as an attempt to add another color to the mosaic. Matching grout color to tile color tends to be even more disastrous.

If you already have your figures rendered in tile using a relatively small grout gap, and you like how those figures look, then your main objective while grouting should be to not mess up the visual art that was already working, especially if you are a novice at mosaic.

Of course, even a novice can take a few of each color tile and create an abstract experiment on a scrap piece of plywood and try a novel grout color on it.

The monochromatic nature of medium gray grout makes it contrast colors intrinsically, in the same way that back and white contrast colors intrinsically. All three are balanced in hue. The keep-it-simple and less-is-more principles really come into play when you decide to second guess some shade of medium to dark gray when grouting figurative mosaic artwork.

On the other hand, there are all those earth tones to play with…

Just remember to experiment on a piece of scrap before trying it out on a mosaic where 90% of the work was spent cutting and mounting the tile.