Historically, mosaic icons were made with traditional materials like smalti, marble, and gold leaf glass. Those traditional mosaic materials might be preferred if you are trying to make a reproduction that looks historically accurate, but they are more expensive and more difficult to work with.
Do You Need Smalti?
If you have any latitude in choosing your materials, remember that it is possible to make striking and realistic images using ordinary vitreous glass mosaic tile, which is both affordable and easy to work with.
Vitreous is the same thickness as the gold leaf glass we sell, and so you could still incorporate gold in your icon if you decided to nix the smalti and stone. In fact, it would be easier to use our gold leaf glass with vitreous than with the thicker smalti and stone.
You can make mosaic street numbers and signs using a grid, but mosaics made from irregular shapes of non-gridded tesserae are more interesting, especially if you use concentric andamento for the background surrounding the figures.
Sara Sommers emailed us some pictures of her mosaic street number plaque, and it is made from cut pieces of tile in strongly contrasting colors. It is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of making a piece with large mosaic letters or numerals.
For starters, Sara uses strong color contrast between her numerals and background, which is critical for making eye-catching art. She also uses multiple related colors and variegated patterns instead of solid monochromatic color fields. Continue reading
Natalija decided to test some materials and methods by putting our street number on the loading dock of the warehouse. Her method was to lay 3/4-inch vitreous tile in a mounting grid, but she put them in upside down and laid a sheet of fiberglass mesh on them and used one drop of silicone adhesive on each tile to attach the mesh. My method would be to lay the tiles in the grid right side up and pick up the design with mosaic mounting tape. Continue reading
Artist Jill Gatwood uses the following method to make water-resistant foam-core mosaic backers for exterior mosaics, such as the Pet Memorial Name Plaques she does for clients who need something that is lighter weight and easier to ship than stone or solid concrete. The method wraps the foam in three or four successive layers of fiberglass mesh and thinset mortar, and that coating is pretty tough, tougher than stone. (The combination of polymer-modified cement and fiberglass can withstand blows that would easily crack granite of the same thickness.) Continue reading
For people wanting to make a portrait of their furry friend, I wrote an article on pet memorial mosaics using April Costigan’s work as illustrations of what is possible in terms of capturing likeness. The problem is that for many people, the task of rendering a realistic portrait of their pet is beyond their current skill level.
Fortunately, it is possible to make a pet memorial mosaic without the pet’s portrait and still make it personalized and specific to that pet. For example, instead of attempting an image of your pet, consider spelling their name in mosaic and making the surrounding area significant in terms of colors and found objects. More on that later.
Artist Jill Gatwood emailed us some pictures of some pet memorial name plaques that she has made, and they are good examples of the visual interest that can be created in the background with patterns of contrasting colors. I wanted to show these off because I think people who aren’t confident in their ability to draw will be inspired to make their own versions. Continue reading
“Amateur” artist Tobin recently completed his Four Elements garden mosaic, and it is amazing for several reasons, the least of which is the fact that it was created over a span of six years with the artist getting up at 5 am to spend 45 minutes on it before leaving for his day job in corporate project management.
Here’s what I find impressive about Tobin’s mosaic:
Mosaic Swallowtail Butterfly. Note the uniformity of the grout gap in the background, which is as impressive as the detail in the butterfly.
- Each figure is well executed with a level of detail and precision that is remarkable. An experienced artist following a digitally generated pattern couldn’t do much better if at all. Continue reading
It’s EXTREMELY important to allow yourself to do creative projects on impulse without overthinking it. The reason is simple: research tends to kill the creative urge, at least for most people. Research can become an end in itself and go on to long and kill enthusiasm or the window of opportunity is lost.
Research can also give you problematic information and expectations for several reasons:
- Advice isn’t one-size-fits-all, especially artistic advice.
- People forget that the examples they are looking at were made by masters or that the advice was written for professional results of a particular criteria that isn’t relevant.
- Corruption of the original vision. Usually creative ideas evolve and grow by incorporation, but sometimes new inputs can overwhelm and kill the dreamlike essence of the original inspiration. Sometimes too many ideas and possibilities occur to the artist, who is then unable to choose one and focus on it.
Instead of naively charging in like a kid playing and learning through play, adults tend to want to reduce the process to executing a known procedure as much as possible. That really isn’t art, at least not in the experiential sense for the artist.
All that being said, it’s also important to not waste expensive materials and to not produce something that falls apart quickly because you didn’t take the time to look up a few basics. Continue reading
Ana Bonnin emailed us some pictures of her recent entranceway mosaic, and I wanted to share these with our readers. Ana’s pictures also made me remember that I needed to summarize what I know about best practices for making porch mosaics last longer.
Ana’s mosaic is the family emblem that she and her husband designed to represent the parents (symbolized by oak leaves) protecting their seed. My favorite photo includes the doodlebug in question, with a disguise added digitally by Mommy. Continue reading
Artist Marilyn Keating has some mosaic lawn sculptures of animals that are very much worth seeing, especially if you are considering making some yourself. Rather than trying to make her animals as naturalistic as possible, Marilyn wisely chose to make her animals stylized and whimsical, almost like three-dimensional cartoons come to life.
I used the word “wisely” because this style of art is more enjoyable to make and to see. We live in an age of mass production and machine precision, and so exact replicas of life often look artificial and devoid of humanity and art. On the other hand, Marilyn’s creatures are exuberant and “real” in a way that “serious” reproductions of real life aren’t.
Artist Risa Puno recently completed her interactive mosaic sculpture Common Ground for Rufus King Park in Jamaica Queens, NYC, and the project is a great example for discussing materials and methods for mosaic table tops.
No Plywood Backers Outdoors
Plywood is never an acceptable backer for outdoor mosaic table tops.
Humidity in outdoor air can cause plywood to swell, contract, and warp, and even if the displacement is too small to be noticed, it can still cause grout to crack and tiles to pop off. Once grout has hairline cracks, moisture can penetrate underneath, and then there isn’t any hope for the mosaic lasting after that happens.
If you have a wooden table that you want to mosaic for outdoors, then attach a piece of 1/4-inch concrete backer board over the top of the wood and mosaic on that.
Seal your finished outdoor mosaic with a tile and grout sealer and reseal it each fall. Silicone-based gout sealers are wipe-on-wipe-off and easy to apply. Most of the work is buffing off the excess so that the surfaces are slippery. Continue reading