Tag: sculptural mosaic
Mosaic Planter Grouted in Sections
Artist Donna Stern recently completed a round mosaic planter, which she grouted in sections.
I wanted to share that work for several reasons, and not merely because it is solid work with an emphasis on primary colors with a good balance of warm and cool colors.
There are several discussion points:
I have survived the stress of managing the supply business during the pandemic/supply crisis so far only by allowing myself periods when I get very slack in responding to non-crisis emails.
I tell myself I will get back to them eventually, but sometimes eventually is a long time.
Most emails that can be ignored for a month lose all relevance and can be ignored forever.
Other emails are just as important as they were on the day they were sent.
Artist Jill Gatwood sent me an email back on August 4th with the subject line “My largest solo mosaic piece.”
Both the mosaic and the email itself are worth seeing.
Mosaic Lawn Sculptures by Bernie Taylor
Recently artist Bernie Taylor emailed me some pictures of his mosaic lawn sculptures including some concrete bird baths and benches, and he has an impressive body of work. Bernie’s work is also a great example of how you can buy factory-made concrete sculptures and make them unique works of art by covering them with mosaic.Ceramic or Glass?
Bernie used glazed ceramic tile for his sculptures in Florida, but keep in mind that ceramic tile is vulnerable to freeze cracking while glass tile isn’t (because it is non-porous). Glass tile is also more affordable, easier to cut, and more widely available in more colors.
Glass tile is also smaller and thus easier to fit to curved surfaces. I am very impressed that Bernie was able to tile the complex curves of his sculptures and consistently do such a good job with it.
Mosaic Furniture Pique Assiette Alternative
Mosaic furniture can be made from glass mosaic tile more easily and more affordably than it can be made from pieces cut from antique china and other patterned dinnerware. It’s also much more colorful! The choices available range from bright rainbow colors to soft pastels to different color families, earth tones, black and white.
You can even render portraits and landscapes on things like headboards because you have a complete rendering tool.
When you use glass tile instead of whatever you could scrounge up from months of yard sales and thrift shops, you start with a lot of horsepower on your side.
Using Ceramic Figurines In Mosaic Art
Why break up ceramic figurines to use the pieces in mosaic artwork when you can use the whole figurine? Artist Laurie Gilson emailed me some photos of her recent work, and they are great examples of how you can use ceramic figurines in your mosaics and still use standard elements such as tile arranged in rows.
Mosaic Lawn Sculptures
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.
California Mosaic Bench
Keira Miller recently made a mosaic bench in the shape of the state of California with a class of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. The mosaic bench is made from California redwood and is to be auctioned off as part of a fundraiser to benefit their Montessori school.
Note that we do NOT recommend wood as a backer for outdoor mosaics, but if this mosaic had to be placed outdoors, some of the drier regions of California would be ideal. I think the mosaic would do well on a covered porch, and it would be a great addition to a family room or den.
Must-See Mosaic Sculpture By Cherie Bosela
Artist Cherie Bosela has some mixed-media mosaic sculpture that you really should see, especially if you are considering making some of your own. Cherie’s body of work is incredible, and it includes bas relief mosaics (flat panel with raised elements) and figurative sculpture encrusted with glass beads and found objects such as seashells.
I absolutely love her stuff and how well material choices resonate with the subject matter, specifically the use of beads to create insects and flowers. (The ancient Egyptian word(s) for jewelry translates literally as “artificial flowers and animals,” if I remember correctly.)
Online Source of New and Used Mannequins
People ask me about mosaic mannequins from time to time, and usually it is which adhesive to use for attaching tile to an old used mannequin they bought at a thift store. I also get questions about where to find a mannequin to use as a mosaic base, and I could only suggest eBay, garage sales, thrift stores and places the asker had already tried. Thankfully Judi Townsend at Mannequin Madness has let me know that they sell new and used mannequins online.What Adhesive For A Mannequin?
How To Add Texture To Mosaic Art
Mosaic artwork can include rough textural elements that would be impractical in architectural tiling such as a shower wall, which needs to be smooth for cleaning and safety. Note that smooth does not mean flat. You can have textural elements in an architectural surface, but they need to be rounded and not jagged. (Cheese-grater walls in the shower or even your hallway would be problematic.)Serendipity
For the past few months or more, I have been meaning to create a mosaic which uses cut pieces of tile mounted on their side so that I could demonstrate how a “hand-cut” smalti look and feel could be created with ordinary molded mosaic tile, which is significantly cheaper than smalti. But work and other art projects kept getting in the way, until finally one day out of the blue artist Dee Ruff emails me some pictures of her work, and they illustrate exactly what I had in mind!
“We Are Stardust” Mosaic Side View by Artist Dee Ruff shows the beautiful texture and hand-cleaved look that can be had from ordinary molded tile.
“We Are Stardust Mosaic” by Artist Dee Ruff includes a “portal” (glass panel painted on the reverse side).Mixed Media and Texture
“In the Garden” Mosaic by Dee Ruff features ceramic figures by Atlanta-based artist Martha Coursey.
“Nature” Mosaic by Dee Ruff includes a stained glass inset that matches the “color wash” gradient of the tile.
Dee’s “In the Garden” mosaic really caught my eye because I have always been drawn to mixed-media mosaics and mosaics where the work lines of the background interact with figurative elements in the foreground. This mosaic has both. Plus as a subtle color wash gradient in the background. Plus a hand-cleaved texture made from molded recycled glass tile that was cut and mounted on edge. (It was almost as if this mosaic were made to order for me. Imagine my surprise when Dee emailed it to me.)
Dee says “in the Garden” is one of her favorite pieces. Note that the flowers are made from ceramic figures by Atlanta-based artist Martha Coursey, who does amazing work. I like how the smooth glazed ceramic pieces contrast with the rough cleaved texture of the sky.Backers, Substrates, and Mounting
Dee makes her panels from recycled expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) covered in alkali-resistant fiberglass mesh and multiple coats of thinset mortar colored with concrete dye. The “hollow” core makes the substrates lightweight, and the skin of thinset and mesh makes them strong and tough (impact resistant). Dee says that she builds the mounting hardware directly into the skin so that it is anchored by layers of thinset reinforced by fiberglass mesh.
Dee uses the Wedi brand of hardware, but brass picture hanging rings sold by building material stores should work, provided you use the heavier gauges. Note that no mounting hardware will be strong enough if you hang them on a nail in drywall, which is weak and fails easily. Nails or screws for mosaics and paintings of any size should go through the drywall and into the stud inside the wall (use a stud finder) or in the crown molding at the top of the wall with a hooked rod hanging down.
Note the safest and most robust mounting system is probably the French cleat. See Natalija’s Instructions for French Cleat Mounting.More Of Dee Ruff’s Art
Dee Ruff currently has work available at the The Mosaic Love Gallery in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Dee’s website is Black Cat Mosaics, and she has some interesting multimedia mosaics and collaborations online there.
Gaudi Mosaic Bench Freeze Damage
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.
Mosaic Bench after Antoni Gaudi shows the ravages of freeze damage. Colorado winters are quite severe, but any temperature below freezing can crack and flake ceramic tile.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.
Mosaic Bench Detail showing freeze damage. Note that the empty sockets in the blue tile are NOT where tile has popped off. Instead, it is where the faces of the tiles have flaked off due to water freezing and expanding in tiny cracks and pores.
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 Bench Second Detail showing freeze damage. Imagine how bright the orange and yellow sun was before Freeze Meister blasted it and flaked off the color!
Mosaic Pizza Oven
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.
Mosaic Pizza Oven by artist Kristina Young with octopus tentacle motif. Seafood and sea life and undersea scenes were common themes of Roman mosaic.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
Detail shot showing crack in brand new mosaic covering the exterior of masonry pizza oven. The location of this crack is significant: It started right above the iron frame of the oven door.
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!Thermal Expansion
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.
Mosaic crack being repaired with thinset mortar. The mortar is spread on and worked into the cracks and wiped off just like grout. Thinset is superior to grout because it is harder and tougher and can tolerate slight movement.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.