Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In Process ...

I don't know about you, but around my house and studio, there are several areas informally designated for "works in progress." I think I have an advanced case of "Too Many Ideas," because the space designated for artworks, or art materials, or possible art projects, too often suspiciously seems to displace that designated for human occupations. End tables hold stacked containers of tiles on their way out to the studio; the sofa is covered in books and sketch pads, with a small corner open for sitting (usually claimed by the cat); a large worktable at one end of the living room is occupied by several half-finished projects, picture frames, and supplies.

In the studio, two half-finished sculptures have occupied a corner, under plastic, for several years, waiting on a time when I have the time to work on them again. My studio table, in addition to active working projects, also includes a string of partially completed projects or project materials perched around the edges, such a few plates to hold photos, a 6-inch wooden cube to put faces on, and several 5-by-7-inch canvas boards to cover with mosaic/paint combinations. The current winner of "studio project most likely to be completed any time soon" is this one featuring two cranes and divided into four sections, which, when finished, will show the four seasons. 

The problem with studio projects is that progress slows way down during colder weather because the studio is not heated. Heat I can take, but I'm a total wuss in the cold. In the house, where my mosaic activity moves in cold weather, I'm hampered by not being able to do liberal cutting, since (a) I have a cat, and (b) I go around in bare feet or socks. So I have to be really, really careful when cutting glass, which means I'd rather work with tiles that don't require extensive cutting.

Recently I've been working on some interesting projects that have a singular perk: I can work on them while watching TV in the evenings. I love this, because I seldom just sit and watch - I'm always doing something else, such as sketching or reading - so why not work on a mosaic project? A couple of years ago, a designer friend gave me two wrought iron side tables with inset tops - perfect for mosaic tabletops. I had pieces of wood cut to fit and primed them, but then the tables sat in storage for quite some time. But when the weather turned chilly last month, I hauled them out, plunked them down in front of the TV, brought out some lovely orange and yellow tiles I had left over from another job, and started playing with circles. Here's the work on progress; I just need to fill in a few spaces; then they will be ready for grout. I couldn't help myself - I inserted some funky jewelry and other found objects here and there. I'll post pix of the finished tables after grouting. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Repose" - Stages in a Work of Art

In August I posted an informal picture of a commission, delivered to my brother, of a face I've titled "Repose," which has now been installed in its final location. I took pictures during the many stages of its creation - the first time I've done such an involved recording of the process - and I was amazed at how it changed over the two months that I worked on it. Taking regular pictures also gave me a chance to step back and see the work differently from so close on the work table, so I was able to make adjustments as I went along. Even though you've already seen the final outcome, I thought you might be interested in how it came about. 

It started as an oval piece of plywood (image 1, right), with a scrunched-up piece of tinfoil where the nose goes. I used that plaster gauze material which comes in a long strip (you dip it in water so it becomes sticky and pliable) to start forming the high points of the forehead, cheeks and chin. What you see in the second image is actually a third layer, where I've started using a cement-like material - it's like mortar only much finer - to form the mouth, brows and nostrils. It's called Winterstone, and I get it from a sculpting supply site called The Compleat Sculptor.

Here (image 2) I've added more refinement to the face and glued the oval piece of plywood to a larger rectangle which will be the backing to the entire piece as well as a sort of built-in frame.

The next image (3) shows the face surrounded by all the materials I'll use to define and decorate the face: The material just to the lower right is a piece of 2-inch sections of honey onyx tiles - the same material that my brother and his wife used in their bathroom; I got some of that in order to match the colors in glass. I've got four colors of stained glass arranged at the top of the image coordinated to the onyx; and at the left are various odds and ends such as gems, shells, and glass beads and tiles, all in similar colors.

I started setting the darker areas of glass first (4), but later (5) removed areas in the cheek to show more contrast. I also didn't like the hard line around the edge of the face and above the upper lip (in the photo it looked like a mustache, so by #6 you can see I changed the mouth!).  In every work there is at least one area that I have to scrape off and redo. In this one I also later changed the upper right treatment above the forehead before I finished. Taking photos also alerted me to the fact that the cheeks were a bit too rounded-looking, so I added more hollowness by darkening the glass pieces at the lower left and right - you can see those changes in images 7 and 8.   

I had to make many decisions about the border pieces, and the photos helped immensely with those in terms of balance and weight. I found myself taking a photo every time I arranged a few beads or tiles and checking the layout in the viewfinder.  There were many test shots between image 8 and 9, and the final result, shown in the last image.







Pearlbird in the Moonlight

Do you remember the first stage of Pearlbird from, oh, at least a year ago? It was probably more than that. It got shelved when I got stuck after gluing the pearl outline and couldn't figure out how to continue: fill in the background with tight swirls of transparent beads? Leave just the outline? Fill in the outline? I bought a package of those rainbow-translucent beads but then they just sat on the shelf with Pearlbird for more months until one day this week when I got a chance to do a sort of "pop-up" exhibit at Towles Court. The landlord of the building where Ashby Art used to be, which is currently empty, graciously allowed a group of artists to rent the space for a night to show our work, and I was one of the lucky ones. I decided to include Pearlbird - which meant I had to finish it! And all at once I knew that stringing the translucent beads and filling in the outline was the solution, so that's what I did. I added a few more touches of blue to the night sky and a few more pearls and it was done.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Summer Project

Just returned from a visit to lovely Coral Springs on the east coast of Florida where my brother and his family live. I needed to deliver a mosaic face they had commissioned for their master bath and also to mosaic parts of a couple of wall fountains. I was also due to see my neurosurgeon in Miami for annual check-up (which, by the way, was fine!), so combined busiiness with pleasure. To top it all off, it turned out that I had seredipitously chosen the very weekend that my neice and her boyfriend were going to be in town, so we had a chance to reconnect. 

The bath face will be bordered by a pencil tile border in the same honey onyx that comprises the counters and the sink vessel and shower accents in the bathroom. I also used a few 2x2 pieces around the edge of the face. I don't have a final photo because it hadn't been installed by the time I left; I'll add one here later, but this photo gives you a preview.

The fountains presented different problems! As I tell my classes (and I'm sure they are tired of hearing): a mosaic project is a series of solving problems. The "fish" fountain has four intricate sections that were to be tiled, and I thought I would first make paper templates and then transfer that to mesh. Well, my template-making skills turned out to be %$%^&* - (you get the idea). Rather than start over trying to make better templates, I just used what I had - partial mesh pieces - and filled in the rest by hand, standing up, in the heat, for what seemed like days. John took pity on me and found a fan. I did manage to make good templates for the small sections underneath on either side, so those went faster. I was using thinset as my adhesive, as the fountain has a rough texture. This worked fine for the larger mesh sections, but for smaller glass pieces I ended up using the silicone glue. 

The larger fountain with the lion face was a bit easier. I had the width and length of the side borders beforehand and was able to make finished mesh strips of glass before leaving Sarasota. This fountain is made of resin, so instead of thinset, I just used Liquid Nails to adhere the strips - much faster and less messy! The tricky bit for this fountain was stabilizing the front shelf; it had broken in a few places previously, so we found a few old tiles to glue down underneath it and mortared them in place; then I made a template for that front shelf and made a mesh strip to adhere to it. The grout pulls everything together on both fountains, and the grout color turned out to be almost exactly the color of the fountains themselves (a good thing for clean-up!).

Since I had a lot of work to do on the mesh before actually working on the fountains themselves, John set up a little "studio" for me in the (air-conditioned!) garage where he usually keeps his Z car - now that's love.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Straight Face

At Sarasota County Technical Institute, where I teach a class in mosaic, I share a classroom with stained glass classes (among several others), and a while ago I asked the stained glass teacher to save all the beautiful glass scraps that I was seeing in the trash can. I thought I had such a brilliant idea -- you know, save the planet, reuse, recycle, and so forth and so on. Well, very soon I began to feel like Mickey in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," because the bin of designated glass scraps began to fill up higher, and higher, and higher -- then there was a break of a couple of weeks between the end of one of my sessions and the beginning of a new one, but meanwhile the stained glass classes had NOT ended yet, so when I came back to the room the bin was overflowing!

Quickly I found a second bin and decided I HAD TO DO SOMETHING. So first I set myself a challenge. I separated out a bunch of straight pieces that had been tickling at my consciousness anyway because they were so perfectly straight, and I thought it would be fun to see if I could make something NOT straight with them. And since I've been doing a lot of faces lately, I decided to make a face using only -- or mostly -- straight pieces from the scrap pile. This is the result. 

I liked it so much that I decided to put the scrap challenge to my students, since we're coming up to a 6-week break between sessions. Their challenge is to take home as many scrap pieces as they wish, and to make whatever they'd like before class starts again at the end of September. It doesn't have to be a face or anything realistic. It could be a color study, or a shape study (we've been discussing ideas, since Tuesday is our last class). The challenge is optional, but I expect great things! And I'll post any results! 

At least it will lower the level of that scrap pile.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Anyone hearing the theme song from "Jaws"? 

This fun project was a commission for a friend of a friend - actually it is intended to be a gift for the son of that friend, who lives in Jamaica and who apparently loves all things about the Great White Shark. I got to use some tiles that I really love from an online shop whose name I love too - Kismet Mosaics: The tiles are made in Turkey from recycled glass in beautiful iridescent colors that I thought perfectly captured the silky white and silver coloring of the Great White.  If you look closely you can see a little beady eye that is a small black bead cut in half. The 8-by-18 board has several layers of spray sealer on both sides to protect it from the elements. 

I kinda think it needs an escort to Jamaica to be sure it's installed properly, don't you?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Knotty Problem

I'm always telling my mosaic students that creating a mosaic is a process of solving problems, and my latest project presented me with a doozy. 

It was to be a small accent table with a simple geometric design of a Celtic knot taken from one of my design books. The client, a friend, wanted a small accent table, and after much searching, we finally found the perfect one at a local thrift shop, complete with a handy lip, as it had once had a glass top. It also has an aged faux-gold finish that we both like and my friend decided to keep. She likes blues and greens, so we settled on a soft lime green and turquoise blue for the outlines of the knot in 3/8-inch ceramic tile, and darker blue and green stained glass to fill in, with a hint of soft orange stained glass as an accent along with a few scattered round ceramic dots from a shop on Etsy. 

I thought, going in, that it would be an easy job of a few days. Silly me. My first hurdle was translating the design in my book to the size of the table, then I had to dust off the geometry section in my brain and remember how to use a compass. A further problem was how to draw the larger arc that connects the bottom of the four circles, since the center point of those circles falls outside the paper. Fortunately, I found a circular tray in my cupboard that was the perfect size — not very mathematical, but it worked! 

The part I struggled with the most was the center "knot"; it was the last section I tiled, and I must have scraped it up and relaid it four times before it looked right. It's (obviously) very different drawing lines that appear to be going over and under each other and setting tiles so it looks as if they are doing so. Another problem solved.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Tale of Mousie

Once upon a time there was a mosaic teacher whose students were all busy with their own projects, so she picked up a piece of wire and started twisting it into an egg shape. And the egg shape had a sort of tail. So she bent the tail up and it looked kind of cute. She kept mushing the egg shape around and squishing it and then wrapped it with wet plaster gauze and smoothed it out and let it dry until it hardened, and then she covered it in a couple of layers of some finely ground cementlike stuff called Winterstone - because when you glue mosaic pieces onto a form, it has to be absolutely rigid so the grout doesn't crack.

Now, this mosaic teacher was already getting the idea that this thing was starting to look like a little mouse, so she remembered that she had a very tiny amount of some pink Van Gogh tile in tiny 1/8" squares, and she thought that would make a super mouse belly, and because green is pink's complement and also because dark green makes a good camouflage for a mouse scurrying around on the forest floor, she picked out a dark bluish-green glass for the mouse's back. Because it was a sort of abstract mouse, and because she had some tiny gold beads on a string lying around, she decided to wind them around the tail all the way up so she could practice how to do that, not having much experience with beads. She consulted with her friend Diane Sykes, master bead wrangler extraordinaire, about whether to start at the top or the bottom, and received expert advice - definitely the bottom, said Diane!

The mosaic teacher rummaged around in her vast collection of buttons and things and found a couple of, I think they are tie tacks, to glue on for eyes, and cut a small black bead in half for a nose, and by this time a few weeks had gone by and the students were noticing what was going on and one of them said, Well, he's got to have ears! And the mosaic teacher said, Well, not really, it's an abstract thing, but they insisted, so she
rummaged around again and found a couple of very tiny translucent shells and she had to admit they were totally perfect ears, and then before anyone could say, What about feet? she found two springs that go into the sides of picture frames - and Mousie was complete.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Art Show

In my 62nd year, I have successfully completed my first art show. Not without bumps and bruises, but on the whole, speaking from the downhill side, a positive experience. I've always steered clear of such affairs - really, how could anyone sit in a tent for three days watching people pass by smiling politely not buying anything? And the volumes of inventory one must stockpile for these events! But this one, the Sun Circle Art Show, was only one day, during the civilized hours of 11 to 5, in the equally civilized neighborhood of Sapphire Shores just south of the museum, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I browsed the web for cheap tents, but my dear brother John said "Wait! I have an extra one! I'll bring it over! I'm retired - what else do I have to do?" So he drove over the night before from Coral Springs with his tent and his Dolphins folding chair (no stranger to tailgates). Meanwhile I printed up cards and bought lattice panels and zip-ties and bubble wrap and price stickers and feverishly mosaicked and grouted and borrowed work from the various galleries around town that show my work and managed to collect a tent's worth of stuff. I was surprised, seeing it all together, at how much there actually was. I guess when it's dispersed among galleries and my classroom and my living room and studio it didn't seem like so much.

The eye-opener for me, and what will probably motivate me to do this again, despite the effort, is that I was able to see a little of what other people see; in other words, what attracts the eye, much more clearly than just hanging work in galleries or posting to a website. The personal connections are part of the sale, after all.

And I did make a few sales - which didn't hurt either!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rapunzel, Rapunzel

I've loved fairy tales and myths since as early as I can remember. I still have an old, frayed set of heavy books full of old tales with covers featuring knights in armor and ladies riding side-saddle in flowing robes through green forests. I even spent a year or so making my own flowing robes from old curtains during my college years in a back-to-nature phase. But I digress. My point is that these tales are near and dear to my heart. So, about a year ago, when I was visiting my friends Chris and Gordon Turner at the Baobab Gallery in Bradenton's Village of the Arts, and they brought out a pedestal table that they didn't want any more and invited me to mosaic it, I thought of Rapunzel's tower. It's a skinny, top-heavy-looking thing that looked like it might crumble at any moment so that's how I decided the stem and base of the table should look. Usually my mosaics are more "finished," but this time I deliberately gave the base a more primitive look, since in the story the tower is old and rickety. 

I started with the top of the table, with Rapunzel's face. I didn't have any person's particular face in mind, I just knew that I wanted a youngish girl's face, so I just drew from memory. I borrowed a technique from my friend Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson, and painted a face in acrylic first on the top of the table. I had never tried that before — usually I just do a quick pencil sketch or go straight to the mosaic pieces — but I found that the painting gave me a better direction as to color and shape. Thank you, Elizabeth! 

Rapunzel's hair was the fun part.  I knew from the beginning that I wanted some of it to be beads that hung down to drape around the stem, since the whole point of the story is that the handsome prince climbs up to her window using her hair as a rope (I remember reading that story as a young girl and having the mixed feelings of "That can't be true!" and "I wish my hair could grow that long!") I just used whatever beads I had, and mixed in a few small strings of pearls. The two plaits wind around the stem of the table and are loosely held in place with a couple of orange thumb tacks. 

I delivered Rapunzel to the Baobab Gallery yesterday, where she can be seen 11 to 4 Fridays and Saturdays, and during Artwalks on the First Friday of every month. [At first I wrote "it can be seen," but if the title of the work of art is female, is "she" appropriate?]