Monday, December 19, 2011

The Reef - Installed

Here is the reef mosaic installed in its permanent home. The owners plan to install some kind of lighting behind it so that it will be visible at night. This is a daytime view. Everyone is very happy, including me! It turned out almost as I expected. When I purchased the glass, although most of it was translucent, I worried that some of it might be too opaque for the project, but that turned out not to be the case. The fish in the center is not as distinct as I would like, but I think that is due to the sunlight shining in from outside. All in all, a successful project and totally suitable for a house in the keys!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Reef for a Window

My brother and sister-in-law commissioned a mosaic to be set into an existing window (it is long and narrow and looks out on the uninteresting view of another building). Instead of learning how to do stained glass in the traditional way, I used stained glass pieces to create a mosaic. I chose mostly transparent colors (instead of the more opaque ones I'm used to buying for the glass mosaics I do on boards) to better filter the light coming in the window. I purchased a wood frame and a piece of glass to fit inside it, and stuck the mosaic pieces onto the base glass piece. I experimented with different glues first; on board I generally use white glue (Weldbond), which dries clear (supposedly), but between two pieces of glass it takes forever to dry and is not 100 percent clear even then, so I used my trusty silicone adhesive, Lexel, which is messier to use but is clear from start to finish. The glass base allowed me to place my full-size template underneath, meaning that it was oh, so easy to follow the plan of my drawing! The photos show the template and two stages of completion. I grouted with a light gray, which I have found is best at receding into the background so the viewer is concentrating on the design itself. The window will be installed sometime in the next month, and I'm really excited to see it in place!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Appetite for Birds (Visually, That Is)

In going through my mother's house last week (we're moving her to Florida in the fall), I came across this small bird book printed in 1905, written by Chester A. Reed. It doesn't say, but I imagine he is also the artist. The descriptions include this priceless statement about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker: "Range: Formerly the South Atlantic States and west to Texas and Indian Territory, but now confined to a few isolated portions of Florida and, possibly, Indian Territory." Indian Territory included part of Oklahoma, which was not granted statehood until 1907, and Arizona and New Mexico joined the Union in 1912. The illustrations are charming, and I am sure they will be a great source of inspiration for future mosaics or drawings. As anyone who reads this blog knows, birds are my favorite subject!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Still Here; New Project

I just realized how long it's been since I last posted. This summer has been heavy with work (work work as opposed to artwork) as I'm putting in extra hours to be able to take a week off every couple of months to visit my mother and continue the job of getting her packed and moved to Florida.

She will be living with my brother, who is the source of my latest commission: a stained glass mosaic to go in a horizontal window. This is the template I finally had time to create, after consulting with my brother and his wife. I will be using translucent glass, as opposed to the opaque glass I use on boards, because this will be done on a sheet of clear glass, then framed and set into the window. Another newish technique. I plan to use a clear silicone adhesive; although white glue dries clear eventually, it takes a long time, and maybe never if not exposed to air. So silicone it is.  I have not yet decided how to grout; at the moment I'm thinking of a medium gray that will blend into the background, but I'll have to try a few colors.

The designated window looks out onto another building -- that's why this particular treatment. My brother, who is a wonderful handyperson, will rig lights behind it so it will show up even at night. The theme is a reef with several true-to-species fish, a little crab, some seaweed, and maybe some shells; the final details will probably occur to me as I work, as they usually do! The finished size will be about 2 by 4 feet. Looking forward to purchasing the glass and getting started; it will be nice to spend regular hours in my studio again.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cubist Cardinals

Something I've been thinking about for awhile is how to move away from realism in mosaics. I thought it would be fun to experiment with Cubism, and picked the bright shapes of a cardinal to start with. These are two panels about 7 1/2 inches square (I still have several of these pieces, made from old shelving, to use up.) While glass can't duplicate the subtle shadings of Picasso or Braque, I think it is perfect for portraying angular dimensions and varying points of view. I found it freeing not to worry about exact representations but to try to capture the "essence" of cardinal attitude. Has anyone else tried this? What do you think?  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Playing With Acrylic

Every once in  while it's fun to experiment with other materials and techniques. This giraffe is one of three jungle-themed canvas panels I've made for my niece's baby's room. My sister had originally painted a mural on two walls of her room, but the kids had to leave that house after my sister died. Obviously they couldn't take the walls with them, so I offered to re-create the mural on canvas. 

It turned out to be a bigger job than I had anticipated! Not only do I have little experience with acrylics, but three large (about 36" square) paintings is a lot to tackle for a novice! But I charged ahead (fools rush in ... etc.) and actually had a good time. Learned a lot about color mixing, proportion, background values, and balance, among other things. My friend Christine Turner, a former art teacher, was kind enough to give me some pointers.

I think I'll be sticking to mosaics for the time being, but it was a pleasant change of pace, and who knows? I might get the bug to do more someday.

Update on the Madonna mosaic of Encinitas, which I wrote about last week: The city council has voted to have it removed.  They will have a hard time of it; apparently whoever put it up used a strong epoxy glue.   

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Eve's Mural Project

You might remember my post several months ago about this bird mosaic -- a contribution to a charity project organized by friend and fellow mosaic artist Eve Lynch in Fort Myers, Florida. The project is now finished, a huge success and well loved by all who see it. 

The venue is the Joseph A. Messina Children's Center, and the finished mosaics -- all donated by artists from around the world -- have been installed, grouted and labeled on various walls around the facility. You can read about the project here on Eve's special blog. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Guerilla Mosaic

I was just listening to NPR and heard the story about this mosaic, which appeared under a bridge in Encinitas, California, last night. It's 10 by 10 feet and made of stained glass. Obviously some talented artist made it, and invested quite a lot of money in materials. It shows beautiful movement, in the drapery and the waves, and the face and hands are remarkably detailed. City officials are in a quandary, because the piece qualifies as graffiti, technically illegal, but who could take down something so lovely? The words on the side say "save the ocean," but it might well say, "save the mosaic."

Read the whole story here

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Wedding Bonus

Those who were lucky enough to have a seat in Westminster Abbey for the royal wedding last Friday might have caught a glimpse of this floor. It is a mosaic created in 1268 (!) but usually covered up when the Abbey was used for special occasions because it was in such disrepair. It was recently restored with the help of a grant from the Getty Foundation (read the full story here).

It's called the Cosmati pavement after its Italian creators, a family of famous skilled artisans of the time. The floor is 24 feet square (which actually makes my knees hurt just thinking about the time it took to create). It's truly a stunning and intricate Medieval piece - almost abstract, with its variety of designs and images that are all different. In addition to marble, the floor is made from onyx, purple porphyry, green serpentine, and yellow limestone, with opaque glass pieces in cobalt blue, red, turquoise, and bluish-white. It is a clear testament to the enduring beauty of mosaic in all its forms.   

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Other Art Projects

I recently took a sculpture class at Ringling College, the gift of a good friend. While the focus in the class was on planar sculpture (this image is one of my projects, done in copper), I learned a great deal about three-dimensional work, which I am looking forward to applying to mosaic. For one thing, the instructor, Joni Younkins-Herzog, emphasized looking at a piece to be sure that it was interesting from all sides. Since I've been working mostly in two dimensions on flat surfaces with mosaic heretofore, this basic tenet had not penetrated my brain. Well, duh! I also learned about considering negative space, and how to move away from my predominantly realistic approach to see an image in more abstract, suggestive terms.  I was hoping for this transition; I had been feeling for quite a while that I was sort of "stuck" in the realism mode.

Now I am re-examining all of the 3-D pieces I've done previously -- as well as my ideas for future projects -- to see how they can be improved using the techniques and theories I've learned in the class. It was great to be in class again -- like a brain refreshment, which I'm sure will improve any art I do in the future.       

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward

My dear sister Barbara Porter died last week. Besides being a good friend, as everyone who reads this blog knows, she has been a source for many unusual garage sale finds that I use in my mosaics. She will live on in her three beautiful children, her sweet new granddaughter age 6 1/2 months, and in all of her many contributions to art and life. I will miss her.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


The Landfill Art Project is a creative endeavor by artists all over the country and even internationally, to transform the lowly hubcap into a work of art. I found out about the project through my friend Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson (see her hubcap entry on her blog post, here) and decided to submit one myself. My hubcap, titled "Land, Ho," uses all repurposed materials, including a sweet little ship that my sister Barbara sent me a long time ago from a yard sale find. The bird is another of her finds: an enameled brooch. And so is the lighthouse, one of a collection of 10 or so from another yard sale. 

The picture below it is the "before" shot. I have to admit, the bump in the center threw me a bit at first (I'd never inspected a hubcap closely), but it finally worked itself out, as projects usually do!  I used plaster strips to cover the holes around the edges.

Visit the Landfill Art website for pictures of the hundreds of other submissions so far. There's nothing like reusing something that would usually be thrown away!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Marble Adventure - Complete!

I've just been packing up the mosaic ready to install on Friday. I cut it into manageable sections so it won't be so heavy to lift into place (marble weighs a ton). This picture shows it still on my table. If I had it to do over, there are things I'd change about the design, but the client is happy, so I'm happy too.  I've also heard that there is a real possibility that the tile installer who's doing the rest of the bathroom might install this for me. Hallelujah! I am ready and willing to do it myself, but this is one of those cases where the mind is willing but the body ain't as nimble as it used to be, so I will be even happier if he does it. 

I've learned a lot on this project, and now I have a new skill in my toolkit. The marble is temperamental but so beautiful. Someday I'd like to hop down to Miami and have a quick lesson on the hammer and hardie, if they do that kind of thing (Gina Hubler's Miami Mosaic Academy is there). In the meantime, I'm cleaning up my guest room, where I've been working since it turned cold in November (!), as it is now reliably warm enough to go back out to my backyard studio. On to the next project! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Teachers We Remember

Fellow mosaic artist Eve Lynch recently posted some interesting thoughts about why art history matters, on her blog Creative Nonconformity. It is an interesting question, and one that every artist is going to have a different answer to. I believe that art history is best learned when it is absorbed, like osmosis, by simply looking.  In college I had a wonderful professor - I don't remember his name - who taught an art history class in this way. He announced at the first class that grading would be a simple pass-fail, and that we would pass simply by showing up. He told us to put away our notebooks and pens, and said that he wanted us to simply look at the slides he presented, listen to his descriptions, and think about them. 

I loved that class. I don't remember what any of my fellow students said about that class, but as for me, I think I absorbed more about art history in that class than in any other. Years later, often when I would see a painting or sculpture, I'd remember it from that class and how it made me feel. Learning often is most successful when there is no pressure to learn.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Marble Adventure - Part 2

Here are my new tools for cutting marble: the hardie, a steel chisel, embedded in a block of wood, and the steel hammer. I couldn't find a 6x6 block of wood, so I came up with the brilliant idea of gluing several pieces of 2x6 together. Seems to work fine, though it's not as attractive as a solid block would be. I'll keep my eyes open for a scrap. 

As my dear friend Margo warned me, there is a steep learning curve for cutting marble. I'm shattering about 20% of the pieces I'm cutting -- which are the 9/16-inch squares, the only mosaic tiles of colored marble that I could find in small quantities. I'd love it if all of them were the 3/8-inch cubes, but those seem to be in short supply.  Also, I'm learning that different marble types behave differently when struck: The off-white called crema marfil cuts cleanly and evenly; the rosin yellow and pure white crumble very easily; the lotus green (a variegated white/green) breaks off in chunks. I've learned that I can make small cuts with a tile nipper, which helps too.

I have learned something about marble chemistry. When I found out that blue marble is (gasp!) $70-$80 per square foot, I adjusted the design so I'd need only a third of what I originally planned, because I certainly didn't budget for that! A friend in the tile industry told me that that's because blue is not only scarce, but that what makes the blue color in marble is gold. Who knew?

This method also has its particular hazards. While it doesn't have the sharp edges that glass does, every time I whack that hammer I run the risk of also whacking fingers and thumbs, which I've done more times than I like to think about. Somebody suggested holding the piece I'm whacking with long tweezers - brilliant! The only problem is holding the tweezers steady enough.

But progress is being made. I've almost finished the two orchid pots that are the main features of this design; most of the rest is background, which will be a breeze.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Marble Adventure

I just signed on to an exciting new project: a 3-by-5-foot mosaic in marble. Cutting marble tiles requires stronger tools than the wheeled nippers I use for glass or ceramic. I had to purchase an official mosaic hammer and hardie for this job. The hammer looks like a geology hammer; the hardie is a large chisel; both are made from steel.  

So why do I have a picture of a stump here? You have to sink the hardie into a block of wood, and many people use large stumps for the job because they are solid and sturdy. I found this stump of an old fig tree in the neighborhood and hauled it home. However, now that I have it here, I think it might just stay in my garden. For one thing, there's not a whole lot of room in my studio. For another, I'd probably have to fumigate it first. But I love its cross section with the whorls of fused vines. My other option for the hardie is to find a block of 6-by-6 post, which I like better than the stump for its portability; I can clamp it onto a table anywhere I'm working. 

Marble is a new material for me, but I've been wanting to do something in this medium for a long time, so I'm happy for the chance to jump in with both feet! This week I'm placing orders for the tile, and as soon as I get the hammer and hardie I'll set it up and start practicing. A friend told me that there is a bit of a steep learning curve for cutting marble, but I watched a YouTube video and it didn't look too hard, and I've been thinking about it for so long that I feel that I've already done it, in a way. Every act starts in the mind.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Summer School" Variation Installed

I just received this photo from the client for whom I made this variation on my blue and green mosaic called "Summer School." Since they live across the state, I didn't install it myself. I think they did a wonderful job with the color of the alcove walls. Originally we had talked about adding flexible molding around the inside edges, but we both agree that this looks much better. Bravo John and Donna! 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vincent Finds a Home

You might recognize "Vincent" as the header to my blog, above. He has been patiently waiting on a wall at the Baobab Tree Gallery in Bradenton's Village of the Arts for three years, but he finally has a home. He has been purchased by a couple who travel the country in an RV, so "Vincent" will see the world for a few years before settling down. I will miss seeing his intense gaze when I visit the gallery, but I am confident that he will be much appreciated. Thank you so much, Bob and Nancy!

Now I am inspired to make something in a similar vein - perhaps another artist portrait? Monet would be fun, with the full white beard he grew in his later years. Or maybe I'll try my hand at a Cubist-style Picasso, or maybe even Leonardo. Fortunately, the possibilities are endless!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Button Quail - Phase 2

The button quail is done. I'm glad I didn't try anything fancier for the background; I like the way the bird seems to emerge from the similar colors. I also like the combination of three main colors in the background; I've seen other artists use this technique and I think it adds depth. Now I have to figure out how to frame it. For smaller pieces, I've been using boards that are just the right thickness for a 3/4-inch tile border. This one is slightly thinner, and I don't have tiles that size, so I'm considering a shadow box-type frame in dark brown.

I think I need to learn some basic carpentry skills...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Button Quail

Ever since I learned about a species of quail actually called "button quail" (probably because it's so small), I knew I had a use for the many buttons that my sister Barbara has been sending me. She loves garage sales, and she has a standing order from me for junk jewelry, buttons, and other strange stuff that I like to use in my work.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this project before starting on it. For one thing, I wasn't sure whether I wanted to glue the buttons flat or stack them; as you can tell, I did a bit of both. I think the stacked or staggered ones give a feeling of movement to the wing portion, and the flat ones define the breast nicely. Also, I still haven't decided whether to grout or not, so I painted the bird outline first in brown paint, so the primed board wouldn't show if I decided not to grout. The beak, topknot, feet, and branch are stained glass. I'm still thinking about the background - leaning toward an abstract stained glass design that will not fight for attention with the buttons, and I will most likely grout any stained glass parts. The other option is a painted background; that would be a real departure from previous work, but who knows? It might work best. I can always paint first, and mosaic over it if I don't like it.

The color combination is pretty close to what these birds actually look like, though my interpretation of it is loose, to say the least.  I might replace the small millefiori I used for the eye with a larger half-bead so it's more prominent. Stay tuned for phase 2!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Garden Art Around Town

I was driving downtown a few weeks ago and saw this wonderful wall in front of a house near Sarasota's arts district, Towles Court. I love the haphazard nature of it, the riot of colors and materials, and the combination of cinder blocks and bottles.

It got me thinking; remember the gecko that I had to redo? Well, I saved all the tiles I removed from it the first time, and they are piled in a big bucket just waiting for a project like this. Now to just find the time . . .

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Another Diptych

 "Macaw" is a new diptych. I love the feeling of flight in this piece. It took a while to finish because I was missing the orange-red for the tail portion; when I started the bird, several months ago, I must have had only a small piece which I used for the upper body, because when I went to finish it I could not find that color anywhere - even my local stained glass store didn't have it. I am indebted to Belinda Chase from my monthly mosaic group for giving me a small sliver of orange-red so I could finish that tail! 

I still have not found small alphabet letters that I am happy with, so when it was time to finish Macaw, I finally just decided to use glass paint. It worked so well that I redid the Hoopoe in the same way - I was never really happy with the plastic letters I used previously. If you bake the tiles after painting them, the paint adheres and even stands up to grout.