Studio Wing, WIP (cont.)

Good progress was made on the new west gable—I have been mistakenly calling it a dormer—and on the east extension with shed roof—I have been mistakenly calling a gable. Our architect briefly explained the differences and I have a better understanding now. 

One of the insulation crew—at least I think he may be the culprit—stepped through the garage ceiling on Friday. This is getting ridiculous! A few months ago, when we were in the planning stage, an engineer slipped off a beam above the garage and stepped right through, just about a foot or so away from the new hole. On Monday of last week, one of the framers stepped through the ceiling of a small bathroom just off our laundry room, which is right next to the garage. That's three holes now. I hope they get that floor in next week.

Here's progress pics for the past week:

Just getting started on the new west gable at the beginning of the week.

By the end of the day it was in. A smallish window because it's on the west.

End of week and it looks right at home.

The east extension looked a bit scary when they started.

I still had my doubts that this would look alright.

Okay, I feel better. Looks like it could have always been there. 

On a more personal note, I'm finding it to be a challenge to adjust to the new state of things. I'm not complaining, because I am so excited about the changes that we are making, not the least of which is my new studio. I'm guessing that anyone who has undergone a sizable renovation in the house in which they are living might know how I feel. 

I tried to prepare for it, psychologically, as best I could, but I did not completely understand how things would unfold. We are working on three areas of the house: the east end for the new studio wing, a pullman-style bath shared by two upstairs bedrooms, and the game room where my studio used to be. Additionally, due to delays and scheduling issues, it just so happens that our master bath shower is being redone at this time. 

We have a large house but, because of all this work, we are down to one full bathroom and barely two bedrooms. I've moved all of my studio, materials, and tools, as well as all other household storage, into the two guest rooms that we have. Truly, my storage skills are impressive. Because of the work on that pullman-style bathroom, my youngest son's bedroom is uninhabitable. He returns from college this Wednesday and  I've just barely cleared out a small space in the guest bedroom with the one functioning full bath. Kinda crazy! I thought he would be a bit cranky over his summer accommodations, but he surprised me with his good humor about the situation.

And then there is the experience of being without a studio that feels like an empty space, on both the inside and the outside. Although I have not been doing much, mosaically, for almost the last year, it feels very strange to have it all packed up, and to be without the ability to work or putter around. 

Ah well, all is well! It's fascinating to see the new work transform from ideas and drawings on paper to physical reality—just like creating mosaics! Watching the progress, I'm learning things everyday—like the difference between gables and dormers. It's beautiful to see the space upstairs coming alive and opening up! 





Before I Was An Artist, #7

In my last post in this series, I had made it to the early-mid 2000s. Around 2005, I  had my first website, which was just one of the benefits of having a computer nerd for a daughter. Not many mosaic artists had personal websites at that time, but within just a few years that would change. The internet gradually replaced my well-worn books as a strong source of inspiration, as I searched and increasingly found more mosaic sources online. 

Early in 2005 I found some information—some kind of blog post I believe—about Orsoni's Master Classes. After much thought, I decided to look into attending a 2-week class in June of 2006. This was quite a big thing for me to do, to travel to Venice all by myself, and for 2 weeks! At the time, I had been making mosaics for almost 10 years. However, I knew very little about art. I had no educational background and never really thought of art much beyond it being an aspect of room decor. 

My Orsoni experience proved to be quite pivotal for me and, although I did not know it at the time, started me on the path to becoming an artist

Master Class. 2006. 20" x 16" | 51cm x 41cm. Smalti, mosaic gold.

On left is the mosaic I made in my Orsoni master class. This was a huge challenge for me! First of all, nippers were not allowed in class—only hammer and hardie. I had virtually zero skill with the hammer, which resulted in oh-so-less-than perfect cuts. I fussed and fussed, trying in vain for a degree of precision that was unobtainable. I would try to force myself to accept what were, to me, unacceptable cuts. 

Antonella, observing my frustration, kindly laughed and said something about it being against my nature. It was that perfectionism that I wrote about in my last post, a perfectionism that, up until this point, had been my ally. But in a classroom environment when using new techniques, my perfectionism was proving to be a menace.

I chose the design so that I could learn a little about shading and blending. I could have done a bit of shading with pencil, perhaps, but translating it to individual pieces of color really was a challenge for me. Amazingly, I did get this panel finished before the class ended. 

One day during the class, Lucio Orsoni was showing us around the gallery/showroom which displayed some of his stunning, large-scale gold works, a few of Antonella's pieces, and some other mosaics. One of the pieces was a beautiful portrait, in what I believe was the Venetian double-indirect method, done quite some time ago after a painting. We were all oohing and aahing over it when Lucio said This is not mosaic!  Note that he did not say This is not a mosaic. He explained that it was a copy of a painting—done in service to a painting. At that time, I did not quite understand his point, neither did I understand when, in class, he would say Think mosaic! But, he planted a seed, so to speak. 

Overall, my Orsoni experience was quite positive, and I returned home fully energized and had begun my transformation from hobbyist to artist. From that point on, I was going to make art!

Of course, my first project would be smalti, Orsoni smalti. I had taken a picture from the classroom, which overlooked a balcony, and I decided to mosaic that image. I did my best to recreate that image with as much detail as I possibly could, and it was very, very difficult! I was proud of my accomplishment. 

When Maestro Orsoni told me that my work was technically perfect, well, that was quite a compliment. Too bad that it would be some time before I realized that there was something very important in what he did not say. 

L'entrata. 2007. 42" x 32" | 107cm x 81cm. Smalti.

I love this mosaic and in no way would I say that it is not a good mosaic. I achieved such fine detail and it really is a beautiful piece. Ironically, however, I believe that this work illustrates Orsoni's point when he said This is not mosaic! I had faithfully copied a photograph; the mosaic was created in service to the photo. It is a mosaic, but is it mosaic? This seemingly subtle distinction, as I have come to understand it, gradually revealed itself to me throughout the years of around 2007-2009, and I began to learn to think mosaic in the spirit that I believe Lucio Orsoni meant. 

Well, I think this is enough for one post. I'll continue with 2007 in the next installment.

While I'm Not Being An Artist

During my mosaic sabbatical, I've been so very busy not being an artist. I hope to have installment #7 in my Before I Was An Artist series out in the next few days. So, what have I been up to?

Still cooking, literally, and so thoroughly enjoying it! How fabulous! How could I have gotten into my mid-late 50s and just be discovering how satisfying it is to be acquiring some kitchen competence? For the last 3+ weeks I have been focusing on vegan dinners because my husband is doing that very long Easter fast; Orthodox Easter is still about 4 weeks away. So I've been pretty much vegan myself, using a bit of dairy and eggs. I'm discovering great vegan substitutes and learning some things. We have not suffered in the least.

I'm enjoying my two grandsons immensely, one 2 and one 4. We had an Easter Egg Hunt here for them on Easter afternoon. Sean, the 4-year-old, and his Mom had decorated 11 hardboiled eggs for the hunt and also brought some of those plastic eggs with a chocolate treat inside each. My daughter and son-in-law hid the eggs around the property—in the woods and garden and yard. I accompanied Sean on the hunt and when we came upon one of the decorated eggs, he would just walk right by and say "Those aren't the kind of eggs I'm looking for." He would only pick up the plastic ones with the candy inside. A no-nonsense kind of fellow!

There is progress on the renovation front! We have finalized our plans and the construction will start any day now. I'm so excited about my new studio, which makes perfect sense for someone who is trying not to be an artist. Well, I'll take some pics as the project progresses. 

Another thing I've been doing while I'm not being an artist is to work on that 6-year-old mosaic that I wrote about some weeks ago (see here). Yes, it is very strange that someone who is on a mosaic sabbatical and not making art would spend time finishing a mosaic. But I've been spending time here and there working on this thing. If you recall, I had to do a sort of reset on it after having somehow wandered away from the original concept. 

To refresh your memory, I've reposted the pics from my earlier post. 

Rough drawing of the 30" x 30" very simple, repeating pattern. It is basically 9 squares, each 9" x 9", with an approx. 1.5" border around the edge. 

Rough drawing of the 30" x 30" very simple, repeating pattern. It is basically 9 squares, each 9" x 9", with an approx. 1.5" border around the edge. 

Original work done on one of the 9" squares, which I concluded was the wrong approach some 6+ years ago.

Original work done on one of the 9" squares, which I concluded was the wrong approach some 6+ years ago.

Back in February, I scraped off the original attempt and repaired the substrate, which you can see in the lower left corner of the image below. Then I spent a few weeks getting things ready for the new direction, repainting the sides of the gold lines, cutting marble, etc. Finally, I started working on it an hour here, a couple of hours there, some days not at all, really trying not to get too absorbed in it.

You can see that I've got quite a reset going on here. I chose a dark background with red for the sides of the lines to boldly exploit the basic concept.

I've got the contrast that I needed for the repeating pattern of gold lines, and the red sides of the lines really stand out when changing viewing perspective. 

I'm leaving a gap, almost 1/8", between all the implied triangles within the 9 squares, creating shadow lines which both connect and separate as they define squares, triangles, and diamond shapes.

It's really a very simple design, isn't it?

I'm getting some great practice using the hammer, cutting the marble into the roughly 1/4" square pieces, although I am using nippers to shape them up and cut the diagonals. Still, my right hand is fine and seems to have recovered from my injury last spring. 

Below are a couple of detail shots on which you can click to zoom. 

It's quite a tedious project and, at this point, not much more than a technical challenge. But, in that sense, it seems a good fit for me at this time. I need to be making something and working with my hands. I think I'll actually get this finished, eventually, probably this year. And I think I'll like it, and I will be happy that I did not give up on it. 

And that's a worthy goal, don't you think? Whatever you're making, and whether or not you're an artist. Just to like what you make and be happy that you made it. 

Before I Was An Artist, #4

Circa 1997. I was pretty obsessed with mosaic. I saw mosaic everywhere. Either something could be transformed by mosaic, or it could be broken up and used for mosaic material. I wasn't an artist; mosaic was just an obsessive hobby. 

After my first birdbath, I decided that I would just make birdbaths - for forever. I made two more, and realized that forever had come not soon enough. I was ready to not make anymore birdbaths. I resumed my exploration of material and style via primarily decorative pieces. 

Stained glass caught my attention. It was relatively easy to find, to cut, and it was inexpensive. It was at a stained glass shop that I first found wheeled nippers. Wow! What an invention. I took a few stained glass classes to learn how to cut glass and I was off in that direction for a while, trying a lot of glass-on-glass stuff, certain that I would do that for the rest of my life.

There was my picassiette phase. I loved the chunkiness and mixed patterns of broken dishes and ceramics. Yes, I bought things just to break them up for material. Playing with picassiette led me to bottles, which still hold a bit of interest for me. 

By around 2000, I started focusing a bit more in the wall panel direction and ventured to make a few largish ones, one being a portrait for which I was woefully inadequate. But it never occurred to me that I did not know what I was doing, so I gave it a shot.

Fearlessly ambitious and deficient in both self-doubt and expertise from which to judge my success, I enthusiastically charged ahead. Though accomplishing much more technically than artistically, due to the sheer act of physically doing it, my ability to assess my own work was quite limited. While books offered a few tips and critiques, I was mostly oblivious to my technical errors. Still, I was growing, in that unconscious way that is a by-product of just making one thing after another. It was unavoidable, I suppose, that I would slowly and quite by accident be likewise growing artistically, learning a bit about line, composition, perspective, and color.

Looking back, I see that I was very content to just be making things. But then, my mosaic world was quite small. It was just me. I was not part of any mosaic community. SAMA was not in existence until 1998 or so, and there was no Facebook or CMA (not sure when MAO was formed). I was probably still ordering tiles by phone, although I recall the perfect joy of spending time in local tile stores and home improvement stores like the no longer Builder's Square. What fun!

My, how things would change in the next decade! Suppliers would be online, and the internet would be bringing the work of mosaicists from all over the world into my own home, my own studio. 

Before I Was An Artist, #3

Yes, so, what happened last week...

With the holidays well behind me and the adult kids back to their lives, the house was quiet again. I decided it was time to clean my studio, which had become rather piled up with remnants of the Thomas decorations - spray paint, axles and wheels that I made out of hardware for the snack train, railroad track cutouts, etc., a couple of wood specimens in need of some preservation, shale specimens that I was... am... continuing to collect from our woods when out with the dog - basically, just stuff, the kind of stuff that seems to pile up. 

While cleaning I came across 5 unfinished mosaics that I was confronting for not at all the first time. The oldest one was from 6 years ago and, although I muddled the idea of it early in its execution, I could never give up on it. I thought it was a cool idea when I started it, and every time I found myself considering what to do about it, I still thought it was a cool idea. Last year, I decided to either come up with a way to make this cool idea work or give up on it and throw the dang thing away. So I rethought it and came up with a reset plan. Unfortunately, it was about the time that I was running out of mosaic fuel so I turned my back on it yet again.


So here it is at right, my 6 year old neglected concept. A simple repeating pattern of lines in a grid of 9" x 9" squares - beautifully geometric, implying all those triangles and teasing other angular shapes. Just my kind of thing. The lines are in bumpy gold, raised on thin wooden rods, so the gold lines will extend above the surface of the mosaic. The sides of the gold lines were painted (brown, hmm...), which I thought would give a lot of interest from different views and the bumpy gold would reflect those elegant lines.

For some mysterious reason, I proceeded to use a mix of light, neutral tess, cut very intricately (as you can see in the lower image), kind of like an overhead city view, with little crystals, shells, minerals imbedded. I got one of the 9 squares done like this, and then I think I got distracted with a big commission. By the time I was revisiting it, I realized that I had muddled the concept, needed more contrast, and there was no way in hell that I was going to do 30 square inches in that ridiculously intricate work. 


Click on image to zoom.


Last week, I decided that it still has potential to be a very striking work, just the kind of thing I would love, so it's a keeper. Two other of the 5 should also be finished, I concluded. One of the 5 should be abandoned - just tossed, and the last one should first be cannibalized for it's good mineral specimens and then abandoned. Will I actually finish any of the 3? I have no idea, but I do feel a spark of interest. 

I found myself puttering around in my studio in the following days, not for any length of time. It felt so good to be puttering in my studio. The idea of maybe doing something to contribute to that 6 year old mosaic reaching its glorious potential slowly started becoming less repulsive, then palatable, then, well, let's just see if I can get that stuff scraped off and then reassess the situation.

Over the weekend, I scraped and yanked the beautifully and intricately cut, and completely wrong, marble from the Wedi substrate, pulling up most of the fiberglass mesh and foam core along with it. I had doubled the Wedi, which was working to my advantage these 6 years later, and the damage was isolated to about a 9" square corner. I was able to salvage a lot of the foam, pieced it back into the hole, and secured it with Weldbond. After it dried, I finished patching with thin set. After sanding it down, it's almost good as new. I've got to change something else to accommodate my reset plan, and then I'll see if its time may have come.

Let's not get carried away. I'm still on sabbatical, although I may qualify it as a sabbatical from any new work. Although I have some ideas percolating - all because I finally went in to clean up my studio last week - I don't think I'm where I need to be to birth anything new. My head is not on straight yet. Mosaic just became so consuming, I feared more an escape than an expression. I don't want to get lost again. I don't want to do it for the wrong reasons. I don't want to make anything that doesn't truly need to be made.

But maybe I can finish something that needs to be finished... 


Before I Was An Artist, #1

This is the first post in what I intend to be a series of posts reflecting on my journey to becoming, and un-becoming, an artist. Since Spring of 2015, when I decided to take a break from my work and sort out my relationship with it, I began the un-becoming leg of the journey, and I'm realizing that it actually has very little to do with mosaic-making.

In recent years, I've struggled under the weight of the artist label. I spent the first 45+ years of my life with no connection to the label whatsoever. I never thought of myself as an artist, nor did I have such a desire. I hardly considered myself a creative person at all. I did not even think about art very much, other than it being something decorative to support a room or an activity that children did for fun in school.

Somewhere around 1996 we began the adventure of building a house. In short order, we found ourselves watching HGTV on the weekends and getting all kinds of ideas. This is how I was introduced to mosaic in any serious, non-Pier 1 Imports sort of way. Some show on gardens of Barcelona led to me being convinced that I must have a mosaicked fireplace surround in what would be my husband's study in the new house.

So, that's how it started. One thing led to another, and I decided to try my hand at making a mosaic. Between my first rather pitiful attempt, at right (Why did I arrange those leaves like that? Why did I grout it with white non-sanded? God bless grout colorant.), and the fireplace, I dove right into the mosaic pool and made as many mosaics as I could figure how to make.

I bought and studied mosaic books from local bookstores. I figured out where to buy materials before they were all over the internet. I experimented with substrates and adhesives. I learned to cut with traditional tile nippers - I did not find wheeled nippers for a couple of years. I learned some things not to do. 


Sunflower. 2' x 2'. First mosaic attempt. 1995 - 1996. Ceramic and porcelain pool and floor tiles. 

Sunflower. 2' x 2'. First mosaic attempt. 1995 - 1996. Ceramic and porcelain pool and floor tiles. 

At left, my very first experiments with smalti, which I ordered by phone from Mountaintop Mosaics. I knew that I wanted to do the fireplace in smalti, but it took some time before I found some and was brave enough to use it. I combined the smalti with unglazed porcelain (bathroom tiles), some pool tile, and a bit of gold. Designs were inspired by some illustrations in a book. I was not yet a year into mosaicking.


About a year later, as we moved into our new home, I was convinced that I was the person to mosaic that fireplace surround. And I did. It turned out okay - quite well, actually, considering my experience level. It has its issues - how could it not? Funny, because when I look at it, I don't see its problems. When I look at it, I remember the person who took it on without any fear or insecurity - that person who wasn't an artist.

Tropical Fireplace Surround 1996-1997. Smalti, mosaic gold.

Below is a slideshow of a few of the things I made in that first year. The kitchen table originally had 4" x 4" white ceramic tiles and a light wood finish. Another example of me just jumping in without fear or even a second thought. I used mostly pool tiles and some off-white ceramic tiles that I bought from a local tile store. Once all pieces were glued, I proceeded to grout it with antique white grout. What a disaster! Fortunately, I found some grout colorant in the color Haystack which saved it. Well, it's not perfect, but we still use it in our kitchen.

As can be seen, I was not making anything all that spectacular - mostly decorative things for around the house and small wall panels inspired by others' designs. I relied somewhat heavily on stencils for the fireplace design. Well, this was all before I was an artist... and I was having a blast!



MESI Winners!

Congratulations to Mindy Graber and Tracy Hodson as the MESI Scholarship winners! For the 2016 American Mosaic Summit, each will receive a full-registration and workshop of their choice.

Also, thanks to Krystie Rose Millich, an additional $1300 (more or less)  in expense $$ has been raised to assist with additional conference expenses. 

I am so looking forward to hearing back from them about their conference experience!

My Excellent Italian Adventure

In early October, I was lucky enough - and smart enough, I dare say - to be part of Julie Richey's 2015 Mosaic Masterpieces Tour. We started in Rome, then went to Florence with a lovely stop at a Chianti winery for lunch, tour, and wine-tasting, then wrapped things up in Ravenna!

Here's a little photo album of some of my favorite pics:

Life is a Puzzle

A friend of mine sent me this jigsaw puzzle for my birthday. She knows that I enjoy jigsaw puzzles (go figure!) and she made this for me on Shutterfly

It's quite fun to revisit these mosaics and piece them together in a different, and certainly easier, way than the manner in which they were originally executed. 


Way Back...

Over ten years ago, I found this book by Sarah Kelly.  This was in my early years, when I was still doing a lot of decorative work, and before I had even thought about working with stone.

I really loved the project shown on the pages (below left), created by Juliet Docherty. I don't know why I never tried it. I think I was trying to figure out smalti, or something, and veered away from vitreous glass projects.

Even further back, in about 1996, I found Mosaic Mercantile as a vitreous glass supplier. I called and ordered a catalog and some small mixed sets. No internet ordering — it was all by phone. It was so exciting to receive the shipment of tiles; I thought that they were so beautiful, especially the metallic ones. That Gypsy mix is still my fave! This was before I even thought about trying smalti, much less knew where to buy it.

Over the years, I've continued to buy vitreous glass for various mixed material projects, and I have a lot — a lot — that deserves to be used. Now, after so many years, I am revisiting Juliet Docherty's Decorative Panel project. I think that my Beginner's Mind exercises have given me the freedom to go back in time, more or less, so I've started a new mosaic that is inspired by the above project.

That metallic vitreous is beautiful and I'm using a lot of it. After finishing a lower section, it was so strange to have mosaicked a large, flat area. And the little squares are so... square. I've got to work harder to let them be more loose. 

Mosaic Class at WaterWorks Art Center

It's official! I'll be teaching a 6-week class on Monday evenings, Apr 6 - May 11, at WaterWorks Art Center in Tulsa. 

Light & Shadow: Textural Mosaic Art will teach basic mosaic construction while creating a 2-d mosaic art piece with a textural surface quality.

Students will learn to work with a variety of traditional and contemporary materials to explore aspects of light and shadow in a textured mosaic surface. I'm very excited about this class, and to be teaching at WaterWorks again. Find more information here

Almost As Much Fun

Giving away SAMA conference registrations and workshops was almost as much fun as actually going to the conference. And like attending the conference, I got to meet some new people and get to know a bit about them through their scholarship applications. 

Three artists received registration and workshop packages, and two of them received some expense funds, thanks to Krystie Rose Millich and everyone who donated to her fund. You can find all the details here.

As a result of this experience, I have created MESI, the Mosaic Education Scholarship Initiative. I had so much fun that I want to do it again next year. Please consider helping to make it happen by donating.