Thursday, May 31, 2007


It's a common misconception that we're only about rocks. Why, some of our favorite artists bat for the other team and work in glass. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Here are two new mosaics.

Arlene Piarulli (Crema, Italy) just finished the Master in Mosaic course at Orsoni Smalti Venezia. This is her masterpiece. I love the big, bold red pieces of smalti in contrast with the smaller floral pattern. It's great to see a mosaic which is fun - most pieces (including all of mine) are way too serious.

Yulia Hanansen (Ann Arbor, Michigan) is in my pantheon of mosaic gods and goddesses. She is a true master with stained glass, and her mosaics are infinitely more impressive when seen in person than through a photograph. This is a southern oak tree with Spanish moss hanging from it. Its size is impressive - 3' x 4' - and it was recently installed above a jacuzzi.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Mosaic and Music Muses

Etymologically, music and mosaic come from the same origin - mousa - the Greek word for muse.

The mosaic and music muses combined forces the other night when Sophie, along with her fellow members of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, presented a commissioned mosaic which she did for the symphony's retiring conductor, Simon Streatfeild. He was absolutely thrilled.

Sophie's statement of presentation:

How an artist conceives new ideas is a very personal process. Mine often come in the middle of the night between two layers of sleep. It really feels as if an idea has decided to nudge me and make its presence felt.On night last February, I was struck with such nighttime inspiration, in the form of a question: what kind of mosaic would be a fitting thank-you gift for Simon Streatfeild?

The answer came right away: a life-size portrait of the beautiful viola he used to own. I was aware that this instrument now belonged to a friend of mine, McGill University Professor Douglas McNabney. I contacted him and he generously sent me pictures of the instrument, along with his gracious permission to use them for a mosaic. The KWS Board, musicians and staff then agreed to team up in a joint commission for this mosaic.

Having decided upon the main subject, I started to think of other ways of symbolizing some of the history of Simon’s monumental Canadian career. Therefore, in the marble background, I put the initials of 13 different Canadian music and orchestra organizations for which Simon has been an artistic leader. There is also a row of gold bars on either side of the viola: each of these represents one of the 70 Canadian orchestral works that Simon has premiered so far in his career.

I am grateful to the KWS musicians, staff and board for trusting me with this great responsibility. And most importantly, I wish to thank Simon Streatfeild. My very first professional orchestra experience was with him on the podium, and I now have had the immense privilege to share music with him in four different orchestras in Canada.

Many thanks, Simon!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Bad hair day for Luke

In my first posting for the Luke project I mentioned that I tend to lose patience midway through a project and start working faster than I should. Yesterday was one of those days.

I started working on Luke's hair. I really enjoy doing hair (in a mosaic that is) and think that the hair usually ends up being the best part of the mosaic. Here's Kurt and Augusto. It's hard to make out the tesserae in these reduced photos. There's a nice randomness of lines and (with Caesar) color that resembles real hair.

Luke hair is different. Here's a photo of the original along with the work I did yesterday.

What's up with the top of his head? Is he going bald or wearing a yarmulke?
Do saints wear yarmulkes?

There are a few differences between what's happening with Luke's hair vs Kurt & Augusto's hair. Luke's hair is much more formal and precise. Color is important with the streaks of light and dark. Not only does it emphasize the source of light for the portrait, it also helps emphasize the perspective of the piece making his head look more three-dimensional.

My attempt was pretty feeble with some problems and mistakes. First, I have a limited selection of colors which makes it difficult to fade from dark to very light brown in a small space.

Second - and probably my biggest mistake - although I sketched out the pattern before laying the pieces, I was pretty much winging it - as I did with Kurt & Caesar's hair. Not good. This piece requires a more precise placement for the andamento and the colors. I should have been more exact in drawing before gluing any stones.

Third - I only worked on the top part of his head. I should have followed a row at least until the part in his hair if not beyond the part and around his ear.

Fourth - I worked from top down. I was itching to place the top row of tesserae just to define the top of the head - perhaps to get a sense of satisfaction that I'm making progress with the piece. (This is my urge to rush things coming out.) It seems that it's harder to fill in a section than to build out- especially when there is so much detail to fill in.

So after spending an entire afternoon laying hair on the top of Luke's head, I ripped it all out.

I never though about it before, but I suppose even saints have bad hair days.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Quote for the day

"There really is no such thing as art. There are only artists.”
-Ernst Gombrich

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sophie's Saga continues...

From Sophie:
After about a week’s worth of work on the medallion and the fan modules by Maurice, Tom and Keith, it became apparent that the modules needed “tweaking” to have a more uniformly pleasing grouting space between each other once installation was completed. The heroic floor installers on my team (Maurice Renon, Tom Watson and Keith Boniface) went to work, and they were not at all afraid to use new tools to do so, because they used (among others) my own mosaic tools to shape some of the faulty fan stones to better proportions. The result of all this work, as you see, is absolutely wonderful.

The plastic peel comes on the whole floor off in the next day or so, and grouting finishes the process later this week. I will keep the photos coming...

Fixing spacing problems
Fixing spacing problems - 2

Mosaic tools

Nice fans!

Finally done!

The Maters: Maurice Renon, Keith Boniface, and Tom Watson

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lafayette, CA War Memorial (Connie English)

California mosaic artist and friend, Connie English, sent photos of mosaics which she is making for families who want a memorial cross in honor of a lost loved one at the War Memorial in Lafayette, California. She's made 4 so far and just got a call from a mother who lost her 34 year old son and wants a mosaic on his cross.

Connie is also making one to represent children killed in war. "It will be a bit tougher to do. It is heart wrenching to be up on that hill."

Information about the memorial can be found here and here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Luke's Forehead

I haven't had much time to work on Luke this past week. The forehead is in place but I'm not sure if the shading will work until I fill in some of his hair.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Portuguese Sidewalk Mosaics

If you ever visit Portugal or one of its former colonies, you will notice that the Portuguese don't simply lay down concrete sidewalks. Instead their streets are decorated with beautifully patterned limestone mosaics. Apparently this started in the mid 1800s after the completion of a wave design in Lisbon's Rossio Square. Eventually this fad spread throughout Portugal and its colonies.

Our friends HuQing and Kurt Piemonte recently visited Macau - an area near Hong Kong which was administered by Portugal until 1999 and, like Hong Kong, transferred to China as a "special administrative region." We just posted some of their photos of the street mosaics in the Mosaic Atlas which you can see here.

The Mosaic Atlas has many other examples of Portuguese street mosaics including:

Lisbon - photo by Brian McMorrow

Madeira (our photo)

Coppacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (photo by John O'Brien)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

We got a comment from the last post with the photos of Sophie's medallion installation:

That was great work ... I was wondering who the company was that did all the cement work for you (those 3 installers)?

Sophie's reply:

The 3 installers (Tom, Keith and Maurice) and I were all working for a new company here in Kitchener, Ontario. called Casa Bella Tile, which sells tile and employs people who install them as well. This team of installers is frequently, although not completely exclusively, employed by Casa Bella. Maurice was the guy in charge, and he is very experienced.

Casa Bella is owned by Mary Werenko and Kim DeVries -

I started installing the medallion with Maurice on days 1 and 2. After that, my work was basically done, and Keith and Tom came to assist Maurice for the installation of the fan modules for the rest of the floor.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Installation of Sophie's Medallion

Sophie sent lots of photos and comments as the installation of her medallion progresses through this past week. Here are her comments & photos:

Basically, the first day of installation consisted in deciding precisely WHERE the mosaic was going to go in the room (discussion involving 4 different people took 1 hour on this alone). Then we checked out the ideal angle that the fan modules would be laid in.

Then we started drawing lines in the floor and on the mosaic (on the tile tape) to help guide us very precisely for laying it down on cement. (There would be no possible retry for that operation!)

Dry layout, checking orientation of fans

Maurice Renon, installer, drawing guide lines

Day 2
“Sounding” consists of basically whacking the tiles with a flat object to make sure they adhere well and evenly, as well as flatly. I feels weird, like you’re spanking it or something, but it’s quite effective at driving out any air bubbles and making sure things are nice and flat!
So, here we are.... In the next few days I will visit Maurice at least once a day to take pictures of the evolving floor. I am sure it will take the rest of the week to do, it’s very slow work because the fans, being truly hand-made, are not quite even and not exactly the same from individual module to module, which is what makes the special---and also what drives installers nuts at the same time!

Maurice makes sure things line up

Maurice smooths the prepared area

Layer of Mapei thinset

Sounding the mosaic

Cleaning up after cementing outside vermiculae

Looking inside past the gates

Here are shots of installation days 3 and 4. I am not really involved any longer, but the guys humour me enough to let me take pictures of them.The more I see it coming along, the more I realize how huge this floor is! Right now it’s got a shiny surface because all the protective tile tape is still on, but once it gets removed (on Saturday) we will see the real tile, and then it gets grouted next week.

All 3 installers

Keith and Maurice, with a BIG floor

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Luke - cosmetic surgury

I ripped out Luke's upper lip yesterday. It actually wasn't too difficult to get the offending pieces out.

The changes were subtle - but they made a tremendous difference. First I replaced the line of white tesserae above the upper lip with some pieces of light brown marble. The white really stood out and seemed inappropriate. Second, I extended the upper lip (right side facing you) back to its original position but this time using stones which were a bit darker than before.

It's hard to see the differences, but they are significant. The upper lip is just a fraction larger and the tan line right above the lip seems more natural with the shadowing for under the nose.

Jennifer Blakebrough-Raeburn sent an email and made the observation that the Byzantine style made the mouth slightly elongated. I suspect this might be because people looked at mosaics from a distance and it was necessary to exaggerate parts of the face so that they would be more pronounced. With a smaller reproduction, this may not be as important. I think I'm ready to live with Luke's current mouth and move on with the mosaic.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Luke - mouth woes

Here's Luke in his current manifestation. It's amazing how small his face is compared to all the hair which is yet to come.

Whenever I start writing for the blog about Luke, I end up writing about something different than what I originally intended. Usually in preparing the photos I see something I did not see before. This is dangerous, because I will most likely lead to ripping out pieces of tesserae.

I mentioned before that with the portraits I've done in the past, the mouth has always been the most difficult section to do. I'm always amazed at how much of ones personality is conveyed through the mouth. Get it wrong and the portrait hardly looks like the original subject.

Luke was supposed to be different. The area above and below his mouth is covered with facial hair, making the andamento a lot easier. His mouth was small and really not a prominent part of his face.

Luke was created on a much larger scale than the reproduction that I'm doing. He was also meant to be viewed from a distance. So in following the original layout of the tesserae (left), it's difficult to see how the mouth is actually derived from the individuals lines of tesserae. My version is on the right. You really need to stand back and view the mosaic from a distance to see the mouth.

When I looked at the mosaic from a distance, the left side of his upper lip (your right) seemed a bit too big (left photo), so I removed the farthest piece and replaced it with a piece that's the color of his facial hair (right photo).

But in looking at the original, it's difficult to tell whether those pieces were intended as part of the lip or a lighter facial hair. In a reduced version of the original, it's still hard to say where the top lip ends and the facial hair begins - but it does look like the top lip is larger than his lower lip - almost a bit too large.

I think my first placement was closer to the original than the change that I made; however, the two pieces on the left side (your right) of his upper lip should have been a darker color. I'll give that a try and see how it turns out.

One problem with working in the direct technique - which is made even worse by working on a piece a little at a time - is that the glue sets, and it's very difficult to pry out pieces which were laid down days ago. Furthermore, it's always difficult to replace torn-out pieces with ones that fit perfectly. A simple replacement of one or two pieces might take an hour to do.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PIEDRAS I & II (Alissa Turtletaub)

I love the color of the red-rock sandstone found in high southwest (northern Arizona, Utah, etc.) and have used found pieces on sandstone in one of my mosaics. Alissa Turtletaub (Florida) just sent two photos of her work PIEDRAS I and II in which sandstone is the dominant material in them. Wow!!!

Piedras I (above) is made with sandstone from Colorado (hand-gathered), marble, transparent smalti, Orsoni smalti.

Piedras II

Piedras II includes sandstone from Sedona (hand-gathered), marble, Atlantic coral (hand-gathered), Bizazza's ecosmalti, Orsoni gold, colored gold, and regular smalti, and Mexican smalti

Another view of Piedras II - you can better see the depth of the stone in this one.

Larger photos of both mosaics are on Alissa's website in the Portfolio section -

Monday, May 14, 2007

Antioch Starflower (Jane O'Donnell)

At the SAMA conference in Mesa we introduced three marble mosaic kits. One of them - the Antioch Starflower - was very popular.

We just got this photo from Jane O'Donnell (New Jersey) who recently completed her kit. She said: "It was truly a learning experience, as well as a study in controlling cuts! I think it came out great for my first try! I used Starretts to cut the marble (I had to unscrew them quite a lot for the thicker marble) - worked great!"

Mosaic Rocks! Marble Mosaic Kits
We just added the Starflower kit onto our website. Everything you need to complete the kit (except your nippers) is included: substrate with the design, marble tiles, instructions, a photo of the completed piece, and adhesive.

If you've never worked with marble, this is a great place to start. The tiles are easy to cut, and you'll gain an understanding and appreciation for the work that Roman mosaic artists and artisans did thousands of years ago.

The kits are suitable for beginning mosaic artists with some experience. But even advanced artists like Jane find the experience very valuable.

Sophie's Finished Medallion

Here's Sophie's finished medallion. It's a strange design until you realize that it's two hearts embracing each other - easier to see in a reduced photo than a full-sized one. The design is Leonard Cohen's "Unified Heart". The owner of the house (or "castle" as Sophie calls it) is a big Cohen fan and got permission from him to use the design.
Along the edge of the medallion Sophie added a double vermiculum row and larger outside row to make a smooth transition to the prefabricated rest of the floor, made from similar-sized tesserae.
Installation starts today!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Luke (continued...)

Here's Luke after working for 3 hours on him yesterday.

I did change some pieces under his right eye (photo on the right). The shadowing is a bit better but not as smooth as the original. (No, the color of cheek did not change between the middle and the right versions - just the time of day and angle in which I took the photo.)

NT (Nancie Mills Pipgras) sent an email to comment on the progess of Luke & the blog. She made a comment regarding a portrait she did which is worth repeating here:

... redoing the shading under the eye actually kind of changed the shape of the eye for me into the more rounded of the original. Know what I mean? It's incredible how one element impacts another. They do not stand alone, do they?

And that's why cutting pieces to fit exactly for one element just won't make the difference you think it's going to.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Roman Borders Class with Lillian Sizemore

Roman Borders: Geometric Patterns from the Roman Baths with Lillian Sizemore

JUNE 16-17*or AUGUST 11-12
2 days: Sat. 10-4 and Sun. 10-2
$195 plus $40 materials.

*registration for the June class closes on Wed., June 4th, so enroll NOW.

Geometric borders are a great way to acquaint yourself with the early mosaic traditions and learn the basics of working with stone. We will create a Roman repeat pattern in marble tesserae. You will learn techniques for working with stone, tips on how to grout stone, and learn how to create linear patterns for use in bathrooms, kitchens, floors, or as picture or mirror frames. Everyone will leave with a finished piece.

The Roman Border course is great for beginners because there is no cutting required! It may appeal to people who want to work with marble, but are worried they don't have the hand strength to cut or nip can still create an amazing mosaic.

Also, June 16-17 is Father's Day, why not give the class as a gift for DAD or do a family thing! When I taught this class at the Getty Villa a lot of men took this class and loved it! I even had a 6-yr-old come and do it with her mom! Think of it as your Roman Holiday – dress like Audrey Hepburn (or Gregory Peck) and come make a fantastic piece of art.

This Class will be held at the Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland, CA Register and Learn more at:

Guilloche Fragment (Lillian Sizemore)

Lillian Sizemore (San Francisco, CA) sent us a photo of her recently completed Guilloche Fragment. It's 13 x 15 inches and includes hand-cut marble (from Mosaic Rocks!)and gold smalti. Here's a detail photo of this piece:

Lillian recently taught classes and demonstrated mosaic technique in conjunction with the Stories in Stone exhibition at the Getty Villa in Malibu.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Luke - week 2

I found some time this week to work on Luke. His face is beginning to emerge slowly. I've discovered from the few portraits that I've done in the past that the mouth is the hardest part to get right. It amazes me how much expression is conveyed through the structure of the mouth. Luke is a bit different. Fortunately (for me) his mouth is pretty much hidden behind his facial hair. So it should be a bit easier to do.

It's interesting to play around with digital photos. Often they reveal things about a mosaic which aren't apparent to my eye when working on a piece. Photos have a tendency to accentuate individual pieces of tesserae where the eyes want to blur the pieces together.

I'm working from an enlarged photo of the original but in this case I shrunk both the original and the photo of my mosaic. There are a few surprises.

My pallette of available colors is different from the original - that's no surprise. My piece is significantly whiter and redder.

I've tried to follow the lines of andamento closely and keep the values of the adjoining pieces as close as possible to the original. However, you can clearly see in the reduced photo that the shadowing under his right eye (the one on your left) is off. My piece has a distinct line; the original has a more consistent shadow.

Another difference - in the original the upper part of his right nostril blends into the face whereas in mine it is a bit more distinct.

Also - notice how his right eye (the one on your left) conveys an entirely different expression between the two pieces. The original is more round. His eyes look like they're slightly bulging as if he's surprised or is curious about what he's looking at. My eye is less round. This makes him look like he's inspecting or peering at something (or someone), perhaps with a bit of disapproval as only saints (and mothers) can do.

One of the most valuable lessons in mosaic making that I got was during the Orsoni class - and it didn't come from the Orsoni group (sorry guys) but from Sophie. (We met while taking the Orsoni class in November 2005.) It was late at night. We already had way to much wine. I was exhausted, but Sophie was as tenacious as only Sophie can be. She pointed to a few individual pieces of tesserae in my piece and told me to change them. Just a few pieces. I resisted at first, because I didn't want to chisel out these pieces which were already stuck in place by hardened thinset. But eventually I gave in - more to get her off my back than to improve the mosaic. What a difference!!!! Those two or three pieces completely changed the piece and made it work.

So my mission for today is to change a couple of pieces in Luke to see what difference they make in brining my piece closer to the original. I think I'm going to keep the disapproving eye, however.