In progress: Sprawl

If I write an “in progress” post about something that’s not actually seen any progress for weeks, will it spur the whole thing back into action? This is a story of how I came to use a picture instead of a pencil sketch as a basis for a mosaic, and how this method is working out for me.

First sketchThe project is the next piece in my “Favorite Books” series, and I will talk more about the cyberpunk novel that inspired it in a future post to be written when the mosaic is complete. The scene I wanted to portray was a futuristic, densely populated, techno-seedy urban landscape. When I first sketched a tiny 2″ thumbnail draft of the design, it looked like this:

Then, when I attempted to enlarge this concept to actual (16″ x 10″) size, the perspective got all wonky. Perspectives being what they are, that didn’t surprise me at all, especially since the last time perspective really counted in something I drew was high school art class. I tried again, but each attempt was wonkier than the last.

So I decided to get a program that’s much better at perspective than I am to do it for me.

SketchUp streetThe first thing I tried was Google SketchUp, which is a 3D modelling program often used to design models of real-life buildings (to add to Google Earth), as well any other things that need to be rendered in 3D, like furniture or gadget prototypes. It’s an easy program to use and I figured I can quickly put a bunch of faceless buildings in a line to get the right perspective of a street. After a while, that street looked like this:

This was clearly going to take more than one street and I was tired of stacking faceless boxes next to each other.

Now this project was looking like the perfect excuse to play SimCity – one of the very few computer games that I ever bothered to play for considerable stretches of time. (That was before I had kids.)

As you play the game, you build a city, and as it sprawls – filled with a variety of buildings rendered in lovely detail – perfect perspective is just a screenshot away. Even better, SimCity Societies – the version of the game which lets you build thematic cities – has a Cyberpunk mode. That would get me not only the right perspective, but the right ambiance too. Bonus.

By the time I got bored with the game  – which for most video games happens before I even start playing them, so this is a testament to how much I really do love SimCity – I had a few screenshots of half-empty streets, which I then overlaid over one another in Photoshop to get the busy built-up look I wanted:

Final sketch exploded

I could’ve just copied this design onto my board, but I decided to try a new method that another mosaic artist had recently told me about: affixing a printed-out photo to the plywood substrate and tiling directly over it.

This involves attaching the printout to the board and sealing it with a film of clear-drying glue (Weldbond), which both firmly integrates the paper into the backing and protects it during the tiling stage. This is very useful for mosaic portraits and any other designs where a photo can help the artist achieve more realistic colouring and shading.

Since I wasn’t intending to make something particularly realistic or subtly shaded, I probably shouldn’t have used this method. The picture in the background is incredibly distracting!

Sprawl progress detailAlso, a note for anyone wanting to achieve realism of colour:  the glue seemed to absorb and slightly intermix the printer inks, giving a teal tinge to the whole thing.

I usually have a mental image of the work as a whole, which, as the sketch slowly fills with colour, helps me visualize how the overall palette should develop. In this case, the unnecessary detail of the background and the overall greenish hue throws that sense off completely.

Anyway, now that I’ve made this piece public, it should motivate me to finish it, so that I can show you what it looks like at the end of these interestingly educational misadventures.


In progress: Sprawl — 2 Comments

  1. Great commentary. I enjoyed reading it. It has just occured to me: did you dilute the weldbond slightly for using with your glass? That should hopefully stop the transfer of the ink behind the tile? Just a thought. I should have thought that the wash of weldbond over the picture, before mosaicing, would seal those inks in but obviously not. Cld also depend on the type of ink used in copying. Years ago when I did decoupage I had to try a number of different places to do copies for me (not possible on a pc then), before I found an ink which didn’t “bleed”.

    • Thanks, Heather! Since it was you who suggested I blog about this, I’m glad the story still made for an interesting read!
      Yes, the weldbond was diluted with water when I used it to seal the picture in, and it is only during this initial stage that the ink bled into this glue/water mixture and tinted it a bit. Since the sealing layer dried, the ink stays put.