In progress: Feathers

Feathers mosaic on Wedi in process, left side

Mosaic sketch on Wedi board

Full sheet of Wedi board (3’x5′) with the sketch in chalk. Vertical lines represent the position of struts in the wall, where the mosaic will be anchored

This is my first mosaic project on Wedi board, which is a foam-core cement board that’s waterproof and much lighter than plywood. Wedi is a German company with few Canadian retailers, but enough of us Toronto mosaicists blathered on about it to the lovely couple that owns GlassMosaicCanada that they started carrying it a few months ago. So I can now buy it close to home.

It was important to find a lightweight substrate for this mosaic because of the size of the project. Even on Wedi, the weight of all the faux-marble, glass and mortar is considerable, so I designed the piece in two parts to be more manageable in handling and hanging. The curvilinear shape is also made possible mainly thanks to Wedi, which can be easily cut using just a utility knife.

Wall for mosaic

The colour is actually a lot more insane intense than this picture makes it seem

Feathers is a gift for my mother’s 50th birthday, intended to add much more va-va-voom to this crazy-coloured accent wall in my parents’ house than its current assortment of paintings imparts.

The design went through a few iterations (below), following requests that the two shapes fly apart rather than curve around each other, then flip open towards the top, then basically be made more like feathers. So hence the final design and title.

The materials used are all salvaged tile (mostly from the same scrap tile haul that supplied the materials for our backsplash), with the exception of the lime-green tesserae I bought to match the wall. This time I opted not to use the wet saw but to smash or nip the tiles into irregular chunks.

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Sneaky Dee’s bathroom graffiti mosaic

Yes, it’s more than a little crazy, I agree. But isn’t it also illustriously grungy?

This is the first completed mosaic in the bathroom graffiti series I’ve started. This one represents the unholy mess at Sneaky Dee’s.

(More info & original photo I was working from in an earlier post: here.)
Sneaky Dees graffiti mosaic
The whole bottom part of this is a mirror – which of course a joy to photograph – hence the artsy contorted photo shoot. Here is the same thing with the sky reflected:

Sneaky Dees graffiti

There is stained glass, pieces of mirror, and four colours of grout in this thing but what I’m particularly proud of is how the “STEAL! records” sticker turned out.

If you want to see this insanity in person, come out to the Art Walk North this Friday or Saturday. It’ll be there. Messing with people’s minds.

Oval dragonfly mirror

A friend of mine commissioned this mirror for her hallway. Years ago, I painted a really trippy elephant for her, and by a strange dint of association she decided that the elephant needed some dragonflies to go with it. This kind of surreal logic appeals to me.

full mirror web

Oval Mirror sketch

My friend asked for brown, blue and a bit of yellow, so this was the original sketch – with the curlicues to be figured out later

On the other hand, the request for an oval-shaped mirror didn’t appeal to me at all. Not after the mysterious trouble that plagued my last attempt to have a circle mirror cut to size, when the glass-cutting place had to redo it three times because there was always a tiny chip in the edge. I figured if circles were that troublesome, then ovals will surely be worse.

But since this is my very old friend and she asked very nicely, I relented after I found a frameless IKEA mirror of about the right size, which meant I could buy the mirror pre-made and just have to cut the plywood for the frame. This I could do myself with a jigsaw.

But you know what? Ovals are troublesome regardless of the material out of which you’re trying to cut them. Next time I’m asked to make an oval-shaped something, I will run away. (No, I won’t, I’ll just take the plywood to a laser-cutting place.)

edges in progress

And tiling the edges of an oval? It has to be balanced on its side and rotated in sections as the glue dries so that tiles don’t slide off. I rigged this up for the job.

To draw an oval of a specific size by hand, you use two pushpins and a piece of string. Pretty cool in terms of math, but pretty lousy in terms of precision drafting.

And then to center the smaller oval of the mirror inside the larger oval of the frame, a ruler’s no help at all. The only hope is to break out the pushpins and piece of string again. And let me tell you: IKEA has trouble with their ovals too. Their mirror wasn’t totally symmetrical either.

Fuck ovals.

On the other hand, the dragonflies I’m quite happy with.

progress 1 web
detail
taping off detail

If you’re wondering what’s required to make a thin curvy line of light-colored grout while everything else is grouted in dark brown: an obsessive tendency towards precision and a boatload of painter’s tape

Scrap slate abstracts

I’ve been getting ready for the Riverdale Art Walk, which is coming up in ten days, and here are a few new pieces I made using salvaged slate and gold mirror smalti.

Slate abstracts

Slate abstracts 5

The slate was part of the great scrap tile haul from our local tile store, and strips of it were arranged into panels that I ended up smashing apart.

The four mosaics above are quite small – about 6″x7″ – mainly because slate is so heavy.

I did make one larger piece, 8″x12″ (on the right), after which I had to stop with this lovely series, as there was only slate rubble left.

I suspect there’s another small series of abstracts hiding in the rubble though – I’ll see about digging it out tomorrow.

In progress: bathroom graffiti mosaic

I’m thinking of making a series of mosaics based on bathroom graffiti, and I’ve started on the first piece to see whether it’ll be worth doing a few of these.

Mirror in Sneaky Dee's washroom.

The mirror in Sneaky Dee’s washroom I’m using as the basis for this mosaic

I decided to start with an image of the bathroom mirror at Sneaky Dee’s, both because the mirror aspect of it seemed like an interesting twist to explore, and because this was the place that gave me the idea in the first place.

Graffiti is the main aspect of Sneaky Dee’s decor, and while in the restaurant itself it doesn’t overwhelm you, every time I enter their washroom, it’s like an aesthetic punch to the solar plexus. Every inch of wall, cubicle and ceiling space is covered in sloppily lettered platitudes and highly unoriginal insults.

I like the place, it has good food. And I’m sure its punkish nighttime crowd, whose inebriated decorating efforts are represented here, would be pleased with the revolting effect they have on the casual weekend bruncher. But rather than try to tune out this passive aggressive assault on my artistic sensibilities, I decided to see whether I can turn it into something that I’d find beautiful.

So far it’s working. I love how this unholy mess is turning out in stained glass and mirror, on a 1.5′ x 1.5′ board. But cutting the glass with the required obsessive precision is taking such a long time.

Graffitti mosaic in progress

Detail of the mosaic in progress. Under the pieces of stained glass is the printout of the original photo that I’m using as a sketch.

And since I’ve been accepted to exhibit at the Riverdale Art Walk, which is taking place June 1-2, I’ll need to take the next four weeks to make a few new pieces for that show. So I’ll have to lay this one aside for now, otherwise I’ll kill most of that time finishing it. But it’ll be worth the wait, I think; it’s turning out kind of incredible.

Favourite books series: Neverwhere

The chapter in which the hero of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere drops out of the everyday reality into the fantastical world of London Below is seriously spooky.

On his way to the office one Monday morning, Richard Mayhew discovers that taxi drivers no longer see him, ticket vending machines reject his coins, he is invisible to the other passengers on the train and, upon arriving at the office, that his desk is cleared and none of his co-workers know who he is. In fact, they don’t even see him unless he addresses them first, and then it takes them mere seconds to forget he’s there. When his fiancée fails to recognize him and he makes his way back home, he finds that his apartment has already been rented to someone else. His existence has completely slipped the world’s mind.

This has always been one of the book’s most vividly magical moments for me – when its protagonist slips from the normal world to begin his extraordinary adventure among the warriors, beasts, noblemen tricksters and supernatural assassins of London Below. So for this mosaic I chose the scene that precipitated it all: Richard’s finding of the wounded Lady Door.

On his way to an important dinner with his fiancée, Richard stops to help an injured girl who seems to have slumped to the pavement right out of a blank brick wall – someone his girlfriend can’t even see at first and when she does, she demands that Richard not waste time on this ragged lowlife. Despite this, Richard takes the girl to his flat to recover and hide from those who wounded her.

Door mosaic based on Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

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In progress: Door

The latest mosaic in my Favourite Books series is based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. If you haven’t read it, you may find it odd that a picture of a brick wall and a bleeding girl is called Door. Explanation is forthcoming – once the mosaic is finished.

For now, here’s the sketch for the piece:

Pencil sketch of a girl collapsed beside a brick wall

I did end up toning down the curve of that hip and the extra-long thigh when I transferred this to the board. It’s bad enough to depict a figure that is recognizably a girl – when in the book she appears in this scene as a shapeless bundle of rags – driven by the reasoning that a vague dark mass would be a much less compelling image than a collapsed girl. Making her an improbably shaped fantasy-book-cover girl would be inexcusable.

Unless you have a healthy obsession with putting complex things together out of tiny pieces, you’re probably looking at those bricks going, “No way she’s going to make that wall brick by brick.” Oh, but I am.

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Architectural mosaics: backsplash

The backsplash is finished and installed and it looks like this:

Mosaic backsplash abstract in beige and brown

I ended up hanging it all in one piece, as it was just manageable in terms of weight.

I’m glad that in my research I came across the suggestion to fill in the spaces between the tiles with sand before applying Thinset adhesive to the back – this worked really well to prevent any cement from being pushed too far forward between the tiles.

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In progress: my first architectural mosaic

Backsplash mosaic in progressA few weeks ago it occurred to me to ask my local floor tile store – where I’ve been buying grout for years – whether they have any scrap tile I could have. Up until now, I’ve only used vitreous mosaic tiles and stained glass, but it was time to look into ceramic tile as I was about to start working on a kitchen backsplash, which called for larger tiles and cheaper materials.

So I show up with my sturdy shopping cart – the store is a ten minute walk from our house – and the guys there take me to a whole separate warehouse in which huge crates full of scrap and remainders stand. “Knock yourself out,” they say – and there’s piles of stone and glass tile, imitation marble and even occasional pieces of natural slate.

Scrap tile pile

The tile haul that broke the cart’s back

By the time I had the cart about half-full, I had to force myself to stop digging though the crates and head home, but it was too late. I had been too greedy. I had not gone two blocks when the axle bent and one of the wheels started to resemble a soft-edged frisbee.

Anyway, this is how I came to be making this project with all kinds of fancy faux-marble tile for the cost of a short cab ride. The cart, it later turned out, could still be repaired.

New materials, new challenges: to someone used to working with glass, which can be easily nipped and cut by hand, cutting up 1/2″ thick stone tiles into small pieces means making new friends with power tools.

The splash effect of the wet saw, I was glad to discover, is closer to that of the steam iron than that of the garden sprinkler. I could totally use it in the dining room (not having a dedicated workshop space) without drenching the walls. This was a relief because it’s still below zero outside, and I was really eager to get started on this thing since I had finally figured out how to approach the awkward rectangle of blank wall in our kitchen.

Wet saw

Was I ever sick of the sound of the wet saw by the time I finished cutting up those piles of perfect triangles

Framed by a patchwork of cupboards, countertop, wooden butcher-block and existing tile, the 2.5′ space was exposed after we moved the fridge last year to make room for a dishwasher. Ever since then I have been puzzling over a mosaic design that would tie all these odd edges together. Since this would be my first architectural mosaic, I also had to research all the associated mounting options and techniques.

I decided not to attach the mosaic to a substrate such as Wedi, but use only a fibreglass mesh and cement that directly onto the wall – both because I didn’t want to raise the level much higher than the adjacent tile and because Wedi is kind of hard to find here in Canada.

Blank space for mosaic

This is what the blank space in the kitchen looked like. The top row of tiles has now been removed and absorbed into the mosaic design.

There was a single inexplicable row of tiles along the top, which had to be removed, but this was good news, as it meant I could incorporate some tiles that matched the rest of the walls into my design.

Also, I got to use a heat gun for the first time, which was neat. (Favourite line in the manual: “Never use the heat gun as a hair dryer. The extreme heat will burn your scalp and scorch your hair.” Surely there are Darwin Awards nominees among the ones who only skim the heat gun manual and miss this important caution?)

In the end, the wood of the butcher block inspired the color scheme in the lower half of the mosaic, lightening to an off-white at the top where it will be adjoining the white cupboards. It all seemed kind of bland until I decided to include tiny bits of red glass here and there in the darker lines – then it finally looked interesting enough to go ahead with. (Red to match my husband’s collection of KitchenAid appliances on a neighboring counter.)

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