Starting a new mosaic series

Over the past couple of weeks I have been sketching an rejecting ideas for the first few mosaics in the new series I’ve been planning for a while – one inspired by my favourite books.

I was antsy to start making a new piece, and have known for a while which books and which scenes in those books I wanted to do, but it was taking a long while to figure out the style and the feel that this series would take.

Everything that I sketched at first was turning out to be too literal, realistic, full of figures. I would consider these sketches and feel not at all excited about the prospect of tiling them.

It all came down to the fact that I don’t really like tiling figures. I feel no joy in trying to create realistic representations of things. And I get bored tiling straight lines. What I really really like tiling are curves. Lavish, aesthetic, art nouveau-ish curves. So I had to figure out a way of illustrating my favourite books in a semi-abstract, curvaceous way.

Yesterday I finally hit upon the right combination of abstract-curvilinear and illustrative-representative, and completed two sketches that I actually liked. Which makes me very happy, because it means I can get started!

Here’s one for Flight, inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita:

Pencil sketch of stylized nude flying

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Reclaimed objects: large beveled mirror

This mirror was an experimental design, made just a few days before I was to exhibit all my new mosaics at a fair and when I completed it I thought it was a bit of a mess and maybe I shouldn’t exhibit it at all. In the venerable tradition of last-minute artistic experiments that are a bit of a mess and are in a style very different from the rest of the works, it was a hit. People would glance at the mosaics on display and when they noticed this one in the lower corner, their eyes would light up, they would approach it reverently, examine the finish closely and then give me a look that said: “This other stuff is fine and all, but this one…!” Some even said this out loud.

Large beveled mirror with a stained glass mosaic frame

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Fragments of culture: awesome upcoming Toronto events

If I missed these because someone who cares didn’t tell me about them on their blog, I would cry. To spare you this fate, here are some fantastic cultural events happening in Toronto this fall, in order of decreasing urgency:

Doctorow sliding down a rope in a red capeThis week:

Cory Doctorow – Boing Boing editor, sci fi author, Internet rights activist, world-renowned defender of our digital freedom and xkcd superhero – is making a number of appearances in Toronto area this week, including a reading from his new YA novel at Oakville Public Library on Wednesday Sep. 26 and a book launch party at Bakka Phoenix Books on Thursday Sep. 27.


International Festival of Authors is happening Oct.18-28 at the Harbourfront Centre with readings, interviews and round table events with over 100 international authors, including some very famous ones like Alice Munro and some very awesome ones like the fantasy and weird fiction author China Miéville.


The spectacular punk cabaret musicians Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra are doing a show at Phoenix Concert Theatre on November 9th as part of the tour for their recently released Kickstarter-funded and much-lauded darkly pop & glamorously rock album Theatre is Evil. The world tour is sold out in most cities, but Toronto still has tickets. Expect a visually stunning high-energy show full of life, crowd participation, and probably toplessness.

These two videos are gorgeous and you should watch them. (Obligatory warnings: one is NSFW and the other is very bloody.)

Ongoing every Sunday till end of December:

The fantastic Queen St West blues & cabaret band Kevin Quain and the Mad Bastards, who’ve been playing Sunday nights at the Cameron House for the last seventeen years will be wrapping up this landmark Toronto gig at the end of December. Go see them there while you still can! There’ll be dark, soulful, smooth music as well as rousing barfly humour. Kevin Quain, in addition to his mastery of piano, accordion and guitar, is also likely to feature a black eye and play the musical saw.

Danforth East Arts Fair – Highlights

Now that the excitement and the stress of my first art fair are behind me, here are a few impressions I took away from it.

Me in my booth at DECA Arts Fair

Photo by Roman Martyn

The Good:

– Wonderfully organized and promoted, the DECA Arts Fair was attended by crowds of lovely people and dogs who enjoyed the calm sunny weather, live music and all the great art on display

– Booth set-up went without a hitch and the weather was great so nothing got blown away overnight. Big thanks to my husband Derek for building (from scratch!) the display rack you see in the picture above and his help setting everything up, taking everything down, and the two practice runs we did at home beforehand.

– Met lots of other artists, had lovely neighbours in booths all around me, and got good practical advice from them about other local fairs worth participating in. The consensus seems to be that the Riverdale Art Walk and the Cabbagetown fair are both great, and that One of a Kind is worth the huge fee.

– Got lots of compliments, admiration and exclamations of wonder at my mosaics. People loved the coffee table especially, but everyone had their favorites. The starfishes were a hit with the children. Gave out lots of business cards. I imagine the kids will just make spitballs out of them.

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Reclaimed objects: curvy coffee table

Thankfully, in this day of cheap disposable household goods of ever-worsening quality, the garage sales, second-hand stores and garbage-day curb sides of the city still remain excellent sources of solid wood objects of quality and craftsmanship that would be otherwise unavailable or unaffordable to an artist.

Close up of mosaic table with scalloped edgeEach piece of used furniture to which a mosaic is added begins a second life of enhanced beauty. Each also poses a unique creative challenge.

The shape of each piece sets some constraints on the layout of the mosaic. Working within those constraints usually generates ideas that I wouldn’t have come up with given a blank canvas and free rein. Any individual defining features of a vintage object are likely to be incorporated into a well-tailored design, making it impossible to replicate on a different surface.

an old photo in a scalloped vignette frame

A vignette is a decorative border which covers up some of the picture’s edges. They are most often just oval

(See, for example, this coffee table, whose burned surface lead to an inlaid mosaic design – a very cumbersome thing to execute and one that would be completely unnecessary given an unblemished surface. The resulting piece is as impressive as it is unlikely to ever be replicated.)

The small coffee table that is the subject of this post comes from a good home and is part of the hand-picked haul of a street-wide garage sale.

It has a interesting shape, which I was tempted to call “vignette” until I googled it and was told that vignette is not a shape. The closest thing to describe it seems to be “scalloped”.

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Recently completed projects: Black, White & Red

I spent the last few weeks focused on making new mosaics for the DECA fair, which is only a couple of weeks away now and will be the first ever exhibition of Fragmentalist mosaics. Much excitement!

The great thing about setting out to make as many new pieces as possible in a short time period is that so many ideas jotted down, sketched out and imagined over the years suddenly get used and brought to life.

Nearly five years ago, after completing my first mosaic – an abstract pattern of two contrasting colours, a dark brown and a pale beige – I thought: “it would be really cool to try out the same idea in pure black and white with red grout. That could be mind-blowing.”

And so here it is, manifest reality of black, white and red. It’s pretty awesome.

Mosaic mirror frame with abstract black & white design and red groutMosaic mirror frame with abstract black & white design and red grout

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Progress check-in: 2 months

It’s been a little over two months since I left my job at the bank to seek happiness (as the parting announcement explained).

Contrary to some predictions, I’m neither sleeping in and reading books all day, nor getting the hankering to ask for my old job back. In fact, I continue to feel that the decision to abandon gainful employment for creative and learning ventures was the right one. I still have difficulties fitting everything I want to get done each day into a day, but I know that everything that I do get done is interesting and relevant and a step towards what I want my future to be.

Still, spending time (which always seems to be such a limited resource) on projects that don’t quite work out can be incredibly frustrating. For example, I spent most of a week painting a moss mural on the side of our garage – it was going to be crazy awesome living growing art, except it’s simply not growing. It may be that this summer is too hot and dry for moss to happily adapt itself to new surroundings after being transported there via blender.

And so, even though at least a year would have to pass before the success of my whole endeavor can be realistically evaluated, it still good to stop and survey the progress every couple of months to get some perspective.

In my previous life as an analyst, after two months at a new job all you could reasonably expect to have achieved is this: to have all the necessary applications and tools configured, to have all the IDs and accesses set up, to have read a couple of thick welcome packages, signed off on company policies, and acquired a glimmer of hope of understanding a few of the acronyms you’re being bombarded with.

Considered in this perspective, I have actually got quite a bit done.

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Recently completed projects: 4 jewellery hangers

Here is a new series of jewellery hangers with simplified lines but similar aesthetic themes as the first jewellery hanger I made earlier this year.

I’m particularly pleased with the mirror-image design and the color palette of the brown & turquoise one. The reversed colours idea is worth experimenting with some more in the future.

One more close-up of the green & gold one after the jump.

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