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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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

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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In progress: Fragmentalist sign

Having now recovered from the holidays and a nasty ear infection, I’m now finishing work on a big four-foot wide sign with the Fragmentalist logo on it. The plan is to use it in the summer art shows as the name sign for my booth, as well as the new title banner for this blog.

Here’s a slideshow of the progress so far:

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I think the font turned out just great in mosaic, and I’m planning to grout this thing in two colours to preserve the crispness of the text: dark brown grout for the letters and light beige for the background.

When the sign is complete – hopefully later this week – I’ll be working on incorporating it as the new banner into this website, which will need some colour scheme tweaks. I’ve also an idea of creating a background image in which a few of the curved lines of the sign/banner would continue outside the rectangle’s borders, extending into the site’s background.

Closeup the mosaic sign in proggress

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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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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In progress: starfish mirror

This is the starfish mirror frame that I’ve been working on for about six months now. That’s both because it’s pretty large (2.5 ft x 2.5 ft) and because I could only find a couple of hours a week to spend on it, when the kids were in bed and the chores were done and I still had some energy left. I’m really excited to have it completed over the next couple of weeks now that an office job no longer takes up eight hours of my day. This thing is going to be tremendous.

Large square mirror frame with a mosaic of starfishes in red and purple

The starfish mirror frame in progress

The main idea behind this design is that of contrasting the organic starfish shapes with the geometrically regular rippling waves of the background. I wanted each starfish shape to be unique and as realistic-looking as possible. The shapes were all drawn from photos, and it took a few tries to figure out a tiling pattern that would accurately represent the pentaradial surface patterns of starfish while requiring minimal tile cutting – i.e. one that would be based on whole or half-tiles only and not, for example, on triangles or very narrow wedges.

I also enjoy exploring the interplay of varying tile textures and the different effects they have on the overall appearance of the mosaic as the viewing angle or the light changes Рhence the alternating iridescent and plain white curves of the background. Mmmmm Рcurves. I love tiling curves. Expressing  a smooth sinuous shape with small square straight-edged tiles is kind of like integration, and a brush with infinity.

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