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

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.

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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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.

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In progress: Flight

Flight, the mosaic inspired by The Master and Margarita, and the first in my new Favourite Books series is almost complete! The tiling is done and only grouting remains.

Of course grouting is the part that is most likely to mess things up. As usual, I am deciding on colours and then second-guessing myself. Light brown, I think. Unless cold blue would be better? What sense does warm brown make sense amid the black smalti of the night sky? I might attempt multiple grout colours or I might not bother.

While I’m deciding, here’s a progress slideshow for your amusement. As you can see towards the end, some dark tiles in the background around the hair had the be scraped off and replaced with gold. Looks much better this way. Thanks to my husband for frowning at it so intensely that I realized just how serious the need to fix that section was!

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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