Tuesday, November 23, 2010


My newest Elaine Goodman book arrived last week, The Human Form in Mosaic.  I have not read the book carefully yet, but I've been noting different techniques she demonstrates for depicting figures and portraits, while scanning the text.  Between the recent trip to Turkey and this book, I was inspired to take a break from the Rapunzel series to just practice.  I used some small scraps of wedi given to me by my tile-setter friend, Frank Lynam.

For the first, I found a photo in a 1970 National Geographic I happen to have of a Tibetan refugee.  I did a very simplified sketch of her face and proceeded to fill in the spaces with my stained glass scraps.  This is a very different style than my usual faces, less stylized, more emotional.  I usually create faces that express a certain contentment, peace, and joy.  This face expresses pain and loss.  My goal was to do my first portrait based on a photograph, and to see if I could create contours without andamento.  I'm pretty happy with it as a first attempt, but disappointed in myself for the inadvertent extended groutlines, particularly the one slashing her left cheek like a giant wound. 

Next, I designed a face from imagination, more true to my usual style.  Again, there is one particularly offensive groutline that seemed like a good idea at the time; that curved shape that runs from under her eye to the hairline.  I don't know what I was thinking, but sometimes these mistakes become glaringly clear once the piece is grouted.  Also, I wanted to add detail in the iris by cutting tiny little pieces of glass as rays from the pupil.  It makes her look like a zombie instead.  It might have worked in an ungrouted mosaic, but not here.  I am tempted to paint the groutlines there to solidify the iris.

I am finding Elaine Goodman's book very helpful, but I feel that a hands-on workshop is really necessary.  I hope to invest in one sometime this year.  In the meantime, I'll actually read this book and keep practicing.  I'm registered for a mural workshop with Josef Norris at IMA in February and I plan to begin facilitating community mosaic this Spring. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rapunzel, Rapunzel

Here is a terrible photo of my first Rapunzel mosaic.  While designing a concrete sculpture back in September, I had an image of an exhibit featuring multiples of this image, done in different materials, colors and styles.  I decided this would be a fun way to practice various techniques while drawing on one character from fairy tale lore.

I've always been captivated by fairy tales.  I had a very thick collection of Grimms Fairy Tales as a child that I read over and over, and I now read them to my daughter.  I think I re-read Rapunzel so many times because I found it so frustrating that Rapunzel wouldn't just cut off her long hair and use it as a rope to climb out of the tower.  Or that the prince wouldn't simply bring a ladder or rope right away.  What was the point of dragging out the process?  Meanwhile, I wasn't allowed to cut my hair as a girl, so it grew down to my butt, always full of nasty tangles.  My mom was known for her long, blonde hair, and she still refuses to cut it to a more manageable length.

I used this Rapunzel as an experiment with using small square tesserae to create facial contours.  This piece is quite small for me (I prefer wall-sized projects), and it was a challenge for me to cut each  little salvaged stained glass scrap into squares.  I quickly began to feel impatient with it, but it was a good exercise for me.  I think it is important, at this point, to go back and learn the foundations of mosaic technique, in depth.  While I worked on this piece, I waited for the arrival of my newest mosaic book, The Human Form in Mosaic by Elaine M. Goodwin.  I'm looking forward to practicing with some new methods, nicely outlined in the book.  Hopefully, within 6 months to a year, I'll find a gallery space and have a real art show with Rapunzel as the central theme.

By the way, my choice of themes is in no way related to the Disney movie that must have just been released.  Pure coincidence.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mosaic artist returns from Turkey with tail between legs.

We returned from Turkey one week ago, and I still feel disoriented.  The jet-lag was made more difficult by my 7-year-old who spent the first several days home on opposite-time, so the transition back to our regular schedule has been very hard.  It has been a struggle for me to get back to work in the studio after an entire month off, and while I expected to come home full of ideas and creative energy, instead I feel completely stumped.

I am a self-taught mosaic artist, having taken only one workshop, though I've read a lot of mosaic books and I spent the past 10 years working hard to learn the technical aspects of the medium.  One area I have not really covered, mainly for lack of interest, is classical mosaic.  When I planned the Turkey trip, I felt it would be a good opportunity to force myself to learn about the history of my craft, and to appreciate those early styles.

During a tour in Cappadocia, we had a very knowledgeable Turkish guide who led us through a Hittite-era underground city, a Byzantine Cathedral carved in rock, and a beautiful canyon lined with signs of early civilization.  He was able to talk about geological, cultural and religious history in detail, without notes.  Though from a Muslim background, he explained more about the Bible and Christianity than most American Christians have learned in a lifetime, with respect and fairness.  When he learned that I am a mosaic artist, he asked, "So, which do you prefer; Greek or Byzantine mosaic style?"  Feeling supremely ignorant, I just said that my style is contemporary, and I was there to learn more about the classic styles.  Honestly, I didn't know the difference.  Did I mention that I've been a professional mosaic artist for 10 years?  He quickly lost interest in me at that point.

Throughout the second week of the trip, we visited many more sites featuring examples of Byzantine mosaic, and I was utterly impressed.  The level of skill was amazing, and nothing compares to seeing it in person.  Mosaic artists know this: you see a mosaic in print, but when you see the real thing, it is a different experience, often unexpected.  I started out cutting my tesserae into little squares and placing them in rows to fill spaces, but later began to abandon that method, preferring a more free-flow approach that makes better use of my salvaged materials.  But the work I saw in the Sultanahmet Mosaic Museum and Kariye Church was so stunning and made such a strong impression on me, I feel compelled to learn to use my andamento more effectively.

There's a bit of a struggle in my brain right now between the part of me that wants to stick with the style I know and enjoy, and the part that wants to challenge myself to learn another way, and to become more versatile.  I have a project on the table now, the first in a series of Rapunzel mosaics, that is an attempt to bring some of that classic style into my contemporary work.  It is more time consuming, and I hate working with such tiny pieces, but I think it is good practice. We'll see where it takes me.