I have an English friend who always sends Christmas cards with robins--English robins, not our bigger, less adorable American robin. I wanted to make a mosaic for her and thus picking an English robin seemed right. So I started looking at photos of robins.
I liked the cheekiness of the robin with the cocked head, but wanted the flowers that appear in the second photo. I decided to combine both in my sketch.
I thought this should work fine and thus turned my attention to cutting the new red glass which I had bought.
I liked that this red was really a mix of red and orange as well as other shades in between. That would be important for getting the colors right on the little robin redbreast.
For the border I settled on light blue and white to represent the sky. I left an opening at the top right to have the flowers break through the frame.
I decided to put in that first flower in the gap, followed by beginning the head. I confess in my eagerness to just get on with it I had forgotten that I was going to sort out my different shades of red to make the coloring look more realistic. But more on that in a moment.
Once I finished the robin and added a couple more flowers and buds, I decided I didn't like him. It was flat looking and didn't look like feathers. Unless you knew where the face was it was difficult to see. The shading was all wrong (or absent). Plus he no longer seemed centered but more on the right hand portion of the mosaic. I had some choices. I could scrap it altogether, or I could just remove this robin and redraw/recenter it.
In the Roman world there is a process for removing a leader who has fallen out of favor from public monuments: damnatio memoriae. A person's image or his name (or both) would be removed -- totally chipped away. And thus I removed this robin and even some of the flower. The glue that I use, Mac Glue (a craft glue), had fully set and I was amused to see that some of the glass broke instead of the glue giving way. Eventually I got everything cleared off.
I decided to draw the other robin because I thought he would fill the space in a more balanced way. I was mindful of the shades of red and orange for his face and chest, making myself redo any section that wasn't fitting together quite right.
I'm still not 100% satisfied with my robin, but the coloring and shading is better, and the balance of the piece is definitely improved. I added more greenery and pink blossoms, petals, & buds.
I do think he is lovely in the sun and I am pleased that I never gave up on him.
I turned to owls next, screech owls, because I wanted to make a gift for a friend who discovered owls in his tree a few years ago after a storm split the tree in half. It took me a while to find some pictures to inspire my design. I relied on these two the most.
I sketched out a design and began cutting glass. My preference is to cut centimeter strips which I then snip into centimeter squares and further into four more squares. But I also cut half centimeter strips, as you can see here.
For the branches, I cut glass from a sheet that had a range of colors which would help with shading and texture.
I also had a brown sheet of glass with many shades which would work for the feathers, along with some white. I try to cut up as much glass as I can before I begin the design itself because it does save time.
I decided to cut the leaves in a particular diamond shape. I made a point of making different sizes. Eventually towards the end of the project I also cut some little yellow leaves to add interest. Here I am just getting an idea of what the leaves will look like when in place.
After cutting the glass, especially glass for a specific purpose like the yellow glass for the eyes, I put them in little cups and labeled the lids.
I began with the border, determined to keep those lines of glass as straight as possible.
I left an opening in the corner so that I could have a leafy branch break through the boundary of the border. Ironically, I accidentally used a different grey glass (that didn't look as natural) and I actually had to remove this branch and replace it with the more natural grey. But I was just excited about getting some of the leaves placed.
I tackled the big branch next and was pleased with how the colors worked out.
I really wanted to play with the leaves more--I really liked all of that green--but knew I needed to do the tails next and work the branches and leaves around them. I dared another set of branches on the right, but knew it was time to tackle the owl faces.
The eyes had to be right or this mosaic would not work. All the dried and drying glue makes this look rough, but I feel I was able to capture the piercing glare. You can see where I am erasing the lines of the design as I work. (I often thing how nice it would be to work on just glass and have the pattern/drawing underneath the clear glass.)
With the eyes done, I finished the outline of the owls. I wasn't ready to settle into working on the feathers, so I added more leaves. Did I mention that I loved the leaves? Not sure why but I just thought they were fun to add.
Finally finished after 83 hours of work. (I decided to keep track this time.) I took it outside for some good light for this shot.
On the back, on the left & right, I put two messages. The first in Latin.
m. Feb. an. MMXXI anno secundo coronae. Ginny Lindzey LXXXIII horis me fecit.
February 2021, 2nd year of the corona virus. Ginny Lindzey made me in 83 hours.
The second was a haiku:
High in the branches
the owls gaze down with wise eyes
studying the world.
It now resides on my friend's wall. (The line down the middle is a reflection of a cord for the blinds.)
With the new year, I have returned to a format a bit larger than the ornaments. A friend had requested I try a peacock, so I started looking at photos. I had settled on this photo, but it seemed to be missing something.
I didn't think the image was interesting enough or dynamic. I did begin to sort colors of glass which I would need, but I didn't begin until after I happened to be looking through some images from the Villa of Poppaea at Oplontis. (There was a discussion about the color yellow that was used in fresco painting in the area around Pompeii.) When I saw this picture, I said to myself, "AHA!"
Look at the way the tail breaks the frame! Perfect. I was going to do a yellow/gold border like this one, but also wanted to keep the yellow/brown grass from the original photo. Romans also liked red, so I went in that direction.
I traced out my design on a mirror and played around with colors to make sure everything would look okay.
First, I would need to make the border, and I was determined that the outer edge should be as straight as possible.
Admittedly I had to pull off part of my beginning line of red because I realized it wasn't lined up with the bevel in the mirror. But it didn't take me too long to complete the square.
The full border I knew would not be perfect because I am still cutting my glass with nippers. The sizes would not be perfect and it would be more difficult to have perfect straight inner edges, but I tried.
I feel like I get the most done on Sunday during Zooms with friends. We drink Prosecco, one friend tats, the other reads from her novels, and I just work on my mosaic. Sunday Zooms have been the best thing to come out of this pandemic. But I digress.
Once the border was about 98% done, I began the tail.
I was really pleased with how the peacock "eyes" in the tail feathers were coming out, both in shape and color. As I finished the tail, I also completed the border that is adjacent to the tail.
Before continuing with the body, I decided I better get the grass in.
I wasn't sure that I would like the grass, but I think it turned out okay. The rest of the body didn't seem to take quite as long to do. I was afraid that my design had shifted since I had to erase the initial lines but the peacock fit.
It's tricky to get a straight-on photo without getting myself or my phone in the reflection. I took a couple more photos outside to get the sunlight reflecting off of the glass and mirror.
All in all I am very pleased with how this turned out. I was sad that I promised it to a friend, but she is a teacher and her school is returning to in-person learning. I think she needs this guardian more than I do.
My last ornament ended up a little rushed. As the holidays raced in, I found I didn't have as much time to play with glass. I picked a black crested titmouse because I have several visiting my bird feeder right now. They are perky and cute.
The end result seemed a little more squat and less cheerful than the photo.
But I thought it looked fine on the tree with the others.
Merry Christmas and IO SATURNALIA!
Since I had received my order of 2 inch circle mirrors, I had to make a few more using this size. I ended my last post with the three mirrors I had made framing patterns on. Romans liked birds as do I so I decided to keep the bird theme going. I sketched out three birds--two repeats, the chickadee and wren, and a black crested titmouse. But more on him next time.
I decided to work on the chickadee first. This is the photo I was working from:
One of the biggest problems I am having is making an eye that is so small and somehow distinguished from the surrounding black. I used purple glass but I know you cannot tell. In addition, I think his head is a bit too flat but I didn't want to tear up the glass and redo it. I could live with it. This is what the ornament looked like before I cleaned all the excess glue.
He looks better on the tree.
Here he is with the first chickadee:
I turned my attention to the wren next. They are such cheeky little birds. Here's the photo I was working from.
I started with the thin branches and buff chest/stomach.
In the end I realized that this little wren, which I really like, was based on the same photo as the first one. To make it look different, I turned it on an angle when gluing the string on the back.
And here he is with his fellow wren:
And the black crested titmouse will have to wait for next post. It is the ultimate (last) ornament, with the chickadee being the antepenultimate and the wren being the penultimate. As a Latin teacher, I had to use those words. I couldn't stop myself.
After the wren and chickadee, I ordered 2 inch round mirrors because I thought that the square ornaments looked a little awkward on my tree. My son had requested a hedgie ornament, so I started looking for a picture online that I thought might work.
I was interested in the idea of this hedgie with flowers, but didn't like the composition at the time. (Admittedly it looks fine now!)
I did like the composition of this hedgie with a watermelon slice, but didn't think a melon would work for a Christmas ornament.
So I combined the two, taking the flower from one and the sitting hedgehog from the other.
I made the frame first, then added the grass and the flower.
It took me a couple of tries to get the hedgie on because I wasn't getting the proportions correct. In retrospect, I think I made it too small. I added a little butterfly to help fill the space. It's a little more cutesy than I would like, but my son approved.
When the 2 inch circles arrived, I immediately started to edge one while I pondered what to do first. I don't know why I chose the light blue glass, but I did. And as I edged the circle, I started thinking of water.
So I looked at heron pictures again. I wanted one with a fish and finally found one that I thought could work.
In the end, I think I was trying to squeeze too much into the 2 inch circle. I also didn't seem to get the glass as snug together as I thought. Sometimes the angle of the light keeps me from seeing this while I'm gluing. Also, it looks a little chubby--more like an ostrich!
I'm glad I included the fish, even though I flipped it around from how it is in the photo.
But cleaned up and polished, I think they look fine on the tree, so I'm satisfied.
In the meantime, I decided it was time to experiment with more interesting borders for the circles than just a line of tesserae. So here are three new borders... what will go in these?
With Christmas around the corner I am madly trying to make ornaments, trying to see what works and what doesn't. While I want to get back to doing the little quarter size ornaments, I wanted to see what a couple of the 2 inch square ornaments would look like with open spaces (not completely tiled) and without grout. The cardinal and even the dove look a little dark on the tree.
I also wanted to practice on simple border patterns. There's not much room for a proper mosaic border (Roman style, in my mind) on something this small, but I could manage a little something.
(This was a picture from when the glue was still drying.) If the pieces weren't all hand cut, it might be easier to fit them in. Even still, I am pleased with this frame.
As you can see, I had sketched out the wren and then started choosing or cutting glass to fit.
I also had made a blue frame with a perhaps odd pattern going around.
Because this frame was so colorful, I thought I would contrast it with a black and white chickadee.
I sketched out the chickadee in an upside down perch, which I thought looked fun, and began to cut glass.
I think the end result is fun. He may be my best bird yet. It's a shame you cannot see that his eye is actually made from purple glass. It is surrounded by the black and doesn't show.
After the cardinal, I had planned to do a peacock, tail down, Roman style. You can find peacocks all over frescos in Pompeii, often near household shrines. So I thought, yes, a peacock, that's next. And then I thought about the impossibility of recreating it effectively in a 2 inch square. Thus I settled on maybe just doing an "eye" from the tale feather.
I needed to cut some glass, which I enjoy doing, and I think I'm getting better at consistency.
I have an aquamarine blue, which I thought would be green enough (it wasn't but oh well), which I first cut into centimeter strips, then snipped into centimeter squares, then cut in half, and cut in half again to make little .5 centimeter squares. Then I cut some of those in half too.
sI decided I needed to cut more of the other colors too, plus I like how pretty the cut glass looks just sitting on a mirror. But I digress.
Even though I had drawn the peacock eye on the mirror, it ended up off center (too far up), plus the aquamarine wasn't very green. I really looked more like just some weird pattern. So while I was waiting for the glue to dry (and to avoid my disappointment), I turned my attention to this little one inch circles I had. I thought that perhaps I could make some tiny little ornaments for my own small Christmas tree.
I decided to because these are so small that I would not try to fill in the little mirrors completely but just do the edges and some sort of design in the middle. But then I had this idea about making earrings... I had found this little blanks at Michael's (bottom of the picture) and thought I could glue tesserae to them.
I had also splurged on a jewelry kit with earring loops that I could attach. Because the little rectangular blanks are so small, I could only think of a couple of patterns. I haven't used the square ones yet; waiting for inspiration. It will come.
So I went back to the tiny ornaments, trying out various designs. I thought these would be quick and easy to make, but because they are so small they are a little fiddly. Also, you have to have a lot of glass cut to make sure you have the right shapes/sizes available. But here are the first dozen. I'm sure I will make more, but I have an idea for a wren in the 2X 2 inch size which I want to tackle next....
After the Dove and the Chi Rho ornaments, I decided to do another Christmas bird, this time a cardinal. I found a picture of a snowy scene with a cardinal framed by icy branches to use for inspiration.
I thought my cardinal turned out well for this little 2X2 inch ornament. I began the branches with grey glass for the branch itself, white for the snow on top, clear for the ice below, in imitation of the picture. I made the mistake of starting the background in green--like the picture--but soon realized that it wasn't a strong enough contrast. (When will I learn?!) You can see the discarded green glass at the top of the picture. I switched to the light blue (in the cup).
I didn't realize until after I was done that I had accidentally moved one of the cardinal's legs when replacing with the blue glass. It does make him look a little awkward here, but oh well. You can see the dotted lines I wrote on the mirror with an overhead marker for where I wanted the other branches. I also began adding dark blue glass in the corners to sort of frame the picture.
It didn't turn out quite as beautiful as the photo I was working from. The branches do not come across clearly as branches. I should have simplified or perhaps used opaque glass for the branches. However, I was pleased enough.
I think the grouting went ok and the glass polished up nicely once I cleaned off all the excess glue. Here are the three ornaments I had made up to this point:
I decided that I really liked having a border and wish I had put one on this cardinal. I really like the border on the Chi Rho, but it takes up space. But it does make it look cleaner and more professional.
In pondering what other small 2X2 inch ornaments I could make for Christmas, I decided upon a chi (X) rho (P). These Greek letters are the first two letters in the word Christos and were an early Christian symbol. I believe the cross didn't become a symbol for another century or two. Early Christian burials will have doves (but come to think of it, so do some pagan ones, especially those with children) or a Chi Rho as well as an Alpha & Omega. As a Latin teacher and a student of Rome, I will never see the cross as something unique but rather a favorite method of torture and execution for the Romans. Plus, it really makes me think of the Spartacus rebellion and all the slaves crucified along the Via Appia.
Anyway, my goals were to see if I could make clear, clean letters and create a nice, even border. I began well, even had a paper guide on the edges to help keep the alignment smooth, but I eventually gave it up, for better or worse. The paper frame was in the way when I was working.
Here's a close-up of the corner. Because I'm cutting all of my tesserae from stained glass with just nippers, the pieces are not perfectly shaped, which this close-up reveals. However, I think that makes the mosaic look a little more interesting, and less like some sort of factory craft kit.
In this picture below, you can see one side of the red and black completed. I should have done the whole border before doing anything else so I could focus on symmetry and consistency, but thought I might find it easier to mainly go from one side to the other after I had completed the chi rho.
You can also see my completed dove and two little quarter sized mosaics. I was trying to determine whether this little 1 inch circles were too small to make anything on, but decided to start with circles of blue glass just to see. Suddenly it looked like a little geode to me, so I made a second one with purple and lavender glass. They are frivolous but fun. I may make more.
You can see the completed Chi Rho below along with the little fake geodes. This was right after I grouted all three. As you can see, my red border didn't stay quite as even as I would have liked, but I think it is effective and otherwise is an appealing piece. Eventually I will add ribbons or something and hang it on my Christmas tree. I always wanted a Roman themed (whatever that means) Christmas tree, and I think this will be a start.
The next ornament, I think, will be a cardinal. Time to cut more glass. Stay tuned!