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!
I bought a pack of little 2X2 inch squares on a whim a while back and decided I should see whether I could think of something appropriate for an ornament. I needed a break after the last big project and wanted to do something small.
With the light gleaming off of the polished surface, it looks pretty neat. Straight on it is not as dazzling. This picture almost seems too up close and personal, with all the imperfections showing.
However, I am pretty pleased with this little project. Here's how it began. First I drew on the mirror with an old overhead marker.
I knew I wanted the dove to be white (of course). I like to try out other colors by placing them near each other.
I began with the dove, erasing the purple lines as I worked.
Then I checked my color plans again, and kind of laid out some patterns. One of the biggest problems I have is that I don't work on the mosaics at consistent times. And if I'm working late at night, and then skip a day, on the following day I might forget some little aspect to what I was doing. For instance, if you look again at the completed dove, you will see that I was not consistent in how I treated the yellow starburst.
In the top right corner, it is bordered by light blue glass going in the same direction. Actually, the corner looks fairly messy, and the yellow isn't even straight. It was the first corner I did. The last corner was the bottom left, which is very straight but I totally forgot to have the blue glass going parallel with the yellow.
I could continue to pick it apart from the edges not being perfectly straight to the starburst being off center, but it's art. It's in the moment. I wasn't going for absolute perfection but the joy of creating.
And when the light hits the shiny glass, it's lovely.
Finishing the heron has been a slow process. And while I was pleased in many ways with the water portion, I did realized that once again I made the same mistake as with the bunting. Not enough color contrast with the background.
The distinction between the heron and the water shows best when I use outdoor lighting. But I have no place outside to hang it. And sadly, once grouted, it seemed to disappear completely. Even after I cleaned each tesserae and polished it up so that it was sparkling, it still didn't bring out the heron.
I decided to take a risk and regrout just the heron. I was thinking that the reason why the heron stood out in the photo was because the light was on it. Thus, what would happen if I regrouted it with white?
I took some time to outline the heron with masking tape to protect the rest of the mosaic. It was worth the effort because it made regrouting so much easier.
And while the heron does stand out better now, it doesn't look as handsome. But I'm stopping. I learned more, and that's the most important thing. Plus, I'm thinking about taking a different approach next time. The heron looked really beautiful halfway finished, when the mirror was half visible.
So I'm brainstorming on doing something more like this halfway point.
Oh, and for a laugh, here's what happens when you drop a tessera into your glue:
I've been asked several times about where I get my tesserae or tiles.
I purchase roughly 1 foot squares of stained glass and cut the tesserae myself. I do this for several reasons. First, I like stained glass. I like glass period. One day I want to learn how to blow glass but that costs money for classes. I would absolutely love to create Roman replica blown glass pieces, but that's for another time, if ever.
Second, I know that some of the mosaics in Herculaneum were made with glass. If they could do it, why not me?
Third, I want to make small mosaics with small tesserae. I suppose I could have done small with other mediums, even Smalti glass, but I wanted to make whatever size tesserae I needed.
Fourth, I have this idea, which admittedly is just an idea, that I can make the stained glass go further than the same dollar amount of other materials. I could be wrong. What do I know. Most of the glass which I have purchased has run between $10-15 per square feet, so to have a variety of colors is not cheap. I'm still thinking a square foot of Smalti glass would cost significantly more.
I purchased most of my glass and tools at the beginning of the summer with retirement gift cards. I now have most every color I think I may need and I keep the glass stored vertically between newspaper, which makes it easier to flip through the colors when I'm looking for something.
The tools I use include
So, again, this second video is much like the first except I explain what I am doing and you can see all the tools.
In this third video, you can see how I cut the glass into the smaller pieces. For the record, I am NOT squeezing the tool with my left hand. I am merely preventing the glass from shooting across the room. All of the hard work of squeezing the nippers is being done with my right hand, which is getting really strong!
As the video explained, I like to start with strips that are a centimeter wide, and then I snip them into roughly centimeter squares. I can easily make my tiny square tesserae from these, or cut the glass into little rectangles or triangles or whatever shape I need in between.
If you were thinking that this is tedious, it can be. Usually I do it while listening to something. I may have the TV on to binge watch/listen to some old favorite series. Cutting tesserae is also good for listening to audio books. I find it soothing, admittedly, and in the end I have these little piles of gems. (And I am not snacking on food because my hands are busy.)
I've learned to keep them sorted by shape: little skinny rectangles, sharp triangles of all shapes, and four sided polygon shapes that help with curves. Makes it easier to find the shape that I need next, whatever shape that may be.
I had to cut up some more glass yesterday because I had run out of some of the shapes I needed. Doing the water background for the heron has been an interesting learning process. From this angle you can't really see the wave patterns in the green (more on right) and grey (more on left), though you can with the blue and yellow. I'm now shifting up to the area which will have more blue than green & grey. The patterns hopefully will stand out more when this is grouted. I think the show better in sunlight anyway.
I spent close to three hours cutting glass yesterday afternoon. I'm hoping that will be enough to get through at least half of what's left on this mosaic.
And remember, I am new to making mosaics. I haven't taken any classes because of Covid. I've only met with my local mosaics guild twice this year. I have read a book or two on making mosaics and stared at a lot of Roman mosaics over the years. I am no authority; this is only my journey into the art of making a mosaic.
And one last thing: be careful using your feet to pick up little glass tesserae which you've dropped on the floor. Although I have often gotten away with this because the tesserae are so small, I did prick my big toe last night and ended up with blood on my carpet. Eek! I mean, you do of course need to be cautious because this is glass and keep your work area cleaned up.
I'm on the Birds of Texas group on Facebook. This photo, which I have cropped on the left and added lines, was taken by a gentleman named Ed Ferrin in Galveston, Texas. I love herons. We get them around here but I haven't taken any picture as lovely as this. I wanted to see whether I could possibly create a two-part mosaic with a top panel and a bottom panel (the reflection).
Based on what I've learned from previous mosaics, I am doing the real heron in opaque glass and everything else will be transparent stained glass. I spent a lot of time cutting up tesserae and sorting them into little containers. I have every color and shape I may need, though I am sure I will need to cut more before I'm even finished with the first part.
I like making my mosaic on mirrors. It provides a simple, solid background that reflects light. But unlike clear glass, I cannot just put my pattern underneath the glass. However, I still have overhead markers leftover from teaching so I made a grid and sketched out the heron.
I tried to follow the direction of the feathers in placing the tesserae, but I couldn't do it every time. The different shades of grey of the wing, back and upper legs are all from the same piece of stained glass.
The only translucent glass on the heron is in front of the eye. I just didn't have an opaque yellow-white glass. That bit is from the same sheet of glass that provided the lower part of its bill.
I basically was able to get the variety of colors I needed and am satisfied with how the heron itself turned out. But in many ways, that was the easy part. The water... the water is more free because I am not trying to be just like the original photo, but that means it can also go wrong and ruin the piece. But I began....
Admittedly I am trying to take color cues from the photo. The water is more green glass on the right with highlights of grey and blue, while on the left it is more grey with highlights of green and blue.
I took my project outside to get better light; you can see the colors better here. Sometimes I think you can see that I am making wave patterns, but other times it looks messy to me. The larger of the two yellow sections on the left will probably be removed. I think it's too much. My intention will be working in more blue as it moves up, with some yellow highlights, but I think the yellow will need to be used sparingly.
I am concerned that there isn't enough color contrast and the heron will be washed out like my painted bunting. However, I am hoping that if I hang my mosaic where there is good light, the contrast between transparent and opaque will be enough. I want that sparkling, coruscating effect that is difficult to capture in a photo. But maybe... maybe this glass will do it.
And yes, I have thought of not totally filling in the mirror. I could do that. And I probably will make some like that in the future. It would certainly be easier and faster. Not to mention potentially profitable. I can tell you that filling in this whole mirror is slow and tedious. Well, maybe not truly tedious because I do find it relaxing. But I'm betting I have at least a couple more weeks minimum to finish filling this in.
I am going to grout. I walk past the blue flower mosaic every day and like the look of the grouted yellow/gold glass. Maybe one day I will play with resin. But for now, I want to feel connected to my Roman/Greek ancestors. (I am half Greek; I feel half Pompeian, but I'm not sure that counts.)
Stay tuned for the finished project.
Like the Romans, I have been taking my cue from nature. I needed something simple, something that would allow me to focus on setting the tesserae as tightly as possible and to worry less about design.
I had been disappointed (but not too terribly so since it was only my 2nd mosaic) in the painted bunting on the sunflower. There was not enough contrast between the bird and its background. The hedgehog mosaic used opaque glass for the hedgehog and clear for the background in order to improve the contrast. I thought I had my the contrast problem beat until I grouted. I realized that even though the gaps I was leaving were small, they were still big enough to alter the color and design.
So, this was to be my experiment with how tight I could glue the tesserae and still grout.
My flowers are stylized and simplified. I used the yellow gold clear glass for the background with pale yellow foggy glass for the wind. The single big leaf is opaque glass like the flowers but I made the grass from transparent green glass and used a few tesserae as sort of artistic accents or something. Here is the mosaic before grouting. I almost didn't grout it because I liked it so much this way. However, the whole point of this mosaic was to see what the grouting would look like if the tesserae were tightly set.
(Here is the final product. Overall I was pleased with the the grouting. However, in my efforts to not have excess glue, there were places that clearly I didn't have enough glue and the grout got underneath the glass. (Mainly lower left area.) That was unforeseen.
I have it on my wall by my front door. I think it still looks neat and is definitely my best mosaic so far. But maybe... maybe I won't grout the next mosaic.
I had this idea that with retirement would come art classes and workshops and new people. But of course because of Covid19, we are all doing things differently. So I have struck out on my own with making mosaics.
My first mosaic was based on a photo of Pompeii, taken by the wonderful Prof. Sophie Hay. I liked the warm light of an early morning over the ruins with, to me, the focus on the road leading in.
Looking at this photo even now, I get tingles and want to walk down that road and enter that amazing little town from another lifetime. I'm sure there are ghosts of ancestors there who would speak to me. For some reason, perhaps in my quest to try to do something interesting with light, I picked this photo for my first project.
With generous retirement gift cards in hand (and a mask), I headed to Blue Moon Glass to purchase tools and glass. Glass isn't cheap, but it is pretty, especially once you start cutting it up into 1/4 inch size tesserae or smaller. There was and is something oddly therapeutic just cutting up the glass and making pretty piles of gems...
I purchased some small square and round mirrors to use as a base. For my first endeavor, I grabbed one of the little 5 inch square ones and started gluing. I had to do a lot of simplification for the background, the vegetation, and most of the ruins, but I thought my gate and street were okay, at least before I grouted it.
I spent about a week trying to decide whether to use light or dark grout, and after a suggestion from an experienced artist, I went with dark grout.
Admittedly, I was disappointed but not discouraged. I thought the dark grout really cancelled out the lightness of the road as well as highlighted all of the problems and inconsistencies. But you gotta start somewhere.
Next I turned to nature, thinking like a good Roman. I have always admired the frescoes and mosaics of birds in Pompeii and elsewhere, so I found a suitable photo for inspiration.
I liked the challenges this image posed plus it included colors that I already had. Whereas with the first mosaic I started at the top, this time I decided to start at the bottom to try to get the sunflower right. I drew a grid pattern on the image to better visualize spacing and relationships.
This mosaic is actually larger than the first one, probably 7' X 7'. As I said, I started with the sunflower, which began pretty rigid and aligned. I then worked on the flow of the leaves with some success, I think. As for the bird itself, I started with the outline of the chest/body in the normal square tesserae but soon switched to the skinny half-size pieces. I really should have gone back and replaced that original row with other skinny pieces, but didn't see that at the time. The beak and the head, I thought, looked a little better before grouting. I am learning that everything looks better before grouting, but more on my thoughts about that later.
I think I was doing all right on relative perspective and size until the bird, which is a little off. I'm not too displeased about that. After all, I was not tracing a pattern since I was working on a mirror and not glass, but was eyeballing it.
Finally I wanted the background, which is blurred in the picture, to have a feeling of flow. And while it does have that, it does not provide the right contrast. The bird is totally lost in the green because they are the same value (that may not be the right term). They are both strong colors.
To get an idea of the relative size of the above two mosaics, I decided to include a picture of the two on my wall in my kitchen.
Admittedly the opaque glass stands out better than the transparent colors, so I thought for my next mosaic I would just make certain that whatever was the focus of the image was in opaque glass and the background in the transparent.
I chose as my subject for mosaic #3 my son's hedgehog, Cyndaquil, curled up in a ball.
I saw in this very typical hedgehog pose a relatively simple design. And in my execution (at least before grouting), it's cute and the little hedgehog seems to pop out. I was very pleased.
I loved how bright and cheerful the blue circle edging was. I had been very careful to keep my spacing even. And making the hedgehog, after the face was done, was relatively easy. I had this brown opaque glass that had several different shades. Thus all of the spines you see were from the same sheet of stained glass. Admittedly, I was worried that the spacing was too tight, compared to the nice spacing I had in the blue area. The only area I felt needed real improvement was the area of blue adjacent to the spines. It lacked consistency and I thought was way too tight, maybe too tight for the grouting. But otherwise, I was very pleased ... until I grouted.
I chose white grouting this time because I thought it would help keep the piece light and airy. I had been concerned that the charcoal grout of the first mosaic and even the grey of the second mosaic had made the images darker than they could have been. What I didn't realize was how the white would totally wash out the image. I clearly had a lot more space in the spines than I was seeing before grouting. The mirror had been reflecting back the browns of the tesserae, even the ones that seemed more pale on top were really more brown on the bottom. And the face, which I thought would stay white, now looks cloudy without the light reflected in the mirror, plus it has significantly more space between the brown tesserae that I thought. And it is difficult even to see the eyes and the ears. It's hard to even recognize that there is a face there. It was deeply disappointing.
The one positive thing with what happened is that it is very clear that the blue tesserae adjacent to the spines still clearly have space for grout. Even where it is really tight at the top, there was still space for the grout. In other words, I needed a lot less space for grout than I thought.
And this space, properly called interstices from the Latin interstitium (space between), has been one of my big problems. I have been underestimating just how critical this space is in my composition. Or rather, I knew, but didn't realize how far off the mark I still am in its size relative to the tesserae. There is nothing wrong with the spacing I've got in the outer rows of blue if that is the look I want with that amount of white from the grout. Or to put it another way, I've been okay in envisioning the space, but not the color in the space.
I want to work small, I want to have small projects that I can complete and learn from. And if my tesserae are small, then my interstices really have to be narrow/tight or the color of my little tiles is lost.
I will probably try to color or stain the white grout among the spines to see if I can save mosaic #3. Then I will experiment again with mosaic #4 (another circular one, but this time with flowers), and begin designs for a more ambitious mosaic #5 (with a heron).
And perhaps I will find some more to read on the subject.