Cutting Glass tesserae
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.
Ambitious Heron: At a midway point
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.
Ramblings of a retired Latin teacher, creative creature, and general person rediscovering life after teaching.