The Institute of Mosaic Art Weekly Mosaic Workout Challenge: Looking back on 20 weeks of making and learning

It’s been a while since the Institute of Mosaic Art’s 20-week mosaic workout challenge ended, and I’ve finally had some time to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. Overall, the challenge series was fantastic and I would recommend it to anyone. While I will admit to getting fatigued somewhere around Week 15—for the future, I’d recommend maybe 10 challenges spaced 2 weeks apart—it really was a worthwhile experience.

If IMA runs another challenge, I encourage you all to join in. And in the meantime, I highly suggest going back and doing the challenges on your own. The nice part about doing it on your own is that you can give yourself a bit more time between challenges (rather than cranking through them at the break-neck pace of 1 per week), and you can even pick and choose the ones you want to do (although I would recommend doing them all, even the ones that make you cringe).

IMA challenge pieces by Julie Sperling IMA challenge pieces by Julie Sperling

So, what’s so great about the challenges? Here are a few quick ideas:

  • They get you into the studio on a regular basis, even if it’s just for a few hours
  • They force you out of your comfort zone and allow you to take risks without any consequences if you fail (that said, I found that it was MUCH harder than I anticipated to throw caution to the wind and just make something without fear of failure, mostly because of the fact that the results were put online for the world to see—experimenting in your studio where nobody can see is much different from sharing the hot mess you created publicly)
  • They connect you with a community of fellow participants and it’s really interesting to see all the different interpretations of the same challenge theme
  • They teach you a LOT (about materials, technique, and yourself)

With each challenge, I tried to maintain my own style that is slowly emerging (letting that serve as the control), and then vary just one or two elements as dictated by the challenge prompt. The result is a collection of 19 mosaics that, for the most part, are actually fairly cohesive despite some very diverse prompts. The most valuable lessons learned for me were not in terms of materials, techniques, or subject matter; rather, they were insights into my own personal process. I now know that I really need that head time before diving into a project, and that it’s ok to just set some materials on the table and stare at them and my blank substrate for a day or two or five before diving in. That’s just how I work. If I rush it, the results are a crapshoot. But I also learned the value of playing and just going on sheer instinct / gut feeling (evidenced best in Week 8’s time trial exercise). And finally, I learned what it feels like to make a complete dud. Not just a piece that you feel so-so about, but one that’s really and truly awful and goes straight from the work table to the garbage can.

Anyway, a big thank you to Sophia at the Institute of Mosaic Art for running these challenges. I know the administrative / logistical effort behind them was enormous (especially while also looking after the day-to-day of the Institute), but it really was appreciated.

One final note: I am selling the bulk of the challenge pieces that I made (minus the duds and the ones that were copies of other artists’ work). Because these were learning exercises, I’m keeping the price very reasonable (they range from $50 to $100). If you’re interested in any of them, pop on over to my Etsy store.



Let me know what you think!

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