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Come learn and get creative with me…online!

I’m super happy (and just a wee bit nervous) to share with you something a little different for me: an online course all about using constraint as a tool to push yourself further as a mosaic artist. The course just launched over on Mosaic Arts Online, and there’s a 10% discount (promo code: CREATIVITY10) until midnight on Monday, September 3 for all you early adopters. If you click through, you can watch a little promo video of me telling you all about the course.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Mosaic Arts Online is a quickly growing learning platform for mosaic artists run by Tami Macala and it is nothing short of awesome. Interested in learning from a particular artist but the travel gets in the way? Or maybe that artist (like me!) doesn’t offer in-person workshops? Enter Mosaic Arts Online, where you get to learn “in your own space, at your own pace.”

So where did this class—Creativity Through Constraint—come from? Well, remember that mosaic I made from the infamous “bacon rock”? It was, hands down, one of the best creative experiences I’ve had in my career so far. I took one rock, chopped it up, and made a mosaic out of it using every last scrap, and in the process I learned so much about myself as an artist and it opened up so many possibilities in my andamento. I loved it so much that I did it again a little while later with an amazing piece of mookaite.

I knew this was an exercise that I wanted to keep doing periodically, but I also knew that the material I chose to work with was fundamental to my experience. Not just any material will do for this exercise. But there’s only so much bacon rock and mookaite on my shelves. How to get around that?

I turned the problem over in my head for months and months. Then, one day I was chopping up some multicoloured slabs of leftover thinset I had saved from my Artist in Residence workshops and it hit me: I could make my own “rock” out of thinset that would lend itself beautifully to this exercise. And since thinset is so readily available, and this exercise was such a game-changer for me, why not share it with the world? And thus the Mosaic Arts Online course was born.

I know it might seem like a simple exercise. I mean, how hard can it be to mix up a blob of thinset, chop it up, and put it all back together again? Trust me: it will make your brain hurt (in a good way). And it has so many applications beyond just the actual exercise. Some of the things you can learn / develop a greater appreciation for include:

  • Getting comfortable with thinset, if you aren’t already. And also never looking at thinset the same way again…especially if you pair this course with either/both of Erin Pankratz’ courses!
  • Building your hammer and hardie skills if you’re a beginner (thinset is a great material to learn on!) or going back to basics and chopping mindfully instead of on autopilot if you’re a pro.
  • Becoming a whiz at estimating the coverage of your material and also navigating your substrate strategically depending on how much material you have.
  • Learning to listen to your material and build a relationship with it, so that your work is a partnership between you and the material, not simply you imposing your will on it.
  • Taking your andamento to the next level by seeing the possibilities presented by size, shape, and surface topography, loosening up and being less precise, deepening your understanding of flow, and generally pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.

Yep, you really can take a weird blob of thinset and turn it into something special!

The beauty of this exercise is that you can do it at any point in your mosaic career and you’ll learn something new each time. YOU set the degree of difficulty for yourself. Maybe you start with two colours and a layered “rock”. I got cocky when filming this and thought: “I’ll roll all three different ways of making these thinset rocks into one!” I’ve never not been challenged by this exercise, but man, this was next-level challenging! So whether it’s your first time or your sixth, you’ll walk away a better mosaicist.

“More Organic Than Kale” (title credit goes to Sophie Drouin, who described the piece as that). Seriously, that’s what you can do with just two colours of thinset. It’s great fun!

While I really hate being in front of the camera (talk about stepping out of your comfort zone!), that is tempered by my excitement to share this exercise with you. It opens up so many possibilities and I can’t wait to see how those of you who take the course run with it.

Let’s make our brains hurt together!

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What’s black and white and is but isn’t a mosaic?

I have just quietly launched a product line that is and isn’t mosaic. “Trace Elements” are prints of tracings that I make of my own mosaics.

There are so many reasons why I’m doing this. Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first: price. I know that not everyone has hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to buy my art. Offering prints makes my art way more accessible, and that’s important to me. It’s also WAY easier and cheaper to ship than an actual mosaic, which is a big bonus.

I could just offer prints of photos I’ve taken of my work. Lots of people do that, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But personally, photos of mosaics always leave me unsatisfied. Every time I post photos online, I know that it’s just not the same as experiencing a mosaic in person. You can’t fully appreciate the texture, topography, scale, reflectivity, and all those other more tactile and experiential qualities that make mosaic so special. The challenge of adequately capturing a mosaic in a photo is one of the medium’s big Achilles heels. And if I’m constantly saying, “The photos don’t do it justice,” then why would I offer prints of those photos?

So the challenge for me was to find something reproducible that captures the essence of the mosaic. Enter the tracing. I did not invent tracing mosaics. Let’s be very clear about that. There are plenty of mosaicists out there who do it as they work to restore or reproduce ancient mosaics. There are others who use it as a learning tool to get right down to the building blocks of a mosaic. I just decided that I would make tracings that themselves are art.

Hand traced, hand printed

One of the things I love most about mosaic is the andamento. How those lines of tesserae are built and how they move. Especially how they move. A tracing strips away everything except the andamento. It lays it bare. For me, this is the essence of my work, which is why the simplicity of a tracing captures what’s at the heart of my work and never fails to make me feel just a wee bit exposed.

Every single tessera is traced by hand on vellum paper, to later be scanned and then printed. I tried a few different ways of printing them, and have settled on getting them screenprinted by hand at a local shop. I love the crispness of the lines paired with the fact that you can still see traces of evidence that they were made by hand, like the ink distribution not being 100% the same in each and every print. The perfection of the imperfect. It adds to their character and specialness.

There is a meditative aspect to the tracing, just as there is to actual mosaic-making. I also learn something about myself as a mosaicist with each tracing that I do. Any bad habits are clearly exposed, but I can just correct those Bob Ross happy accidents by nudging the outline of a tessera one way or the other. It’s not cheating, it’s learning! I’m also finding that tracing is giving me a new (cautious) appreciation for colour and the role it plays in my work. (Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am a colourphobe.)

I never trace the whole mosaic; instead, I select a favourite fragment, which always brings to mind the ancient mosaic fragments you see in museums. I love how it hints at the whole, but is enough on its own. It is complete yet mysterious.

My tracings are not exact replicas of my mosaics. While sometimes it’s because I fix things, but more often it’s because the image underneath the tracing paper isn’t perfectly clear, so I give it my best guess. I get to (re)invent some of the andamento as I trace, so there is a uniqueness to these tracings that goes beyond what a photo can offer.

The simplicity of a tracing kind of means that the sky’s the limit. I’ve already joked about making an adult colouring book, t-shirts, calendars, andamento workbooks, and postcards. Who knows where this tracing adventure will take me, but I’m really excited and I’d love for you to follow along on this ride.

How to buy a print

I’m still working on getting the storefront set up on my website, so for now just email me and we’ll go from there! Prints measure 9″ x 12″ and are screenprinted by hand on 100% cotton, 250 gsm, acid-free paper. They are $50 CAD each (plus postage) and payment can be by email transfer, PayPal, cash, or cheque.

I’m offering each print in small limited editions of 50. The first print available is “(More than) Enough“, which is quite possibly one of my favourite mosaics I’ve ever made, and thus an obvious choice as the first offering in this new venture.

 

 

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Art, engagement, action: Connecting with the community, creating change

I am beyond thrilled to finally be able to tell you that I have been selected as the City of Kitchener’s Artist in Residence for 2017 (media release here). I’ve known for a few months now, but it has only recently been approved by city council, so now it is officially official.

This is the first time we have a mosaic artist as our artist in residence. We’re thrilled Sperling will bring the community together to open a discussion about an important topic that touches all citizens who can get involved and share their efforts through visually stunning mosaic art.

Silvia DiDonato, manager, arts and creative industries

Through my art, I will be engaging Kitchener residents in a dialogue about concrete actions they can take on the path to sustainability. To start, I’ll be creating a few mosaics to spark this dialogue. The themes I’m planning to tackle are energy, food, transportation, and natural stormwater management (or perhaps just green space more generally).

Then it’ll be time to engage the community. This is perhaps what I’m most excited about, as it’s an opportunity to connect my art more directly with advocacy and action. So, using these mosaics as a backdrop, and in collaboration with municipal departments and community partners, I’ll be running a series of workshops where Kitchener residents can come learn about environmental solutions through art and conversation. Participants will also have the opportunity to make a small mosaic symbolizing their commitment to taking one practical action (in one of the four theme areas) to reduce their environmental footprint.

The final piece of the puzzle will be to use these small community-made mosaics to create a larger mosaic symbolizing Kitchener’s collective commitment to taking environmental action. The mosaics created over the course of the residency will be on display in Kitchener City Hall during two exhibitions: an interim show in August and a final show in December.

So, if you live in the Kitchener area, stay tuned over the next couple of months. I’ll be reporting on my progress and announcing events and workshops here on my website and on my social media channels. I’d love to see you there!

julie sperling kitchener artist in residence

Who’s excited to be Artist in Residence? This gal!!!

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Getting prepped for my first Urban Craft appearance

urban craft - march 15

I’ve been making a number of smaller mosaics lately in preparation for my first Urban Craft appearance (March 15, 10am-3pm at the Glebe Community Centre). It’s been fun to use up some bits of material that have been hanging around my shelves for way too long and and also to tinker with styles I don’t usually use. But while there’s a certain satisfaction to being able to complete one of these little mosaics in a single sitting, I will admit that I am itching to really sink my teeth into a bigger project now.

The materials used in these little pieces are quite varied. There’s unglazed porcelain, smalti, bits of skateboard, a typeset letter, sea pottery (or at least I assume that’s what it is) that friends brought back from Bermuda for me, marble, bits of one of my favourite plates dating back to my student days (the green stuff), ceramic tiles, local stone (of course!), a chunk of glass courtesy of the local glassblowing workshop‘s discard pile, and even rocks rescued from one of those zen fountains that was destined for the trash.

It’s been interesting to hear what people see in some of them. The one with the salmon-coloured tile has reminded people of waterfowl, aquatic dinosaurs, bacon (!), muscle, and a seam in the earth. The one with the bits of skateboard has elicited comparisons to a roadmap / crossroads, chromosomes, and neurons. Someone saw a guitar in the one with the glass chunk, and people who commented on the one with the green ceramic have unanimously said it reminds them of seaweed.

Not much else to say about these pieces, so just enjoy the pictures below! And come to Urban Craft if you’re in Ottawa on March 15!

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Transitions Exhibition at Ciel Gallery

ciel transitions postcardIn case any of you are curious, photos of the full line-up of mosaics in Ciel Gallery‘s Transitions Exhibition are now available both on Ciel’s website and their Facebook page. And if you fall in love with any of the mosaics, you can buy them via the website (there’s a handy Paypal link for each mosaic).

I really enjoyed checking out the other mosaics in the show, and especially being able to read the artist statements that accompanied each piece. There are some really fantastic pieces and I’m proud to be part of this show.

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My work’s in a real store!

So guess what? A few of my mosaics are now in a real life brick and mortar store! Harvest, Thaw, Pulse, and Fault line are all now available at The Studio : Boutique in Carleton Place. So if you’re in the neighbourhood, check it out! It’s a totally cute little space and owner Laura does a fantastic job curating the products she carries.

Here they all are, on display for the world to see (and even buy)!  Photo courtesy of Laura Norris

Here they all are, on display for the world to see (and even buy)! Clockwise from top: Pulse, Thaw, Harvest, Fault line
Photo courtesy of Laura Norris

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Huzzah! My first juried show!

Good news, friends! This week I found out that “Punctuated Equilibrium I” was accepted into the Transitions show at Ciel Gallery in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’m super super excited, because this is my first show ever (let alone a juried one!). I will admit, however, that the initial excitement has worn off a wee bit as I’ve begun trying to figure out how to ship the piece there and back. Ugh.

But let’s ignore those details for now and just enjoy the moment (and some gratuitous cute dog photos).

The furriest member of my cheering section

The furriest member of my cheering section

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WIP Wednesday: End of the line

When I set my goals in January, I thought posting a WIP shot each week would be a good way to keep me motivated. While it has more or less worked, I’m finding that it’s cluttering up my blog and obscuring the real content, which is something I couldn’t have known at the outset. So, this is the end of the line for WIP Wednesday. I’ll post various work-in-progress shots (and other goodies!) over on my Facebook page (though not weekly), which I think is a more appropriate venue for that sort of stuff. The blog will be reserved for writing, mostly. So if you’re interested and haven’t already done so, hop on over to my Facebook page and give it a “like”!

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Moving sale!

So as some of you know, we’re moving apartments soonish. This explains why I haven’t been doing any mosaic work over the last little while, as well as why my ever-scintillating blog posts have kind of dried up.

But I wanted to let you all know that I’m temporarily re-opening my Etsy store in order to hold a big MOVING SALE (otherwise known as an “I don’t want to take it with me” sale).

If you’ve been contemplating buying one of my mosaics, this is the perfect excuse! The sale runs until July 15, so head on over and see if anything catches your eye. I’ll be adding more items over the next few days, so check back often.

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California on my mind

Some of you might be aware of the fact that my partner and I are in our third year of living apart. (Short story: She had to go to California for work, but I couldn’t follow because of immigration laws – you know, the whole same-sex thing – so I stayed back here in Ottawa. There are no jobs for her in Canada and none for me in California. Hence, we live apart.) Anyway, what you really need to know is this: living apart sucks. End of story.

When it became clear that we’d be doing the long distance thing for a third year, I knew I’d probably go nuts (a stolen week here and there is not really enough, you know?) so, as a pre-emptive strike, I decided to ask for a three-month leave from my job. And my boss (and her boss) – bless their souls – agreed.

Which brings us to today: the day I fly down to California and begin my three months of actually having a semi-normal life with the person I love. I can’t tell you how excited I am. I’ve been giddy for weeks and right now I’m grinning from ear to ear despite the fact that I was up way before the sun this morning.

You may be thinking: But Julie, what does this have to do with mosaics? Ahhhh, allow me to explain. Because my partner will be working while I’m down in California, I’ll need something to occupy a good chunk of my time. And what better way to keep myself busy than to make mosaics? It’s always been my fantasy to do this stuff full time and now I have three months to live that dream.

I’ve got a few ideas for pieces that I want to do (stay tuned!), and I’m going to try to experiment with some materials that I haven’t used much before (no stained glass for me…at least not for 3 months!). I’ve also signed up to take two courses up in Oakland at the Institute of Mosaic Art. And get this: one of them is with one of my mosaic idols, Sonia King! I was so happy when I found out that her workshop would coincide with my time in California!

Anyway, I should probably go stretch my legs a bit before boarding the plane. Next stop, Long Beach, California!

Soaking up some inspiration (and some sun!) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, La Jolla

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