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Upcoming exhibition: Anthropocene art on display

I’m what’s known in layman’s terms as Really Bad At Self-Promotion. So bear with me for a sec as I awkwardly tell you about my upcoming show…

In case you haven’t heard, I’ve got a solo exhibition coming up this fall. It’s at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery (Minden Hills Cultural Centre) in Minden, Ontario. The show opens October 24, and I’ll be there on October 25 for the opening reception and artist talk (4:30-6:00pm). I would be absolutely honoured if you could join me. If you can’t make it on that particular day, the show runs until December 21. 

I’ve been really hard at work for the past several months putting the show together and I’m proud of what I’ve come up with. The line-up is devoted entirely to works exploring the Anthropocene, and 9 of the 10 pieces in the show have never been exhibited before. The centrepiece of the show will be the crowd-sourced mosaic (currently in production!), which has so many interesting and amazing treasures tucked into it. And you’ll even be able to explore that piece with your hands without alarm bells going off or me doing a running tackle. Bonus!  

I’m really excited about the show and hope you can make it. I bet there will be lovely fall colours on display around that time, which are guaranteed to pair perfectly with beautiful yet sobering Anthropocene art.   

Feel free to email me if you have any questions!


Be a part of my art: Send me a piece of your place

I have a favour to ask. I’m currently in the midst of preparing for a solo show that will open this October in the little town of Minden, Ontario. It will be a show entirely devoted to the Anthropocene, and I’d like you to be part of it.

One of the pieces I’m planning to make involves a little bit of community participation. And by “participation” I mean “Please send me materials to put into a mosaic for the show.” Now, this isn’t some sneaky ploy to get free materials. I neither expect nor want you to send me your 24k gold smalti, that’s for sure. Let me explain…

In my opinion, one of the things that has contributed to this giant mess we’re in is an increasingly individualistic mindset and an erosion of community. We are increasingly out for ourselves and disconnected from others. This disconnect isn’t just between us and our fellow humans, it also extends to the relationship between us and the planet and all its landscapes and inhabitants, whether they’re fuzzy, slimy, leafy, scaly, or anything else.

Without a deep sense of connection—to other people, other beings (sentient and non), and other places—it becomes far too easy to ignore the consequences of our actions. What’s more, resilient communities, where social bonds are tight and there is a strong sense of place, are a key ingredient in turning this ship around and starting to make real progress on the environmental challenges we face.

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll save that for the blog post once this piece is eventually finished. But to do that, I need your help!

I want to make a mosaic to connect people to each other through their experiences, stories, and places. This mosaic will incorporate pieces of people’s places, which they (you!) send to me and I knit them together into a cohesive whole. And here’s the fun part: I plan to invite viewers to touch it. To get to know it. To connect with it—and, by extension, other people and places—in a very literal, tactile way.

I would love it if you would consider sending me a small contribution. I’m not looking for your most precious materials, and it most definitely does not have to be fancy or blingy or expensive. If you want to send me a rock from your driveway or your garden, that’s cool. Some brick that has broken off your house? Also cool. Part of a broken plate off of which your family has eaten many home-cooked meals? Again, cool.

Here’s what I really want: Send me something that makes you think of a place that’s special to you. Send me something that reminds you of home. Send me something that reminds you of someone special. In short, send me something that tells a story.

My first official submission: a rock from the monastery where a fellow artist lives

Here are the details, as well as some rules / guidelines to follow when you’re figuring out what you’d like to contribute.

Where do I send it? If you’re in the Kitchener area, we can arrange a drop-off / pick-up. If you need to mail it, just email me and I’ll send you my address (for obvious reasons, I’d prefer not to post that here). And here’s a bonus for any fellow mosaicists attending SAMA in Nashville: I’ll be there and I’d be happy to accept your contributions there if you want to play!

What’s the deadline? June 15. (I know it’s a long way off, but I’ll remind you again closer to the date.)

What size does it have to be? It can be as small as you like, but please don’t make it too big. Maximum size: about three-ish inches in either direction, and no deeper than two-ish inches.

Can I send anything? Feel free to get creative—you are definitely not restricted only to rocks—and if you want to run it by me first, please do. But keep in mind that people will be touching it, so nothing sharp. And while I love rusty metal, this is not the place for it as I’m sure there would be some tetanus-related liabilities… Also, nothing that will biodegrade, please and thank you. Oh, and maybe no creepy doll heads, ok?

Will you use everything you get? I will try to use everything you send me, but reserve the right to exclude a submission if it does not meet the criteria outlined above. Also, be warned that, while I intend to use most submissions as-is, you have to be ok with me cutting them or otherwise altering them. Don’t send me anything precious if you’re not ok with me taking a hammer to it.

Anything else? When you send it, please include a note saying why you chose that particular thing to send. Tell me its story. I’m going to try to find a way to include all that information in the final presentation…  

Other questions? Just ask!

And that’s it! I hope some of you out there will be keen to participate. I look forward to hearing your stories and playing connector.


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!


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.




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!!!


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!


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.


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


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


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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