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Mosaic workout challenge, week 10: Redux

This week marked the halfway point—10 weeks out of 20—and we had a chance to go back and fix past mistakes. It was a do-over / catch-up week and it was much appreciated!

Title: “An acquired taste”

Size: 4.25″ x 4.25″

Materials: Stone, smalti, and gin bottle

How long did it take to complete? About two and a half hours

Thoughts: I was so happy to have a chance to go back and redo a challenge that I wished I had done differently. I knew immediately that I wanted to revisit last week’s challenge (“When life gives you lemons…”) and try a more appropriate thinset colour. I’m much happier with the results of this week’s challenge—that green glass is popping now! The name is a nod to both gin and thinset, the latter because that’s the mistake I was fixing and because it took me quite a while to learn to love working with thinset.

"An acquired taste" -- stone, smalti, gin bottle, 4.25" x 4.25"

“An acquired taste” — stone, smalti, gin bottle, 4.25″ x 4.25″



Mosaic workout challenge, week 9: When life gives you lemons…

Eeek – the ‘to do’ list keeps growing and it’s getting more and more difficult to find the time for these challenges. I may miss one or two in the coming weeks, as we are in the process of moving and I’m also attending Verdiano Marzi’s class in Chicago at the end of August. But for now, here’s what I managed to squeeze in this week. The challenge was the complete the phrase “When life gives you lemons…”

"G&T" - because really, what else would you do with lemons (or limes, yes, I know)...

“G&T” – because really, what else would you do with lemons (or limes, yes, I know)…

Title: “G&T”

Size: 4.25″ x 4.25″

Materials: Limestone and gin bottle

How long did it take to complete? Three hours

Thoughts: When I read the challenge for this week, I immediately thought of a gin and tonic. I know, I know, they’re traditionally made with limes, but we don’t get too picky with our citrus fruit here in this household, so humour me. I just happened to have an empty gin bottle, which I smashed and paired with some limestone. Like last week, I just flung myself into the challenge without a plan. I was neither here nor there with this challenge (and the result), and I’m not sure I learned much, except that I should’ve picked a lighter thinset colour in order to make the green glass pop a bit more.

An angle shot of "G&T" so you can see some of the texture.

An angle shot of “G&T” so you can see some of the texture.


Mosaic workout challenge, week 8: Time

Week 8 was all about “time.” We had two options: we could either make a mosaic about time, or we could set the timer for 60 minutes and race against the clock (and go for as many rounds as we wanted). I chose the latter, because I liked the idea of throwing caution to the wind and just going for speed (which is pretty much unheard of in mosaic). The challenge brief specifically stated, and I quote: “I am granting myself, and all of you, permission to make ugly things this week.” I really took that to heart. This was all about the process, playing around, and making decisions on the fly. No over-thinking, no planning, no pulling up pieces or adjusting them until they’re “just so”… just sticking stuff down and seeing where it took me. I was totally OK with making something ugly, right up until the moment I had to post a picture of it, and now I feel very exposed. Oh well, on with the show!

"A cautionary tale" -- this is what happens when you just plunge right in and go for speed, not beauty.

“A cautionary tale” — this is what happens when you just plunge right in and go for speed, not beauty.

Title: “A cautionary tale”

Size: 6″ x 6″

Materials: Marble, limestone, ceramic tile, unglazed porcelain, smalti, glass rods, tumbled stones, beads, safety glass, beach glass, scrap glass from glassblowing workshop

How long did it take to complete? Three one-hour sessions…ready, set, go!

Thoughts: Wow. I took the time trial option and this challenge was the most fun I’ve had so far. It was really nice to not have any pressure and to just make something for the sake of making something, end result be damned! Instead of prepping 3 small substrates as suggested, I decided to divide one substrate into three general areas. I grabbed a very eclectic selection of leftovers from my shelf and put them in three piles (one palette for each one-hour session). Each section started with a chunk of glass, but after that it was all left to chance / instinct. I didn’t plan anything in advance, and I enforced a strict “laid is played” policy. The end result looks so different from my usual work. Lots more materials, lots more noise. I noticed that with the clock ticking, I tended to shorten my lines (which are normally long and gentle). Anyway, it’s neat that each of the 3 sections—cream, white, and grey—actually has its own personality. I named this piece “A cautionary tale” because it has served to remind me of the importance of both play and planning. This craziness that I created is the result of zero planning, but oh what fun I had making it!

One more view of the crazy mess I created...

One more view of the crazy mess I created…


Mosaic workout challenge, week 7: Home

Man, these theme challenges appear to be my Achilles heel! Give me technical or materials-based challenges any day. When I saw the theme for this week—Home—my initial thought was “Awwww fiddlesticks” (well, in all honesty, it might have been just a wee bit cruder than that). So many possibilities. So much thinking to do. Needless to say, I was paralyzed for several days, but in the end it all came together (somehow!). Anyway, let’s get to the show and tell!

"Home range" -- layered spray paint, marble, tile

“Home range” — layered spray paint, marble, tile

Title: “Home range”

Size: 6″ x 6″

Materials: Layered paint from a local Ottawa graffiti wall, marble, scavenged tile that had fallen off a shop front in Kensington Market (Toronto, ON)

How long did it take to complete? Far longer than it should have (5 hours?), considering a big portion of it is one piece is layered paint.

Thoughts: I continue to struggle with the themed challenges, and while I’d like to think that by the end I will have gotten at least a bit more comfortable with them, I fear I may only improve my ability to BS my way through them… This week’s mosaic is the product of a series of very tenuously linked thoughts and a few happy accidents. My initial idea was to use building materials like brick, glass, and maybe some nails or something. But I had already used brick in a few earlier challenges and it kind of felt like taking the easy way out. So I turned my mind to the more abstract, touchy-feely meanings of “home.” Lots of ideas, but no clue how to turn those into something tangible (on a 6″ x 6″ substrate, no less!).

Eventually I started thinking about how “home” has so many layers of meaning to it. It’s different for everyone and our notion of “home” often changes over time. Somehow, my mind then jumped from layers of meaning to physical layers, and I started thinking of the layers of paint that must build up over time as houses change owners and owners change their personal tastes and styles. This reminded me that I had some chunks of layered spray paint that I picked up at the local graffiti wall—remnants of artworks past. Perfect, I had my main material! While cutting it up into tesserae (used for the ‘clouds’ of this mosaic), I was really drawn to the rough jagged edges of the paint chunks. When I set one of the edges on my board to contemplate it, I noticed that it looked a bit like a mountain range, and thus “Home range” was born. So, through many twists and turns, I finally created what “home” means to me—it’s not just my dwelling, but also the landscape I inhabit and the spaces I move through. And this concept is where the name of the piece comes from, as a “home range”, in ecological terms, is an area in which an animal lives and travels.

A close-up of the tesserae I cut out of the slab of layered spray paint

A close-up of the tesserae I cut out of the slab of layered spray paint

Check out the rugged edge of the slab o' paint!

Check out the rugged edge of the slab o’ paint!


Mosaic workout challenge, weeks 5 and 6: Three and Pattern

The last two challenges have coincided with a visit from friends from California, and since I’m short on time I’m going to combine two weeks’ worth of challenges into one post. Week 5 was a theme challenge where we interpreted ‘three’ however we wanted. Week 6 was all about pattern, and was one of the toughest ones so far for me. The best part of week 6 was sharing my workspace with 13-year-old V, one of our California visitors, who made his first mosaic while he was here (and liked it!).

Week 5 – Three

"Three Generations" - stones found on the shoreline of the cottage by (from left to right) my grandma, my mom, and me

“Three Generations” – stones found on the shoreline of the cottage by (from left to right) my grandma, my mom, and me

Title: Three Generations

Size: 4″ x 5″

How long did it take to complete? About 3 hours

Love or hate this workout? I really enjoyed this one. It was a bit stressful coming up with an idea, mostly because I tend to be very literal. Appropriately enough, the idea I ended up running with was my third one, ha!

Happy with the result? I was working on this one at the cottage, so there were a few “meh, good enough” moments because I wanted to finish so I could join in the board game fun and/or go read down by the water, but overall I’m happy with it, particularly because it has sentimental value.

What did I learn? I reinforced the fact that I need to let an idea percolate for a while in my head if I’m not feeling it 100%, because if I allow myself to do that I will inevitably hit upon a better idea than I started out with. The inspiration for this mosaic finally hit when I remembered that my grandma had told me that she had picked up a stone for me the last time she was at the cottage. I decided to get my mom to find one too, and I did the same, so the piece is built around three stones selected by three generations from the same shoreline, all tied together by an unbroken loop of marble.

Week 6 – Pattern

"Switch" - my first attempt at creating a pattern

“Switch” – my first attempt at creating a pattern

Title: Switch

Size: 6″ x 5″

How long did it take to complete? About 3.5 hours

Love or hate this workout? I won’t say hate, but how about strongly dislike? I just found working in a pattern too constraining. I like to let the pieces lead me, but I couldn’t seem to figure out how to do that while also settling into a repeating pattern.

Happy with the result? Within the context of the challenge, I’m satisfied, but it’s definitely not a favourite of mine.

What did I learn? Patterns are hard and not something that comes naturally to me! Even with just a simple pattern, I struggled. I think they take a lot more planning (and measuring) than my normal style, so if I’m ever faced with a project like this again, I will definitely whip out my ruler and do some calculations first. I also used this challenge as a chance to play with the grain of the limestone (having it echo the orientation of the metal piece it was framing – horizontal around horizontal, vertical around vertical). I’ve only worked with this stone once before, and I made the effort to have the grain all flowing in the same direction. Seeing it now running both ways in one piece, I’m not sure it makes that much of a difference, at least from far away. Good to know for future projects!

A close-up of the grain running both horizontally (left) and vertically (right) - not super obvious except for up close

A close-up of the grain running both horizontally (left) and vertically (right) – not super obvious except for up close


Mosaic workout challenge, week 4: Monochrome

Last week we played with black and white (don’t forget to check out what people made), this week we got to play with colour. But only one! Yep, we had to pick one hue and run with it. Yikes. I’m so clueless when it comes to colour, and I also don’t tend to keep a big assortment of colours in stock, given that I tend toward rocks. What I did seem to have in abundance, oddly enough, was orange. And so my choice was made for me!

"Dry spell" -- terracotta, brick, smalti, and vitrogota

“Dry spell” — terracotta, brick, smalti, and vitrogota

Title: Dry spell

Size: 5″ x 4.125″

How long did it take to complete? About 3.5 hours

Love or hate this workout? This one kind of terrified me because I don’t work in colour very much (other than muted earth tones). In the end, it wasn’t too painful :-)

Happy with the result? I was short on time this week, so I just kind of threw myself into this one without really any planning at all. I like the result well enough, but there are some things about the lines that bug me (more specifically, I wish they echoed the soft triangular shape of the vitrogota better).

What did I learn? The hardest part was selecting the palette, which, I recognize, was the point of the challenge. I got as far as ‘orange(ish)’, and then was kind of stumped in terms of finding the various shades, tints, and tones – this was owing to both my limited stock and my limited knowledge of colour. Some of my initial selections had a bit more of a yellow hue to them and then I got paranoid that I wasn’t really following the rules of the challenge. As a result, my palette didn’t end up being really varied (within my chosen hue) and I ended up playing around with texture more than colour. Oops. So key lesson: I need to do some book learnin’ about—and experimenting with—colour.

dry spell - detail


Mosaic workout challenge, week 3: Black and white

Week 3—working in black and white—was challenging, but in a good way. After last week’s painful foray into the world of ceramic and vitreous tile, it felt really good to get back to using rocks! (By the way, make sure you check out what all the participants made during Week 2.)

Selecting the materials for this challenge was a breeze. I went with limestone (?) from the cottage and some coal from Pennsylvania (sent to me by one of my Touchstone classmates). The most time-consuming part was figuring out where I wanted to go in terms of design, and I think that’s because I don’t tend to work with extremes (in terms of colour, size, flow, etc.), so working with black and white threw me off my game a little, but again, in a good way! And yes, I know that the lines of coal are eerily reminiscent of a ghoulish charred skeleton hand… Not intentional, but no matter how I curved them and rearranged them, they just kept looking like that, so I decided not to fight it.

"Black carbon (study)" -- playing around in black and white, testing ideas for a bigger project

“Black carbon (study)” — playing around in black and white, testing ideas for a bigger project

Title: Black carbon (study)

Size: 6″ x 4.75″

How long did it take to complete? Roughly 4 hours

Love or hate this workout? I thought this workout was great. It pushed me out of my comfort zone just enough (because I rarely use big contrasts, like black and white, in my work), but I still felt relatively in control and comfortable because I could work with materials and tools that I knew and liked.

Happy with the result? Yep, I’m pretty happy with the result, although when I get around to making the larger piece there are definitely things that I will change based on what I learned here.

What did I learn? I used this challenge as a chance to try out some ideas that I’ve got kicking around in my head for a larger piece that would be part of the climate change series I’m working on. I’ve never done a test piece / study before, so I found it challenging figuring out how to approach it (i.e., determining what, specifically, I wanted to test out for the bigger piece): Am I supposed to replicate the whole thing, just in miniature? Do just one portion of it? Take some materials and styles for a spin? I opted for the last one, taking the opportunity to work with coal for the first time and play around with size and spacing a bit. The coal wasn’t nearly as difficult to work with as I anticipated (although it was just as messy as I thought it would be!), and I’m looking forward to using it again when I do the larger mosaic. Because I favour gradual, easy transitions, I found it quite challenging to work in black and white, particularly on such a small scale. I’m not sure I really learned how to navigate these contrasts in a confined space, but I did learn that it’s tough and that it’s something I can work on in the future.

Coal is actually kind of pretty, isn't it?

Coal is actually kind of pretty, isn’t it?


Mosaic workout challenge, week 2: Switcheroo

Ugh. Week 2’s challenge kicked my butt. It was all about using materials you don’t normally use, which, for me, meant shelving my beloved rocks and reaching for the ceramic and <insert look of terror and dread> vitreous tile. While I can get on board with ceramic (if I must), vitreous tile is my kryptonite. I just find it so uninspiring and I get no joy out of working with it. Even though what I made is probably only a quarter vitreous, I still hated every minute of it. Each and every piece felt like a struggle. But anyway, enough whining and complaining, here’s what I made.

"Over/under" - a tortured process, but full of lessons learned, so all is not lost!

“Over/under” – a tortured process, but full of lessons learned, so all is not lost!

Title: Over/under

Size: 6″ x 6″

How long did it take to complete? Far too long (probably just under 5 hours)

Love or hate this workout? Hate! One of the biggest joys in mosaic, for me, is the materials I use (specifically, the rocks). While working with the ceramic was OK, the pain and frustration of working with the vitreous tile—of feeling so boxed in by those perfect, regular, uninspiring 1″x1″ squares—really coloured my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of this challenge.

Happy with the result? I don’t mind it, but it’s definitely not one of my favourite things I’ve ever made. If I had to do it all over again (heaven forbid!!), I’d tweak the pathways of a few lines and also the colour distribution.

What did I learn? Oddly enough, most of what I learned had nothing to do with materials, even though that was the focus of the challenge. On the materials side, the challenge reinforced the fact that I will continue to avoid vitreous tile at all costs. No surprises there for me. But the non-materials-related learnings / reminders were quite helpful. (1) I learned that when trying to weave lines over and under each other, working in different colours is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it’s easier to follow where the lines are going, but a curse because by removing that ambiguity of which line goes where, you can’t really fudge it. When doing this in one colour, there’s definitely more wiggle room. (2) I realized that weaving the lines is way easier when you have an irregular shape to build off of, rather than a straight edge – there are so many more potential pathways just ripe for the taking. (3) I learned that I should never finish a challenge and then go straight to bed, because, despite the fact that it might be 1:15am (which it was this week), I will lie awake in bed, nitpicking and fretting over the things I wish I had done differently. And (4) I reminded myself that sometimes I really do just need to step away instead of powering through. There are a few areas in this piece where I wish I had given myself a bit of distance and allowed myself to think things through / recalibrate before continuing. Of course, I already knew the value of doing this, it’s just sometimes easier said than done, especially after midnight when you’re not having fun and all you want to do is get it done.

PS Check out what participants made during Week 1 of the challenge.

"Over/under" detail shot

“Over/under” detail shot


Mosaic workout challenge, week 1: Found objects

The Institute of Mosaic Art is running a series of weekly mosaic workout challenges to “build your mosaic muscles, find some fresh perspective, approach mosaic from a new direction, practice your technique, make more mosaics, [and] connect with the community of fellow mosaic enthusiasts and artists.” I think it’s a fantastic idea—I already know that I work best when I can ‘warm up’ a bit first—so I’ve decided to join in the fun. I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete all the challenges, what with summer travel plans and all, but I’m going to do my best. I hit my daddy up for some scraps of wood to work on (they’d been kicking around his garage for 15 years, so I’m sure my mom was happy to see them out the door), so I’m all set! Let the workouts begin!

The challenge for week 1 was found objects. For me, this wasn’t much of a stretch. I’m forever picking up interesting things on the street and squirrelling them away, knowing that they’ll be just perfect for some future mosaic. When I read the challenge, I immediately thought of some items I had already picked up (and a concept I had already been batting around in my brain for quite some time): long thin strips of safety glass from a street around the corner from my apartment, some brick that had sheered off of a neighbourhood house over the winter, and a big rusty nut I found on my way home from work one day during the spring thaw. But then I stopped myself. If I had already been thinking of doing this, where’s the challenge? So I gave myself one day to find something on the street to incorporate. That item ended up being a bit of bike chain. R actually found it while we were out for a run. As I turned to look back and check out her find (while still running forward), I stepped in a big pile of goose poop. Sigh. Oddly enough, on our way back from the run, I found a huge length of bike chain just lying in the street, so now I’ve got lots in stock for future projects! Anyway, the chain was the found object and, in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t normally have picked it up. Of course, I also scavenged the rock myself (from around Ottawa) and the glass (from a broken table on the side of the street), but that’s not really out of the ordinary for me.

"The Missing Link" mosaic by Julie Sperling (2014) - stone from the Ottawa area, glass (from a broken table), and bike chain

“The Missing Link” (2014) – stone from the Ottawa area, glass (from a broken table), and bike chain — 4″ x 5″

We have to answer a few standard questions when we submit our mosaic for the challenge each week, so below are my answers.

Title: The Missing Link (full credit for the name goes to R)

How long did it take to complete? Just under 4 hours

Love or hate this workout? Love! This was well within my wheelhouse and aligned with what I already like doing.

Happy with the result? There are a few things I would change, but overall I’m satisfied.

What did I learn? (Or what did I learn that I need to learn?) I very readily fall back into my comfort zone and play it safe. I’m hoping that future challenges will really make me push myself (and that I’ll embrace the chance to do just that).

"The Missing Link" by Julie Sperling (2014) - stone from the Ottawa area, glass (from a broken table), and bike chain

Angle shot of “The Missing Link”


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