Tag Archives | Bruce Peninsula

Melting away: A mosaic about sea ice decline

For the second mosaic in my climate change series, I decided to tackle sea ice decline. The long and the short of the trend: it doesn’t look good for sea ice, folks (or for the cryosphere in general). But don’t just take my word for it, let’s see what the smarty pants scientists from the IPCC have to say about the subject: according to them, “the current (1980–2012) summer sea ice retreat was unprecedented and sea surface temperatures in the Arctic were anomalously high in the perspective of at least the last 1450 years.” Yikes. Oh, and “a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely.” Why should you be concerned about the loss of sea ice? Well, it plays an important function in regulating the Earth’s temperature (its whiteness and shininess reflects light and heat), so without it things will get even warmer and wonkier. It’s also a key component of polar ecosystems—think of the polar bears and seals and penguins, oh my!

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Sea ice (Steady unprecedented decline)” (2014), 14.5″ x 20″
Quartz, marble, stone from Ottawa and Georgian Bay, smalti, recycled glass tile, salvaged glass table top


Yep, it’s disappearing. Source: Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science Basis (IPCC)

This particular mosaic was based on a graph of Arctic summer sea ice extent since 1900. The trendline of the mosaic is made from a big chunk of quartz that was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. It took me a while to work up the nerve to smash it to bits with my hammer, but it was either that or let it sit there and collect dust. And this just means I have room to bring in more fun materials! In terms of stone, I used a white marble tile I scored at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, along with that amazing blue stone from up near the cottage (Georgian Bay, Ontario), and the nice glittery grey layered limestone (?) and black stone from Ottawa. The glass is a mix of smalti (the various blue lines), recycled glass tile, and some chunks of a broken glass tabletop that I rescued from the curb. I like the way the stone and the clear glass play off each other, but it really was a struggle to break down the glass. I’m slowly rekindling my relationship with glass, but it needs work. I think more practice will help, because as my skills get stronger, I will be less frustrated when working with it. And I’m hoping my sweet new Japanese hammer will help…

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail)

A slightly better view of the undulations

I added some undulations to the substrate to evoke snow drifts and rolling seas. And I intentionally put some of the machined edges of the glass facing up (as opposed to the riven side) because, being so smooth, they really catch the light and look like glints of shiny snow or ice. Of course, the curves and the way the tesserae catch the light—which are my two favourite parts of this mosaic—are the hardest ones to photograph. I really had trouble getting a photo that captures the essence of this piece (I was desperately wishing my photographer friends lived closer). Perhaps it’s just one of those pieces that needs to be seen in person for the full effect. Or perhaps I just need to hone my photography skills. I suspect it’s actually a little of both.

I’m thoroughly enjoying creating this series, even though I’m only two mosaics into it. I like the idea of engaging with a subject for a prolonged period of time. I’ve already got my next two pieces ready to go in my mind, and countless other proto-ideas jotted down. Apparently climate change is the subject that, sadly, keeps on giving. In a previous post I had joked about a cheeky working title for the series, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep it as the official series title. So, it’s official: say hello to “Fiddling while Rome burns”—a series of mosaics about climate change.

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A close-up of some of the quartz pieces, and you can also see the difference between the riven and machined edges of the glass (See the run of smooth, shiny glass pieces between the two quartz chunks? Now contrast that with the riven edges of the glass three rows above.)

A front angle shot to show the topography

A front angle shot to show the topography

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (side view)

Looking back towards the top of the trend line

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail of topography and quartz)

Just a side view of the topography and the quartz sticking up, just floating along on the flowing ice and water

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

The quartz and rolling snow drifts and waves from another angle

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A look at the biggest quartz pieces in the icy, snowy top corner before they melt away…


Mosaic workout challenge, week 16: The swept floor

This week’s challenge—“The Swept Floor“—was courtesy of Margo Anton and the rules were simple: use only scraps and don’t cut any of it (use it how you discarded it).

"Glacial till" - made entirely of scraps from previous projects

“Glacial till” – made entirely of scraps from previous projects

Title: “Glacial till”

Size: 4.25″ x 4.25″

Materials: Stone, cinca, glass, quartz, shale, marble

How long did it take to complete? About 2 hours

Thoughts: Considering I got my start in mosaics using glass scrap and rarely cutting anything, this week was surprisingly challenging. I had been processing a bunch of material recently for my next non-challenge mosaic, so I saved all the offcuts to use for this piece. I just kind of threw myself into this without a game plan and ended up working in sections that were determined by material and the shape of the pieces. There are groups of tesserae in this mosaic that I really love in terms of how they play off of / relate to one another, but overall I’m not crazy about the piece. I’m finding that when I don’t put any thought into the design beforehand, the results are a crapshoot, with me ending up unsatisfied more often than not. While I don’t usually (ever?) make a detailed sketch, I do tend to mull things over for a good while before diving in. These challenges are definitely reinforcing the parts of my practice that are essential for me.

glacial till - angle


“Lifecycle” – the mosaic that brightened a crummy week

"Lifecycle" mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Lifecycle” (2013) – stones and fossil from the Bruce Peninsula, 8″ x 22″

I’ve always heard about how art can be therapeutic, and while I’ve always believed it, I’ve never actually experienced it. I guess I’ve been quite lucky so far in my life to have only mosaicked in the good times, not the bad. Well, recently I had a pretty crummy week. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it really was a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad” week. I kept thinking, “Man, I bet sitting down in my studio and immersing myself in art would make me feel better.” But inertia and exhaustion kept getting the better of me. Finally, after a few days, I managed to drag myself into the studio and this mosaic is what emerged. And then I emerged, feeling more clear-headed, light-hearted, and energized.

The stones are the ones I gathered at the cottage and were really fun to use. The red and blue ones were a bit challenging to work with. They cut fairly easily (in terms of the power required), but there were lots of hidden fault lines in them, so they had a tendency to break in unexpected places.

I took my inspiration from wood grain. The name is kind of hard to explain. Maybe I don’t need to. Something about the fossil and how it seems to be nested, like a little seed, in the folds of time. Something about the contrast of the organic, living nature of wood and the life once contained in whatever that fossil once was…

Anyway, writing this post, I was reminded of the following passage from Neil Gaiman’s brilliant commencement address to the 2012 graduating class of The University of the Arts:

“You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn’t matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.”

"Lifecycle" mosaic by Julie Sperling - detail shot

I just love this fossil. Love it.


Stocking up for winter

Now that fall has officially arrived, I’ve been getting a little twitchy about stockpiling enough rock to get me through the winter. Don’t get me wrong, my shelves are anything but bare, yet I still keep asking myself “Will it be enough?” Luckily, I had a chance to do a whole lot of rock foraging this September when my brother and I, our spouses, and my parents all went up to our family cottage (up on the Bruce Peninsula) for some quality time in celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.

Over the course of 3 outings, I managed to collect pretty close to 100 pounds of stone. The first day we just stuck around the cottage, so I collected lots of really nice cream-coloured rock, which has a bit of a sparkle to it when it’s cut open, right out front by the water. Everyone was keen to help me build my pile, but I think they got a bit discouraged by my rejection rate (don’t worry, they caught on fairly quickly).

Outings two and three were both at Cape Chin, because I have always loved the blue and red rocks there. R and I both rocked a backpack on the first Cape Chin outing and were hunched over from the weight of our haul by the time we made our way back to the car, but I was flying solo on day 2 at the Cape (R came with me, but got lost in her book while I explored). The backpack I used was my dad’s totally vintage one from his European adventures in the sixties – it still had his childhood address written on the tag inside! It was the BEST rock scavenging backpack ever – I think it was the external frame (and vintage appeal, obviously) that made it so awesome. Aside from the red and blue rock, I also managed to find quite a few fossils at Cape Chin (which I’m planning on using as focal points eventually) and some really nice layered rock, which I’m guessing is limestone of some sort.

Back at the cottage, I set about giving all the rocks a good cleaning out on the deck. Everything was going swimmingly until I looked over at a pile of red rocks that I had just washed and set out to dry in the sun… What was once a pile of 5 or 6 stones was now a pile of waayyy more smaller red rocks. Just the act of dunking them in water had caused them to fracture into smaller pieces! (The same was true, I later discovered, for the blue stone.) No more washing for either of those! I later tested them to see whether the moisture from the thinset would have the same result, but luckily they held their form and didn’t crack, so I can still use the red and blue guys in mosaics <insert big sigh of relief>

It was really nice to be able to spend some good chunks of time looking for rocks and not feel rushed — really being able to feel the place, enjoy the sun and the fresh air, get to know the local stones, and then carefully select the ones that would make the journey home with me.


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