Tag Archives | ceramic

It’s simple chemistry: Ocean acidification is bad news

Whenever we talk about climate change, it’s only natural to focus on what happens up in the atmosphere. But climate change has an evil twin: ocean acidification (also known as “the other CO2 problem”).

By now you already know that when we burn things like coal and other fossil fuels, greenhouse gases like CO2 get released into the atmosphere. But did you know that some of that CO2 also gets absorbed by the oceans? And when that happens, it forms carbonic acid, making the oceans more acidic. Since oceans cover 70% of our little blue planet, that’s a LOT of surface area for them to come into contact with the atmosphere and for CO2 to be transferred from air to water. In fact, the oceans absorb about 25% of the CO2 we put into the atmosphere, or roughly 22 million tons per day (and have absorbed a full 50% of what we’ve emitted over the past 200 years).

Scientists used to think that the oceans were doing us a favour, climate wise, by taking in all that CO2. Taking one for the team, if you will. The warming we’re experiencing now would have been that much worse had the oceans not absorbed so much of what we’ve emitted to date. Originally, scientists thought that the ocean could play this buffering role indefinitely and self-regulate. Sadly, the scientists were wrong; the natural regulating processes in the oceans can’t keep up with the amount of CO2 being absorbed and their acidity is increasing. Today, the oceans are 30% more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution. And if emissions keep on going at their current pace, scientists predict that the oceans could be 150% more acidic by the end of the century, with a pH level that hasn’t been seen since 20 million years ago.

So what happens when the oceans get more acidic? All sorts of bad things. Species like oysters, clams, corals, and sea urchins have a really tough time building their shells. For instance, mussels and oysters are expected to produce 25% and 10% less shell, respectively, by 2100. And tiny little pea-sized sea creatures called pteropods or “sea butterflies”—the inspiration for this mosaic—are already feeling the impacts. A lot of these species are at the bottom of the food chain, and when they’re threatened, the impacts ripple and cascade through the rest of the system, right up to us, with serious implications for the food security of millions of people.

pteropod time lapse

A pteropod shell gradually dissolving over 2 months when placed in sea water with a pH equal to that predicted for the year 2100

And it’s not only shelled organisms that are feeling the impact of increasing ocean acidity; fish can also be affected. The excess acid in the ocean finds its way into their bloodstream, and they end up expending more of their energy to counter its effects and regulate the pH of their blood. That means fish have less energy to do other important things, like digesting food, fleeing from predators, hunting, and even reproducing. It can also mess with their behaviour, preventing them from hearing and avoiding predators, and actually making them bolder and more likely to venture away from shelter (thereby increasing their risk of predation), as well as compromising their ability to navigate. (And this, again, links directly to food security issues for a good chunk of the world’s population.)

"Breaking the hand that feeds us (More acidic, less viable)" (2015), 18" x 18" -- marble, ceramic, mudstone, limestone, chalk, smalti, flint, shells

“Breaking the hand that feeds us (More acidic, less viable)” (2015), 18″ x 18″ — marble, ceramic, mudstone, limestone, chalk, smalti, flint, shells

If you want the 2-minute version of the story, I’d highly suggest watching this video, courtesy of Grist. And if you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, why not settle in and let Sigourney Weaver teach you about ocean acidification?

breaking the hand - crop angle

So, I think you probably understand by now that ocean acidification is a really big deal, which is why it was important for me to include a mosaic about it in this series. As I mentioned above, the images of the dissolving pteropod were by original inspiration—after having seen them, I just couldn’t shake them. To really get into the spirit of the issue, I decided that my mosaic should include shells that had been dissolved in acid, so I ran my own little homemade ocean acidification simulation. Do you remember making naked eggs as kids? You put an egg in vinegar (which is acidic) and its shell dissolves gradually over a few days, leaving only the membrane, or a naked egg. Fun times. Well, I figured I could use the same principle on some seashells that had been donated to me in recent years. And it worked like a charm. The shells bubbled and fizzed like crazy in the vinegar, and slowly but surely dissolved. The only thing I didn’t anticipate was just how much vinegar I would need: nearly 3L. I am so very very sick of the smell of vinegar at the moment. Some of the shells that I dissolved were quite beautiful in their original state, and someone on Facebook asked if it had been tough to sacrifice those to the vinegar. It had given me pause, to be sure, but I think it only serves to reinforce the message of the mosaic: ocean acidification will wreak havoc on those things we find most dear, beautiful, and life-sustaining.

My very very favourite degraded shell in the mosaic

My very very favourite degraded shell in the mosaic

 

Oh, but these two are quite striking too...

Oh, but these two are also quite striking…

 

And then there's this one. I love how I had no idea what would happen once they went into the vinegar. The element of surprise always makes my work more fun.

And then there’s this one. I love how I had no idea what would happen once they went into the vinegar. The element of surprise always makes my work more fun.

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The atmosphere is a giant sponge: A mosaic about precipitation trends

Water. A basic necessity for life. But, as with most other things, climate change is going to mess with water too.

In general, wet areas are going to get wetter and dry areas drier (with exceptions to the rule, of course). Here’s how it works in a nutshell: A warmer atmosphere increases evaporation and is able to hold more water. So as warmer temperatures suck the moisture up into the atmosphere, which holds onto larger quantities of it for longer stretches of time, the land dries out more quickly, thereby increasing the risk and potential severity of drought. When the precipitation does eventually fall, it is with less frequency but higher intensity, resulting in, you guessed it, increased risk of flooding. In addition, warmer temperatures also mean that more precipitation falls as rain instead of snow. Less snow means a smaller snowpack, which reduces our summer water resources—normally the snow melts gradually and recharges water sources for important things like, say, agriculture. Well, not so much in the future. So, a warmer world is both wetter and drier, more drought stricken and more flood prone.

“Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.” (IPCC AR5, 2013, “The Physical Science Basis: Summary for Policy Makers“)

This mosaic is all about that growing divide between water-logged and arid regions and the fact that, when the rains do come, they won’t quench our thirst, as the deluge will simply run off our parched, sun-baked soils and endless expanses of concrete without a chance to seep in, get taken up by trees and plants, and recharge our aquifers. It’s that idea of suddenly and overwhelmingly having what you need but being unable to use it that’s behind the title of this piece: “Drinking from a firehose (Flood prone yet drought stricken).”

"Drinking from a firehose (Flood prone yet drought stricken)" mosaic by Julie Sperling about climate change and precipitation

“Drinking from a firehose (Flood prone yet drought stricken)” (2015), 19″ x 14″ — Marble, ceramic tile, mudstone, smalti, glass tile, brick, terracotta, sandstone, slate, thinset tesserae, and garden hose faucet handles

Proudly displaying my find (Not pictured: Wheels already turning in my head)

Proudly displaying my find (Not pictured: Wheels already turning in my head)

The proto-idea for the mosaic had been sitting idly in the back of my brain ever since I found the two garden hose faucet handles in an abandoned lot near my office on one of my lunchtime scavenging outings over a year ago. Yep, sometimes it takes that long (and often longer) for that seed of an idea to take root and sprout.

The idea was to have the fiery side and the watery side emerging from / spinning into the faucet handles in opposite directions. You know, turning the taps on and off. And they do rotate in different directions. But depending on whether you see them as coming out of the faucets or getting sucked into them like a drain, the drought doesn’t necessarily match up with the faucet closing and the flood with it opening (righty tighty and lefty loosey, respectively). This bugged me for a while, being the perfectionist that I am, but then I made my peace with it, embraced the ambiguity, and am now simply content that they move in different directions relative to the faucets. It is enough.

Flood

Flood

Drought

Drought

About halfway through this mosaic, it suddenly hit me: I was applying some of the things I had played with / learned during the IMA challenges. Until now, the impact of these challenges on my work had been fuzzy and intangible at best. But now here I was, weaving the lines in more than one colour and material (just like I practiced in Week 2) and also making use of negative space between the lines in the tangle (sort of like in Week 13). Now, I probably could have done this piece without the IMA challenge experience under my belt, but I like to think that in some way having gone through those challenges shaped the decisions I was making, even subconsciously, and my work was better for it.

Learning how to weave the lines over and under

Learning how to weave the lines over and under — a chronological progression

I must be a glutton for punishment, because making the lines meander and crisscross like this is certainly a challenge. Building so many lines in parallel and keeping track of each one’s direction relative to the rest of the jumble and how they’re going to go over and under each other is such a headache. And yet I love doing it. I have absolutely no plan when I set out on one of these undertakings. In many ways they are the most unpredictable of the work that I do. The lines take me on a journey and, while I may protest occasionally (“No, contrary to what you may think, dear line, I believe you really do want to veer left over here”), I generally just do their bidding. Maybe that’s why I love doing it so much: the element of surprise and the unknown keeps me engaged and on the edge of my seat.

Flood detail

Flood detail

Drought detail

Drought detail

The divide between wet and dry

The divide between wet and dry

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Proclaim your love with a semicolon

I am super late in posting this commission that I did waaaaay back in the summer. Life just kind of took over…

Anyway, some friends approached me about creating a special mosaic for them and I was only too happy to oblige. Why a semicolon, you ask? Because these two lovely ladies found love with the help of a shared appreciation for a well-placed semicolon. Not joking! And I completely understand—good grammar is sexy, people (not to mention in short supply these days)!

This project was a fun one. My favourite part is the little Pride rainbow beside the typeset letter. I have a few more of these stamps squirrelled away in my stash, and I’ve got some ideas of how to use them (still typographic in design, but perhaps a bit more abstract). Now I just need to tear myself away from my climate change work to make it happen! Too many ideas, too little time.

Semicolon mosaic by Julie Sperling

Fun with semicolons! 12.75″ x 9.25″ (2014) — cinca, ceramic tile, smalti, typeset letter

Semicolon mosaic -- lgbtq rainbow typeset letter

My favourite little detail: semicolon pride!

 

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Mosaic workout challenge, week 19: Ending

This week we had to think about endings, which is appropriate given that it was the second-last challenge.

Title: “Foiled again”

Size: 6″ x 4.25″

Materials: Smalti, tile, glass rod

How long did it take to complete? About 3.5 hours

Thoughts: I swear I had every intention of filling in the background, I really did! I even started doing it and then looked at the clock: Sunday afternoon, deadline looming… Realizing it was going to take me far too long, I ripped it out and started again with just the maze lines. Ahh negative space, how I have come to love and rely on you! When I started thinking about this prompt, I had a bunch of different ideas, but in the end I decided to just have fun with it and do something I normally wouldn’t do. So, not being big on rigid structure and right angles, I settled on the maze idea—lots of endings, opportunities for detours, etc. And yes, I realize I have absolutely no future as a maze designer – it’s so easy even a blind T-Rex could solve it in 3 seconds flat.

"Foiled again" (2014) -- 6" x 4.25", smalti, tile, glass rod

“Foiled again” (2014) — 6″ x 4.25″, smalti, tile, glass rod

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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

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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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