Tag Archives | gift

The rock fairy

Ever since I was bitten by the rock bug, people have been giving me stones (and, increasingly, rusty bits of metal) to use in my mosaics. Sometimes it’s a negotiated exchange (“I’ll send you some of mine if you send me some of yours”), sometimes people are lovely enough to think of me while they’re travelling, sometimes rocks pass through many hands before I get them (like the chunk of quartz that was from my mom’s friend’s friend), and sometimes the rock fairy just randomly shows up at my office (which ends in me going around the floor, checking with the usual suspects to see whether they were responsible for whatever goodies were left on my desk).

Sometimes friends enlist the help of their kids in gathering materials for me on their roadtrips

Sometimes friends enlist the help of their kids in gathering materials for me on their roadtrips

It’s always interesting to see what other people think will be perfect for incorporating into my work. The rocks that non-mosaic people give me are usually much different than what I would normally pick up—they tend to be rounder, smoother, and typically more aesthetically pleasing or interesting as is (think of the souvenir rocks you squirrel away in your pocket on vacation and then promptly forget about)—as opposed to the usual “workhorse” rocks that I pick up with the intention of smashing to bits. That said, I eventually find a use for the vast majority of them, which is neat because it forces me to push myself a little bit and consider new possibilities. I also love that these rocks almost always come with stories, whether spoken or unspoken, and I enjoy knowing that people have connected with them in some way—in a particular place and at a particular moment in time—before they give them to me.

"Workhorse" sandstone by way of a mosaic friend in Pennsylvania -- this is definitely more in my wheelhouse

“Workhorse” sandstone by way of a mosaic friend in Pennsylvania — this is definitely more in my wheelhouse

I have also loved putting together packages of rocks that I’ve sent off to mosaic pals and sharing a little bit of home with them. It’s fun to think that the rocks I think are perfect aren’t necessarily the ones that they’d choose for themselves, even if we both make mosaics.

Drool-worthy petrified wood from a fellow Canadian mosaic nut, which was just one of the many treasures I received in our swap

Drool-worthy petrified wood from a fellow Canadian mosaic nut, which was just one of the many treasures I received in our swap

While I may occasionally get stumped—damn you, large, perfectly round rock, you will not defeat me!—I always love it when the rock (or rusty metal) fairy visits. I get a warm fuzzy feeling when non-mosaic people go out of their way to indulge my habit, and there’s a sense of kinship, community, and connection when fellow mosaic people swap rocks with me. Either way, the rock fairy is always welcome at my place!

This perfectly round rock was the first thing to ever mysteriously appear on my desk at work

This perfectly round rock was the first thing to ever mysteriously appear on my desk at work



Introducing “River bend” … finally!

"River bend" mosaic by Julie Sperling

Nothing says “congrats on your wedding” like a mosaic

It seems that when friends and family get married, having me make a mosaic for them is a popular request. This particular wedding gift mosaic was for R’s brother and his wife, which R commissioned me to do (although I have yet to see the pay cheque…). The bride and groom gave me a list of earlier pieces of mine that they enjoyed, but essentially gave me free rein in terms of design, colours, and materials. Since the “Mississippi Meander” was on their list, I decided to go with a river theme. I’ve been planning to build a series around rivers for a while now, so this was a good chance to start doing that.

I chose a section of the Grand River that runs through Kitchener (where they live) and then stretched it to cover the substrate I was planning to use, so it’s definitely a loose interpretation of that part of the Grand. Originally, I had wanted to get rocks from their area to use, but time did not permit; instead, I used ones I had gathered here in Ottawa. I absolutely love the grey pieces that have lines in them and the ones that have a bit of orangey-brown at one end.

It was weird working on a project and not being able to post pictures / updates. I kept wanting to tell people (and by people, I mean Facebook): “I’m working, really I am! You just can’t see what I’m working on!” But now the mosaic – which I named “River bend” – is in their possession, so I can safely share pictures of it with you without ruining their surprise. Phewf!


A festive mosaic sweatshop

In our quest for meaningful, heartfelt (yet cheap) Christmas presents, R and I decided that this year we would make mosaics for our friends. Usually we do a baking marathon and give our nearest and dearest Tupperwares full of festive delicacies, but the logistics of hauling all those baked goods from Ottawa all the way back home without them getting stale or broken seemed a bit tricky. Small, stackable mosaics seemed like the way to go. As luck would have it, we came across these great little plates at The Bay (of all places!) and they were a real steal. Now all we had to do was mosaic them…

Mine came together fairly quickly because I used fairly big pieces of glass, but R was a bit more ambitious. There were a few cut fingers (mostly mine), more than a few expletives uttered out of sheer frustration (mostly hers), and 2 sore necks from bending over our projects for hours. Yes, it was a veritable Christmas mosaic sweatshop over here. Oh, and wouldn’t you know it, she hates the grouting and polishing too, so guess who got stuck doing that!

I think R did a fabulous job on her mosaics, especially considering it was her first time – she’s got a great eye (not that I’m biased or anything). I also found it really interesting to see how different our styles were.

xmas mosaics


We ♥ Jack (and Sally’s not bad either)

My brother’s fiancée is a huge Nightmare Before Christmas fan. We’re talking huge fan – she’s got more Nightmare paraphernalia than Ottawa has civil servants. So this year I decided to contribute to her collection by making her a Jack mosaic. I chose the simplest design I could find, and even once I got it drawn on the plate I had to simplify it even more – Jack’s mouth just had way too many lines! Damn him! Even though this piece was a bit of a challenge, it did have one advantage: if I can’t come up with any gift ideas for her next year, I can always follow up with a Sally mosaic!


Dabbling in 3-D

Mosaic vaseMy first multi-sided project was a vase, which was, of course, let’s say it all together: sans lip. Oh boy. By the time this project rolled around, I had finally bought my very own glass cutter and I was itching to use it. The pieces fit together pretty quickly without much cutting required, and my new glass cutter sat idly by, giving me sad, lonely, longing looks. Poor fella. Grouting proved to be even more “fun” than usual, because the grout didn’t really want to stick to the glass base. Grrrrr. Anyway, I kept at ‘er and the final product provoked a bidding war on Facebook – my first bidding war, how exciting! In the end, my best friend won out and this little guy now resides in her living room.


From big to small

Next on my list of projects was a small mirror that I made as a wedding present for a friend. It was quite a change going from doing 2 big tables to doing a small mirror. I was used to having lots of room to play with the glass, and now I felt a bit constricted. Choosing the colours is always tough, but it was especially difficult in this case because I couldn’t remember what colour scheme my friend had in her house. Thankfully I lucked out and red was a perfect choice! Other than that, there’s not much a story behind this piece, I’m afraid.

Mirror for Sharm's wedding

Mirror for Sharm’s wedding

My apologies for the rather ghetto-looking picture – back then, I was still kind of learning how to photograph my mosaics. The 2 nice pictures of my tables (as seen in my previous 2 posts) were taken years later, after I had finally figured out how to take a good picture of a piece – the original pictures of the tables were every bit as painful as this one. Alas, there was no “do over” option for the mirror since it has long been out of my possession. Seriously though, who picks an afghan as a nice, sophisticated yet simple background?? Sheesh. Highly embarrassing.


The table that started it all…

My first mosaic was a rather big project for a beginner: an Ikea coffee table that I wanted to jazz up. But before I could even begin, I hit a snag: the table resided with my partner, in Toronto, but I was an hour away in Kitchener. How to get the table without her noticing? (This was for a gift, after all, so it needed to be a surprise.) Kidnapping the table, even if accompanied by all-black attire, stealth moves, and the Mission Impossible theme, was out of the question. Since I couldn’t bring the table to the mosaic, I had to find a way to bring the mosaic to the table. The solution: daddy. My dad’s quite the genius when it comes to being handy, so I got him to make this nifty little wooden box-like cover that slid perfectly over the tabletop. Problem solved! I could work on the mosaic in Kitchener, and then transport it to Toronto once it was finished.

After finding a suitable design courtesy of the Internet (a Mayan-looking quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala), I got started. Being deathly afraid of my mom’s glass cutter, I played with her scraps as if they were a jigsaw puzzle and fit them into the design I had laid out. Mom was nice enough to cut the border for me, as well as 3 or 4 pieces that were cut to fit when I had really backed myself into a corner. Due to my inexperience, the mosaic progressed slowly. Thank goodness for good music and trashy TV! After finally glueing down the last piece, I thought I was in the clear. But alas, grouting proved to more of a pain in the ass than I had anticipated. Smushing the goop into the grooves, wiping the tiles, misting the whole thing, water-proofing it, and then finally polishing it…man, did I ever hate grouting. Still do, actually. But my patience paid off and the finished product ended up being pretty nice. Ever since then, despite the hours and hours and hours spent painstakingly putting the design together and then cleaning it all up, I’ve been hooked on mosaics.

quetzal table


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