Tag Archives | hammer & hardie

Getting to know the rocks in my neighbourhood

Pretty typical of what's around here. This is at the pocket park right by my work.

Pretty typical of what’s around here. This is at the pocket park right by my work.

So far, spring and summer have been wet, which has foiled the vast majority of my attempts to go out rock hunting. The best I’ve been able to manage is a few lunchtime jaunts to that pocket park where I got the black rock for “Grounded” or a nearby section of the riverfront trail, which is fine except for the fact that it’s teeming with civil servants at lunchtime and I feel very self-conscious picking rocks with everyone watching. I also managed to get out once (seriously, only once – and even then there were thunderclouds looming) one weekend to a little island that I thought would have great scavenging opportunities, which it did, although those opportunities will probably be better once the water levels are a bit lower and more of the shoreline is exposed.

I feel like I’m riding a very steep learning curve. I’m slowly getting to know what kinds of rock my hammer and hardie can handle, both in terms of type and thickness. I’m finding that the stuff I can get through here is maybe one-third of the thickness of the rocks I was easily breaking with my hammer and hardie at Touchstone. Even though I take my mini-sledge with me whenever possible to crack stones open and get a sense of whether I’ll be able to cut them at home, I still manage to lug plenty of really hard, ‘uncuttable’ stone back home with me. Like I said, learning curve.

I haven’t actually busted out my rock identification kit yet (best garage-sale find of the season!), so I don’t know the names of the rocks, but that’s coming. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve found limestone. Lots of limestone. And maybe a wee bit of sandstone. Oooh, and so many fossils and neat quartz (?) formations. Those aren’t going to get chopped up – I’ll just incorporate them into mosaics “as is”.

Awww yeah - rock and mineral identification sets from the Geological Survey of Canada (from way back in 1966!)

Awww yeah – rock and mineral identification sets from the Geological Survey of Canada (from way back in 1966!)

The palette here is so different than what we worked with at Touchstone. Definitely more monochrome – lots of black and grey. I’m starting to appreciate the subtleties of the rocks, rather than pining for the colour range of the Pennsylvania sandstone: the black rocks with tiny pockets of quartz or what looks like flecks of metallic mineral, the grey layered rocks with greenish lines running through them, the (other) grey rocks with a orangey-brown layer on one side…

These rocks cut differently than the Pennsylvania sandstone (duh, obviously). I’m resigning myself to the fact that I inevitably end up with much more regular cubes, smoother surfaces, and sharper angles than with the sandstone. I’m trying to think in terms of what I can do with the stones to bring out their innate qualities – let them do what they want to do – rather than forcing them to conform to what I want to do. It’s all about give and take and letting the spirit of the place imbue my work. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I’m working on it.

So for now it’s all about playing around and getting familiar with the materials that surround me. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative going forward, because I’ve got to build up a nice little stockpile of rock before the winter sets in. I like that there’s a seasonal dimension to this process – it just further reinforces the connection to place.

Look at all these fun rocks!

Look at all these fun rocks!


What lies beneath our feet: Look what I made!

I’m super excited to show you guys what I made at mosaic camp. It is decidedly better than what I used to make at camp – anyone remember gimp bracelets?? Of all the mosaics I’ve made before, this one is the purest and most accurate expression of me. I felt completely connected to this piece as I was making it. Is it perfect? Nope, not by any stretch of the imagination. And yet I love it. It might actually be my favourite piece to date, not because of how it looks, but because I love what it represents (more on that in Post #3).

sandstone mosaic

“Grounded” – made during Rachel Sager’s “What lies beneath our feet” workshop at Touchstone Center for Crafts

So how did this piece come to be? Well, the palette was determined by the rocks I collected. I had no idea what I’d have to work with until we got back to the studio and started breaking them open. A lot of my classmates had quite the range of colours in the rocks they had picked up, but I happened to end up with a bit more of a subtle palette. (Not complaining at all about that – just stating a fact.) I had also brought some stones from home to play with, which I had collected from a pocket park just around the corner from where I work in Gatineau, QC.

There were lots of extra goodies available to use in our mosaics – smalti, shale, coal, tile, etc., but I made the decision early on that I only wanted to work with materials I had gathered myself. This was a workshop about sourcing your own local stone, so I wanted to take that quite literally and really connect with the materials. The other rule I set for myself was that I wanted to use only my hammer and hardie. No nippers.

I had no plan for this mosaic; it was completely an intuitive exploration. All I knew was that I wanted to work on ‘line’. Everything flowed from the focal point I chose – that lovely red stone. I have no idea what kind of stone it is, but I loved it from the instant I found it. I decided there was no point in trying to chop it up because it looked quite layered and was harder than the sandstone (it almost looked clay-like). Definitely wouldn’t break well. So…instant focal point!

I started working down from the red stone, using the slant of its outer edges as my general directional guide but letting the lines split and meander as they wanted to. I was immediately drawn to this greenish-grey stone (that had been particularly unwilling to break open for me), which I paired with a subtle yellow I had found. Of course, other colours worked their way in here and there, not really because of any conscious aesthetic choice, but more to do with the fact that I had previously mixed all my different stones together (oops!). I left the edges uneven and loose (a) because I had never done that before and (b) because I thought it went well with the organic feel that was emerging in the piece.

I had no idea where I was going to go after I finished that initial section. Would I switch directions and add in some horizonal(ish) lines? Have everything just radiate from that red stone? Introduce more focal points? And what about colours? Gah! Too much thinking. I just went with my gut, which was telling me: strip it down, keep it simple. So I just let everything keep running diagonally, but introduced some red at the top (because there were some red/white stones in my pile that I thought were quite beautiful) and black at the bottom, which is the stuff that came from Canada. [Side note: it was neat to feel the difference between the two kinds of stone when I was cutting them. The stuff from home was much harder and had a nice clean (and entirely satisfying) snap to it when it broke, whereas the sandstone was like butter.] There were some very jagged and irregular blue stones with a nice rusty orange-red that I really really wanted to incorporate, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t make it work. Anything I tried just felt forced. But fear not, I did bring them home with me (the only ones that made the journey back) and hopefully they’ll make their way into a future piece.

This mosaic was all about simplicity and understatedness. There’s a quietness and calmness about it that I think really reflects both my personality and the meditative space I was in when I was creating it. I felt both rooted and connected while making it, so I’ve decided to title it “Grounded.” Like I said, this is the most ‘me’ piece I have ever made. Expect more things like this from me in the future, because this just felt right.


Finding my groove with the “Doodle bug”

This was a nice little transition piece to do. The simple design and small size gave me a chance to get reacquainted with my hammer and hardie and nippers, as well as get some practice using thinset. I’ll be honest, I was NOT loving the thinset and could frequently be heard pining for my Weldbond (oh Weldbond, Weldbond, wherefore art thou Weldbond?).

The piece was inspired by a little graffiti doodle I saw on the mean streets of Gatineau, Québec (where I work), hence the name “Doodle bug.” The original doodle disappeared long ago, as graffiti is wont to do, but this little stone and glass rendition is here to stay. I’m also pleased to report that this guy quickly found a new home with a young couple expecting their first child.

"Doodle bug" (2013) - Mexican smalti, marble, and vitragota on a repurposed cabinet face

“Doodle bug” (2013) – Mexican smalti, marble, and vitragota on a repurposed cabinet face


The doodle bug is ready for his close-up!

The doodle bug is ready for his close-up!



Artist, know thyself

Over the past year or so, I’ve been slowly expanding my mosaic horizons – taking classes as the opportunities present themselves and exploring new tools and materials. Having worked with stained glass for so long, it’s been really nice to branch about and try new things. I have discovered that I love smalti and natural stone, especially when I use my hammer and hardie to cut it, but I have also discovered that I don’t particularly care for working with vitreous tile or using thinset directly as my adhesive (oh Weldbond, how I love thee).

At first I was a bit disappointed in myself for these new-found dislikes. I mean, if I’m an aspiring mosaic artist (craftsperson? artisan? still need to sort that one out…), shouldn’t I love it all? But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it’s all just part of finding my ‘voice’ and knowing myself. I’m glad I’ve dabbled in vitreous tile and thinset, because who knows when a project will come up where they’re just the material that I need. They’re in my repertoire now, but they won’t be my trusted or beloved go-to items.

And with that, I give you the first mosaic (and hopefully the last, at least for a good long while) that I have done with vitreous tile. The design is based on a kind of data visualization called a chord diagram, which I think is used a lot (but not exclusively) in genetics. Truth be told, I don’t really know much about the technical side of graphs and data vizzes (or really how to read most of them), but I do enjoy them from a purely aesthetic perspective.

Sadly, there were a lot of leftover tiles from this project… *sigh*


Introducing Leonard the log!

After taking the introductory Roman mosaics class and falling hopelessly in love with the hammer and hardie, I immediately began my search for a log in which to embed my hardie.

Walking around the neighbourhood, I made a mental note of all the trees marked with the bright red “X” that means they’re destined to be chopped down. I knew it was a long shot, but I thought maybe, just maybe, I would happen to wander by at the exact moment that a crew was cutting down a tree and would be able to convince them to give me a small log. Well, that never happened. But here’s what did happen:

While biking through the city to meet up with some friends, I happened upon a pickup truck loaded with manageable rounds of wood from what looked like a freshly felled tree. I stopped, got off my bike, and went over to the truck. Nobody was there. I waited for almost 15 minutes, hoping the truck’s owner would return. Alas. Reluctantly, I carried on my now not-so-merry way, sad to be walking away from such a prime find.

I told my two friends the story of my search for a log and about the truck I had just passed. They wanted to help. As we parted ways, one asked: “Do you want us to come back to the truck with you since we have a car?” I told her not to worry about it – the truck was probably gone by now anyway. So I hopped on my bike and headed for home.

And…you guessed it: the truck (and its load of logs) was still there!

This, I convinced myself, was a sign from the universe. I was meant to have a log from that truck. It was now dark out, and taking a log from the back of a pickup truck didn’t seem quite as bad as it had in broad daylight. It was just one little log among many, and it was probably just destined for the fireplace or the wood chipper anyway. However, there was just one problem: there was no way I could carry it on my bike. I paused for just a heartbeat, then did a u-turn and booted it back to where my friends were parked.

“Please let them still be there. Please let them still be there,” I panted, biking as fast as I could. As I approached where we had parted ways, they were just pulling out of their parking spot. I manoeuvred my bike alongside their car and waved frantically. They saw me and waved a friendly wave back, as if to say “Oh hey, there’s Julie. Hi Julie!”. They didn’t understand! Their car pulled ahead slightly and I dug deep, willing myself to go faster. As I came up beside the car again, I waved my arm to get their attention again and then did the universal ‘roll down your window’ sign, at which point I shouted breathlessly, “It’s still there!!! Help?!”

Being the dears they are, they turned around and followed me back to the truck. With a bit of muscle and a lot of teamwork, we liberated my chosen log, which then travelled with my friends back to their place. A few weeks later, we met up again and they brought my log, which they had christened Leonard. Len and I then made the trip back to my place by bus. My arms nearly fell off in the process – he’s a hefty chunk of wood – but we made it.

Leonard in his natural state

After letting him dry out a bit beside the rad, I gave him a good sanding on the top and bottom and then, finally, screwed up the courage to drill the hole for the hardie. I didn’t really have the proper tools, but I made do with a regular drill, a hammer, and a big screwdriver. (A drill with a much larger bit, plus a mallet and chisel, would probably have been a bit more ideal.)

Len after his sanding. Looking good, Len!

I’ve since taken Leonard out for a test drive on some marble subway tiles I picked up at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Pretty slick! I have the feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

Here’s Leonard, all decked out. (The hardie wasn’t embedded quite deeply enough at this point, but I could stop myself from snapping a pic during one of the pauses in my drilling / chipping!


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