Tag Archives | pennsylvania

Temperature’s rising: Embarking on a series devoted to climate change

I have just begun a new series dedicated to climate change. I won’t get into my motivations behind the series in this post, because I’m planning on doing a post exclusively on the ‘why’ of the series in the near future. Instead, this post will explore the first mosaic of the series.

It seemed like a no-brainer to start a climate change series with a mosaic based on rising global temperatures. The actual inspiration for this piece was the graph below, taken from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (essentially, a really really big report that contains the most up-to-date, reliable climate science available). I won’t get into the nitty gritty of the graph, but basically it shows that global temperatures are going up.

The verdict: It's getting warmer.

The verdict: It’s getting warmer. (Source: IPCC, “Climate change 2013: The physical science — Summary for policymakers”)

It actually took me quite a while to fiddle with my palette and figure out how exactly I wanted to execute the piece. The stones I used were from the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario (the white and red ones), Pennsylvania (the yellow stuff), and Kamouraska, Quebec (the thin jagged ones I used for the trend line). The yellowish sandstone has a lot of mica in it, which is fun to look at up close but ridiculously hard to photograph (at least with my meager photographic skills).

"Heat (Each decade hotter than the last)" - mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Heat (Each decade hotter than the last)” (2014) — stone from Ontario, Quebec, and Pennsylvania, and a flue damper, 16.25″ x 24.25″

The metal circle in the bottom corner is a rusty old flue damper that I found in my daddy’s garage. I figured it was an appropriate sort of thing to include in this piece, since it’s used to control the air flow (and therefore temperature) in a wood-burning stove.

Daddy's garage is full of old treasures like this flue damper. I love that it's from Guelph, Ontario (close to where I grew up)

Daddy’s garage is full of old treasures like this flue damper. I love that it’s from Guelph, Ontario (close to where I grew up)

My favourite thing about this piece is the trend line. I love how the thin stones echo the annual variations shown in the graph, yet, when taken as a whole, clearly show an upward trend. These thin stones were actually a last-minute substitution. I had originally planned to do the trend line in terracotta (thinking the colour was appropriate for the subject matter), but there was something about it that just wasn’t sitting right with me. I’ve been learning the value of giving myself some distance when I’m unsure about something, so I let it percolate in the back of my head for a few days and eventually landed on the thin Quebec stones.

"Heat (Each decade hotter than the last)" - detail shot. Mosaic by Julie Sperling.

A view of the flue damper over the rugged topography of the trend line

"Heat (Each decade hotter than the last)" - detail shot. Mosaic by Julie Sperling.

The trend line from another angle, heading up, up, and away.

I am really excited about this series (I’ve already got ideas for at least 5 or 6 other pieces bouncing around in my head) and I’m looking forward to explaining my motivations in a future post. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of “Heat (Each decade hotter than the last)”.

"Heat (Each decade hotter than the last)" - detail shot. Mosaic by Julie Sperling.

One last parting shot of the flue damper and trend line


1-day quickies: “Pulse” and “Fault Line”

I did these two mosaics — “Pulse” and “Fault Line” — in a mad sprint to the finish. I wanted to finish them quickly so I could drop them off, along with “Thaw” and “Harvest“, at The Studio : Boutique as we were passing through Carleton Place on our way to Kitchener for R’s brother’s wedding. So I banged these out over the course of two consecutive weekends, each one taking a few hours of concentrated work.

“Pulse” is made of marble subway tiles from the ReStore, as well as leftover smalti from “Punctuated Equilibrium” (just used on its side rather than standing on end). “Fault Line” used up all the rusty blue stone that I brought back from Pennsylvania (Booo! Wish I had more of that stuff!), and then some brick that had sheered off one of the houses on my block. Neither mosaic was the result of extensive planning — I let the pieces determine the path of the focal line of each mosaic, and then just built the rest from there. This is one of the things I love most about mosaics, just letting the tesserae take me on an adventure. It’s like reading a really good book, in that you’re always itching to turn the page, lay down the next tesserae, in order to find out what happens next.



What lies beneath our feet: Wayfinding and the road ahead

I think that perhaps by now you’ve gotten a sense that mosaic camp had a pretty profound impact on me. So now it’s time to try to articulate what it all means. It’s actually kind of challenging to find the right words to adequately convey how pivotal and amazing this experience was for me. Over the course of this post, there will likely be ramblings and digressions, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

mosaic hardie in logIt’s hard to explain what this workshop meant to me without first understanding where I was in my relationship with mosaic. My early work with glass got me hooked on mosaic in terms of putting things together to form a cohesive whole. My brain works well that way, so it was natural that I should gravitate to mosaic. But the material and tools just didn’t do it for me. So I explored. I took a few classes and found out I didn’t like tile (neither vitreous nor ceramic), but that I did quite enjoy smalti and stone. Most importantly, I discovered my love for my hammer and hardie. But as I moved into these new materials, it felt like I was still missing a piece of the puzzle. I enjoyed the craftsmanship that went into each piece – I love working with my hands and creating something tangible – but I was still just a wee bit unsatisfied. I think that maybe I found the materials, although lovely, a bit uninspiring and sterile. Everything in neat cubes and rods and squares. It felt restrictive. I think it’s fair to say that prior to the workshop at Touchstone, I was in an uneasy transition period. I was still searching for my niche.

Now, I have long been a fan of Rachel Sager‘s work. It just speaks to me. I love the organic, almost eroded feel to it, and I definitely connect with the subject matter. I had a feeling that I would really enjoy taking a workshop with her, but I had no idea how transformational it would be. Seriously guys, this workshop was a game changer for me. It was the perfect course at the perfect time. The whole weekend I felt both euphoric and at peace. It was such a strange combination of feelings. I couldn’t make sense of it at the time, but now I know it was the result of finally finding my path. My previous restlessness had morphed into a peacefulness, a feeling like all was right with the world. And that made me so incredibly happy.

Maybe it’s my background in geography, but everything about the process we learned made my heart sing: the sense of place and connection, the dialogue with both nature and the materials, and the feeling of adventure and exploration that permeated the whole process. It all spoke to my soul. It was exactly what I had been searching for. Over the course of the weekend, Rachel kept returning to the themes of independence and freedom. I can think of no better way to describe how this workshop and this process made me feel.

I have always been uncomfortable calling myself an artist. I’ve always seen myself more as a maker, craftsperson, or artisan. But, oddly enough, when I was making “Grounded“, I felt (for the first time ever) like maybe I could eventually grow into the label of “artist”. It’ll probably take a while, but I think it’s an indication that I’m on the right path. [Complete aside: two people have already asked me if “Grounded” is for sale. You might think I’m crazy, but I’ve told them it isn’t. It’s just such a pivotal and emotional piece for me – I’m not ready to let it go yet. Maybe not ever. I never feel like this about any of my work. I’m always thrilled when it can go find a new home. But this piece is different.]

It feels exceedingly good to finally have direction. To feel that passion and fire. I was still bouncing off the walls for days after I got home. Poor R tells me I didn’t even look at her for 2 days – that’s how wrapped up in the experience I still was. I want a future (like, a full-time future) in mosaic where stone features prominently. Saying that is both exhilarating and terrifying. I still have a really really long way to go, and I know it isn’t going to happen overnight. But I’ll be patient and play the long game and keep chipping away at developing my skills and my voice. And then maybe one day…!

post-touchstone fb status

Music plays a big part in my life and ties me to moments in space and time. I often deliberately pick a song to act as a soundtrack for big events (like last days on the job, embarking on big trips, etc.). I’ll play it over and over to cement that feeling in my head and heart, and then whenever I hear it I’ll be transported back to that moment. Naturally, I chose a song to remember my experience in Rachel’s class. I hadn’t listened to any music at camp, swapping my ipod for the chirping of birds, the rustling of trees, and the babbling of the stream. When I got back to civilization and began my music-starved hunt for the perfect ‘theme song’, I went directly to Josh Ritter. I think his “Lark” pretty much embodies my experience at mosaic camp. The lightness of the music and some of the lyrics correspond perfectly with how I felt – like there was a “lark in my heartbeat.”


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.


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