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Mosaic workout challenge, week 14: Joy

This week was another theme challenge from a guest artist (Laurel True), who challenged us to think about how we express joy in mosaic.

"Break through" and jump for joy!

“Break through” and jump for joy!

Title: “Break through”

Size: 6″ x 4.25″

Materials: Smalti, ceramic tile, vitreous tile, and skateboard

How long did it take to complete? About four hours

Thoughts: When I read the prompt for this week, I immediately thought of bright colours and upward movement. I chose the skateboard pieces for their angles and because I liked the playful, energetic jumble they created. The rest of it looked a bit different in my head, but I backed myself into some corners, design wise, by trying to use up materials that had been kicking around my shelf for far too long and others that I already had cut. I also didn’t have a lot of each material cut, and I really noticed what an impact it had on my lines—they really are better when I have a big selection of tesserae to choose from. This week, for me, was also a lesson in just letting go and recognizing that sometimes it’s perfectly OK to allow a piece to be what it’s going to be once it starts diverging from the vision I have in my head (and other times it is worth fighting to get a project back on track and more aligned with what is in my head). It’s all about picking my battles.

A better shot of the angles of the skateboard pieces

A better shot of the angles of the skateboard pieces


Mosaic workout challenge, week 13: Animate

I’m baaa-aaaack! Wow, after doing these challenges for 11 weeks straight, it certainly felt weird to skip a week, but I think I have a good excuse: I was in Chicago taking Verdiano Marzi’s class (I kept joking that I was going to tell Sophia that Verdiano Marzi ate my homework). This week’s challenge—“Animate“—was from a guest artist, Delaine Hackney, and was an exploration of how to use colour, materials, and flow to give a sense of animation.

tendril - full 2

Title: “Tendril”

Size: 5″ x 6″

Materials: Smalti and, uhh, a lot of thinset

How long did it take to complete? About three hours

Thoughts: I made some strategic decisions this week because I was short on time and energy, and yet still wound up needing 3 hours even with all that negative space. Sigh. It took me quite a while to land on how I was going to tackle this challenge. When I started thinking about movement and life and energy, for some reason I was drawn to the idea of working with a simple line that increasingly gets more and more animated / lively. I wish I had had a longer substrate, as that would’ve given me more room to progress from calm to crazy (the transition seems a bit abrupt to me in this piece, especially when compared to the vision I had in my head). I also took the opportunity to push myself to cut smaller pieces, which I struggle with, especially when using smalti (verdict: still struggling) and to work in a thicker bed of thinset (verdict: still feels weird and needs work). Anyway, I kind of like how the finished product is also kind of reminiscent of roots or veins or lungs – adds a whole other layer to “animate”.

A parting close-up shot of "Tendril"

A parting close-up shot of “Tendril”


Mosaic workout challenge, week 11: Making copies

This week’s prompt was so terrifying that I nearly bailed. We were supposed to find a mosaic by another artist that we loved and reproduce a small part of it. Yikes. Oh, and of course I was short on time again. But instead of bailing, I had a Tim Gunn moment, modified the prompt, and made it work for me. You might call that cheating, but I prefer “creatively bending the rules.” This is how it all went down…

Title: “Favourite spot”

Size: 4.25″ x 6″

Materials: Smalti, glass rods, stained glass

How long did it take to complete? About two hours

Thoughts: I just couldn’t bring myself to copy someone else’s work (especially if I had to post a picture of it after)—so intimidating!—so I modified the challenge slightly and instead made a mosaic in the style of an artist whose work I adore. I drew my inspiration from Luca Barberini‘s Via di Roma 136 series, which I have long admired. What makes these mosaics so appealing to me is the way Barberini conveys so much life and character with just a few perfectly imperfect tesserae. I love his whimsical glimpses into the everyday. Now, ever since these challenges started, R has had her fingers crossed for a portraiture challenge (PLEASE NO!!!) and she keeps joking with me that I should do a portrait of our miniature schnauzer, Dexter. While a realistic portrait of dear ol’ Dex is firmly outside my current (and probably even future) abilities, I decided that perhaps I could render his likeness à la Barberini and score some major points with R. And while it’s clear that I am no Luca Barberini, I did try to channel his simplicity and ease, and was surprised by how much you can communicate or suggest just with a few pieces of glass.

"Favourite spot" -- our dog Dex, immortalized in mosaic (he couldn't care less, he only has eyes for the fire hydrant)

“Favourite spot” — our dog Dex, immortalized in mosaic (he couldn’t care less, he only has eyes for the fire hydrant)


Dexter approves!

Dexter approves!




Mosaic workout challenge, week 10: Redux

This week marked the halfway point—10 weeks out of 20—and we had a chance to go back and fix past mistakes. It was a do-over / catch-up week and it was much appreciated!

Title: “An acquired taste”

Size: 4.25″ x 4.25″

Materials: Stone, smalti, and gin bottle

How long did it take to complete? About two and a half hours

Thoughts: I was so happy to have a chance to go back and redo a challenge that I wished I had done differently. I knew immediately that I wanted to revisit last week’s challenge (“When life gives you lemons…”) and try a more appropriate thinset colour. I’m much happier with the results of this week’s challenge—that green glass is popping now! The name is a nod to both gin and thinset, the latter because that’s the mistake I was fixing and because it took me quite a while to learn to love working with thinset.

"An acquired taste" -- stone, smalti, gin bottle, 4.25" x 4.25"

“An acquired taste” — stone, smalti, gin bottle, 4.25″ x 4.25″



Mosaic workout challenge, week 8: Time

Week 8 was all about “time.” We had two options: we could either make a mosaic about time, or we could set the timer for 60 minutes and race against the clock (and go for as many rounds as we wanted). I chose the latter, because I liked the idea of throwing caution to the wind and just going for speed (which is pretty much unheard of in mosaic). The challenge brief specifically stated, and I quote: “I am granting myself, and all of you, permission to make ugly things this week.” I really took that to heart. This was all about the process, playing around, and making decisions on the fly. No over-thinking, no planning, no pulling up pieces or adjusting them until they’re “just so”… just sticking stuff down and seeing where it took me. I was totally OK with making something ugly, right up until the moment I had to post a picture of it, and now I feel very exposed. Oh well, on with the show!

"A cautionary tale" -- this is what happens when you just plunge right in and go for speed, not beauty.

“A cautionary tale” — this is what happens when you just plunge right in and go for speed, not beauty.

Title: “A cautionary tale”

Size: 6″ x 6″

Materials: Marble, limestone, ceramic tile, unglazed porcelain, smalti, glass rods, tumbled stones, beads, safety glass, beach glass, scrap glass from glassblowing workshop

How long did it take to complete? Three one-hour sessions…ready, set, go!

Thoughts: Wow. I took the time trial option and this challenge was the most fun I’ve had so far. It was really nice to not have any pressure and to just make something for the sake of making something, end result be damned! Instead of prepping 3 small substrates as suggested, I decided to divide one substrate into three general areas. I grabbed a very eclectic selection of leftovers from my shelf and put them in three piles (one palette for each one-hour session). Each section started with a chunk of glass, but after that it was all left to chance / instinct. I didn’t plan anything in advance, and I enforced a strict “laid is played” policy. The end result looks so different from my usual work. Lots more materials, lots more noise. I noticed that with the clock ticking, I tended to shorten my lines (which are normally long and gentle). Anyway, it’s neat that each of the 3 sections—cream, white, and grey—actually has its own personality. I named this piece “A cautionary tale” because it has served to remind me of the importance of both play and planning. This craziness that I created is the result of zero planning, but oh what fun I had making it!

One more view of the crazy mess I created...

One more view of the crazy mess I created…


Mosaic workout challenge, week 4: Monochrome

Last week we played with black and white (don’t forget to check out what people made), this week we got to play with colour. But only one! Yep, we had to pick one hue and run with it. Yikes. I’m so clueless when it comes to colour, and I also don’t tend to keep a big assortment of colours in stock, given that I tend toward rocks. What I did seem to have in abundance, oddly enough, was orange. And so my choice was made for me!

"Dry spell" -- terracotta, brick, smalti, and vitrogota

“Dry spell” — terracotta, brick, smalti, and vitrogota

Title: Dry spell

Size: 5″ x 4.125″

How long did it take to complete? About 3.5 hours

Love or hate this workout? This one kind of terrified me because I don’t work in colour very much (other than muted earth tones). In the end, it wasn’t too painful :-)

Happy with the result? I was short on time this week, so I just kind of threw myself into this one without really any planning at all. I like the result well enough, but there are some things about the lines that bug me (more specifically, I wish they echoed the soft triangular shape of the vitrogota better).

What did I learn? The hardest part was selecting the palette, which, I recognize, was the point of the challenge. I got as far as ‘orange(ish)’, and then was kind of stumped in terms of finding the various shades, tints, and tones – this was owing to both my limited stock and my limited knowledge of colour. Some of my initial selections had a bit more of a yellow hue to them and then I got paranoid that I wasn’t really following the rules of the challenge. As a result, my palette didn’t end up being really varied (within my chosen hue) and I ended up playing around with texture more than colour. Oops. So key lesson: I need to do some book learnin’ about—and experimenting with—colour.

dry spell - detail


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!


Craving colour: The urge to create “Incendio”

The fire hose cap that helped satisfy my craving for colour. (Found in Ottawa's Chinatown.)

The fire hose cap that helped satisfy my craving for colour. (Found in Ottawa’s Chinatown.)

Lines of colour and energy

Lines of colour and energy

Every once in a while, I’ll come across some fun little trinket that I think has the potential to be incorporated into a future mosaic. Such was the case with the fire hose cap that was the starting point for “Incendio,” which I found on the street one sunny day around Thanksgiving when R and I were out with Dexter for a walk.

Most of these little doodads sit for months (or even years) on my shelf, waiting for just the right concept to pop into my head. Not the case with the hose cap. When I picked it up, I thought I’d just pop it in the bin with all the other interesting finds until I had a use for it. But after finishing “Lifecycle”, which eased me into a much-needed calm, zen-like state and helped me find my centre again, I was suddenly craving colour and energy.

And thus emerged “Incendio”. I grabbed some smalti from the shelf, chopped up some of that fabulous matte black stone from the banks of the Ottawa River (man, I love that stuff!), and away I went. I didn’t have much of a plan. Just followed my gut. Colour and energy.

Full credit for the name goes to R. We were sitting on the couch, just bouncing names around, and I was having such trouble coming up with something. All of a sudden she just said, “Why not ‘Incendio’?” It’s funny how you just know when you hit on the right name – it just clicks. (And thank goodness, because this piece was dangerously close to being called “Solar flare”, which was the best I could do.)

"Incendio" (2013) -- stone from the banks of the Ottawa River, smalti, and a fire hose cap, 12" x 12"

“Incendio” (2013) — stone from the banks of the Ottawa River, smalti, and a fire hose cap, 12″ x 12″


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.



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!


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