Tag Archives | tile

False debate: A mosaic celebrating the scientific consensus on climate change

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. In the words of the latest IPCC report: “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.” And yet people still seem to think there’s a debate about whether or not climate change is (a) occurring and (b) caused by human activity. This manufactured debate is courtesy of a handful of powerful corporations whose wealth is inextricably tied to the fossil fuel industry and who are able to exert a disproportionate amount of influence on the media and politicians. The result is public confusion. This whole situation frustrates me to no end. By all means, let’s debate. But let’s not debate about whether or not climate change is happening. (Spoiler alert: It is.) Instead, let’s talk about what we should do about it, which policy instruments we should employ. Now there’s a debate I’d welcome with open arms (as long as it actually leads to action).

climate science consensus pie graph mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Quod erat demonstrandum (All else is junk science)” (2015), 24″ diameter
Stone (limestone, sandstone, Eramosa marble, coal, shale, concretions), cement parging, salvaged tile, brick, ceramic, Italian smalti, rusted metal, vintage 24-karat gold smalti

climate consensus pie chartThis so-called ‘debate’ about climate change is what inspired this mosaic. A 2013 study by John Cook of The Consensus Project examined a whopping 12,000 peer-reviewed journal articles about climate change published between 1991 and 2011. Of the roughly 4,000 that stated a position on anthropogenic climate change, 97% of these articles endorsed the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. The rest? Well, that’s just junk science. (You can watch Cook explain his study in this 3-minute video.) Even with the scientific consensus sitting around 97% and growing, public perception of scientific agreement is far lower (people believe that about 50% of scientists support anthropogenic climate change). And this ‘consensus gap’ between scientific reality and public perception prevents us from taking meaningful action to address climate change as we go around in circles, debating something that has actually been settled for years.

And so I decided to turn this convincing pie graph into a mosaic. The outlying 3%—the junk science—is quite fittingly represented by a bunch of rusty bits of metal (scavenged a year ago on the streets of Ottawa during the spring thaw) and coal sent to me by one of my Touchstone classmates. It’s funny, I very nearly got the math wrong on this when I was sketching it out. For some reason, my brain hopped instantly from 3% to 3º. Luckily, just before I was about to start sticking stuff down, I realized 3% is actually closer to 11º. Glad I caught that one!

Scooping up those two little red rocks (and one bit of rusty metal) in Lachine, QC.

Scooping up those two little red rocks (and one bit of rusty metal) in Lachine, QC.

This piece is so full of different materials that I had a hard time coming up with a list! There are stones, of course: shale, limestone, sandstone, coal, and Eramosa marble (and probably others that I can’t identify). There are two roundish red rocks I picked up along the banks of the St. Lawrence while out for a sunny Thanksgiving stroll. There are concretions given to me by friends in Alberta and Pennsylvania. There’s cement parging fallen from various walls around my neighbourhood—always in ample supply in the spring. There’s a variety of floor tiles (some even salvaged from my parents’ recent renovation, which my feet and my family’s feet have walked over a thousand times), brick that the Ottawa winter kindly liberated from a neighbouring house, and one of my favourite plates from my university days. And there is Italian smalti and hints of vintage 24-karat gold smalti (a splurge when I was in Chicago).

I had a heck of a time naming this piece. When I originally conceived of it, I got used to just referring to it as my “Junk Science” piece. I liked the ring of it and I was very close to actually naming it that. But then it struck me: why should the 3% minority get naming rights? Unacceptable. And so, “Quod erat demonstrandum (All else is junk science)” was born. The title comes from the only thing I managed to retain from the two weeks I spent in high school Algebra and Geometry before dropping the class (let’s just say that word problems are not my strength); QED is what you put at the end of a mathematical proof to indicate that it is complete (it roughly translates as “that which was to be demonstrated”). I guess it’s kind of the mathematical equivalent to dropping the mic? Anyway, I like how it lends a certain seriousness / formality to the piece, which is appropriate given that we’re really talking about one of the most fundamental concepts that I will ever deal with in this series.

Julie Sperling climate change mosaic pie graph scientific consensus

Check out how it dips over the edge of the substrate in places

As a final note, I wanted to mention that I’m really excited about this piece and how it turned out. There’s something about it that feels different, like something in me has shifted in some way (though I’m still working on putting my finger on what, exactly, that is and harnessing it going forward). I have a feeling that this mosaic will be an important marker in my evolution and growth as an artist, and this has me grinning a big ol’ stupid grin!

Bonus video: If you like sensible and funny commentary, you’ll love this John Oliver segment on the climate change ‘debate’. It is so perfectly bang on.

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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 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

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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…

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Mosaic workout challenge, week 7: Home

Man, these theme challenges appear to be my Achilles heel! Give me technical or materials-based challenges any day. When I saw the theme for this week—Home—my initial thought was “Awwww fiddlesticks” (well, in all honesty, it might have been just a wee bit cruder than that). So many possibilities. So much thinking to do. Needless to say, I was paralyzed for several days, but in the end it all came together (somehow!). Anyway, let’s get to the show and tell!

"Home range" -- layered spray paint, marble, tile

“Home range” — layered spray paint, marble, tile

Title: “Home range”

Size: 6″ x 6″

Materials: Layered paint from a local Ottawa graffiti wall, marble, scavenged tile that had fallen off a shop front in Kensington Market (Toronto, ON)

How long did it take to complete? Far longer than it should have (5 hours?), considering a big portion of it is one piece is layered paint.

Thoughts: I continue to struggle with the themed challenges, and while I’d like to think that by the end I will have gotten at least a bit more comfortable with them, I fear I may only improve my ability to BS my way through them… This week’s mosaic is the product of a series of very tenuously linked thoughts and a few happy accidents. My initial idea was to use building materials like brick, glass, and maybe some nails or something. But I had already used brick in a few earlier challenges and it kind of felt like taking the easy way out. So I turned my mind to the more abstract, touchy-feely meanings of “home.” Lots of ideas, but no clue how to turn those into something tangible (on a 6″ x 6″ substrate, no less!).

Eventually I started thinking about how “home” has so many layers of meaning to it. It’s different for everyone and our notion of “home” often changes over time. Somehow, my mind then jumped from layers of meaning to physical layers, and I started thinking of the layers of paint that must build up over time as houses change owners and owners change their personal tastes and styles. This reminded me that I had some chunks of layered spray paint that I picked up at the local graffiti wall—remnants of artworks past. Perfect, I had my main material! While cutting it up into tesserae (used for the ‘clouds’ of this mosaic), I was really drawn to the rough jagged edges of the paint chunks. When I set one of the edges on my board to contemplate it, I noticed that it looked a bit like a mountain range, and thus “Home range” was born. So, through many twists and turns, I finally created what “home” means to me—it’s not just my dwelling, but also the landscape I inhabit and the spaces I move through. And this concept is where the name of the piece comes from, as a “home range”, in ecological terms, is an area in which an animal lives and travels.

A close-up of the tesserae I cut out of the slab of layered spray paint

A close-up of the tesserae I cut out of the slab of layered spray paint

Check out the rugged edge of the slab o' paint!

Check out the rugged edge of the slab o’ paint!

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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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