When life gets crazy, make pet rocks

What happens when you give a mosaicist a bit of leftover thinset, a scrap bin, and rocks that are too big to use whole (and too hard to chop by hand) but too nice to get rid of? You get pet rocks. I made the first of these little guys on a whim. It was more fun than I expected—especially figuring out which of the rock’s curves or dents or lines I was going to play off of—so I decided to make more.

Julie Sperling - pet rock with air plant
The first pet rock I made. How cute would these guys look with an air plant in a terrarium?

These are the perfect little diversion when life gets crazy. There’s no pressure, no big commitment. And right now, life is more than a little bit crazy. Work is really busy—big project, ridiculously short deadlines—and my life outside of work is also busy. R got a permanent job in a new city, so we’re packing up and moving, and it’s all happening very quickly (we bought a house and a car in less than three weeks *gulp*). Big changes are on the horizon, which, while exciting, will also demand a lot of my time and be pretty stressful, as major transitions inevitably are.

Made on one of many rocks friends brought me from the Gaspé Peninsula: too hard to cut, too big to use as is, too lovely to cast aside.
Made on one of many rocks friends brought me from the Gaspé Peninsula: too hard to cut, too big to use as is, too lovely to cast aside.
Sperling, pet rock
Wee bits of marble—scraps from some previous project—adorning one of my favourite rocks of the bunch

I’ll be going dark on the mosaic front for a few months—in fact, I’ve already packed up the majority of my workspace—but I’m hoping I’ll still be able to find the time to make the occasional pet rock. I’ve already set aside a little supply kit that I’ll be sure to keep close at hand during the topsy-turvy months ahead. And I can’t wait to show you my new studio once I’m all settled in. It’ll be a bigger space (no more table in a hallway for me!) and I’m really excited about it.

The first cluster, all on Gaspé rocks. It won't be the last.
The first cluster, all on Gaspé rocks. It won’t be the last.


Julie, I love your work. I’m a beginning mosaicist. :) What type of thinset do you use? I prefer a nongrouted look – and your work has that look. Do you grout after or just apply the thinset and lay the tessara on it? Also, what type of foundation do you usually use for your work (besides cute pet rocks! :) )….wood? I have so many questions…but a lot of excitement! :D Thanks for any advice! :)

Thanks Naomi! I use Laticrete 255 thinset, and don’t use grout — as you guessed, just spread a bed of thinset on my substrate and set my tesserae in it. My substrates are typically ones I build myself out of a piece of foam insulation, which I cover in a few layers of alkali-resistant fibreglass mesh (the sticky FibaTape stuff is great!) and thinset. Strong and lightweight, even once you get all your extra stones and mortar on there. Good luck!

Thank you so much Julie for sharing all this information! I love the nongrouted look of your work and I love that it’s lightweight! Can your mosaics go outside in the elements (like vertically…on a garden wall) made this way?

Not a problem! Yes, as far as I know these substrates would be absolutely fine outside. Just have to make sure you use the appropriate tesserae (that won’t break down when exposed to the elements).

Thank you so much Julie for answering my questions – and so quickly! :) Have you hung any of your artwork outside before? Sorry so many questions…I’m sitting here watching the voting results…

Thank you Julie for answering all my many questions…and for your kind words concerning our election. The good news is…it’s over. We won’t go into the bad news…

Let me know what you think!

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