Tag Archives | glass

Melting away: A mosaic about sea ice decline

For the second mosaic in my climate change series, I decided to tackle sea ice decline. The long and the short of the trend: it doesn’t look good for sea ice, folks (or for the cryosphere in general). But don’t just take my word for it, let’s see what the smarty pants scientists from the IPCC have to say about the subject: according to them, “the current (1980–2012) summer sea ice retreat was unprecedented and sea surface temperatures in the Arctic were anomalously high in the perspective of at least the last 1450 years.” Yikes. Oh, and “a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely.” Why should you be concerned about the loss of sea ice? Well, it plays an important function in regulating the Earth’s temperature (its whiteness and shininess reflects light and heat), so without it things will get even warmer and wonkier. It’s also a key component of polar ecosystems—think of the polar bears and seals and penguins, oh my!

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling

“Sea ice (Steady unprecedented decline)” (2014), 14.5″ x 20″
Quartz, marble, stone from Ottawa and Georgian Bay, smalti, recycled glass tile, salvaged glass table top

 

Yep, it’s disappearing. Source: Climate Change 2013, The Physical Science Basis (IPCC)

This particular mosaic was based on a graph of Arctic summer sea ice extent since 1900. The trendline of the mosaic is made from a big chunk of quartz that was given to me by a friend of my mom’s. It took me a while to work up the nerve to smash it to bits with my hammer, but it was either that or let it sit there and collect dust. And this just means I have room to bring in more fun materials! In terms of stone, I used a white marble tile I scored at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, along with that amazing blue stone from up near the cottage (Georgian Bay, Ontario), and the nice glittery grey layered limestone (?) and black stone from Ottawa. The glass is a mix of smalti (the various blue lines), recycled glass tile, and some chunks of a broken glass tabletop that I rescued from the curb. I like the way the stone and the clear glass play off each other, but it really was a struggle to break down the glass. I’m slowly rekindling my relationship with glass, but it needs work. I think more practice will help, because as my skills get stronger, I will be less frustrated when working with it. And I’m hoping my sweet new Japanese hammer will help…

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail)

A slightly better view of the undulations

I added some undulations to the substrate to evoke snow drifts and rolling seas. And I intentionally put some of the machined edges of the glass facing up (as opposed to the riven side) because, being so smooth, they really catch the light and look like glints of shiny snow or ice. Of course, the curves and the way the tesserae catch the light—which are my two favourite parts of this mosaic—are the hardest ones to photograph. I really had trouble getting a photo that captures the essence of this piece (I was desperately wishing my photographer friends lived closer). Perhaps it’s just one of those pieces that needs to be seen in person for the full effect. Or perhaps I just need to hone my photography skills. I suspect it’s actually a little of both.

I’m thoroughly enjoying creating this series, even though I’m only two mosaics into it. I like the idea of engaging with a subject for a prolonged period of time. I’ve already got my next two pieces ready to go in my mind, and countless other proto-ideas jotted down. Apparently climate change is the subject that, sadly, keeps on giving. In a previous post I had joked about a cheeky working title for the series, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to keep it as the official series title. So, it’s official: say hello to “Fiddling while Rome burns”—a series of mosaics about climate change.

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A close-up of some of the quartz pieces, and you can also see the difference between the riven and machined edges of the glass (See the run of smooth, shiny glass pieces between the two quartz chunks? Now contrast that with the riven edges of the glass three rows above.)

A front angle shot to show the topography

A front angle shot to show the topography

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (side view)

Looking back towards the top of the trend line

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (detail of topography and quartz)

Just a side view of the topography and the quartz sticking up, just floating along on the flowing ice and water

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

The quartz and rolling snow drifts and waves from another angle

Sea ice mosaic by Julie Sperling (quartz detail)

A look at the biggest quartz pieces in the icy, snowy top corner before they melt away…

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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 16: The swept floor

This week’s challenge—“The Swept Floor“—was courtesy of Margo Anton and the rules were simple: use only scraps and don’t cut any of it (use it how you discarded it).

"Glacial till" - made entirely of scraps from previous projects

“Glacial till” – made entirely of scraps from previous projects

Title: “Glacial till”

Size: 4.25″ x 4.25″

Materials: Stone, cinca, glass, quartz, shale, marble

How long did it take to complete? About 2 hours

Thoughts: Considering I got my start in mosaics using glass scrap and rarely cutting anything, this week was surprisingly challenging. I had been processing a bunch of material recently for my next non-challenge mosaic, so I saved all the offcuts to use for this piece. I just kind of threw myself into this without a game plan and ended up working in sections that were determined by material and the shape of the pieces. There are groups of tesserae in this mosaic that I really love in terms of how they play off of / relate to one another, but overall I’m not crazy about the piece. I’m finding that when I don’t put any thought into the design beforehand, the results are a crapshoot, with me ending up unsatisfied more often than not. While I don’t usually (ever?) make a detailed sketch, I do tend to mull things over for a good while before diving in. These challenges are definitely reinforcing the parts of my practice that are essential for me.

glacial till - angle

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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!

 

 

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Mosaic workout challenge, week 9: When life gives you lemons…

Eeek – the ‘to do’ list keeps growing and it’s getting more and more difficult to find the time for these challenges. I may miss one or two in the coming weeks, as we are in the process of moving and I’m also attending Verdiano Marzi’s class in Chicago at the end of August. But for now, here’s what I managed to squeeze in this week. The challenge was the complete the phrase “When life gives you lemons…”

"G&T" - because really, what else would you do with lemons (or limes, yes, I know)...

“G&T” – because really, what else would you do with lemons (or limes, yes, I know)…

Title: “G&T”

Size: 4.25″ x 4.25″

Materials: Limestone and gin bottle

How long did it take to complete? Three hours

Thoughts: When I read the challenge for this week, I immediately thought of a gin and tonic. I know, I know, they’re traditionally made with limes, but we don’t get too picky with our citrus fruit here in this household, so humour me. I just happened to have an empty gin bottle, which I smashed and paired with some limestone. Like last week, I just flung myself into the challenge without a plan. I was neither here nor there with this challenge (and the result), and I’m not sure I learned much, except that I should’ve picked a lighter thinset colour in order to make the green glass pop a bit more.

An angle shot of "G&T" so you can see some of the texture.

An angle shot of “G&T” so you can see some of the texture.

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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 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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Mosaic workout challenge, week 1: Found objects

The Institute of Mosaic Art is running a series of weekly mosaic workout challenges to “build your mosaic muscles, find some fresh perspective, approach mosaic from a new direction, practice your technique, make more mosaics, [and] connect with the community of fellow mosaic enthusiasts and artists.” I think it’s a fantastic idea—I already know that I work best when I can ‘warm up’ a bit first—so I’ve decided to join in the fun. I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete all the challenges, what with summer travel plans and all, but I’m going to do my best. I hit my daddy up for some scraps of wood to work on (they’d been kicking around his garage for 15 years, so I’m sure my mom was happy to see them out the door), so I’m all set! Let the workouts begin!

The challenge for week 1 was found objects. For me, this wasn’t much of a stretch. I’m forever picking up interesting things on the street and squirrelling them away, knowing that they’ll be just perfect for some future mosaic. When I read the challenge, I immediately thought of some items I had already picked up (and a concept I had already been batting around in my brain for quite some time): long thin strips of safety glass from a street around the corner from my apartment, some brick that had sheered off of a neighbourhood house over the winter, and a big rusty nut I found on my way home from work one day during the spring thaw. But then I stopped myself. If I had already been thinking of doing this, where’s the challenge? So I gave myself one day to find something on the street to incorporate. That item ended up being a bit of bike chain. R actually found it while we were out for a run. As I turned to look back and check out her find (while still running forward), I stepped in a big pile of goose poop. Sigh. Oddly enough, on our way back from the run, I found a huge length of bike chain just lying in the street, so now I’ve got lots in stock for future projects! Anyway, the chain was the found object and, in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t normally have picked it up. Of course, I also scavenged the rock myself (from around Ottawa) and the glass (from a broken table on the side of the street), but that’s not really out of the ordinary for me.

"The Missing Link" mosaic by Julie Sperling (2014) - stone from the Ottawa area, glass (from a broken table), and bike chain

“The Missing Link” (2014) – stone from the Ottawa area, glass (from a broken table), and bike chain — 4″ x 5″

We have to answer a few standard questions when we submit our mosaic for the challenge each week, so below are my answers.

Title: The Missing Link (full credit for the name goes to R)

How long did it take to complete? Just under 4 hours

Love or hate this workout? Love! This was well within my wheelhouse and aligned with what I already like doing.

Happy with the result? There are a few things I would change, but overall I’m satisfied.

What did I learn? (Or what did I learn that I need to learn?) I very readily fall back into my comfort zone and play it safe. I’m hoping that future challenges will really make me push myself (and that I’ll embrace the chance to do just that).

"The Missing Link" by Julie Sperling (2014) - stone from the Ottawa area, glass (from a broken table), and bike chain

Angle shot of “The Missing Link”

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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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Running on fumes: The push to finish “Punctuated Equilibrium II”

The second mosaic in my Punctuated Equilibrium series was created during the holiday rush, which also coincided with a crazy busy time at work. My intention was to get it finished before the New Year in order to start 2014 with a clean slate, but I didn’t meet my self-imposed deadline. Between putting in long hours at work, then long hours in the evening in my studio, plus doing an insane amount of Christmas prep (virtually all our gifts are of the edible homemade variety, which, although fun, is very time consuming), there was a stretch of at least 2 weeks when I didn’t get to bed before midnight. By the time Christmas vacation rolled around, I was running on fumes. And then, as is usually the case, just as I started to relax, I got sick. Ugh. But I finally put the finishing touches on this bad boy last night, and I’m so excited to be able to take you on a little tour of it and point out all my favourite details.

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" mosaic by Julie Sperling (2014, 18" x 12", glass rods, local stone, skateboard)

“Punctuated Equilibrium II” (2014) — stone from Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, glass rods, and skateboard, 18″ x 12″

As you may recall, the Punctuated Equilibrium series is inspired by graffiti and how it can add life and energy to public spaces. This time, I decided to use glass rods rather than smalti for the graffiti portion, to better approximate that stippled spray paint effect. I used the cream-coloured rock I gathered at the cottage, and as I was chopping it into cubes I also saved some of the thinner edges to use as the ‘sparks’ coming off the graffiti.

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" - detail shot (Julie Sperling, 2014)

The spines of the rock radiating from the graffiti

I really had fun creating the crazy lines that curve and weave over and under each other throughout that bottom section. It was a good little challenge and I like the energy and chaos it brings to the area around the graffiti. Order is then restored as the lines gradually straighten out into a nice gentle flow and transition to a greyish-brown rock that has strong horizontal layers to it (and, oddly enough, smells like gasoline when you cut it).

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" - detail (Julie Sperling, 2014)

A closer look at those curvy weaving lines (and a peek at that little bit of skateboard tucked into the corner).

In pretty much every mosaic I make, I tend to have a favourite stone or two. My favourite one in this piece is one of the spines because it has a hole in it (which I didn’t even realize until after placing it into the thinset). My other favourite detail is how the grain of the grey-brown rock all runs the same way (that is, vertically). It was a pain to do, but worth it.

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" - favourite stone (Julie Sperling, 2014)

My absolute favourite stone in the entire piece. I just love that little hole in it!

"Punctuated Equilibrium II" detail (Julie Sperling, 2014)

See how all the grain runs up? Yup.

Anyway, that’s it! I’ve already got some ideas percolating for the third in the series, which were prompted by some comments on Facebook. It has to do with a new material for the graffiti portion, but that’s all I’m going to say for now, because it’ll require some experimentation. But if it works, I’m going to be pretty excited! Until then…

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