Four great reasons to join a mosaic course in Pelion, Greece

mosaic course in Pelion
After a storm, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

WHAT: Five Day Classic and Contemporary Mosaics Workshop 

WHO: With Helen Miles 

WHERE: Lagou Raxi Hotel, Lafkos, South Pelion, Greece. 

WHEN: September 15 to September 22, 2017 

If I had my way everyone would join me on this mosaic course in Pelion, Greece. All those people I have ‘met’ on the internet, have followed and liked and exchanged messages with. We’d spend our days making mosaics and then sit on the terrace in the evening with a glass of wine (or two) and look out over the Pagasitic Gulf and talk about them. I’d show you how to make the things I love and tell you why they are marvelous and beautiful and full of possibilities. We’d immerse ourselves in mosaics through the ages – the mosaics from Greece that first inspired me, the Roman mosaics which I’ve visited and admired, all the way through to contemporary mosaics: their uses, their makers, their materials and their seemingly endless varieties.

mosaic course in Pelion
Olive grove, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

But sadly I know you can’t all come so I am writing this to those of you who might. Just might. I want to tell you why you should travel to Greece to take a mosaic course in Pelion when you could just as well join a local group or a weekend workshop or choose to go to Italy, the world’s epicentre of mosaic art. I’ll keep it simple and I’ll keep it plain because I am so in love with Pelion (it’s where we bought a house more than a decade ago) that there’s a real danger that once I start I wont stop so I’ve condensed it to the four key reasons. Here they are:

mosaic course in Pelion
Daisies in the spring, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

FOUR REASONS TO JOIN A MOSAIC COURSE IN PELION, GREECE.

  1. PELION. Well, start by looking at that photo at the top of this page. It’s not Photo-shopped or edited. No filter has been added. That’s Pelion. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and as close to being unspoiled as it’s possible for a place in the Mediterranean to be. It’s beaches are often listed as among the best in the world. It has sandy ones and pebbly ones and clear, turquoise water. It has traditional stone villages built around car-free central squares where you can sit for hours (after your mosaic day) in the cool shade of the ancient plane trees eating unutterably delicious local food. All of this is within easy access to the newly built hotel where the mosaic course is being held and if you just want to sit and relax then the Lagou Raxi Country Hotel has sweeping views, its own pool, and great food without having to set foot outside.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Eating in the square, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics
  2. MARBLE. Now look at the photograph below of blocks of marble lying along an unpaved path somewhere up on the mountain of Pelion. The sort of path used by farmers going to check their olive trees who ride their donkeys sideways on wooden saddles that probably haven’t changed for hundreds of years. Those slabs of marble are nothing unusual. There is marble everywhere in this country and the mosaic course in Pelion will be run using marble and only marble. In most parts of the world, marble is too precious and expensive a commodity to be readily used by people learning to make mosaics so it’s a rare treat to be able to use it, revel in its colours and varieties and explore its possibilities as an artistic medium.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Marble blocks, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics
  3. ME. It feels a bit strange to write myself as a good reason to come but I have spent well over the past decade immersed in mosaics. I started off by learning how to make mosaics in Greece with master craftsmen who specialised in Byzantine-style mosaics using tiny tesserae with no interstices and then went to the UK to take short courses with acknowledged experts in the field. Meanwhile, I made mosaics. Morning, noon and night. I experimented and pushed my borders and eventually set up my own studio and began making them professionally. While I have a huge respect for and interest in contemporary mosaics, my work is inspired by the many hundreds of Roman mosaics I have traveled to see and thousands that I have studied and drawn lessons from. I tend to concentrate on making site specific mosaics for private clients so this is a rare opportunity to come and learn mosaics in Pelion with me. Please go to my gallery of work, to my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram to see what I have been working on recently. I now live and work in Edinburgh but we still have our house in Pelion and I travel back there frequently.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Me at work in Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics
  4. LONG COURSE. The opportunity to give yourself five full days to learn the art of mosaics is a rare one. It means that you can really get stuck in. There is a lot you can pick up in shorter courses but if you are starting out on the mosaic path nothing quite beats throwing yourself in and making the most of the chance to really get immersed in mosaics: to get familiar with the tools, to find out what really interests you, to explore different techniques and learn about the world of mosaics from someone who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The course will cover the principles of making direct method mosaics both on board and on mesh either using a copy of a Roman mosaic, a mosaic ‘pattern’ or your own design. At the end of the week you will have all the skills you need to make your own mosaics at home.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Pebble beach of Kalamaki, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

    For more information, please go to www.lagouraxi.com and click on ‘Courses’ in the top tab or send an email to Sue at mail@lagouraxi.com. I am looking forward to seeing you there!

mosaic course in Pelion
Kalderini – traditional stone path linking the villages in Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

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Contemporary mosaics: mosaic innovators.

Mosaic innovators

mosaic innovatorsCaCO3. Movimento n.1. Photo: @Arte Mosaico Ravenna.

 

Part III of a three-part post on contemporary mosaics.

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Part I Highlighted the particular properties of mosaic by demonstrating what mosaics are not.

Part II Examined how contemporary ceramics have broken down the barriers between art and craft and how the material used is less important than the ideas behind it – an obvious lesson for mosaic artists.

This post will look at how contemporary mosaicists are creating work ‘which uses the medium of mosaic, but not to make us think ‘that is a mosaic’ but to make us curious, to amaze us, to unsettle us, to take us, in short, by the scruff of the neck and say: ‘Look, look and look again. I have something interesting and exciting to say.’

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mosaic innovators
Dugald MacInnes, Xenolith (MOHO). Photo: @Chicago Mosaic School

The time has come to look at the world of contemporary mosaics, at the mosaic innovators of our time: the explorers, the risk takers, the convention-shatterers, the beauty-creators. They’re there, they’ve always been there, hiding in plain sight, being exhibited, winning awards, attracting acclaim and attention – but only in certain circles. Continue reading

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Contemporary mosaics – learning lessons from ceramics

Part II of a three-part post on mosaics and contemporary art.

‘Ceramics have moved away from utilitarian pottery into a much wider realm… It’s not about craft but about making a new kind of object,’ Medeleine Bessborough, art dealer.

contemporary mosaics
Hattori Makiko, Waiting to Hatch. Photo: @Joanna Bird

Learning lessons: Contemporary mosaics and the world of ceramics.

Part One of this post on contemporary mosaics pointed out the seemingly obvious –  mosaics might create images, patterns and moods but they are not paintings. Mosaics are born of function, rooted in history, and pixelated by necessity and when thinking about the place of contemporary mosaics in the art world they must be understood and responded to on their own terms. The fact that mosaics are made up of collections of things or bits – precious or rubbishy, purpose made or found, artificial or natural – is a fact that defines them. You can’t ask a mosaic to be other than what it is.

I dont care what my label is – potter, ceramicist or artist – I want to put another layer onto history.’ Chris Antemann, artist.
contemporary mosaics
Sandy Brown, Temple at Chatsworth.  Photo: @www.joannabird.com

In times not so very long past, that meant (bizarrely) that mosaics were relegated to a lesser category of creative endeavour. The slipperly. wriggly, elusive thing that calls itself Art might have become ever more elastic in recent decades but somehow mosaics (or at least mosaics which called themselves mosaics) never quite made it. Continue reading

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What are mosaics? First, five things that they are not

What are mosaics? Part one of a three part blog on the place of mosaics in contemporary art.

Joan Eardley. Summer Grasses and Barley on the Clifftop. Photo:@City of Edinburgh Council.

PART ONE: WHAT ARE MOSAICS?  FIVE THINGS THAT THEY ARE NOT

Joan Eardley‘s paintings are urgent; running-to-catch-the-last-bus kind of urgent. They are full of rushed energy, of stops and darts, turns and returns. They grapple and wrestle and finally heave the beast to the ground. There is no diffidence in them. There are scribbles and swirls and drips and blotches and slap-it-down-on-the-table flashes of pure, gorgeous, rich, deep (so deep you could sink) colour. You can see why she stuck to her two beloved places – the Scottish sea and the Glasgow city streets, why she didnt feel any need to tramp around looking for new subjects to paint. ‘It seems silly to shift about,’ she wrote and so, standing still, she found everything she needed right where she was.

Joan Eardley, Sea. Photo: www.nationalgalleries.org

If their urgency means they are unruly and dishevelled, that only makes them more compelling. They are piled and layered and flung. I wandered around the current exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art recently with two reluctant teenage boys. ‘How can you keep looking?’ one asked petulantly. The other had already disappeared. ‘What are you looking at, what do you see?’ Continue reading

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Mosaics in the history of art (or not as the case may be)

mosaics in the history of art.
Neptune mosaic, 2nd century AD, Bardo Museum, Tunisia. Photo: @Tony Hisgett.

My father, old now, was and is an art historian through and through. An academic who’s devoted his life to art, he is now confined to a chair but his mind is still keen and his hearing is sharp so he seemed like a good a person as any on which to test my theory about mosaics in the history of art. The theory revolves around the fact that mosaics are essentially written out of the history of art but as I started to expound my theory, my father took exception to my premise. That’s quite wrong, he said. So I corrected myself: Not all mosaics, but pre-Byzantine mosaics do not feature in the history of art, I said. At that, he relaxed and listened.

mosaics in the history of art
Port Scene, detail. 1st to 3rd century AD. Photo: @John Paul Getty Museum.

The theory first took root when I was visiting the Archaeological Museum of Sparta in Greece with a friend, S, whose life, like my father’s, has been devoted to art. I have often wondered why these glorious, clever, beautiful and infinitely varied and various things are not referred to in the history of art. Why does The Story of Art, the seminal work by E. H. Gombrich, only mention them in passing before he stops to dwell on the 6th century mosaics of St Apollinare, Ravenna? Why does Stephen Farthing in Art, the Whole Story also gloss over pre-Byzantine mosaics before taking note of the12th century Monreale Basiilia in Sicily? What’s going on here? Why are we all familiar with the Venus of Milo in the Louvre but few of us have any idea about the existence of the Zeus and Ganymede mosaic in the Metropolitan? Continue reading

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The secrets of using thinset for mosaics by Julie Sperling

julie-sperling-drinking-from-a-firehose
Drinking from a firehose: flood prone yet drought stricken. Photo and mosaic: @Julie Sperling
Guest tutorial by Julie Sperling: Using thinset for mosaics

I am delighted to present a guest post (my first) by award winning Canadian mosaicist Julie Sperling about using thinset for mosaics. Julie’s work stands apart in being both fiercely beautiful and intelligently polemical. In her hands mosaics move out of the decorative realm and into a hybrid world where art meets politics meets activism. Using a wide range of tesserae and found objects from the traditional (smalti and limestone) to the unusual (grafiiti paint layers) and the bizarre (flue damper), Julie explores the subject of climate change and our human response to it through mosaics which make your heart sing and your thoughts linger.

using thinset for mosaics
Dialogue, the Burden of the Message. Photo and mosaic: @Julie Sperling

How does she do it? you ask. I have often wondered. No one (probably least of all Julie) could precisely explain the process by which she interweaves her materials with the subject matter to create works of art but Julie’s work is impressive on many levels, including its sheer technical virtuosity. In many of her mosaics the substrate is part of the piece rather than just a surface to be mosaicked. It’s a pause, a space, a frame, it allows her to open the work up to infinite suggestions, to make emphases, to change direction and to add permutations and explorations both on and beyond the ‘canvas’. See how she does it here in Heat (Each Decade Hotter Than The Last) where the central ‘graph’ is separated by a perfectly balanced border of thinset:

using thinset for mosaics
Detail from Heat, Each Decade Hotter Than the Last. Photo and mosaic: @Julie Sperling.

Thinset (or mortar) isn’t an attractive word or in most people’s books the most appealing aspect of mosaics, but in this blog post about using thinset for mosaics, Julie shows us how this most mundane of substances can be used to create stunning effects. Many thanks Julie!

using thinset for mosaics
Flip the system; Amplified Change. Photo and mosaic: @Julie Sperling.
 
Julie’s tutorial: Using thinset for mosaics

Before we start, a caveat: This is what works for me, but it is by no means the only (or best) way to do it. It is the method I have learned through trial and error to compensate for my complete lack of palette knife skills. So proceed with caution, take it with a grain of salt, use at your own risk, etc.So, how do I get the thinset in my mosaics smooth, both between my lines and tesserae and in the background?

First, my go-to implements for the task: an array of paintbrushes, spatulas, and palette knives, as well as water and a rag. And don’t think I only use the brush/blade end! Anything is fair game, including fingers.

using thinset for mosaics
Julie’s thinset smoothing tools. Photo: @Julie Sperling

Now, if you want to save yourself work, make sure your initial bed of thinset is as smooth as you can make it. Just like taking a good photograph to start will save you time and frustration in post-production, touching up a smoothish surface is much easier than trying to fix an area riddled with bumps and ridges and lumps later on. A pass or two with a clean palette knife (wiped with a damp cloth) will make your life much easier. Admittedly, though, I usually skip this part or, at best, make a half-hearted attempt to get a nice smooth bed. Why? Because I’m not really great at using a palette knife and because fixing it later doesn’t particularly bug me.

Smooth thinset in between lines and tesserae

When I weave my lines, I like the thinset to be smooth, especially where there’s more open space. I have no reason for this other than personal preference. Once I set my tesserae into the thinset, I leave them for a bit before attempting to go in with my various implements to smooth it out. I’ve found it’s far easier to work with the thinset once it has set up a bit—it’s less sticky and far more compliant. I just pat it / brush it as best I can, mostly with a dry brush or other tool (or, more frequently, the blunt end of a tool).

both-ends-of-brush-2

using thinset for mosaics
Patting and brushing the thinset into place using both ends of the paintbrush, once it has set up a bit. Photo: @Julie Sperling

Sometimes the thinset dries shiny and smooth. I don’t particularly care for this look, so I will take a slightly thinner mix of thinset at the very end (when I’m cleaning up the background) and just dab it into the small spaces, being very careful not to get any on the tesserae.

using thinset for mosaics
The shininess of this dry thinset really bugs me, so I always go back and fix it. Photo: @Julie Sperling
using thinset for mosaics
A steady hand and a small paintbrush. Dabbing a bit of thinset onto the shiny part is an easy albeit nerve-racking fix. Photo: @Julie Sperling

Smooth thinset as the background

I save this step for the very end. I spread my thinset on the background, usually in stages (I find doing one side at a time works well for me). I try not to put it on too thick (because then it just squishes around when I try to smooth it with my brush) or too thin (because then the roughness of the substrate comes through).

using thinset for mosaics
Covering the background with thinset. No need to be careful or make it look pretty, because it gets fixed with the damp foam brush. Photo: @Julie Sperling

Then I take a foam brush, wet it with water, and squeeze the excess out with my cloth so the brush is just damp—this is very important, because if your brush is too wet you risk getting white splotches on your thinset once it dries.

using thinset for mosaics
Make sure your brush isn’t too wet. Trust me. Photo: @Julie Sperling

I lightly brush the thinset with my damp brush to smooth it out, taking care to keep my brush strokes going in the same direction. I find that shorter, quicker strokes work better for me. When too much thinset accumulates on my brush, I rinse it, wring it out in my cloth, and keep going.

using thinset for mosaics
A barely-damp foam brush is your best friend when smoothing out your background thinset. Photo: @Julie Sperling

Sometimes I have to switch to a smaller brush to work closer to the tesserae, but normally I can make it work by angling my foam brush this way and that to follow the curves of the outer tesserae.

And that’s it! It really all boils down to working as neatly as you can from the start to save yourself the headaches later on, making sure your brush isn’t too wet, and being patient.

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A collection of ancient mosaic Medusa heads.

 

medusa head
Medusa head, Dion, Greece. Photo: @helenmilesmosaics
Mosaic Medusa heads: warding off evil.

Hello, hello, I’m back! Is anyone there? Coo-eeeeeeee (echos reverberating down the corridors of mosaic lovers). Let me just walk in, sit down for a moment and take a deep breath in and another long one out. There, that’s better.

mosaic medusa head
Medusa head, Sparta, 3rd century, Greece. Photo: @helenmilesmosaics

Shall I regale you with tales of the move? Do you really want to hear about boxes piled up to the ceiling and mountains of packaging, the multiple runs to the municipal recycling centre and charity shops, the scraps of love, the hordes of letters, the 1970s diaries, the 80s boob tubes, and the sense of quiet and not so quiet panic at the number of unidentified socks that are still heaped up in a corner? I doubt it. So instead it seems appropriate to talk about mosaic Medusa heads – partly because I have felt not unlike one myself over recent weeks and partly because in all the relocating confusion I have at least been spared the obligation of finding a Gorgon to put on my doormat.

medusa head
Archeological Musem of Palencia, Spain

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Comprehensive guide to the mosaics of Greece.

Greece, Mosaics and Me, Part II: A guide to the mosaics of Greece.

Helen Miles Mosaics.
Nereid riding a sea centaur. Sparta Archaeological Museum, Greece. 3rd century AD. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

I’ve left!

To mark the fact that my days of being permanently based in Athens have come to an end, my previous post was a personal story about my mosaic journey in Greece. As well as learning how to make mosaics there and practicing the art for over a decade, I also visited and explored as many mosaic sites as possible across the length of the country: ancient and modern, famous and obscure, well preserved and neglected.

Helen Miles Mosaics
Mantlepiece mosaic, Theodora (?), Candili, Evvia, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaic

I know that there are many more sites left to see, particularly on the islands, and I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit them in the years to come, but meanwhile in Part II of this two-part series about Greece, Mosaics and Me, I have compiled a comprehensive guide to the mosaics of Greece for visitors and mosaic enthusiasts. Continue reading

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Greece, mosaics and me

Helen Miles Mosaics
Me in the middle of my pre-move studio mess. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

Greece, Mosaics and Me, Part I: A personal story. 

Coming to Greece in 2001 stripped everything from me: language, family, friends, work, culture, points of reference and sense of self. I arrived five months pregnant with two small children after my husband took a job in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, with the expectation of finding a cosmopolitan city where we could settle and I could find work. We put the children into a local Greek school so that they could learn the language and integrate. After a while, I went to the university to learn Greek myself and we threw ourselves into exploring the country.

Helen Miles Mosaics
Fruit detail, 2-3rd C AD, Corinth. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

I don’t know when or how the realisation dawned that our expectations of our new life in Greece were off kilter, but I do remember neighbours who wouldn’t acknowledge we existed years after moving in, struggling to entertain boisterous boys in a badly insulated house where it’s against the law to make any noise between 3 and 6pm, and feeling baffled by a school system which finishes at noon and depends on grandparents and paid help to fill in for working parents. I also remember one day curling myself into a ball in the corner of a downstairs room where I hoped no one would hear me and crying so desperately that it felt like retching. Continue reading

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