Mosaics – miscellaneous

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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Andamento: an old subject with a new twist.

Andamento is the visual flow and direction within a mosaic produced by the placement of rows of tesserae. (From: www.joyofshards.co.uk) 

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Leaves and fruit. Photo and mosaic: @Helen Miles Mosaics
Andamento – time for an update.
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Infilling detail. Photo and mosaic: @Helen Miles Mosaics

You might be forgiven for thinking that I am a bit of a traditionalist. Modern mosaics inspired by ancient designs has a distinctly tweed coat and brogues ring to it. And then there all my blog posts about ancient mosaics and precious few about their modern equivalents so really I wouldn’t blame you for being convinced that I wear knitted cardigans and have a deep fondness for Anita Brookner novels. But buried within this buttoned-up exterior lurks the heart of a rebel and when it comes to the subject of andamento in mosaics that rebel is chafing to get out.

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Cockerel. Photo and mosaic: @Helen Miles Mosaics

 

My andamento rebellion is one of those quiet ones that disgruntled children excel at. Not saying anything, perhaps. No screaming and slamming doors, maybe. But a pervasive presence and a body language that’s as clear as a siren that says whatever you have decreed is not well received and will just not do. You might not be able to see me but my arms are crossed across my chest, my shoulders are hunched and my bottom lip is protuding all because I feel that the opus-sayers, the shadowy figures who decide what is an opus and what is not, have apparently checked out and forgotten to turn off the lights.

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Teaching Yourself Mosaics – Part II

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Pet portrait by self taught glass mosaic artist Christine Brallier. Photo and mosaic: @cbmosaics

Part II: Books, forums and experiments

(For Part I – my guide to online mosaic courses and tips please follow this link: http://helenmilesmosaics.org/mosaics-miscellaneous/online-mosaic-courses/)

This post is both a source of information about teaching yourself mosaics and a resounding bell-ringing shout-out. Since I can’t go to the top of a building with a megaphone it’s the next best way to say that self taught mosaic artists are one helluva inspiring bunch. Until I started a discussion about teaching yourself mosaics on Contemporary Mosaic Art I had no idea that there was a whole sub-category of mosaicists out there who have sat down and quietly and doggedly taught themselves everything they needed to know to pursue their artistic vision. Their work and dedication says much louder and clearer than I ever could that great things can be achieved, creative wonders realised, beautiful mosaics materialised without the help of classes or formal training.

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An early home experiment made during my mosaic class days. Photo and mosaic: @Helen Miles Mosaics

I can’t claim to be a self taught mosaicist myself as I attended weekly classes here in Greece with mastercraftsmen who specialised in the making of Byzantine-style icons. But I was frustrated by the limitations of the methods and approaches of the teachers (only the indirect method was used, no tessera could be larger than a match head, no spaces were allowed between the pieces) and went home and experimented. I read mosaic books and followed step by step projects, I endlessly visited ancient mosaics in museums and sites and I made an awful lot of mosaics which I am glad that I will never had to see again.

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An early indirect method mosaic made with glass, mirror and smalti. Photo and mosaic: @Helen Miles Mosaics

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Teaching yourself mosaics, Part I: Guide to online mosaic courses and tips

Online mosaic tips: free

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My sorely neglected hammer and hardie. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

There is no point in pussy-footing around so I may as well just spit it out: I don’t know how to use a hammer and hardie. Dear me, what was that? You falling off your chair? I dont blame you. To be a full time, full-on maker of mosaics inspired by the ancients, to be a mosaicist who uses stone and not to know how to use a hammer and hardie is, quite frankly, a disgrace. It’s not something I am proud of but I need to get it out there if I am going to discuss the topic of online mosaic courses.

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Some of my mosaic books for those teach-yourself moments. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

It’s not that I haven’t been shown how to use a hammer and hardie and it’s not that I don’t have one, I do, but it is gathering dust in the corner of my workspace and I rely on this gorgeous beast – a purpose made stone cutter – in its stead:

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Stone cutter. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

It’s a bit of a brute to look at and I can’t fling it in the back of the car, but it’s handy none the less and has allowed me to slip into bad habits – for years. However, I have recently taken the bold and exciting move of signing up for a three day master class with Dagmar Freidrich to be held in Edinburgh at the end of August and I need to learn how to use a hammer and hardie fast. And, thankfully for me, help is at hand – teaching yourself mosaics has never been easier thanks to short online videos offering mosaic tips and advice. Continue reading

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The Unswept Floor mosaic: ancient and modern

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Detail of Unswept Floor mosaic, 2nd century, Vatican Museum, Rome. Cherries circled.

The Unswept Floor Mosaic down the ages

The moment came when I was stirring the porridge. The news was on, the kettle was boiling and I was standing in the kitchen trying to marshal the troops for school, get breakfast on the table and check Instagram at the same time.  It was one of those moments you get in films when the screen goes wavy and a pony-tailed girl in a pinafore running down a garden path changes into a bent old woman walking slowly down an empty street. The moment came when this slid by on my phone screen:

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Screen shot of Instagram photo of an Unswept Floor in Brighton, England from talesofjude.

A pavement mosaic in Brighton, England, 2016. A cheerful design of kitchen objects and fruit scattered across a surface- maybe a table or a work space. But press the rewind button and it’s an ancient Roman floor, circa 200AD. That casual photograph posted by talesofjude proves, if proof were needed, that ancient mosaics have remarkable staying power. It’s not just that some are still serving out their function as floor coverings while entire civilisations have risen and been reduced to dust but their longevity is more subtle, more insidious than that. Continue reading

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Inside mosaic studios

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Before the Big Clean Up. My mosaic space. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Until a few days ago I was a mosaic maker with a dark secret. My mosaic workspace was a horrendous mess: tesserae jumbled together in yoghurt pots, bags of marble rods dumped on the floor, books shoved unceremoniously onto shelves, sketches tucked into nooks never to be seen again, and pencils and tools scattered randomly in miscellaneous containers. All this might be shocking enough for you tidy tesserae folk out there, but I don’t want you to think kindly of me as a disorganised, flighty type with higher things on my mind than colour coordination. No, the awful truth is that I was not only perfectly aware of my shambolic way of working, but I positively revelled in it. No longer. You will be relieved to learn that I am now an entirely new person and it’s all thanks to you.

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Emma Bigg’s workshop. Photo: Emma Biggs

The transformation happened as I sat down to write about mosaic studios. When I came up with the idea, I thought it would be a straight forward matter of asking mosaicists from the online community for their help with supplying photographs and then it would all flow smoothly from there. But I quickly discovered what should have been obvious from the beginning – mosaic studios are more than just spaces where we work. They are private places, refuges, hideouts, sanctuaries, inner sanctums, and spaces generally of much greater importance than what goes on within them (although that’s pretty bloody important too). Continue reading

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The Hackney Mosaic Project, London.

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Hackney Mosaic sign. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

A two-part post on the Hackney Mosaic Project in London led by Tessa Hunkin and assisted by a team of volunteers. Tessa, who has a string of mosaic books to her name as well as numerous prestigious mosaic commissions from Westminster Cathedral to cruise ships and celebrity homes, started the project in 2011. 

It’s odd to think that when mosaic artist Tessa Hunkin hit upon the idea of setting up a community mosaic project in London she didn’t have her door battered down by excited supporters and willing funders. The idea, which has since morphed into the Hackney Mosaic Project – responsible for some of the finest community mosaics in London – started off as a relatively modest plan to make a mosaic to mark the London 2012 Olympics.

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Robson Cezar, King of the Bottletops, doing a section of the West Hackney Recreation Ground Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

‘I thought it could be an Olympic project since the Olympics started in Greece and mosaics started in Greece so I did a drawing based on the seasons and tried to sell it,’ said Tessa, who trained as an architect before becoming a full time professional mosaic artist in the late 1980s. But none of the London boroughs took the bait until Tessa approached Hackney Council, which had a budget for Olympic preparations and the vision to see that this would be a perfect way to bring the community together and cheer up a neglected corner of the city. Continue reading

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The Hows and Whys of Writing a Mosaic Blog

Mosaics and Social Media.

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Fish. Nikopolis, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

 Part I: The Hows and Whys of Writing a Mosaic Blog

Two years ago I started writing a mosaic blog. Up until then I had been an avid mosaic maker for at least eight years but, except for forays onto Flickr and Contemporary Mosaic Artists, I pretty much kept myself to my mosaic self. I knew that there was a world out there of Facebookers, Twitterers, Tumblr users, Pinterest fanatics and Instagram senders, but somehow the thought of throwing myself into the fray was less than appealing. Mosaics, for me, were about being in my studio surrounded by the tools of the trade and quietly getting on with what I loved best. Social media seemed like nothing more than an irritating distraction from the real business of mosaic making.Why write a mosaic blog

But as the years rolled by I got to thinking that maybe I should launch myself on the mosaic scene. Maybe I should mix and mingle. Get to know other mosaic makers. Find out what was going on in the larger mosaic world. Maybe doors would open, opportunities would arise. Maybe, just maybe, I might even sell a few more mosaics. I knew that the wider mosaic community would provide not just potential buyers, but advice, tips, ideas, suppliers and the comfort of connection with people who are completely potty about the same thing as me. So I sat down and started writing a mosaic blog. Continue reading

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