I know it’s a niggly silly question, like asking how long is a piece of string or the price of love. But actually it’s a question that’s often asked and, if I’m honest, I’ve always rather wondered myself. How long does it take to make a mosaic? I’m up there, in my little studio at the top of the house, in a happy trace, making my latest mosaic and utterly oblivious to the hours passing. Sometimes I look up and realise two hours, three, have just vanished and my lovely precious time is gone and I must rush downstairs, fling on something presentable, and dash off to school to collect the boys. And so the days go by. Sometimes the hours are more, sometimes less. Sometimes I can ignore the unwelcome intrusions of the outside world, at other times the world comes and seizes me by the scruff of the neck and drags me reluctantly back to attend to it’s affairs.
Of course there are variables. The answer to the question ‘How long does it take to make a mosaic?’ depends on many things. The size of the piece, the size of the tesserae, the materials, the method, the style and approach of the mosaic artist, the way the tesserae are laid and so on. Then there’s the planning, designing and preparing aspect of things too. Add on all that pre-chopping (if you’re using stone) and the nibbling to make the tesserae fit, not to mention the wasted time when you make something and then wake up in the dead of night and realise you hate it and rush back the next day to start again. The hours quickly mount up.
Nonetheless, I thought it might be interesting to time myself making this mosaic which is loosely based on the floor of the animal room in the Vatican Museum, Rome. In comparison to the usual knots that I tie myself in over the design of my mosaics, the planning of this one was easy. It’s for an indent (96cm by 63cm) in a guest lavatory for a family who have recently returned home to London after living in Beijing for virtually all of their married life and whose British children have never known British life. All I had to work on was a photograph of the room in their late Victorian house and a sense of the importance of the long awaited home coming.
I wanted to do something simple and elegant that referred to the family’s circumstances (five birds have come home to nest) but wouldn’t be too squirmingly personal and it was obvious I’d need to do it on mesh for ease of transport. I tried various versions of birds, striding ones and plumper ones, but I couldn’t get them to behave themselves and not look hopelessly twee, so I stuck with a fairly classic bird and varied it’s wing shape and markings. Two birds are slightly more solid and sombre looking with closed beaks to represent the parents but only the most discerning of lavatory users would notice. I kept a record of my hours (and those irksome interruptions) in my mosaic diary and tried as much as possible to break down the tasks (the chopping, the planning, etc.) so I could clearly see at the end how long each had taken.
And as I worked I discovered one more interesting (for me) thing. Not just how long it took, but how long I could stand. In the entry above I noted that five straight hours is a lot for mosaicking and that from that point onwards my arm was hurting and I was easily distracted. I carried on working but wrote emphatically: six hours and thirty minutes MAX!!!
So here’s the answer to that nagging little question: how long did it take (me) to make (this) mosaic?
Pre-chopping stone: 2 hours
Designing birds, fiddling about with various border design options, laying out the mosaic to it’s actual size and checking sizing and spacing (no point in doing a lovely design and finding out that you have to make tesserae the size of a pinhead to render it), organising space ready for work, shopping for backing board: 7 hours.
Preparing to start the mosaic, laying cling film, then mesh over the design and shopping for the marble: 2 hours
And then at last, after 11 hours (and that’s quick by my standards), I started the actual laying. The first bird took 2 hours and 30 minutes:
Over the following days it was a straight run of mosaicking interspersed with cutting.
And the grand total is: 31 hours of laying
4 hours, 15 minutes of chopping
11 hours of designing and preparation.
which makes it 46 hours and 15 minutes
So now I know. Is that a lot?
You tell me.
Coming up soon: Goodbye to Gazientep. A visit to The Zeugma Mosaic Museum, Turkey.