Picture the scene. A drinks party perhaps. A casual conversation on the train. A longer than expected wait at the school gate. I have exhausted my repertoire of opening gambits and feel, with a sense of impending dread, the arrival of the inevitable question:
‘So what do you do?’
Slight pause. ‘I make mosaics.’
‘Ah’. Polite smile, eyes darting around frantically thinking of something to say.
And that’s it.
Mosaics are one big conversation stopper. I can see images of garden pots covered in broken plates floating in the eyes of my interlocutor and sometimes, seized by desperation, I start rattling on about using stone and marble and having a passion for Roman mosaics and liking to work with the spirit of them rather than to slavishly copy them, but it doesn’t really help much.
I could try saying that I’m an artist, but I’d feel a bit of a fraud. I position myself in the craft camp and I wouldn’t want anyone to think even briefly that I’m trying to claim to be some sort of hot shot. Besides, I’m comfortable with saying I make mosaics, it’s just that people just don’t seem to be fully aware of what they are in a modern context. If I were to say that I knit, then the conversation would flow smoothly because everyone has a personal connection with knitting. It’s the same with other crafts – wood work, ceramics, quilting, basket making, glass blowing, weaving, blacksmithing – we all know what they are and how they’re used. But as a general rule people just don’t get mosaics.
Six ways to use mosaics
But why? Mosaics have been with us for thousands of years and everyone is familiar with the concept of them, so it’s odd that their practical use in a modern context isn’t widely understood. So for the sake of the next person I meet on the Heathrow Express, I’ve done a little list of six ways to use mosaics. Perhaps I could print it out and hang a laminated flyer around my neck. That would certainly get the conversation flowing!
1. FLOORS. The obvious one. No need for explanation here. Whether you are doing up your kitchen, adding on an extension, giving the porch a facelift or thinking of a new look for the hall, a mosaic could be just the thing. You could have a mosaic insert for a particular place in the floor – at the threshold, for example? – or mosaic the whole thing. Here’s an insert I did which is waiting to be installed in a house in the Peloponnese, Greece:
2. KITCHEN AND BATHROOM SPLASHBACKS. Where ever there is tiling, there could be mosaics. Most mosaics are made of ceramic, glass, or stone and are durable and waterproof so they work perfectly in kitchens and bathrooms. Here’s my own take on the Unswept Floor mosaic installed as a kitchen splash back in Normandy:
3. SIGNS. The Romans used mosaics for signs too. Think of the famous Cave mosaic from Pompeii. They make great house signs or signs for businesses or shops, whether embedded into the outside of the building or the entrance way or hung as free standing objects the way you’d hang a picture on the wall. Here’s a house number with the street name that I made on mesh for a house in Athens and which has been embedded into the garden wall:
Or another, just a plain number, which is made on a stone slab and can be propped up anywhere that it’s easy to see:
4. GARDEN DECORATION, paving stones, urns, pots, swimming pools etc. This is where the pots covered in broken plates come in. I don’t have anything against them, its just that there is more to mosaics than that. My next project is probably going to be an oversized outdoor mosaic chess set with flat palm-sized decorated stones for the pieces. Since mosaics are made from tough weather proof materials, their uses outdoors are almost endless.
5. PRESENTS. Mosaics make the best presents ever for weddings, anniversaries, significant birthdays….or any time for any reason. The fact that they are unique, handmade, almost indestructible and can be specially designed to suit the occasion and the recipient means that they make totally and utterly perfect presents. Naturally.
Here’s a wedding mosaic I made recently:
6. GENERAL DECORATION Indoors, outdoors. Mirrors, boxes, trivets, you name it, mosaics can cover it. Mosaics don’t have to be embedded or permanent features. This one (from Emma Biggs and Tessa Hunkin’s Mosaic, Stylish and Simple) is made on mesh and set into a lime washed wall:
Or here’s a little mosaic head made on a concrete base that could be hung anywhere but which happens to be living in Brisbane, Australia: