Not so long ago I wrote a post about why I started making mosaics and called on everyone out there – fellow mosaic obsessives – to tell me what attracted you to the medium and what keeps you here, painstakingly cutting and placing, when you could be making big bold statements with fantastically coloured acrylics or stroking clay into marvellous shapes. Mosaics are limited. The palette is what it is – you cant stretch it out by adding a dot of this and a dab or that and mistakes once made are in many cases hopelessly irredeemable. The materials are often expensive, the time taken to produce even a modest work is ludicrous and the horror of being required to dump dollops of gloopy grout over your completed masterpiece is enough to deter all but the most committed. So why do we make mosaics? I told you why I do (a mixture of mosaic making being a compulsion which I cant control and the necessity of finding occupation in a new country with no language to express myself) and now it’s over to you….
Why do we make mosaics? The reasons.
I collected answers from mosaic professionals whose work is internationally renowned and from artists who fit their work into furtive hours away from their day jobs. It seems we come from all sorts of backgrounds. I had a response from an online manager turned full time Spilimbergo mosaic student, a former professional tennis coach and a Roman mosaic specialist who used to work as an intensive care unit nurse. Certain phrases stand out:
It satisfies my need to create things
I loved the tactile nature of the materials
In a tough world it centres me
It…completely changed my life
A process that, while ancient, never gets old
I have never been happier
Mosaic seems to incorporate all the things I love
I enter a realm of timeless awareness
Several people gave a combination of different answers but in general terms almost all of us ascribe our love of the medium to three main reasons:
1. An accidental stumbling upon the medium, often fuelled by a childhood interest, which led to a mosaic passion.
2. An inexplicable urge – it just, quite simply, feels right.
3. The materials: the smalti, the stone, the glass, the bits of lovely sudden blue from a long discarded pot.
1. An accidental stumbling
Lawrence Payne of Roman Mosaic Workshops in Suffolk, UK, runs an online mosaic supply shop in addition to making, teaching, writing and sharing techniques and skills on Youtube:
I was working as an ITU nurse and had just rekindled an interest in ancient history when I was sitting watching the Horizon documentary, The Secret Treasures of Zeugma. As I was watching the shots of them uncovering the mosaics I knew that was what I wanted to do. I went to Lucianna Notturni’s school in Ravenna and haven’t stopped since. For me it’s not just about making copies but understanding what the original craftsmen would see and how they learnt their trade.
Julie Sperling, a geographer by training, who works with stone using a hammer and hardie and writes about her mosaic journey on her Julie Sperling Mosaics blog:
I have a feeling a lot of us just stumbled upon it, as was the case for me. I made my first mosaic on a whim. My girlfriend (now wife) had this uninspiring, plain Ikea table in her room and I thought it would be fun to jazz it up with a mosaic for her for Christmas. I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, quite honestly. I think the question that I can give you a better answer to (albeit not a perfect one) is why I stayed with mosaic after randomly stumbling into it. Having been raised on a steady diet of puzzles, tinkering, and nature, it just feltright. It satisfies my need to create things, to break things apart and put them back together again, to create not only order but also entire worlds and geographies. I love how it’s so hands-on and physical. And I love how it connects me to the landscape. It’s actually quite hard to articulate why I stuck with mosaic, why it grabbed hold of me. It just clicked.
Kate Rattray from Somerset, UK ( www.rattraymosaics.co.uk), who creates vibrant mosaic art inspired by nature and myth and helps transform community spaces with her murals and public art:
After finishing a creative arts degree, I was making and exhibiting collage, photomontage and music video as well as making my own children! When our little family moved into a school house, I asked the headteacher if I could run some art workshops with the kids. He showed me a large outdoor wall and asked if I could put a mosaic on it. “No problem” I said!!! I got some amazing old mosaic books from the library and talked to some builders in the village. They showed me how to mix a good strong mortar, and they prepared the wall for me with wire mesh and cement screed. The children collected crockery and pebbles, and I got some scraps of stained glass from a stained glass artist. The mosaic took a long time to build, but I discovered how much I loved the tactile nature of the materials and the glow of the glass and ceramic. That mosaic led to a mosaic garden at the school, and several other school mosaic murals, then adult workshops in between developing my own mosaic works. All thanks to Mr.Fosbrook! And I suppose it is a kind of natural progression from collage to mosaic, but I do still play around with other art forms as it keeps ideas fresh.
Alison Bullock from the West Midlands, UK (www.meltingpotmosaics.co.uk) whose creations include garden walls, fire surrounds and kitchen splash backs:
I have always been ‘arty’ in one way or another and first dabbled with mosaics 18 years ago (aged 20) when I smashed a mirror…I didn’t want to throw it away and decided to mosaic round a window frame with the shards and tiles. It looked lovely and bounced the light round the room. I did a few more, eg kitchen splashback, windowsills etc and then didn’t really do anymore until 2013 when I bumped into a mosaic artist who inspired me to create again. I cleared out my loft and this became my art room. I loved it and started my Facebook page ‘Melting Pot Mosaics’ I have no formal training and never done a class but I read a few books to help along the way. One of the main things art gives me is therapy. In a tough world it centres me and I absolutely love it.
Malcolm Skipp, from Surrey, UK, who trained with Emma Biggs, Lawrence Payne and Sonia King and makes traditional mosaics in unglazed ceramic, glass, marble and smalti:
In my case it was all accidental really, as after I had retired my wife bought me a hippocampus mosaic kit. I made the kit, then another and before I knew what had happened it had completely changed my life, and I was hooked on mosaics.
2. An inexplicable urge
Sonia King of http://www.mosaicworks.com/ who creates contemporary art mosaics for gallery, architectural, community and home settings and has her finger on the pulse of mosaic news on her Facebook page:
For me, mosaics are the perfect contrary to the abstract world we live in. It is concrete, you can touch, smell and hear the different materials. And there is nothing more beautiful than a piece of marble or stone and the way of making its beauty stand out even more by combining it with other material.
I thought to have begun doing mosaics during my Erasmus studies in Naples having found beautifully washed pieces of maiolica on the beach of Istria. It was only some time ago that I bumped into an old friend from school who told me she still has a mosaic I made for her when I was about 12 years old. I had totally forgotten about that. But of course, as you describe it above, putting pieces together lies in so many other creative processes. When I was little I was cutting pieces of paper from fashion magazines and made collages from them. I made clothes from rests of fabric for my dolls and barbies. It just always was inside me.
During my very theorical media studies I somehow lost my passion for creating things. Later, In my old job as an online manager I didn’t feel connected to anything I did. I couldn’t see the difference my work made. And I missed creating things with my own hands. But the essence of what you love and like doing can’t get lost. Sooner or later it will always return to you. So here I am studying mosaics full time in Spilimbergo and I have never been happier in my life.
3. The Materials
Chairman of the British Association of Modern Mosaic, Gary Drostle at www.drostle.com , who is based in south east London and makes site specific mosaic murals and installations, reminds us that it is partly the permanence of mosaics which attracts and holds us:
Basically I was working as a mural painter and the ‘Sunburst’ [mosaic at Archway underpass, London] was originally commissioned as a mural painting. In discussions with the client regarding the longevity of the work the possibility of making a mosaic was suggested as a longer lasting medium to work in. And so I embarked on making mosaics. To tell the truth as much as I love mosaic, and I do, my primary focus is telling stories on the street, paint or mosaic, or maybe something else it is still a means to an end.
Kimberley Brudny, a newcomer to the world of mosaics who is currently taking classes at the Chicago Mosaic School:
My grad work was in art therapy. It is within that wonderful world I learned about the process of art. I was interested in what I had read about the process and metaphor of creating mosaics. Regarding the medium, I have always loved sculpture. Yet, I have never concentrated or studied in one medium to be called a professional. Mosaic seemed to incorporate all of the things I love: color, movement, texture, and stone. It’s tactile properties along with the fact you use fun tools make my heart skip a beat.
Great post Helen! It’s interesting to see how different our stories are whilst sharing some common ground. Many thanks for including me 🙂
I’m so glad you wrote this article. I’m finishing another long day on a large mosaic project and I’m in that place where I think, “What is wrong with me? Why is this my passion? Or compulsion? Or whatever. This is ridiculous and messy and my hands are all cut up and dried out from grout and bits are falling out of the mosaic no matter how careful I am and I’ll never make good money at this and I could make so much more art if I picked a different medium…. Agh!”
I sat down on my bathroom floor and Googled “why do I make mosaic?” And this article came up. I love your mosaics and your blog. You are fantastic.
I love this Sarah! You completely capture the frustration and incomprehension at one’s own madness for choosing mosaic over other mediums.