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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

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

Online mosaic tips: free

teaching yourself mosaics
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.

teaching yourself mosaics
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:

teaching yourself mosaics
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

Why do we make mosaics? Let me count the reasons…

 

Gary Drostle pond
Gary Drostle’s pond. Image from the www.thecraftmaker.co.uk

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….

Julie Sperling sea ice.
Julie Sperling. Sea Ice (detail). Photo: Julie Sperling Mosaics

 Why do we make mosaics? The reasons.

Continue reading

Making a mosaic trivet: Part II. Mosaic designs and materials.

Making a mosaic trivet: choosing materials.

This is Part II  of my four part series on making a mosaic trivet – Part I explained how to prepare your base, the marine plywood board, and so now’s the time to choose your materials and mosaic designs. This is where the fun starts.

Materials will influence your design and visa versa so you need to be thinking about both at the same time. In this instance, however,  you are going to be making a direct method mosaic trivet which needs to be flat to put pots on, so there are only three choices of materials (pictured above):

  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Stone

Within these three choices, however, the range of colours is enormous and the effects they create are entirely different so limited choices doesn’t mean limited results. Take a look at the work of mosaicists who are established in the field and tend to prefer certain materials. Martin Cheek, for example, does amazing things in glass:

Martin Cheek fish

Tessa Hunkin has just completed the wonderful Hackney mosaic using ceramic (this is just a detail):

Tessa Hunkin, Hackney mosaic

And of course there’s me and Lawrence Payne of Roman Mosaic Workshops who are partial to stone.

Choosing mosaic designs: basic principles.

When you start thinking about choosing mosaic designs, you need to bear in mind that the process of mosaic making comes with certain constraints. Given that the piece will, by its very nature, have a fractured effect, designs work best which are:

  • Bold
  • Simple
  • Clear

Different components of the design need to be clearly delineated from each other if you want the image to be instantly ‘readable’, although there are also abstract options too – look at this work by Sonia King:

Sonia King Spaces II

And don’t forget that patterns make wonderful mosaic designs:

Squid and patterns: Basilica of Aquliea, Italy,
Squid and patterns: Basilica of Aquliea, Italy,

 Inspiration: Get a Pinterest account

The best thing I can recommend at this stage, is to allow yourself a free-internet rein and surf about looking at different mosaics using different materials until you get a feel for what you would like to do. Here I am going to stop everything and hold up a huge placard saying ‘OPEN A PINTEREST ACCOUNT NOW!’ It’s incredibly useful for getting ideas and keeping hold of them for a later day and also for general dabbling about.

Basically, its like using Google images except that you have an account so when you find something you like and want to keep, then you pin it on one of your boards which can be organised into any subject/theme you like. Other people can then ‘follow’ your boards or you can follow them so that if they are busy pinning images of all the sorts of things that you are interested in, then you wont miss their pins. To make things even better, you can create secret boards so the whole world doesn’t have to know about your particular weird obsessions. I have a secret board called Kitchens because one day, when I’m grown up, I am going to have a real kitchen but its sort of sad that I am sitting here fantasizing about work surfaces and cupboard space so I keep it to myself on my secret board.

My Pinterest account has boards entitled things like: Ancient Mosaics, Byzantine Mosaics, Pebble Mosaics, Mosaic Inspiration and so on but obviously you can choose to categorise your boards however you like.

More inspiration: look around you

If you feel like you want to do your own thing, then look around you – the natural world is full of inspiration:

Making a mosaic trivet, Part II. Material and design.

And there are plenty of designs which can be taken from other contexts and adapted to mosaic – take this Korean wrapping cloth from the British Museum:

Making a mosaic trivet. Part II. Materials and design.

Coming soon: Making a mosaic trivet – get sticking!