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.
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 →
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:
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 →
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):
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:
Tessa Hunkin has just completed the wonderful Hackney mosaic using ceramic (this is just a detail):
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:
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:
And don’t forget that patterns make wonderful mosaic designs:
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:
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:
Coming soon: Making a mosaic trivet – get sticking!
This weekend, Alison Scourti and I will be teaching mosaics for the first time at Candili (shown above) on the island of Evvia, Greece.
Three families have signed up and two extra adults but I am not sure whether all of them are going to be mosaicing. Given that the house is set in acres of glorious grounds, that the pool (decorated by Martin Cheek, no less) is full, the beach not far away and the sun is always shining, I suspect that there might be a few deserters.
Still, preparations are underway. Boards have been bought, designs thought of, marble ordered and collected (from the most amazing marble supplier on earth) and numerous lists written, checked and counter checked to make sure we dont miss a thing. Something that seems so simple when you are sitting at home surrounded by jars of tesserae and drawers full of tools suddenly seems immensely complicated when you have to ship the whole operation to a temporary new space.
We have decided to give everyone the choice of either following a preprepared, relatively simple design ( for example: a crab, bird or snail) or do a bit of experimenting with abstract designs which is Alison’s forte:
This is her current work in progress. As you can see, she makes stunning pieces with natural stone and marble using the indirect method. She’s planning to rustle up a few extra designs too, just in case people prefer to follow her ideas rather than have to dream up something on the spur of the moment for themselves.
The plan is to have two, three-hour sessions and although we’ve done a dry run and timed how long it will take to cover the 20cm by 20cm boards, I am sure the timing might go a bit hay wire, and we’ll run over time. But just in case our students zoom along (especially the children) we’ll be bringing along plenty of extra boards and marble.
Whatever happens, Candili is one of the places where its just nice to be, so I am looking forward to it.
(formerly Athens, Greece)
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Helen Miles Mosaics
I learnt how to make mosaics with Greek masters of the craft in Thessaloniki and Athens who taught using traditional methods with a focus on Byzantine iconography. Later, I become fixated with Roman designs and now my aim is to preserve the simplicity and directness of early mosaics while creating pieces which suit our modern lives.