Andamento is the visual flow and direction within a mosaic produced by the placement of rows of tesserae. (From: www.joyofshards.co.uk)
Andamento – time for an update.
You might be forgiven for thinking that I am a bit of a traditionalist. Modern mosaics inspired by ancient designs has a distinctly tweed coat and brogues ring to it. And then there all my blog posts about ancient mosaics and precious few about their modern equivalents so really I wouldn’t blame you for being convinced that I wear knitted cardigans and have a deep fondness for Anita Brookner novels. But buried within this buttoned-up exterior lurks the heart of a rebel and when it comes to the subject of andamento in mosaics that rebel is chafing to get out.
My andamento rebellion is one of those quiet ones that disgruntled children excel at. Not saying anything, perhaps. No screaming and slamming doors, maybe. But a pervasive presence and a body language that’s as clear as a siren that says whatever you have decreed is not well received and will just not do. You might not be able to see me but my arms are crossed across my chest, my shoulders are hunched and my bottom lip is protuding all because I feel that the opus-sayers, the shadowy figures who decide what is an opus and what is not, have apparently checked out and forgotten to turn off the lights.
I recently signed up for a lime mortar master class in Edinburgh and as I sat down to write about it, I felt a door gently click open. I left the writing and went back to my current mosaic project – a house warming commission of a tree; an oak for Ireland with roots winding around the frame for the roots of family.
And as I worked, ideas began to creep in through that open door. At first they were hesitant and kept their distance and then they grew bolder and came to lie at my feet. The simple act of signing up for a lime mortar master class to be taught by Dagmar Friedrich of Spilimbergo and Joanna Kessel of Edinburgh Mosaic Studios had let in a whole new world of mosaic inspiration.
As with all inspiration, however, the ideas had always been there, but they were translucent, hovering things which would occasionally try to land and take hold but were mostly batted away by current projects, domestic duties and more familiar, easier ways of working. But as I read what the lime mortar master class entailed, about the gathering of materials – of stones, marble, porcelain and glass, sea worn glass, ceramic and fireclay – and how I would learn to mould the lime substrate, to make it textured or smooth, and then take the materials and press them into the surface, the ideas began to grow larger, to gain substance and to gather around me.
One must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with. (Vincent van Gogh)
It’s confession time. I am going to be writing about making mosaic mistakes and most of them will be mine. It’s not an easy thing to do. It makes me squirm. I dont like to think of all the wasted hours. Of the mosaics I made in the early days and then stuffed to the back of the cupboard, took out to the bins or sold for a pittance at craft fairs because they taunted me with their awfulness. But it’s important to remember two things: one, that everyone makes mosaic mistakes (admittedly, some more than others) and two, one person’s mistake can be another person’s success. Mosaic is a forgiving medium. Mistakes are often invisible to an outside eye or only add to the hand made-y-ness of the work. And of course if you are using the indirect method mistakes can be easily rectified. One of the nicest backhanded compliments I ever received was to go into a friend’s house and find one of my mosaics which I’d discarded by the roadside, proudly sitting there on a bathroom shelf. Continue reading →
How to make a direct method mosaic on mesh, Part I
Truth be told, I am going through a bit of a mesh phase. I cant seem to get enough of it. Making a mesh on mesh is just so darn simple, convenient, versatile and all-round handy. The finished work is easily lifted from its base, doesn’t weigh much and is a total synch to transport. The ‘unswept floor’ mosaic I am working on above is just the latest in a string of mesh mosaics I have made in my new found enthusiasm for the method.
Here’s one that’s finished. See what I mean about it’s light weight, ready-to-go-ness? Continue reading →
The direct method involves putting the mosaic pieces, or tesserae, directly onto the base (which could be wood, stone, concrete, ceramic etc), grouting the completed piece and that, more or less, is that. Alternatively, you can apply the pieces onto fibre glass mesh as I did for the mosaic floor which means the finished work is light and transportable and also bendable so that it can be applied to rounded surfaces. The mosaic on mesh is fixed to its final substrate using tile adhesive (indoor or outdoor as appropriate) and grouted on site. Continue reading →
(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.