tessa hunkin

The Hackney Downs Mosaic, London.

Part II of a two part post on the mosaic work of the Hackney Mosaic Project, designed and led by Tessa Hunkin.

Elephant detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

In 2,000 years or so, a fisherman out in a small boat on the waters which cover the long submerged city of London, will be leaning over the side of his vessel hauling in his line when something will catch his eye. Accustomed to sailing over the ruins of crumpled sky scrapers and following the tangled routes of once busy thoroughfares, he will wonder if it’s just a shadow or something new and shiny dropped from an earlier craft, but he’ll steady the boat, look again and see something clearly beneath the surface.

Tree detail, Hackney Downs Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

A storm the day before will have shifted a bank of silt and the fisherman will be the first to glimpse a small corner of the Hackney Downs Mosaic for more than a thousand years.

DSCN9030Over the ensuing months, with much fanfare and wonder, the mosaic will be excavated and removed to dry land. A special building will be made to house the newly-discovered work. There will be a grand opening and the fisherman will stand awkwardly to one side as a dignitary, surrounded by a coterie of excited archeologists whose learned theses on the origins of the mosaic will suggest others still lie submerged, will announce that it is open to the public. Continue reading

The Hackney Mosaic Project, London.

Hackney Mosaic sign. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

A two-part post on the Hackney Mosaic Project in London led by Tessa Hunkin and assisted by a team of volunteers. Tessa, who has a string of mosaic books to her name as well as numerous prestigious mosaic commissions from Westminster Cathedral to cruise ships and celebrity homes, started the project in 2011. 

It’s odd to think that when mosaic artist Tessa Hunkin hit upon the idea of setting up a community mosaic project in London she didn’t have her door battered down by excited supporters and willing funders. The idea, which has since morphed into the Hackney Mosaic Project – responsible for some of the finest community mosaics in London – started off as a relatively modest plan to make a mosaic to mark the London 2012 Olympics.

Robson Cezar, King of the Bottletops, doing a section of the West Hackney Recreation Ground Mosaic. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

‘I thought it could be an Olympic project since the Olympics started in Greece and mosaics started in Greece so I did a drawing based on the seasons and tried to sell it,’ said Tessa, who trained as an architect before becoming a full time professional mosaic artist in the late 1980s. But none of the London boroughs took the bait until Tessa approached Hackney Council, which had a budget for Olympic preparations and the vision to see that this would be a perfect way to bring the community together and cheer up a neglected corner of the city. Continue reading

There’s no world without mosaics

Barnacles, Scotland’s West Coast. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

All summer I felt bereft; longing for mosaics, pining for my studio, aching for the peace and purpose of my work. Every summer I am obliged by the tradition of nine-week-long school holidays to down my tools and go where family and heart and other people’s needs direct me. We always go to Scotland, sometimes driving through Europe, sometimes stopping in England, once striking off eastwards to Turkey or simply staying in our little hillside house on the Greek mountain of Pelion and hanging out on the beach.

Farook relaxing with a good book on the beach. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics.

There is much to appreciate about the summers. For all their broken-upness, the two days here, three days there nature of them, they allow us all to reconnect. I see old friends, spend time with my increasingly decrepid parents and visit my favourite places. But nonetheless I feel bereft because I can’t be making mosaics. Continue reading

Visiting the Heraclea Lyncestis mosaics, Macedonia

Central urn bordered by deer, peacocks and an acanthus wreath. Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

When I made plans to go visit the Heraclea Lyncestis mosaics in Macedonia with Tessa Hunkin I was slightly concerned that the mosaics would play second fiddle. Tessa Hunkin is my mosaic heroine. In case there’s anyone out there who thinks you dont know her, you do. She’s the one that set up Mosaic Workshop in London’s Holloway in the 1980s with Emma Biggs. I bet you have at least one of her many books on various mosaic subjects from making techniques to garden mosaics and mosaic patterns. She won the 2014 British Association of Modern Mosaics Mosaic of the Year award for the Shepherdess Walk Mosaic that she created with the Hackney Mosaic Project and has designed and made a string of mosaics for public and private spaces which consistently make my jaw drop.

Leopard gorging on a fallen deer. Heraclea Lyncestis, Macedonia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

Continue reading

An idiot’s guide to designing mosaics

Designing mosaics – the old way


The idiot being me.

Designing mosaics has never come easily to me. I toil and sweat over them and even when I have come up with designs that I am reasonably happy with (or at least can tolerate), there has always been at the back of my mind a sense that something was missing, that it didn’t have to be such a pained, angst ridden, protracted process. At various times, I attributed this to a simple inability to trust my instincts, to a natural proclivity to harsh self criticism or to the fact that I didn’t attend art school or receive any formal artistic training.


I would design something, tear it up, rub it out, start again and again and again and then finally come up with a drawing to scale which I’d hang on the wall and allow myself to come upon it at different times of day or in different moods and lights to see if I still liked it after stepping back from it, all the time wondering why I found it so darned difficult.

Having just finished one of the my most agonising mosaic design processes to date, I went away for Easter week to Pelion equipped with a new camera and a determination to learn how to take better photographs. I downloaded a Kindle book called (optimistically) How to Create Stunning Digital Photography by Tony Northrup and settled down to immerse myself in f-stops and shutter speeds. Designing mosaics was, for once, the last thing on my mind. Continue reading

My top ten favourite mosaics

My favourite mosaics

Feeling a bit gloomy and introspective after some major dental work and so I cheered myself up by spending an evening collecting my favourite mosaics in one place. These are in no particular order.

1. The mosaic floor of the Basilica of Aquileia, Italy, 4th century, AD.

This strange little detail of a tortoise meeting a cockerel gives you an idea of the odd ball moments in this enormous Roman mosaic which covers the entire floor of the church. We went there in the summer and I have posted an album of photographs for anyone who is interested: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/118307925674576063201/118307925674576063201/posts

Aquileia mosaic, tortoise and cockerel.

2. The Lod Mosaic, near Tel Aviv, Israel. 3rd century, AD. An immensely well preserved Roman mosaic of vast extent and beauty. The top picture is still only a fraction of the whole and the others are details.

Lod mosaic, overview

Lod mosaic, fishLod mosaic, birds

3. The map of Madaba, Church of St. George, Jordan. 6th century, AD.

Madaba map, Jordan.

4. The Unswept Floor, Vatican Museum, Rome. 2nd century, AD. I was determined to see this mosaic on a recent trip to Rome, but failed miserably. There were mosaics all over the Vatican but this one eluded me. Even the woman at the information booth couldn’t help. Is it really there?

Unswept floor

5. The Shepherdess Walk Mosaic Project, Hackney, London. Led by Tessa Hunkin and opened earlier this year.  http://hackneymosaic.tumblr.com/. This is a mere drop in the ocean of an enormous community project mosaic recently completed in London.

Tessa Hunkin, Hackney mosaic

6. New York City subway mosaics, of which this is one example at Delancey Street. The subway mosaics also include some wonderful mosaic signs which is a use of mosaic that I am particularly partial to.

Mosaic fish, Delancey Street

7. The Low Ham Mosaic, Somerset, UK. This is one of five panels. 4th century AD. Dido embracing Aeneas. It’s his skirt, her bottom and the trees that do it for me.

Low Ham Roman Mosaic

8. Horse and Pomegranate. 4th century, AD. Villa Fortunatus, Zaragoza Museum, Spain. A horse and a pomegranate in one mosaic. What more can one ask for?  More on pomegranates in mosaics here: http://helenmilesmosaics.org/mosaic-photo-galleries/pomegranate-mosaics/Horse and pomegranate.

9. Emma Biggs. Green bowls, detail. As far as I’m concerned, everything Emma Biggs does is perfect, but this is even more perfect than normal.  http://www.emmabiggsmosaic.net/

Emma Biggs, Green Bowls, Detail

10. Marc Chagall, Four Seasons Mosaic, bird detail, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, Illinois. I love the way the adamento (filling in bits) are laid in this 21-metre long mosaic completed in 1974.

Chagall mosaic, Chicago

10 and a half.  Leopard, Beit el Din, Lebanon.

Beit Ed Dine, Panather, Lebanon.

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!