IMA's Weekly Mosaic Workout Challenge

Institute of Mosaic Art's Weekly Mosaic Workout Challenge. We are challenging ourselves, and whoever wants to join us, to make a mosaic every week from June 6th to November 6th, 2014. 

The Wonder of Week 2 - What we made, what we learned

You are awesome!

This is already so much fun and I continue to be so impressed by the work and that people are really pushing themselves to do what they would not have otherwise done. 

I love reading your submissions and wish I had time to write back to each of you and talk more about your pieces and your processes.  I am learning so much from your perspectives and the materials and designs that you are playing with are sparking new ideas for me and/or reminding me of things I've wanted to work on or work with.  I hope that you are all checking each other's work out too, there's so much to be gained and so many good conversations to be had (am contemplating an online chat or two where we can discuss some of the prompts, common difficulties and tips for overcoming them.)

Even if you don't always love the exercise of the week, you seem to be enjoying the challenge so far.  And one artist who did not get her workout done this week still learned something: "A bad attitude most definitely inhibits the creative process!"

Apologies again for any formatting oddities. This week went more smoothly than last (just on a later schedule) but I'm still having a battle with the system and so far I think I'm losing! Still investigating other options...

Switcheroo - What We Made, what we learned

Artist: Sophia Cordoni

Title: (work in progress) Damages 

Time: So far - 2 hours

Materials: Low-fire tile. I rarely use ceramic tile and tend to use high-fire when I do. It is so much easier to carve low-fire tile! Though I also broke a couple pieces inadvertently because it was so soft. 

Thoughts: The exercise was okay. I still prefer glass and stone but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.  I tend toward small pieces and tile doesn't lend itself so well to that sort of situation but I would use it if I were to make murals or bigger pieces. This workout was definitely crammed in at the last possible minute (and not quite finished at that) so it's not the most inspired or interesting piece. I think I'll like it well enough when it's done and grouted (hopefully I can get it done in the next few weeks.) Hoping to be more excited about (and create a little more time for) one upcoming...

Artist:  Sherry E Wallis

Title:  It's purple!

Time spent:  8 hrs

Thoughts:  This is 4" x 6".  Thinking about this and using something we hadn't used in a long time, I thought about a project for our house/dog sitter that I never finished.  All I got finished was a purple octopus.  I resurrected it, and then remembered I had a bunch of Karma glass tiles I bought about 5 yrs ago at SAMA.  So I dug around until I found them and thought they worked well for an undersea look along with some shells and some vitreous green for the glass.  Turned out I had exactly 8 Svarsoksi pink/purple crystals and 2 green ones.  They've been in a drawer for about 5 years as well.  Since it is actually a piece for someone rather than just an exercise, I spent a little more time on it.  I grouted the blue and the bottom of the sand tiles, but filled in between the sand tiles with aquarium gravel and shells in a bed of Weldbond.  I'm ridiculously pleased with the result.  

Artist: Misha Moore

Title: Simplicity

Time to complete: 1 1/2 hours

Thoughts: I usually work with stained glass, and mostly glass on glass work. This was a stretch for me because I do not work with thin set or found objects although I have many small things waiting for just this type of project. I see others works like this and think I would really love to do that, then I have to remind myself that is their voice not mine. In doing this project I believe that I have found a new voice within myself that I never knew was there. I really could not be happier with this piece.

Materials: Reclaimed wooden base, stained glass, handmade ceramic rose, tusk and other assorted shells, pearls and a bone that I found at the lake.

Artist: Marilyn Descours

Title: Memaw’s Trivet

Time: Way to long, but it was my first time, so…..

Thoughts:  I’ve never done anything with broken dishes and grout, so I decided to try it.  I borrowed some plates and grout from a friend and started smashing and nipping.  The only thing I like about it is the tight interstices.  The colors and design are boring.  I would try it again with brighter colors.  I thought I would hate the process, but I kinda liked it.  I would do it again.

Artist: Cate Thomassen

Title: A Spot of Iridescence

Materials: This was done completely in vitreous glass. A material that I dislike, but of which, I have a rather large collection. Seemed like a good idea when I bought it.

Thoughts: This is a method of mosaic that I wouldn’t likely have attempted were it not for this workout, and is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever done before. I have never used only one material in a piece, nor have I worked in geometrics. It took me longer than I anticipated, probably about 5 hours (not including grout time), and would have taken longer if I had gone back and made all of the corrections that I’d like to. 

I realized too late that I should have drawn the tessellation before I began as I had trouble in a few places keeping the two colours alternating. I also think this pattern would have been more effective if I’d been exacting with my cuts or had used smaller tiles and left them uncut except where needed. 

Artist: Kappy Venezia

Title: Alas Glass

Time: This took about 4 hours, mostly trying to fix mistakes.  

Thoughts: I was given some glass tiles recently, which I love, so I decided to use these for this project.  I haven't worked with glass too much and my first discovery was that these tiles are almost impossible to cut with the tools that I have.     I could cut them in half but that was about it.  So, I resorted to throwing them into a baggie and smashing them with a hammer!  Next I decided to use thin set to adhere the glass to my substrate.  I haven't used thin set too much either and now I know why they call it THIN set.  I learned the hard way that a thin layer will do the trick.  When I pressed the glass down on the thin set it all came oozing through the spaces between the glass pieces.  I couldn't really wipe it out because I had tile tape over the entire project that I couldn't remove until the thinset dried! Suffice to say, it was kind of a mess!  Then to top it off, I mixed up some green grout that looked like day old guacamole.  I hesitated about using it but then thought I just need to finish this thing and I slathered it on!

Long story short-not super happy with this project. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy doing it.  I learned a lot about what not to do, learned I need a glass tile cutter and I still need help choosing grout colors.

Artist: Julie Sperling

Title: Over/under

Size: 6" x 6"

Time: Far too long (probably just under 5 hours)

Love or hate this workout? Hate! One of the biggest joys in mosaic, for me, is the materials I use (specifically, the rocks). While working with the ceramic was OK, the pain and frustration of working with the vitreous tile---of feeling so boxed in by those perfect, regular, uninspiring 1"x1" squares---really coloured my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of this challenge.

Happy with the result? I don't mind it, but it's definitely not one of my favourite things I've ever made. If I had to do it all over again (heaven forbid!!), I'd tweak the pathways of a few lines and also the colour distribution. 

What did I learn? Oddly enough, most of what I learned had nothing to do with materials, even though that was the focus of the challenge. On the materials side, the challenge reinforced the fact that I will continue to avoid vitreous tile at all costs. No surprises there for me. But the non-materials-related learnings / reminders were quite helpful. (1) I learned that when trying to weave lines over and under each other, working in different colours is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it's easier to follow where the lines are going, but a curse because by removing that ambiguity of which line goes where, you can't really fudge it. When doing this in one colour, there's definitely more wiggle room. (2) I realized that weaving the lines is way easier when you have an irregular shape to build off of, rather than a straight edge - there are so many more potential pathways just ripe for the taking. (3) I learned that I should never finish a challenge and then go straight to bed, because, despite the fact that it might be 1:15am (which it was this week), I will lie awake in bed, nitpicking and fretting over the things I wish I had done differently. And (4) I reminded myself that sometimes I really do just need to step away instead of powering through. There are a few areas in this piece where I wish I had given myself a bit of distance and allowed myself to think things through / recalibrate before continuing. Of course, I already knew the value of doing this, it's just sometimes easier said than done, especially after midnight when you're not having fun and all you want to do is get it done.

Artist: Nan Judson

Title: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Size: 6 x6 inches

Time spent: 3 hours

Materials: Extremely thick crockery, wall tiles, small porcelain tiles, leftover glass tiles for background, and alphabet beads.

Thoughts: I generally use some amount of stained glass in my work, especially when I want fine details. It was a challenge to complete this mosaic, because I wanted to be working on something I loved. I used  compound nippers for the first time, and scrap materials that I do not generally use. I was determined to finish the project without buying anything.  I tried to use an indirect method, but the giraffe pieces slipped when I moved them. The results aren't up to my standards, and I had to remind myself that the point of this exercise is to step out of my comfort range. I did not grout because I wanted to finish the mosaic within the  3 hour time frame.

Artist: Elizabeth Grindon

Materials: I messed around and took liberties with materials - the white stuff is ripped up canvas. Some painted pink with acrylics. 

Thoughts: There are sections of this I could expand upon in future. Particularly honed in on letting the tiles "breathe." Belief it or not, my inspiration for this was cherry trees - the beauty and pain of the shortness of life embodied in them.

Artist: Rita Josephson

Title: Spring

Time: About 2 hours

Materials: This was a love/hate process.  Loved going to the ReStore to get some ceramic tile but when I started cutting it up, it wouldn't break into straight pieces like glass, so it was a bit frustrating.I am happy with the result.  I learned to let the pieces dictate a theme, not to try to force it into a preconceived idea.


Artist: Deborah Englebaugh

Title: Dawn Breaks Early

Time: 3 ½ hours

Size: 6”x 6”

Materials: Youghiogheny Stained Glass, West Virginia core sample, smalti, ceramic tile and letterpress type.

Thoughts: Setting aside my hammer and hardie to use only my nippers proved to be a challenge. Selecting the areas of rich colors blended into the stained glass helped to balance out my discomfort.

Artist: Mary Beth Binder

Title: Rockin' the Rajasthani!

Time Spent: About 2 hours

Thoughts:  As far as using new materials, I kind of cheated: I mostly work in glass so far, so I grabbed a rock, stuck 4 pebbles on, and those are my "new" materials, in addition to leftover bling from Laurel Skye's class.  I also used a new adhesive for 3-d pieces that I had purchased but never used, and I experimented with buying a pallete of cheapie eye shadows at the Dollar store and shaving some into my sealer to make an inexpensive metallic sheen (instead of the expensive stuff I usually use). It worked ok…

Artist: Marsha Lipnisky



Title: Swinger
Size: 5" X 3.75"

Time: 4 hours

Thoughts: Loved and hated this work. The beads kept dropping and rolling off the table and silicone is messy. I figured it out that by using a dental pick to transfer the beads (one at a time) and spreading the silicone in small sections I could get better results.
Somehow I found this project very relaxing and rewarding in the end. I may try to put pants on him if I can figure out a way of doing it without losing his shape in the process.

Artist: Marjie Milligan

Title:  Stepping Stones

Materials: unglazed porcelain – for the first time. I am fairly new to mosaics and wanted to use the unglazed porcelain and at the same time experiment with color gradations.

Thoughts: I like the color mix, but found it difficult to cut the tile – until I  started using the correct tool. So I learned that tool choice is rather important! But you don't learn anything if you don't make mistakes. The final product is not bad, and leave lots of room for improvement. It took me about 6 hours in all, maybe longer. I was setting up a workspace in my basement at the same time, so I was constantly heading upstairs to get stuff that I needed. The next piece should be easier from an organizational point of view. 

Artist: Rachel Saidman

Title: Flow

Hours: 2 hrs.

Material: Rocks, mirrored glass

Thoughts: I've never worked with rocks before and enjoyed putting this together.. challenge for me is definitely still working quickly and 'on deadline' - I think I'll be happier with this piece when I've had a chance to grout it...

Artist: Cheryl Compton

Title:  Acts 5:23

How long did it take:  6 hours (give or take)


Did you love or hate this workout?  This workout was great.  I have never used cut stone before and I have never cut stone before.  The first challenge was finding stone that could be cut with nippers.  I had to go back to the beach after my first try with my nippers because I had brought back stones that were too big, lol.  Lesson learned, I made a guide that I take with me now.  Also, I have never used thinset before, always secured my piece and then grouted over the top (once I was happy).  This was a completely different experience and totally different effect than I expected.

Happy with the result? Yes and No.  The piece isn't as great looking as I thought it would be.  It is hard to see the design and the colors of the rock don't 'pop'.  But, being my first time ever doing things this way, it came out better than I expected.

What did you learn?  I learned that you better be very careful when placing your rocks in the thinset.  I accidentally put one in wrong (mid right quadrant) and made a mess of the smoothness of the thinset.  Also, I need to work harder at getting the thinset evenly coated before placing stones.  The bottom corner (right) was skimpy and I had to add more, but it didn't set as nicely as the first time.

Or learn that you need to learn?  I learned a lot doing this workout.  Most of all, I need to probably watch a whole ton more You Tube videos before trying this technique again.  And, there must be a trick to making tesserae from stone using nippers that I haven't yet found.  It was really hard to get mine even and I finally gave up.  Also, you have to collect a whole bunch more rocks if you are going to cut them because most of them have a ton of waste that gets thrown on the rock driveway.  lol.

Artist: Dotti Stone

Title: Breaking Loose

Size: approx 7"x7" on 8" square substrate

Time: Approx 3 1/2-4 hours

Materials:  Agate slices, Jasper, Various smooth stones(dk brown, amber, off white, black)

Thoughts: Only 2-3 times have I worked with stones and that was 3-4 years ago and never used agate slices, so decided to give it a whirl. The first time was a 14" circle and while I loved the texture, found it difficult to control the layout because of the varied shapes and sizes ... I didn't have stones of similar shapes and sizes to facilitate controlling the look of the andamento. Hasn't happened this time either, but it was a fun experiment - and even looking at the, I thought, completed piece, I see one stone I plan to pull out and replace (from white to black). It is really important to have time to get away from a project and go back with fresh eyes. I also, don't often work direct without laying out quite a lot before adhering to the substrate. Usually this works pretty well, but with roly-poly stones!!! ... the layout and orientation of the stone changes a bit. All said ... I enjoyed the "workout" ... something I probably would not have down without this push!

Artist:  Janice Oravec
Title:  Stained Glass Leftovers
Time Spent: 4 hours
Thoughts:  I like it, but still do not like working with stained glass.

Artist: Norma Jene

Title: (work in progress) Blue Sparrows

Time Spent: I started working on it yesterday morning and then became obsessed with the unsolvable puzzle. I worked on it until my neck and shoulder ached... then realized it had spent about 15 hours on it. 

Materials: I took 3 Mexican blue and white ceramic tiles (with a swallow design) and broke them into pieces with a hammer.  The intent was to make a stylized blue pattern in the middle.  I needed to break the chunks into smaller pieces. I probably spent most of the time trying to break the tile. I have tried every way that I could think of to break the tiles into smaller pieces.  I've placed a piece on tile on an unleveled surface, hard surface, dish cloth in hand, etc.  and smashed it with hammer (both sides and ends), rocks, screwdriver, and pretty much any hard tool or object I could get my hands on.  I've tried breaking them face up, face down and from the side.  Quite a few I turned into dust. 

Thoughts:  I liked this project as I have a whole new respect for Gaudi.  :)  I'm not going to give up.  I think if I had a 4th tile to break, I might have enough of variety of shapes that I can finish this piece.  

Artist: Sima Zeiger

Title: Wild Rooster

Materials: Vitreous Tile, Stained Glass and shell

Time Spent: 4 hrs

New materials: Stained glass, micro vitreous tile and shell.

Comments: I love the vibrant colors of my first rooster mosaic and blue thinset color. I would have liked to have the tiles fit closer around the rooster, however, I ended up liking the way the stained glass simply rests on the thinset.

Artist: Jane Pyle

Title: Shattered

Time: 3 hours

Materials: Ceramic tiles, broken mugs 

Thoughts: I dislike working with ceramic tile, so I didn't enjoy this much. One mistake was thinking I could break the mug using a hammer, and that it would shatter into nice small pieces. Nope. I got a big pile of dust, and a few usable pieces. Don't know why I thought that would work. Next time, nippers. I'm okay with the finished product. 

Artist: Julie Friesen
Title: Happy Pansies
Time:  Approximately 3 hours
Thoughts:  I don't do much in tile because of the lack of color selection and versatility.
So I looked into my box of 'stuff' and picked the colors that intrigued me.  I liked the 'just do it' approach, not feeling the need to create a masterpiece.  It gave me an opportunity to work on composition elements and background pattern selection.  The challenge was to stay away from all my beads, jewels and glass.  I did give in to the millefiori centers.

I love the idea of the mosaic workout, but it made me realize that following this exercise will take time away from projects that are in the works, or in the design phase.  It also made me realize that I have mostly mastered the art of getting around to doing what you love--mosaics.  I actually do spent 1-5 hours a week on my mosaics.  So as much as I like a challenge, and the opportunity to display my work, I will probably be an intermittent participant.

Reminder: Bay Area Locals: Free Lab Night, Wednesday, June 25th.

For those WMWers who are local to IMA, the last Wednesday of the month is free lab night for anyone participating in the challenge. Come start/finish your Week 3 piece. Come get some inspiration and encouragement from others. 

Until next time...mosaic on!