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. 

Playing with string

Week 15 - String Theory

This week's workout was brought to us by Kelley Knickerbocker.  It was a toughie for some but a challenge that you seemed to enjoy, and might even try again sometime!

Side note: Any pebble mosaic artists out there (of the Maggie Howarth style)? Please see my request at the end of this post. Thanks.

Artist: Anne Price


Size: 7” x 10 1/2"

Materials: Ceramic tile, glass bead, glass, metal washers, shell, coral beads, stained glass, wire, found pottery and pebbles.

Coming soon...

Coming soon...

Artist:  Sherry E Wallis

Title:  Street Tied

Time:  3 hr+

Materials:  Vitreous glass, millefiori, thinset

Thoughts:  This didn't start out to be so representational.  I started out thinking about strings connecting things, which made me think about streets connecting houses and other streets.  Toying around with ways to do the colors of houses and yards and flowers, driveways, streets, trees, I started thinking about aerial photos.   So here's my almost finished approach to streets as strings, tying together all the houses and people.   I noticed my street has a giant pothole which I should probably fill, it needs to be striped, and I'll use paint on the grass, flowers, etc. on the thinset to make it tie together better.  

This was a lot of fun.  When I was deciding what to do, I purposely chose something more representational because I didn't want to copy Kelley, which would be very easy to do.  Because I love and admire her work, I didn't want to do something that would end up looking like a copy.  We already had that challenge.


Artist: Julie Sperling

Title: “Ups and downs”

Size: 6″ x 4.25″

Materials: Stone, cinca, coal, shale, flint

How long did it take to complete? About 2.5 hours (and another 2.5 hours for the one I did and then promptly threw in the garbage)

Thoughts: I had some trouble this week because, while I loved the challenge prompt, none of my materials were really speaking to me. Eventually I just grabbed a few random jars from my shelf and dove in head first. That attempt was so bad that I couldn't bring myself to submit it, even though I know that there is no pressure to create a masterpiece in these challenges and that there are really no expectations other than to spend some time in the studio. Yes, it was that bad: the materials were wrong, the colours were off, the doodled line was wonky...*sigh* So I tried again, and the second attempt was a huge improvement on the first one. Had I not been under the gun to finish this in a hurry (I started on Sunday at 2pm), I would've spent a lot more time tapering the ends of the lines so they didn't end so abruptly. 

I learned two things this week, both completely unrelated to the challenge prompt. First, I learned that I really need to wait until I "feel it" before I start. If I force myself to just crank something out, chances are the results will be terrible. It is not unusual for me to leave a blank substrate and some half-chopped piles of materials on my table for a few days (or even weeks) while I putter and ponder until I've got it straight in my head. That is how I work and this challenge reinforced that I should do what works for me, even if it sometimes feels like I'm wasting time. Second, I learned what it feels like to create a complete flop and to recognize that and be ok with it going straight into the garbage. 

Artist: Cheryl Compton

Title: String Disaster

Time: 4 hours

Materials: white stone, purple colored concrete

What I learned:  This piece seemed to be going well until I started the concrete pour.  As my pieces keep cracking, I decided to adjust the pour ratios to make it less liquid when pouring.  This caused the concrete mixture to begin knocking over the stones.  I attempted to get them upright again, but you can see in the pic I wasn't entirely successful.  In addition, I thought the sand was even, but it was much thicker in some spots and therefore left huge voids between some stones and not others.  Finally, although I watered the sand until it pooled, a lot of it stuck to the concrete and I had to scrap it off which caused marks that detract from the piece.  I am still learning the mechanics of doing these and it seems I have a long way to go.

Artist: Sima Zeiger

Title: Stringing Along

Materials: Pottery shards, millefiori, glass tiles and ceramic tiles

Time: 3 hrs

Size: 6x6"

Thoughts: My open ended line became circular once my pieces were laid down. I enjoyed this exercise and hope to create other string theory inspired pieces in the future.

Artist:  Janice Oravec

Title: Black String

Size: 6"x 6" substrates

Time:   3 hours

Materials: Vitreous Glass

Thoughts:  Wow, I thought this was going to be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong. I tried using different colours different mediums, all with no success. I settled with the vitreous glass. I don't feel my mosaic actually illustrates the string theory, but I finished it.

A call for pebble mosaic artists...

I'm looking for someone who would be willing to give Cheryl C. some advice. She doesn't have access to classes and has learned so far from books and YouTube. She's had some mosaic fails recently and though she perseveres, she is getting a little frustrated.  I've never made a pebble mosaic so can't begin to provide insight. If you are willing and able, drop me a note and I'll connect the two of you.  Thanks!

Guest Prompt! The Swept Floor

Week 16 - The Swept Floor

Brought to you by: Margo Anton

Margo Anton is our mosaic celebrity prompter this week.  For those of you who missed it, Margo inspired the Weekly Mosaic Workout with her very ambitious and very successful Mosaic-a-Day project.  Though I sound like a broken record, Margo is yet another multi-talented artist/teacher! She has been making fine art mosaics for over a decade. There's lots of beautiful work (and inspiration) on her site, Minerva Mosaics.


“The Swept Floor”

As a mosaic artist, I HATE throwing things away. About 50 pieces into my “Mosaic a Day” project, I challenged myself to create a project entirely from my floor sweepings of the previous 50 days.  While you may not have enough material on your floor to complete a small mosaic, chances are you have a leftovers jar.  I don’t know a mosaic artist who doesn’t save those bits for a rainy day.  So go get that jar, bucket, or a broom.  Got your materials?  Now here are the rules:

1. You can only use material leftover from previous projects, preferably absolute scrap. No raiding those perfectly cut pieces that you reorganized and are saving because you processed FAR too much material.

2. You may not re cut any of this scrap material.  It has to be used in it’s “discarded” yet somehow saved form. 

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy!

Week 14 - What we made, what we learned...

Our second in the guest prompt series, this week was Laurel True's suggestion: Joy

As usual, I am up to my eyeballs in work and have had little time to get to my studio, much less make anything.  A specific project I have on my plate at the moment is actually a lot like mosaic: a big puzzle with lots of different options for solving, and time-intensive. Thankfully, I find it interesting, and ultimately think it will be worth the time and effort. That said, seeing the joyful pieces this week makes me long to mosaic! 

Artist: Sima Zeiger

Title: Adirondacks

Time: 1 hr

Materials: Stained glass, wood, rocks and shale

Thoughts: "Joy" is a perfect prompt this week as I'm attending a family reunion in upstate New York. The materials I used for this piece were collected on the shore of Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont, and from walks in the woods. My goal was to capture the scenery and pure joy and appreciation of the Adirondacks.

Artist: Nan Judson

Title: Possibility Begins with Imagination

Size: 6 “ x 6”

Time spent: 3 hours

Materials: Stained glass, beads, metal rabbit, millefiori, and glass tiles on wood substrate

Thoughts: Spontaneous, playful piece that expresses some of the joy I feel when creating mosaics.

Artist: Julie Sperling

Title: “Break through”

Size: 6″ x 4.25″

Materials: Smalti, ceramic tile, vitreous tile, and skateboard

How long did it take to complete? About four hours

Thoughts: When I read the prompt for this week, I immediately thought of bright colours and upward movement. I chose the skateboard pieces for their angles and because I liked the playful, energetic jumble they created. The rest of it looked a bit different in my head, but I backed myself into some corners, design wise, by trying to use up materials that had been kicking around my shelf for far too long and others that I already had cut. I also didn't have a lot of each material cut, and I really noticed what an impact it had on my lines---they really are better when I have a big selection of tesserae to choose from. This week, for me, was also a lesson in just letting go and recognizing that sometimes it's perfectly OK to allow a piece to be what it's going to be once it starts diverging from the vision I have in my head (and other times it is worth fighting to get a project back on track and more aligned with what is in my head). It's all about picking my battles. (PS This piece actually hangs vertically, but I liked this photo because it really shows the angles of the skateboard pieces.)

Artist:  Sherry E Wallis

Title:  "My Joy"

Size:  4 x 4 "  

Materials:  Polymer clay, millefiori, microbeads, faux pearls

How long to complete:  4 hours

Thoughts: For me, this challenge was much easier.  What brings me joy--my family and my dogs.  I'm not up to doing people in 3 hrs., but an Akita--no problem.  I love bring, colors and flowers so my dog is surrounded by millefiori of all colors.  Grouting doesn't bring me joy, so I filled the interstices with Mac glue and poured in some microbeads which gives it more texture--and I do like me some texture. I took this challenge literally and figuratively, so I've used material I like to work with in colors that are cheerful and shiny.  Enjoyed doing it, and I definitely enjoy the way it turned out.

What I learned--After I'd done it, I thought it might also be neat to do the dog in darker clay and outline it with pearls alone so it stood out and then radiate the colors of the millefiori  outwards in rainbow-like fashion.  Would be a very different look, but something to try.

Guest Prompt! String Theory

Week 15 - String Theory

Brought to you by: Kelley Knickerbocker

Kelley Knickerbocker

Kelley Knickerbocker

Kelley Knickerbocker is another mosaic superpower.  Both a great artist and a great instructor,  Kelley opened her studio, Rivenworks Mosaics in 2006 and creates fine art, commissions and public art as well as teaching the many techniques she has discovered and developed (because she's always exploring new ways to achieve the effects she is after.)  




In her own work, Kelley plays with andamento and texture, and, as her prompt suggests we do this week, she pays just as much attention to the interstices (spaces between the tesserae) as to the tesserae themselves. 

Those of you who struggle with the conceptual prompts will like this one as it's a bit more on the technical side. This is one of the ones I plan to hang on to and revisit - there are so many possibilities and one week is not enough time to explore them all.

String Theory - Kelley Knickerbocker

String Theory - Kelley Knickerbocker

String Theory

Draw a quick, simple, single-line doodle - the "string" - and then think of as many different ways as you can to define the string with tesserae. If you can, keep a high contrast between your thinset and material values so that the "string" (in reality a vacant interstice) really stands out as lighter or darker than your materials. 

Another way to get the "string" to really stand out is to make it twice as wide as the interstices between tesserae.

Tesserae shapes? Get creative! Notice in the sample that some tess lie along the contour of the "string", some are cut to span the "string", some are not cut at all but are simply set down whole on either side of the "string". Tess can be small, large, curved, rounded, tall, flat, one material, many materials, one color, many colors; no limitations! Have fun!

String Theory - Detail 1

String Theory - Detail 1

String Theory - Detail 2

String Theory - Detail 2

All is Animated

Week 13 - What we made, what we learned...

I'm back from vacation but technology is apparently trying to take a break from me. My phone is restarting by itself every 10 minutes or so and my computer is slow as molasses! Luckily, my first priority is posting last week's works and that is always a happy project so will get me through the other difficulties.  So, thank you!

Artist:  Sherry E. Wallis

Titles:  flow

Materials:  Smalti,, glitter tiles, special tiles--"Earth" and "Moon" from Wits End

Dimensions:  3 x 3 ATC 

Time:  3 hours 

Comments:  This is supposed to be magma coming up from a pool through cracks in the earth and getting more fiery as it moves upward.  That's the idea, anyway.  In my mind this would have movement, but I think there's something missing between my concept and the reality, since this looks more like some kind of weird tree.  I do think the background looks like rock, sort of.  

What I learned:  I can do a decent-looking mosaic in 3 hours even if it's not exactly what I planned and fails to meet the goals of the challenge.  Once again, it's to be grouted.  Next week, I have some time, and I think I'm going to spend it grouting all my ungrouted pieces.  At least none of it will go to waste.

And on another note, since no one seems to realize that the dog from the previous challenge got scorched and wasn't actually intentionally ecru, I'm working on rehabbing the tile he's on with paint. Maybe that should be part of the lemon challenge which I'm still trying to finish as well. 

Artist: Cheryl Compton

Title:  Slow Motion

Time: about 2 hours (not including collecting materials)

Materials:  Grey, white and brown pebbles, white thinset

Comments:  This was an interesting challenge.  I loved looking at the pieces that were done by our guest contributor and thought how fun and playful her work looks. With that in my head, I attempted to find an inspiration. To try and get something to look like it is in motion seemed like an easy thing until I tried it.  After discounting a few ideas that were not working out, I went with the obvious...a running animal.  As I was at the beach with my great husband, he picked up the rock for the head and said, "Why this looks like an elephant" and the animal became the object of my piece.  I have learned that putting the motion in wasn't as easy as it first sounded.  Also, I originally was only going to use the animal and the thinset, but as I started to put the elephant on, it needed more.  So, I quickly added the background which really helps the elephant to POP out.  I am pretty pleased with this.  Not something that I think anyone would put on their wall, but it was a fun and whimsical challenge from our guest contributor.  Thanks to Delaine for the inspiration.

Artist: Julie Sperling

Title: “Tendril”

Size: 5″ x 6″

Materials: Smalti and, uhh, a lot of thinset

How long did it take to complete? About three hours

Thoughts: After doing these challenges for 11 weeks straight, it felt weird to skip last week. But I did have a good excuse: I was taking a class with Verdiano Marzi (so he, not the dog, ate my homework). Anyway, it's good to be back! I made some strategic decisions this week because I was short on time and energy, and yet still wound up needing 3 hours even with all that negative space. Sigh. It took me quite a while to land on how I was going to tackle this challenge. When I started thinking about movement and life and energy, for some reason I was drawn to the idea of working with a simple line that increasingly gets more and more animated / lively. I wish I had had a longer substrate, as that would’ve given me more room to progress from calm to crazy (the transition seems a bit abrupt to me in this piece, especially when compared to the vision I had in my head). I also took the opportunity to push myself to cut smaller pieces, which I struggle with, especially when using smalti (verdict: still struggling) and to work in a thicker bed of thinset (verdict: still feels weird and needs work). Anyway, I kind of like how the finished product is also kind of reminiscent of roots or veins or lungs – adds a whole other layer to “animate”.

Artist:  Janice Oravec

Title: J. O.

Size: 6"x 6" substrates

Time:  Ongoing, longer than 3 hours

Materials: Vitreous Glass


Thoughts: Good challenge.  Used the reverse method with too much mastic, digging it out before I can grout. I am going to grout it with black grout, think it will be fun.

Artist: Sima Zeiger

Title: Self Portrait

Materials: Stained glass and found objects

Time: 1 hr (no adhesive)

Thoughts: I'm on vacation and attending a family reunion. A bit challenging being away from my home mosaic workshop. I found these objects at a garage sale in upstate NY and the stained glass scraps from Burlington, Vt.

Many of my previous pieces took forever to make so creating a layered piece under an hour ( w/o adhesive) was fun.