Thursday, March 21, 2013

Painting in mosaic.

I like to paint walls. It's a predilection I picked up in childhood from watching my mother. She was the original DIY girl when it came to welding paint brush and transforming the environment. The walls in our house were forever changing color. It was something you couldn't help but notice, the way a gallon of liquid could magically change the nature of things. I passed my childhood in a pretty shade of periwinkle, looking out from under my canopy bed on wall paper sprinkled with yellow centered daisies. Adolescence came as a surprise, along with my mother's wall to wall shag rug in fashionable avocado. I traded in my canopy bed for a cool pull-out sleeper sofa. My walls turned a noxious yellow, but hey, we were styling with the times.

I took up my mother's tools with enthusiasm and aplomb when I left home. The first walls I ever painted solo, I convinced the landlord I knew exactly what I was doing. I spred out an old bed sheet with careful expertise, popped the paint can open and rolled the walls with a new coat of rental unit Navajo white. Dull and unattractive as colors go, but it freshened things up. No charge. Mutual benefit. 

By the time I got married, my painting skills advanced to trickier things like crown molding and baseboards. My husband and I bought and sold homes in between having babies. Years passed with ample opportunity to practice. I approached the wall as an art form and worked through various aesthetics...stencils, wall paper borders, sponges and faux finishes. We moved so often on the way to Northern California it took a while for me to notice that resale value went hand in hand with my color choices; that I was forever considering walls from a potential buyer's viewpoint instead of my own. Until, at last, we got to the end of the rainbow and I realized with certainty we weren't going to be moving anymore. Then an interesting thing happened: I finally felt free to really do what I liked.

Now it could be that this was somewhat of a maturation process on my part, having reached close to my own half century mark, but it occurred, coincidentally, about the same time I discovered mosaics. Color seduced me with a punch to the more tip toeing around in neutrals or pastels. No more painting with someone else's possible preferences in mind. Like a woman on fire, I came home with reams of cheese cloth and spent months swirling golds and corals and turquoise on the walls of our house. 

Down at the studio, I dreamed of San Miguel de Allende in neon and painted pure south of the border. 

   And when all that painting was done, I recognized there was no end to embellishment and started mosaicing the walls.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Jungle Mosaic for Pediatrician's Office

The days of taking sick kids to the Pediatrician's office are long gone in our house. Last time I rushed into Dr. K's office ringing my hands was just after my youngest son's college graduation. Austin was getting ready to move to Orange County to begin his first job as a Project Engineer and his sinuses were infected something terrible. Dr. K was kind enough to get him in for an MRI on a moment's notice, which ultimately lead to sinus surgery in Southern California. I was so grateful for his help at the time, I remember looking at the walls and thinking...hmmm...this office could use a mosaic!

Fresh from having finished one jungle themed mosaic I decided it would be an easy project to replicate using a wood panel as a substrate this time instead of a mirror.

Rolling out a slab of clay, I cut the animal shapes out with cookie cutters, then sculpted on top of each animal to give them personality and dimension. Here the pieces are laid out in various states of air drying.
Next I primed a plywood board with Kilnz and made a leaf and flower boarder with the words "Get Well" to sit on the top.

The edges of the board I covered with spackle, then carved a swirly a design into the pink goo with a wood skewer. I'm fond of the spackle that goes on pink and dries white because it lets you know when it's ready to paint. In this case, green to blend in with the leaf edge.
After days of glazing pieces, and firing them in the kiln, I've got my stash of goodies and I'm ready to mosaic the board adhering the pieces with mastic.
Once the pieces are down and and the mastic has dried for a good 24 hours, the panel gets slathered over with a peanut butter-like mixture of Natural Grey grout, which is pushed into the cracks and cleaned off with a sponge. Finished product makes the whole thing look like a breeze, but I'm leaving out some wonderfully messy photos because the last thing anyone wants to do while grouting is reach for their camera.
Have yet to see it hanging up, but hopefully it's bringing a few smiles to the children and parents in Dr. K's office.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Architectural Mosaics

  Mosaic Diamond Wall Finally grouted!

 A little more than a year of working diligently on the 8 X 8 foot wall in the studio courtyard, and it's finally finished. Inspiration for this wall came from textile artist Kaffee Fassette. Photos of his beautiful chunky diamond mosaic pattern make up the liner on the inside cover of his book, Mosaics: Inspirations and Original Projects for Interior and Exterior Design --a favorite on our bookshelf, and one of the few that gets pulled down and thumbed through on a regular basis for instant visual gratification. Oh the eye candy!

Long before I met Jan and we began making our own ceramic pieces, I did a replica of a diamond patterned pillar Kaffee had done for London's Chelsea Garden show using broken tiles and chunks of broken pots. This one sits in our back yard. Hint: if you are planning on mosaicing a bowling ball, be sure to prime it well with Kilnz, adding a bit of fine sand in the mix to give your surface tooth. Otherwise you will be picking up the pieces years later and piecing it back together. Ask me, I know.

Portion of Hand Wall in progress
Our diamond wall was something of a long term labor of love. Everything including dishes and a bit of the kitchen sink went into it: tiles we picked up cheap from the bone yard at Fireclay Tile in San Jose, dishes we bought on sale at Ross and TJ Max, handmade tiles, and tiles that were gifts from friends. Needless to say, buried in this wall are some pretty great stories, and in that regard it reads much like a timeline of our lives. To this day, ceramic pieces which come out of the kiln a bit wonky, get tossed into the bin labeled: "For the Wall." Guess this means in the back of the mind there are more walls to come. And indeed there are. A wall made up of entirely of hands made by visitors, friends and family is currently in the making.

Up close ungrouted

Near finished and still to be grouted.
I chose to grout the wall in Natural Grey which is pretty much the color I like best when it comes to  mosaicing outside on a grand scale. How long does it take to grout a wall like this, you ask? Well, if all the pieces were flush to the surface it could easily be done in a number of hours. But a tightly mosaiced wall with 3 dimensional pieces and ceramics with concave lettering and design requires the skill of both an experienced grouter and a talented archeologist. Dental tools and toothbrushes are required for the delicate cleaning and excavation. 

Now, I've grouted a number of walls around the studio like this by myself, but this time I expedited the process (and spared my poor neck) by hiring Jeff Silva from Jeff Silva Tile Co, Hollister. Jeff''s the consummate craftsman when it comes to tile. He did the floors, bathroom and kitchen in our Spanish house years ago, and our more recent remodeling project. While still on that job,  I was giving him a hard time about how easy he had it in his business when it came to grouting. With honor at stake, and good business sense, Jeff took up the gauntlet and suggested I could always hire him as an assistant, whereupon a wicked little smile turned up on the edges of my mouth. "Great idea, your hired," I said with enthusiasm, while secretly saying to myself, "Aha, this will show him."

And so my new assistant, in his quiet manner took to slathering grout over unruly protuberances and depressions. We passed the time listening to oldies Rock and Roll and for two days worked side by side, top and bottom in order to finish the wall. Second morning on the job, Jeff showed up with a spatula in hand, donated by his wife, Cindy. I thought this was rather creative on his part, until he reluctantly admitted to discussing  the "challenges" of this job with his wife who promptly pulled out a spatula from her kitchen drawer. Leave it to a woman.

Have to say, Jeff got darn proficient with that spatula. I tried but could never quite get the hang of it. So I stuck with the trusty Isaiah Zager method of scooping up grout with a sponge and pressing it into the crevices. Takes a few sponges to get through the wall this size, but whatever works best I say. Not sure Jeff will be going into the 3D mosaic business anytime soon, but he was paid for a good two day's labor and I plan to ask him back to assist me with the next mural. Cindy needs to come and see the wall. I owe her a new spatula.

Side entrance Mi Tesserae Mosaic Studio

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jungle Mirror

Made this piece for my girlfriend Geri's daughter as a baby shower gift. Was having a fabulous time making it until time to grout. Used antique white which would have gone with the baby's white furniture. Looked horrible! Excavated it. Grouted it in Alabaster which I thought would be the better color. Wrong! Excavated it again and used good old Delorean gray. Bingo. Whole exercise was a terrible nightmare, but proved to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that E600 glue can stand any endurance test! To make the jungle animals I use cookie cutters I've cut out of flat clay that I then sculpt and give two dimension to. Mirror was given to Dr. Ale Rincon at her baby shower, and now resides in baby Oscar's room.

Trees growing in the studio.

Last December, I corraled my youngest son Austin into drawing a tree on the studio wall for me when he was home from college. Austin graduated and is off in his adult life now, working as a project engineer for McCarthy construction in New Port Beach; part of the team building the new hospital tower for St. Jude's Hospital in Fullerton.

Architecture is Austin's art form, but clearly all those art lessons I paid for when he was a child paid off. He can still pick up a piece of chalk and deliver. Austin added another tree in the corner of the room for me so I could put up the owl that his older brother Evan made when both boys came by for a visit early this summer. It is a rarity to get both boys home at the same time, and a treat to get them to play with me in the studio. Requires a bit of arm twisting to actually get them to join me, which is otherwise known as making them suffer for my art, but there was a lot of laughter in all that suffering. Now, in between the many projects, I am busy making the ceramic pieces to fill in my small woodland forest and will eventually mosaic the entire wall in some sort of forest mural.

Have added bluejays and a small fox so far.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Getting back to Blogging

2010 was not my year for blogging. Too busy juggling balls as construction manager on major home improvement projects. No sooner had we finished erecting a Craftsmen style guest cottage on our lower property, than we turned to remodeling the 74 year old house it faces. This rambling structure which includes my studio space, was originally an old barn that over the years had become another incarnation of the Winchester Mystery house. As the project unfolded in true domino effect (as most good remodeling endeavors go) even a portion of the studio got a face lift. We demolished the old fiberglass greenhouse in preference for a real room with high beamed ceilings dotted by three skylights and open windows all around. Cabinets from the old house got repurposed in the studio and a bank of new cabinets installed ringing the windows. End result- more storage space than a deluxe kitchen, which didn't take long at all to fill to over flowing with our collection of odds and ends.

My Colorado parents, approaching their 8th decade of life, bravely gave up their beautiful home, saying goodbye to my brother and family, my mother's many organizations, friends and church family to migrate our snowless climate a year ago this month. Ramon and I sleep in our home on the top of the hill, but it's a pretty communal setting with my parents now down at the south forty. That's where I am usually to be found. But then there is still much to be done, and a physical magic to the place that is compelling. Even the undertaker who came by recently to drop off my sweet Aunt Dorothy's ashes, and stop for a drink of tea with Mom wanted to take photos. I'm pretty convinced it has something to do with the ancient oak that envelopes our heads. All those gnarly twisted branches calling up the druids and their poetic mysteries. Certainly some creative energy oversees this place we are caretaking in the stream of time.

Meanwhile...16 months have passed. I have finished mosaicing the wall outside my studio and the diamond wall next to it. Both waiting to be grouted. Not a quick endeavor when working vertically on a large canvas in 2D mosaic. This is where having a cadre of assistants would come in handy. But alas, it is me with the pink platex gloves, the cellulose sponge and the dental tools for the precise archeological excavation of the many textured handmade tiles. As a girl who never works linearly, this isn't the only project that requires my attention. There is a mason bottle wall structure to be finished and a Craftsman style fountain which likewise needs some embellishment.
Need a string of warm days ahead of me to work outside.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Leaf Panel Mosaic

Happy 8oth Birthday, Dad

Returned from Serbia just in time to finish this mosaic for my father's 80th birthday party that got postponed til June. Panel is 4 feet long and made to hang above his bed. Comprised of handmade 2-D ceramic leaves, ceramic tile and sici tile. Framed by Mission Gallery in San Juan Bautista.

Attempted another leaf panel for my brother''s bathroom for his birthday in July. This one less than successful so it sits in the studio as part of my artistic exercise collection. Problem: not enough variety in color and pieces too far apart. Bland and blah. And darn if I still don't owe my brother a birthday present.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jan's Mermaid Mural

Latest Mural Project in Studio
Jan's Mermaid

Next to the door, going into the old house, is a portion of wall we had left covered in hardibacker for a furture mural. Keeping with the ocean theme of the existing mural in the studio, Jan projected this mermaid on the wall and colored her in with chalk. Then began the delicious collection of baubles and beads. Collecting a veritable "Pirates of the Carribean" treasure chest of goodies to mosaic with is Jan's forte. Problem arose when we discussed how to mosiac our mermaid's body parts. Wouldn't it be nice to make them in 2-D clay? Yes of course, but while Jan and I like to sculpt neither one of us has any experience sculpting the human body.

What to do?Enter our 26 year old friend, Nora Schwaller, who is finishing her BFA in Ceramics at San Jose State. Nora, aka "Bird Girl" (self explanatory when you view her body of artwork) can sculpt the human body, no problemo! See below. Nora's not bad when it comes to birds either:)
This is Nora hard at work in the SJSU studio with her Bird Woman still in progress. Legs still need to be sculpted.
Sooooooooooooo.....We bribed Nora with a play day in our studio and a few munchies. She graciously showed up prepared to give us lessons in coil building. Funny, we never got to the lessons. No, we twisted Nora's arm to help us with our new mural and watched with rapture as she sculpted the arms and hands for Jan's Mermaid.
Arms will go here.
And look like this...Impressive work in one afternoon, yes, yes, yes! It pays to have talented friends in the sculpting department.

Jan worked on the face and neck.

And one of these days we are going to get the pieces glazed and up on the wall and be off and running. Thanks for your help Miss Nora!