Tuesday, April 29, 2008

For the Love of Mary: Work completed, Work in progress.

A Virgin of Guadalupe tile purchased in Albuquerque is the centerpiece of this large mosaic retablo. Made in 2005 with a variety of handmade ceramic pieces, glass beads, broken china and talavera tile, it frames a window in the Nunez house.
Measuring 6'X2', it was constructed on hardwood, and hung flat by being directly attached to the wall with screws on either end. After hanging, the two tiny areas left open for screw placement were patched with a pre-planned mosaic piece and grouted. The round edges of the retablo were obtained by running flat glass marbles along the sides and building grout over them to form an arc. Grout color is crucial to any mosaic--something we've learned the hard way. This piece works successfully in the room, because it was grouted in the same color family as the walls, using a slightly lighter colored grout.

Both of us have always been attracted to images of the Virgin Mary.

Discussions about mosaicing our own "Mary Wall" have been in progress for a while...something gloriously beautiful and full of religious icons. We've made a few pilgrimages to the Catholic book store to build up our collection of Mary books, and prayer cards, lots of gorgeous images...but the idea remains in creative ether, and the proper location hasn't presented itself yet.

Meanwhile, there are two new Mary mosaics sitting on the production line:

Jan's shrine is still in the early design process, framed with gold iridescent glass tiles and beads. The marble tiles on which she has transferred images of Mary, have been made to appear aged. The under painting of the piece, including the metal frame (not it's original color) was done by a combination of techniques, including "Rub N Buff " and gold leaf. The wood cross will eventually contain text and another image of Mary. (Of course, all is subject to change as nothing is yet glued down.) The plan is to mosaic the piece together using the tempered glass mosaic technique. This piece hopes to find a home one day with Sister Pat, founder of the Learning and Loving Education Center, which is a non-profit educational project of the Sisters of the Presentation in Morgan Hill, CA. The work of the Learning and Loving Center is to provide educational opportunities and outreach to low income immigrant women and their children living in south Santa Clara county.

Julie's shrine has been around a while and has gone through a variety of transformations. It originally had an image of Mary decopauged in the center and was grouted in a light colored grout. This was a poor choice, compounded by a worse attempt to rescue it by painting the grout joints with gold metallic paint. Disaster. The hope is now--after having every bit of grout chisled out, the decopauge picture stripped away, the center painted black and a new tile found for it's center piece--that tempered glass over the black background and black grout will eventually unify the work.

Atrium Studio Garden Update

When last we looked out the sliding glass door of the studio at the end of winter, the view looked something like this...

Then the days began to warm, and the calla lilies opened one by one.

Plants with a tropical attitude began finding their way into the garden beds...
And before we knew it, Spring in all its northern California glory dropped in...

The wisteria burst into bloom.

A clematis spread over the white trellis.

And allergies descended. (Achoo!)

A neon azalea beckoned to be taken home from the local nursery and introduced to the Angels Trumpet which by then had doubled its size and was really tooting its horn.
And wouldn't you know it, tiles began appearing on the walls... with word groups inspired by stepping stones made long ago by Frank Lloyd Wright...

Then a smaller wall fountain appeared-- another mural in the making... and nasturtiums, looking a bit chlorotic, but a reasonable facsimile...
Stay tuned for further developments.
At the end of April, our atrium garden appears to be flourishing...

Ocean Mosaic Panel: Happy Birthday Julie's Dad!

Nothing like promising one's father a mosaic for his bathroom wall on one birthday and delivering it on the next. Sneaky way out of giving a gift. Actually, who knows if Dad would have ever gotten a birthday present in 2006, had he and Cassie not called to give their daughter ample warning they were planning on driving out from Colorado to pick up "said present" in their Yukon truck, and spare her from having to ship it via the U.S. mail.

Clearly, setting a date for receipt of goods was a smart idea on their part. This meant (yikes!!) Julie had to actually finish the darn thing which she had been pulling her hair out to complete for almost a year. Here is a portion of the work in progress and ungrouted.

The 14 X 30" panel was mosaiced on sealed birch and made entirely of handmade, low-fire ceramic pieces, stained glass, beads and dichroic glass.
Paul and Cassie refer to it as the most expensive work of art in their house, after word got back to them that an interior designer, who had been in their employment, had mentioned to one of her co-workers that the people she was working for had a mosaic worth at least $10,000 hanging in their bathroom!
All of us got a good laugh out of this, and figured it might not be too far off the value of the panel if one charged for the hours (and headaches) that went into creating the many intricate sculptured pieces and then assembling them together.
The idea of submitting this piece to the Society of Mosaic Artist's of America (SAMA) juried competition in 2007, got tossed around for a bit. But by the time it arrived safely in Colorado and was hung in it's final resting place without (miraculously) incurring any breaks or chips, sending the mosaic off on a potential second journey seemed like tempting fate. So on the wall it remains, in it's quaint little venue. Visitors to the Castleberry house frequently request to use Paul's bathroom, and is it any wonder? Who needs a newspaper or magazine for entertainment while stationed there.

Mosaic Table Centerpiece Creations for Valley Christian High School

In 2005 and 2006, we created center pieces for the annual VCHS Teacher Appreciation Dinners.

Jan, a member of the Valley Christian High School Board, was chairman of this big event--one of the many she headed up for our kid's high school.

Putting together a memorable sit down dinner for three hundred people, would be a daunting enough task for most human beings. Add to that the responsibility of collecting and artistically arranging the donated items for ninety-some teacher gift baskets, and the creation of fifteen table centerpieces to be raffled as gifts at the end of the evening, and you have a recipe for many months of hard work. This is where bringing your girlfriend along as assistant comes in handy.

In 2005, we chose a colorful theme and planted the centerpieces with Gerber daisies. Using Terra Cotta pots from Italy, we glazed the rims and fired the pots, three at a time, in the kiln. After cooling, the pots were then sealed and mosaiced with a corresponding palette of tesserae. Production in the studio looked something like this. Here's Jan hard at work...
A few of our final pieces photographed by Jan's husband, Brent in their lovely back yard.
Many of our first ceramic tiles --in the form of leaves and flowers--were included in these pots.

In 2006, the Teacher Appreciation Dinner was held at the Cinnabar Golf Club in the Almaden Valley. For this elegant setting, we chose the theme "Under the Sea," along with a softer palette of colors. Once again the pots were glazed, but this time completely covered with our own handmade tiles created from clay slip, in the form of sea shells, mermaids and sea creatures.
The life-like appearance of the shells was obtained, after some experimentation, by painting with ceramic underglazes. Production in the studio (prior to our recent remodel) looked like this... Pots lined up and ready for grouting...Centerpieces were planted with a variety of sedum that had been propagated in Julie's garden for use in this project. These drought tolerant plants look a great deal like coral and plants one would find at the ocean bottom.
Difficult to see in these photos, two tiny glass fish on wires were stuck in the planter-mix to appear swimming above the plants. The centerpieces were placed in the middle of the table and coarse sand sprinkled around their perimeter. Real sea shells and dried star fish, along with glass beads and candles were then arranged around the sand for a lovely effect.
As always, at the end of the evening, names were drawn and the pots given away to the lucky winners.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Evolution of an Art Studio

As our creative endeavors in the studio became more and more a full time occupation, we began tossing around a few ideas for changes that would make it a better working space. Remove the carpet and pour a level concrete floor. Wouldn't a bathroom of our own be nice? And while we are drawing up a wish list, why not a kitchenette with a small refrigerator? A sink with a hot water dispenser for tea? A sliding glass door opening to a shady, moss covered brick patio with tropical plants. And as always, shelves, shelves, and more shelves. Dream big, don't be afraid to ask, that's our motto!

And one day, the DIY Fairy Godmother of remodeling stopped by to grant our wishes, and with one good sweep of the wand, KABOOM, made a real mess of things!

Sadly, no tiny, dancing mice with dust pans ever materialized to help us with the clean up effort, and thinking it unwise to complain too much to one's Fairy Godmother, we promptly pitched in with our own bit of magic -- hand-plastering the walls, painting, patching, mosaicing the backsplash-- and at long last. Voila! Our studio!

A colorful home for the imagination, with lots of storage space...
A kitchenette... Frida Kahlo on the valance...
George Eliot's words of wisdom on the backslash:
"It's never to late to be what you could have been."
Julie's ocean mosaic in progress, four years now and counting. Inquiring minds want to know, will it ever get done?
Work stations in the conservatory with lots of light and storage...

A place to put our toys: drill press, easy bake polymer clay oven, soldering iron, glass grinder...
To store ceramic glazes...
A level floor-- which we fauxed ourselves--only took six inches of cement to get it that way!
Our very own powder room with shelves down the side for beads and miliflori. More shelves for our growing library of art books.
And yipee, the beginnings of a brick covered, atrium patio garden, with outside walls covered in hardibacker--that wonderful canvas those of us who work in mosaics put our pictures on.