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