Steppin’ in the Garden

Spring is here!

It is so exciting to see flowers blooming and trees getting their leaves. There is a community garden across the street from my studio and I love seeing all of the gardeners working away, making their plots beautiful and full of life. My own garden is coming to life as well. 

Over the past few years, I have gotten many requests from students who wanted to take a class on making Mosaic Stepping Stones. In response, I perfected a method that I have been teaching for the past year, to groups of adults and kids- in my studio, at Knack in Easthampton and for private groups.

The unique thing about this project is that it can truly be completed in one day. Most mosaics require at least 2 sessions to complete because adhesive needs time to dry before grouting. But, in this case, the cement acts as the adhesive and the grout and is applied in one step. The mosaics are created in the indirect method  and placed into a mold where they are cast in cement. It’s a fun and rewarding process, and the stepping stones can withstand the elements, so you never need to worry about remembering to take them inside or cover them up. 

I have already been having a lot of fun working with students this spring helping them to make their own stepping stones for their gardens. There are 3 more opportunities to sign up and take the class at my studio in Florence. Need a last minute Mother’s Day gift? There are a couple of spots available in my class this coming Tuesday evening from 5:30-9.

Here are 2 photos of the work recently done by my (adult) students at Knack in Easthampton. I love to see the variety of styles and designs that each person comes up with. 

Here are a few more examples of stepping stones I have made.

Back in February, during the school vacation, I had the opportunity to teach the stepping stones class to a group of kids, ages 6 and up at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls. It was really fun to work with this age group. Here is what they made.

Also, about a month ago, I had the awesome experience of leading a professional development day for the teachers of the Gan Keshet preschool at the synagogue in Northampton. They hired me to teach a method that would be a skill building experience for the teachers, who could then translate the project into something they could do with 3 and 4 year olds. The teachers made beautiful stepping stones (pictured below), which they donated to the school to be installed in the playground, and they went on to do an adaptation of this project with the kids!

To sign up for my workshops at my studio in Florence, visit my website:

Or, if you have a group of 4-6 people (friends, colleagues, family) who are interested, I also love to set up special classes for private groups. Send me an email to find out more!

 

 

 

Fall Mosaics Workshops at Smashing Good Times Studio

For me, one of the most exciting elements of being an artist is sharing my knowledge of mosaics and seeing how people get hooked right away. It’s rewarding to share a skill with someone and see how it enhances their life. Also, I always learn from the perspectives and styles of the people who take my classes, so it’s a win-win!

My studio in Florence is a beautiful, intimate space for learning new skills and nurturing your creativity. It is my absolute favorite place to teach. I am offering 3 workshop series this fall, and a few evenings of open studio as well. Workshops are open to all levels.

Wednesday Evenings: 4 week series
September 3, 10, 17, 24  6:00-9:00 pm
$185, includes all materials
Get Creative with the Indirect Method
Learn how to use ceramic tile, glass, pottery, found objects, stones, etc to make beautiful mosaics. Learn to translate your ideas into the language of mosaics- using pattern, repetition, color, scale, and rhythm as elements of design. Learn and practice techniques for cutting different materials, and putting it all together using the Indirect method. Let your work evolve, make changes, see it develop and learn from the process.  The class will be small, to allow for individualized instruction and support in developing a successful and satisfying project, which could be a wall panel, tabletop, frame, etc. Class limited to 6 people.

Mosaic Stepping Stones to Transform your Garden or Walkway
Make 3 Stepping Stones in 3 Weeks!

Use glass and certain types of tile to create a magical pathway of stepping stones!  Working in the Indirect method, you’ll create personalized designs which will be placed into a circular mold. We’ll then pour cement over them. Safe for walking on, and suitable to be left out all winter!

This class will be offered twice this fall, class size limited to 6 people.

September Dates: Thursdays, September 11, 18, 25

October Dates: Tuesdays, October 7, 14, 21

Tuition: $125, includes all materials.

Please visit my Workshops page to register, or contact me with any questions. Information about my ‘open studio’ nights is available on the workshops page as well.

Visit my Testimonials page to read comments from former students.

It always looks much worse before it looks better.

This week, I finally carved out time to clean my studio. I mean really clean and organize my stuff. My sister jokingly said “it seems like you’re always cleaning your studio” and I had to laugh because by the nature of what I do, I am always in the process of making a mess. So it’s wonderful to have things organized, where I can see what I have.

It always looks much worse before it looks better, but I pushed through that stage and am proud to say that my studio has never looked cleaner!

Going through glass, tile, stones, shells, dishes, found objects, I am reminded of ideas for projects, inspired by things I forgot I even had. And everything looks so pretty now, I wanted to share with you how great it looks!

I’m going to be teaching some classes here this fall. Stay tuned for opportunities to come and see the studio in person and feed off the creative energy of this great space.

Jump for Joy

Yesterday I hung 8 of my mosaics at Sip Coffee and Tea Bar in Northampton MA where they will be on display for the month of April. The show is an exploration of emotions. While it’s called Jump for Joy, it is also about the feelings of excitement, growth, changing expectations, and not exactly knowing what lies ahead. I have been working on this series over the past 8 months. Looking back, I now realize that it also draws heavily upon my growing interest in my own health and my connection to the earth, particularly plants. I have been learning a lot about plants and traditional medicine lately, and now that spring is here, and the plants will be springing up soon, it seems appropriate to put the work out there for people to see. 

Here is a sneak peak at what part of the show looks like. But it’s much better in person, if you have a chance to pop in. Sip is located at 8 Crafts Ave in Northampton, and is open from 6:30 am til 6 pm.  Or come see me at the opening reception on Friday, April 11 from 5-8 pm, as part of Northampton’s “Arts Night Out”

Sip Coffee & Tea Bar on Crafts Ave in Northampton

Sip Coffee & Tea Bar on Crafts Ave in Northampton

If you can’t make it to see the work in person, you can see the images on my website

Beautiful and Energy Efficient: A Collaboration Story

Masonry Heater with glass mosaic made by Peter Muller, which I installed.

Masonry Heater with glass mosaic made by Peter Muller, which I installed.

One of the things I love most about mosaics is the opportunity to constantly re-use materials. So I was very excited when my friend Peter Muller, a talented glassblower, told me he wanted to make a mosaic to install on his new masonry heater and that he wanted to make the mosaic out of scraps of his own glasswork. The heater was built by a local mason entirely out of recycled bricks.  Above the fire chamber, they put in another chamber to be used as a pizza oven, and just above the pizza oven, the mason routed out a section of brick where a mosaic would be installed. The heater is amazing- a work of art in itself. Not to mention that it’s super efficient in terms of the amount of heat it produces, and how cleanly it is able to burn wood.

Here is an image of the heater, just before the mosaic was installed, the mosaic on the floor is face down, stuck together temporarily by contact paper.

Here is an image of the heater, just before the mosaic was installed, the mosaic on the floor is face down, stuck together temporarily by contact paper.

In November, I went to help Peter get started with the process of building his mosaic, teaching him the indirect method for assembly of the pieces, and creating a cardboard template the exact shape of the routed-out area. Over the next several weeks, he worked with his wife and their 6 year old daughter to design the mosaic and lay out the pieces on contact paper taped to cardboard. The glass scraps they used are stunning- rich colors with slight contour for added reflectivity.

 

 

 

Here you can see the mosaic in process, being built on a temporary substrate.

Here you can see the mosaic in process, being built on a temporary substrate.

Last week I finally went back to install and grout the mosaic..I used a type of thin-set mortar that has additives to make it suitable to withstand heat (even though the surface of the heater would never get too hot, it’s always better to be safe!) Together, Peter and I decided on the color for the grout (a light grey), and I went back to grout it two days later, after the mortar had had a chance to set completely

Close up view after grouting

Close up view after grouting

I love collaborations like this, and was excited to guide this project from a technical standpoint, while letting the creative work come from the family who will enjoy looking at for many years. The flame design is inspired by Peter’s torch glass work, and is a perfect complement to the heater itself, where the flames will burn.

Click here to learn more about amazing Masonry Heaters!

My Latest Commission: St. Anselm’s College Multifaith Prayer Space

For the past six weeks, I have been working almost non-stop on a project that I am very proud of. I’m excited to finally be able to share some pictures and the story of how it all came together. This post is long, because many people have asked me about my working methods and where my ideas come from, so I thought I’d explain that here. For those that just want to see pictures of the finished mosaics, here they are:

It all started in early October when my friend Joycelin, who works at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH, called to tell me that their campus ministry department was creating a new “multifaith prayer space” on campus, and that they were interested in having me design and create mosaic murals to be installed on the walls.

The goal for this space is to be welcoming to people of all faiths as a place to pray or meditate, so they didn’t want any imagery that is specifically religious or even too literal. They had already installed a Muslim foot wash station and were planning on building cabinets and a closet to store chairs, floor mats and various other items. In late October, I visited the space and met with Joycelin as well as the head of Campus Ministry and the head of the Physical Plant to discuss the plan for installation as well as the design goals and color scheme.  The design was to be abstract and inspired by nature, and the colors would be mostly blues, greens, and purples.

We decided that I would create two separate mosaics- one would be  about 3’ x 4 ‘ and would be installed above the foot wash station. The other would be 2’ x 10’ and go along the opposite wall.

The mosaics would need to be installed in such a way that they could be removable, in case this space someday needed to be relocated. Together we came up with a plan for me to create the mosaics on fiberglass mesh in my studio, cut them up into pieces small enough to transport, and then install and grout them on a cement board substrate. Then, their crew would attach the mosaics to the walls. They created moulding with a slight overlap over the edge of the mosaic which they would screw into the studs in the walls to hold the whole thing up.

So my next step was to create the designs for these mosaics. I drew small line drawings to scale, including mountains, sky and rivers. For the piece to hang above the foot wash station, I included rivers running down a mountain and into the bath below it. For the larger piece, my goal was to create a feeling of flowing water that evoked movement and energy but also repetition and peacefulness

Once the drawings were revised a few times and agreed upon, I enlarged them by drawing grid lines on the small drawing and grid lines to scale on my large paper and the design within each small square got blown up to fit the corresponding larger square. This is a method I learned in art class in elementary school, and which we practiced by cutting up and enlarging a New Kids on the Block poster. Back in 1991, I had no idea how useful a skill that would prove to be!

During the time I was working on the design, I was also working on acquiring the right materials- glass and ceramic in lots of shades of blue, green and purple, some special accent pieces- natural stones and pieces of glass that I had fused myself, along with some broken blue & white china.

 

Because of space limitations in my studio, I could only work on one mosaic at a time. I started with the smaller of the two- the 3’x 4’ mountain scene. With my drawing underneath, followed by a layer of thin clear plastic and then the fiberglass mesh, I could see through to my drawing as a guide. First I loosely placed different colors all around the composition to figure out what shades of each color should go in which areas, and to estimate how much of each color and material I would need

Then I carefully cut laid out the pieces in sections

As I went, I used a dot of white glue to temporarily stick each piece to the mesh (the plastic underneath prevented me from gluing this whole thing to the table!) The glue that would eventually hold it all in place is a cement based thin-set mortar, so I just needed the pieces to stick to the mesh long enough to make it to the install, and I wanted to use the minimum amount of white glue so as not to have it act as a barrier, preventing the mortar from making direct contact with the back of the tiles.

Once I finished laying all the tesserae, or tiles (which took about 2 weeks), I carefully cut the mesh between the tiles so that the whole mosaic was in about 20 large pieces, that would fit back together only one way, similar to the way a puzzle for young children works. Each of these pieces needed to be sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard and carefully flipped over so I could peel the plastic off the back and allow the glue to dry completely

Once the glue dried, I packed stacked the pieces between cardboard and but them in a box and cleared the studio out to set up the next mosaic.

For this mosaic, I followed the same process, which also took about 2 weeks. Here are some pictures of that piece as it came together. For this larger mosaic, I created blends of colors to fill in the areas- a blend of light blue, medium blue, greenish blue, and dark blue. This helped me stay organized and ensure that each area would have enough contrast from the colors surrounding.

Then it was time to pack the car and head to St. Anslem College for the installation.

When I got there I unpacked my mosaics and put them back together in preparation for attaching them to the substrates. The carpentry staff at the college assembled the cement board substrates to be exactly the right size for the mosaics. Using my cordless drill with a mixing attachment, I mixed up the mortar.

Working in one section at a time, I spread it on the board, and put grooves in it using my notched trowel. I had to test each section to make sure the thickness of the mortar was just right: enough that it would hold the mosaic in place but not so much that it would squish up too much between the pieces and make a mess. This test is done by pressing a sample tile of similar thickness in a few different spots to see how much “squish” you get. It takes a lot of work, and it’s messy, but it’s such an important step. Once the bed of mortar is the right thickness for the section of mosaic, I take that section of mosaic all stuck to the mesh, and push it in, embedding the mesh and push each piece of glass or ceramic to make sure it’s adequately set in the mortar

At this point, if mortar squishes up so much that it fills the gaps between the tiles and/or gets on the surface, it’s time to clean/sponge it away so it doesn’t dry on the surface, and so that there’s room between the tiles for at least a skim coating of grout to fit. On mosaics this large, the cleaning feels endless!

After the mortar set overnight, it was time to grout. I chose a light grey colored grout for both of these mosaics, as that was the color that most successfully unified the design without being overpowering. It also coordinated with the colors of the foot wash station and the walls. By the time it was grouting day, I was the only one on campus because everyone had left for the Christmas break. Security had to let me in the building. Luckily, my husband Bill was with me to help with the endless process of wiping the tiles clean, as well as to go out and get us lunch!

I spent four days installing the mosaics and was so relieved when it was all done. Although it was a little anti-climactic at that point since nobody was around to see, I am excited to go back after the physical plant crew puts them up on the wall and I can get far enough away from each of them to get better photos. They have a ceremony planned for the end of January, which I plan to go back for. After that I’ll have more finished photos to post.

This project gave me many rewards and challenges and it was a chance to push myself in so many ways- technically, creatively, physically and even spiritually.

Creatively, this project gave me some great challenges as it was my largest mosaic yet. I learned a lot about taking care of myself physically and emotionally and how much that pays off- when I’m at my best, it really shows up in my work. I developed a spiritual connection with this mosaic- often picturing people looking at it before, during or after praying. I wanted it to be infused with a prayerful energy. I thought a lot about the beauty of people of all different spiritual and religious backgrounds coming into the prayer space and felt honored that my work could be something of a connector, and an element of inclusivity. I let my own meditation practice guide me through the creation of this project. I also felt a strong connection to the element of water depicted in the work. I felt it’s power and energy and there were times when I felt a distinct sense that all I needed to do was stay in the flow and that the work came from a place other than my own head. That was exciting!

I learned a lot about working with a large institution as a client, and it was a great experience that I’d like to do a lot more of. I am so happy to have this in my portfolio to apply for future large scale projects.

 

 

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Just a kid in a candy store

Last week I had the incredible experience of heading out west for some very valuable professional development. I have always wished that there was a place in the northeast to take professional level mosaics workshops. Since there isn’t, I decided that a trip to the Institute of Mosaic Art in Berkeley ,California was in order! Luckily my very good friends Sarah and JC live in Oakland, just 20 minutes from the school, so I was able to visit them and stay in their beautiful house overlooking all of Oakland and San Francisco!

 

Sunset view over Oakland

Sunset view over Oakland

I attended a 3 day intensive workshop taught by world renowned mosaic artist Sonia King from Dallas Texas. She is a wealth of knowledge about mosaics from many perspectives- technical, creative, multi-media, world mosaic scene, historical, and personal expression. I learned many things that I am already using in my work, and also re-learned many things that I already knew, but now they are more present in my mind. I discovered some clearer ways of explaining things in my own teaching, and I thought about my own style and how I can push the limits of my creativity in my own unique way.

The Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA) has a very enticing mosaic supply store that I have ordered things from before, but it was a treat to be there in person and see and touch all of the beautiful materials. It’s really like being in a giant candy store.

Since I had candy on the mind, I decided to go with that theme for my own mosaic project. I took this picture of a lollipop display in a Walgreens and it became my inspiration for my own mosaic. I used some glass pieces that I made in my glass fusing class a few weeks ago that reminded me of candy, and some pieces I found in the shop there. It’s still a work in progress (I spent a lot of class time just soaking in all the information like a sponge and taking notes rather than focusing on finishing my piece.

The other students in the class were mostly professional mosaic artists. They were all very inspiring in a variety of ways, and I was so excited to spend 3 days with this group in this space. It’s good for me as a teacher to also be a continual student so I can remember what it feels like to learn. It has opened up my mind to many new ideas for projects and how to value my work in new ways.

 

Sonia King, instructor (wearing blue) doing a demo for the class

Sonia King, instructor (wearing blue) doing a demo for the class

A couple of my classmates offering their thoughts about my work. Photo credit to Cate Thomassen, a fellow student and very talented artist. Check out her site: www.shardartist.com

A couple of my classmates offering their thoughts about my work. Photo credit to Cate Thomassen, a fellow student and very talented artist. Check out her site: www.shardartist.com

Gandalf the Grey

I’ve never really been that interested in wizards.  That changed recently when my friend Dave asked if I could create a custom mosaic for his son Tim who is reading The Lord of the Rings. Having never created a mosaic face before, I thought this would be a fun challenge.  The concept of adding magic and fantasy to the composition gave me a lot of excitement about this project. Knowing that Tim Itemhad seen the movies, (and wanting the mosaic to match the picture in his mind) I thought it would be best to base my depiction of Gandalf on the character from the movie. If there had been no movie, there is no telling how a young boy would picture this character as he read the books, so the movie actually helped me out a lot!  

Lately, I have been working with a new mosaic technique of using clear glass layered over collage. For the wizard’s background, I wanted a smoky, swirly atmosphere that appeared to be set back from the figure. I decided to use hand marbled paper! I am really happy with how this turned out.

Now I have a new interest in fantasy combined with reality.  I also discovered my love for constructing a human face using small pieces of glass. This has also deepened my (already great) appreciation for the ancient Romans, who created very lifelike faces out of mosaic- all with natural stone, which of course has a limited color palette.  

This has been a busy summer, teaching lots of workshops and creating new work, so I will be posting many more photos in the coming weeks. Photo credit to Janine Norton. 

 

 

Flora & Fauna

Now that spring is here, there is no stopping the flowers from blooming. Every year, around the beginning of April, I go a little stir-crazy because it seems like it will take forever for the buds to open, and then, suddenly, one minute, I look around and everything seems to be in full bloom! That day has come. There is color everywhere. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some of my newest flower and plant mosaics.

When spring just doesn’t arrive fast enough (for example, this year) I often feel impatient. Making imagery that represents where I want to be, or what I want to see in real life is just one way of lifting my spirits. These mosaics definitely helped me do that!

I should mention… these 4 pieces are for sale. Maybe one of them could  be the perfect gift for Mother’s Day, Graduation, etc. Please get in touch if you are interested in prices, dimensions, etc. Soon I will have all that info up on my website.

I hope you are enjoying Spring as much as I am!

Calling all Caterpillars

The work of Eric Carle has always inspired me. When I was young I loved reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other books. As an adult, I feel a certain childlike excitement and curiosity when I see the pictures and think about how he made them- collaging layers of brightly painted paper, breathing life and personality into the characters. Aside from teaching children a love of books and reading, I think the most important function of children’s books is to awaken the imagination.

Here are a few of my favorite Eric Carle characters:

My husband Bill loves children’s books as much as I do, if not more. On one of our first dates, we went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst.

Recently we went again and took these lovely pictures: 

So when I saw a “call for caterpillars” by the staff of the Eric Carle Museum, asking for individuals or groups to create three-dimensional caterpillars out of found objects, I decided to make this caterpillar out of a variety of items I had in my studio:

Photo by Janine Norton

Photo by Janine Norton

If you look closely, you’ll see a key, pebbles, seashells, buttons, the end of a zipper, a hose faucet key, fabric flowers from a Hawaiian lai, fused glass pieces, broken china, handmade ceramic tiles, and a map of California. There are pennies around the edges.

Here are a few more views:

Since doing this project, I have decided to work on building a great collection of found objects. I have been looking at EVERYTHING as possible mosaic material. This is happening at a perfect time, because, with spring comes the start of Tag Sale season! I can only imagine what I’ll find, and what new and fun things show up in my work…

If you want to make your own caterpillar, or if you have a group of kids who you think would enjoy this project, click HERE for more details about the contest (deadline is May 31 so there’s plenty of time). I’ll admit, when I first read the title of the project, I thought that it was only for children, but it turns out any individual, group, class, etc can be part of this. Actually, it made me wish that I had a group of kids to do this project with. I’m sure that would have been even more fun!

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  ~Pablo Picasso

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