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CREATING MOSAIC ART
Written by Sudarshan Deshmukh
sri_rama@hotmail.com
www.freewebs.com/chakradesign


"The Lady Bug: Nature's Pesticide" - mosaic by Sudarshan
  Introduction:
The process of making a mosaic panel requires skill, patience, and some flexibility. Each stage can be demanding and often presents very unique challenges. Mosaic art can be created by using many different types of materials and the designs can range from being quite simple to extremely complex. In this demonstration I will guide you through the various stages of creating a small intermediate level mosaic panel using a fairly basic original design.

Some of the supplies and tools typically required in mosaic-making.
 

Getting Started:
Sometimes I feel inspired by a subject that may not initially seem well-suited to the mosaic medium. In such cases, I let the idea sit for a bit, give it some thought and make a few rough sketches. At this point going on a photo shoot to collect reference materials, reading about my subject matter, or preparing my tools can be helpful. This photo shows some of the tools and materials required for making a mosaic, such as plywood, gesso for priming, adhesive, carbon paper, safety glasses, stained glass, glass cutter, running pliers, and glass nippers.

   

There are many materials that can be used to make mosaic art.

Design, Planning and Choice of Materials:
Next I check the compositional elements, create a drawing or painting of the final design, decide on a colour scheme and texture, and select my materials (e.g., stained glass, ceramics, mirror, stones, or Venetian smalti). I then lay my materials out on my work table much as a painter mixes a pallete of different coloured paints. I also have to decide what style will best suit my theme, what the mood of the piece will be, and ultimately how to combine my design and materials in a way that that will achieve my creative goal.


A rough or even very detailed template of the design can be transferred to the plywood using carbon paper.

Preparation of Materials:
The substrate (base) needs to be primed properly, usually with wood primer or acrylic gesso. I then transfer my design to the substrate – in this case a piece of ½ inch plywood - either by tracing, using a projector, or drawing it directly onto the board. The right type of adhesive needs to be selected, and the final location of the artwork helps to determine what type of adhesive is used. In this case I will use Weldbond because the mosaic panel will be hung indoors.


Glass can be cut into very precise shapes by using a glass cutter and running pliers.

Scoring, Cutting and Nipping the Glass:
I have decided to use stained glass for this project. Stained glass has many exciting variations in tone and density, so I examine each sheet of glass to find the right area to use for each part of my panel. I concentrate on trying to be open-minded and flexible regarding my raw materials: the glass can sometimes resist certain cuts or may break in unexpected ways but I often use such pieces in my work because they create a natural and spontaneous movement and flow.


The cut pieces of glass ("tessarae") are glued onto the plywood.
Although I don’t use bandsaws, grinders or any other type of machinery, I always protect my eyes with safety glasses. When I make a mosaic, each piece of glass, ceramics or mirror is handcut and, in most cases, glued directly onto the substrate, keeping a gap between each piece. The patterns that the gaps make are an integral part of the design, adding movement and rhythm throughout the piece. The gaps are where the grout will go when the mosaic is complete. Being precise is important: once the glue has dried, the tessarae are difficult to remove.
     

Sanding and smoothing the edges of the mosaic makes it safer to touch.
 

Sanding the Edges and Repairing:
Every sharp edge of the panel must be laboriously hand-sanded and smoothed (I am sure every mosaic artist wishes for a helpful apprentrice at this point!). Emery cloth, a type of sandpaper, can be sprayed with a fine mist of water which helps speed up the sanding process. While sanding I inevitably find out which edge pieces are loose and need to be re-attached to the substrate. The glue must dry for at least 24 hours before the grouting stage.

     

Grouting supplies include white sanded floor grout, acrylic paint or pigments, sponges, gloves, towels
 

Grouting and Polishing:
When creating a large, complex panel, I usually allow it to rest for a week or two. I then have a chance to look at the panel with fresh eyes and decide what colour of grout to use. I envision which elements of the design should recede and which elements should be accented, and make my grout choices based on that. Hue, tone and intensity of grout colour are important elements in making a mosaic easily readable.

     

The grout mixture has been applied to the mosaic panel and is drying
  Grout:
For this panel I plan to accent the yellow petals of the flower and tone down the blue background by creating a bluish-green grout. Using sanded grout, I mix pigments and water into the dry grout mixture until the consistency (like cake batter) and colour is just right, intensifying the colour slightly to accomodate lightening during drying. I smear the grout over the picture and push it into the cracks. Once the grout has set for 20-40 minutes, I wipe off the residue and polish the mosaic with a dry cloth.
     

This small (8" x 10") mosaic panel is now ready to hang
  Finishing the Mosaic:
The back of the panel must also be finished to prevent warping and to give the art a completed look. I prime the back of each panel, sometimes apply decorative paper or a coat of paint, attach hangers and felt corners, and sign my work. The felt corners allow the mosaic to hang flush with the wall once the hangers are installed.
     

"Self Portrait With Landscape" - mosaic by Sudarshan
 

Conclusion
Contemporary mosaic-making is sometimes seen as merely a "kindergarten" type of art but, as you can probably see from this demonstration, an artist can use the medium of mosaic to create well-constructed works of fine art that can be hung anywhere a painting or drawing would hang.

For more examples of mosaics and links to mosaic- and art-related sites, please visit
www.freewebs.com/chakradesign

 

About the Artist
A member of the Society of American Mosaic Artists and vice-president and founding member of the newly formed Mosaic Arts Association of Canada, Sudarshan Deshmukh is a visual artist who creates mosaic fine art panels, sculptures, paintings, and drawings. She is mostly self-taught, but she has taken courses in Old Masters drawing and painting, and this training often surfaces in her work: Sudarshan loves the play of dark and light tones, and enjoys pushing even the simplest materials to their limits. She especially loves the challenges involved in creating “paintings” from small pieces of glass or carving a “living” creature from a chunk of stone or wood.

Sudarshan has always loved making art and, in recent years, began to focus mostly on sculpture. About three years ago she took a basic mosaic workshop and began to experiment with mosaic-making: making mosaics quickly became one of her great passions because the process combines many elements of several of the art forms that most appeal to her. What draws Sudarshan most to creating mosaic works of art is that mosaic is a very tactile, physical and almost sculptural process in many ways, yet the range of colours and textures of the raw materials make her feel as if she is working with a painter’s palette.