Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Coloring Grout and Thinset

I have been a big fan of coloring grout or thinset (for ungrouted mosaics) to enhance the design of a mosaic for as long as I can remember. I began with just a single, solid color that I thought would go best with the majority of the tesserae, but I began to want more from my grout. If you can match (which is a word I use loosely here) the color of each section, they become much more distinct. And there is also the ability to add shading by using different values of the same color in each section. I thought some of you readers who also make mosaics might be interested in this journey.

Some reasons for changing grout colorants over the years is that the supply chain has changed, I found better colorants, and recently I found that the better colorants have their own issues and can be difficult to find. So about a month ago I found myself searching for other options.

I first began by using powdered grout colorants that I purchased from a supplier (I think it was Maryland Mosaics, but they no longer carry these anyway).

The charcoal was the only one that I thought produced a color I was happy with. The others were just a little funky - colors that don't quite exist in nature. That's not necessarily a problem if you like them anyway, unless of course most of your subject matter is nature based.

I also tried ordering pre-colored grout from Home Depot in super rich, dark colors: Lipstick, Mallard Green, Midnight - you get the idea.  Problem #1 - you end up with a shit load of strong colored grout that will eventually harden and get gravelly. Problem #2 - for some reason, those uber-tinted grouts don't accept the water quickly like light colors. It's kind of like pouring milk on powdered sugar. It requires stirring for a very long time to get it to mix, and then you have about 2.5 seconds to stop mixing or you get a bizarre foamy texture.

I then discovered Tints All which I purchased from Maryland Mosaics in tubes. I wanted the smaller size in lots of colors to try them out - they do come in larger bottles. The colors are fantastic and nicely concentrated, and with the exception of a couple of the red shades, they won't fade and are appropriate for outdoor use.

My biggest problem with these is that the colorants in the tube separate so you have to massage the tube thoroughly to recombine it before using, and with time they become nearly solid and difficult to remove from the tube. As concentrated as they are, you use very little and the small tube would last a long time - if you could get the stuff out of it. I did purchase the larger bottle size of the black, and it seems thinner and I haven't had a problem with it. So maybe that's the answer - only use the bottles. However, two of the shades I use most were out of stock for a long time, so I needed another solution.

I ended up buying a few powdered pigments from Gamblin - these are artist quality pigments for people who are nerdy enough to make their own paint. (Sorry! no offense intended. I love nerds.) They are expensive, but they color grout and thinset beautifully! I really love the look of these.

I know that some of these colors won't have the lightfast qualities of the Tints All colorants, but for indoor use, that's not an issue. I will probably restock some of the Tints All in larger bottles for things I think I might use outdoors.

Anyone have another suggestion?

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Monday, April 9, 2018

Madelyn's Poppies - New Mosaic!

Madelyn's Poppies
24" x 12"
Glass and stone

This mosaic was delivered to a very special lady on Good Friday. My cousin Madelyn had asked for a mosaic of red poppies for her new sun porch.

I have grown red oriental poppies in my gardens, and you'd think that would be my first association with a request for a red poppy mosaic, but I kept thinking of the Flanders poppies that are used for remembrance on Veteran's Day. My uncle, her father, was a WWII veteran so I thought of him every time I worked on it. Madelyn was unaware of the association of poppies and remembrance, and when she happened to run across that information after she commissioned the mosaic, she was especially touched because the room that it is displayed in is full of furniture and special items from her mother, who passed away not too long ago.

This one will always be special for me. 💟

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Public art, new and old

I spent some time this morning trying to organize art photos. It really shouldn't be such a difficult thing, but because the transition to my current computer (admittedly, that was about 2 years ago) didn't go smoothly, the photos are in disarray to say the least. I found that some seemed to have gone AWOL as well, although in a very random way.

In particular, I found that I had very few pictures of the public art projects I had participated in. I spent about 45 minutes scouring Google photos, Facebook and this blog to collect images to store on my computer. Since I have just started another public art project, this is a good time to look back at the previous ones, and look forward to more.

First, the current project. Jennifer Kuhns has designed and organized a mosaic mural in memory of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016. This mural will consist of hearts in the colors of the rainbow made by professional mosaic artists from around the world, and the target date for installation is June of this year, hopefully near the second anniversary of the shooting.

I wanted a recognizable heart, but not one that was just a boring regular shape, since each artist is instructed to work in only one color. I have a sheet of stained glass that is g. o. r. g. e. o. u. s. The yellow is fairly light, and slightly peachy in places, but one side is heavily textured. In cutting it for this piece it sort of reminded me of feathers, and in placing them as I did, I began to think it looked a little like angel wings. (I know - that is SOO not me to say that). It probably won't when it's finished, but it seemed like an appropriate thing for a memorial.

Jennifer has also started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the costs of installation. Please take a moment to view the GoFundMe campaign and contribute if you can. Even if not, please share it on social media to help spread the word!

The Pulaski Polka Dot Project

The previous public project was a project to adorn the front of Wits End Mosaic Supply in Pulaski, Wisconsin. The was a drab little brick building until the mosaic artists got hold of it - check out the before and after! 

My contribution is near the lower right corner of the window on the right. Here it is before installation:

The Pulaski Polka Dot project was accepted into the Society of American Mosaic Artists annual exhibition, which coincides with the conference, currently going on in Boston. It's a very big honor to be part of a project accepted into this exhibition.


Lin Schorr designed this mural to adorn the blank side of Ciel Gallery in Charlotte, NC. At 13 feet long and 8 feet tall, it is a really show stopper. Fifty some artists participated, my piece being the pink and yellow petal on the far left. This photo is from the ribbon cutting - you can see it flapping in the breeze!

A close up on the section with my contribution. I was inspired by the striped tulips that made Holland famous (and later bankrupt!)
Unfurled was also accepted into a previous Society of American Mosaic Artists exhibition.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Carolina Wren

The little wren is finished, and will be hanging in the Kress Emporium this afternoon.  Although I have enjoyed working on these little pieces more than I expected to (5" x 7"), I'm psyched to be moving along on the commission. The size of 12" x 24" is a much more comfortable size to design for.

If you didn't see the reference photos and a teaser of the design sketch:

I won't give away too much on this project as it progresses - it's too much fun to surprise a client with the finished piece. But I love the way the leaves are looking - I'll share a pic of that soon.

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Friday, February 2, 2018

Last of the Tinies. For Now.

Close to being done with my Carolina Wren, the last of the little works for the time being. I love this little dude, I have to admit! This is 5" x 7", same as the other two I shared in this post.

This one will have a stone background - haven't quite chosen the colors yet.

Now I'm off to set up my booth at The Kress Emporium. No rest for the wicked!

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Monday, January 29, 2018

Today Feels Like the 40th of January. Seriously.

It truly feels like it's been January forever. And yet, I have accomplished so very little this month, in part because I spent half of it sick (and half of that out of town).

But no excuses.

While I have yet to finish that last little mosaic, it shouldn't take long, and then I'll be running full throttle on my commission. Soon I'll show you the little one, but then it might be awhile before you hear from me - no work in progress pics so the finished piece will be a surprise!

Though the mosaic work ground to a halt, I did get a monster sized painting done for our basement mud room. It was actually a cooperative production with my husband. I drew the design and painted the background, he roughed in the birds and branches, and then I finished it off. Though it's a bit amateurish, being my first attempt at painting strictly with a palette knife, I loved doing it and will be dabbling in this again soon.

In other news, I have 6 of my designs printed onto 5" x 7" greeting cards (I'm really happy with these - the paper quality is excellent!). They will be available at the Kress Emporium beginning February 1, and hopefully, on my website soon! Getting the website ready for eCommerce has been no cakewalk, but it should be ready soon. I will be adding designs gradually, and hope to have some prints added too.

Til next time - stay warm!

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

Photo credit: Carla Stanford Mitchell

This is the view from a friend's porch on New Year's Day, 2018. Western North Carolina was gifted a bitter cold and icy start to the year. There are several ways one could look at that - either 2018 will be an utter bitch, or the year is taking a tip from Mother Nature and freezing out the vermin. Let's hope for the latter!

Holidays always interfere with work in the studio, however, I have managed a little bit of work on little bits of mosaic.

 I did finish the pears (titled Harvest), and got most of the glass done on the poppy (titled, unimaginatively, Poppy). These are both 5" x 7", and I have one more to start in that size, which is a Carolina Wren. We have lots of those darling little birds that hop around on our deck and tease the cats. As sweet as they look, when they open their mouths you feel as if you have just been cussed out by the neighborhood crank. My kind of bird!

Hope you all had a wonderful and safe New Year's Eve. Here's to a wonderful, art-filled 2018!

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Finessing the grout

It's no surprise that I am never satisfied with a single color of grout, but I find that I nearly always want more subtlety in the grout changes and shades of a single color after I get close to being done with it.

So what's a girl to do? I have developed a number of techniques that help me do what I call "finessing the grout".

Here's a little taste of what that involves.

This is a small piece (5" x 7") that relies heavily on the grout changes, because the size of the piece prevents me from getting a lot of gradual color changes in the glass pieces. As small as the glass tesserae are, they are not all that small in relation to the overall size of the piece.

Because of the center being grouted in shades darker than the background, as soon as the pears and leaves were done, I grouted them. Then I applied the background. At this point I decided to adjust the shading on the pears before grouting the background. There are several ways to do this. One is to use a wash of acrylic paint onto the areas you want to shade. However, because the grout had been curing for several days, I know from experience that an acrylic wash will turn out looking grainy if applied now. When the grout is fresh you can use that technique (within reason) and the paint pigments seem to soak in and stay put better. My best option was to mix up another shade of grout and go over the parts I wanted shaded. Before I could do that, I needed to remove a small amount of the grout from the area to give some room for the new grout to settle into. Grout, after all, is a space filler and NOT an adhesive.

I then mixed up the grout shade I wanted, and instead of applying it with my regular tool, I used a very small stiff brush. This not only gives me more control, it allows me to fade out the changes nicely.

Blurry pic, sorry.

I used the brush to scrub the grout in there and then wiped the area with a paper towel.

Sometimes, there will still be an area that needs a fine line to delineate areas, and in this case, it was between the pears. I used thinned acrylic paint applied with a very fine liner brush. Again, this was an option because it was applied on top of fresh grout.

Then onto the background, which is two colors - plain white and a pale blue, applied quickly so it could be blended together while wet. And that's how we get to the picture at the top!

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

It's a Learning Curve

I have never liked working small, but I have been pushing myself to do it more in the last couple of years, and ...

I still don't like it. But I don't like it less than I used to.

Not diggin' this one, and can't really say why, so I guess this is what it is. I finished the glass today, and will grout it tomorrow, and possibly start the marble background. I wanted to use the travertine marble (which I think is drool-worthy), but it's too dark to give good contrast with the pears, so I have settled on Giallo.

After this I have two more small ones I hope to finish before the first of the year, then on to a commission. :)

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Um...Yeah. No.

So. I have discovered that Litovi is not for me.

Yeah, I know - how on earth did I only put down about 6 pieces of glass in a month? I've been busy, ok? lol

Anyway, when the Litovi showed up I was very surprised at how thick it is. I was aware that it would need to be cut with hammer and hardie first, and then could be cut with compound nippers. However, this stuff is so thick that I actually had a little trouble getting it to break with the hammer! I also got jagged, uneven cuts, as you can see, and then the nippers didn't work as well as I might have liked. I'm also not super excited about the colors.


Problem is, I don't know what other options I will have. I guess I'll just have to use glass for the cockscombs. I have red unglazed porcelain, but next to the Litovi it looks brown.

I think this one is getting shelved for awhile. I hate to do that, because I already have one on the shelf (a grapevine) but I am going to make a few small things for some quick gratification. And because starting on Feb. 1, I will be exhibiting in the Kress Emporium in downtown Asheville, NC and the space will be tight.

Also, I will be working on a commission beginning the first of the year, so that will have to be my focus. 

I'll just let the concept of this one percolate in my subconscious for awhile and see what I can come up with.

Suggestions welcome.

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