This work, entitled Zion, was inspired by my very short trip to Zion National Park this summer. The work is smalti, tile, glass, and stone on a hand-formed substrate, and measures 18 inches by 18 inches. It will be one of the works that I’ll be showing at NW Mosaic Today, April 2013, at Tacoma Public Library’s Handforth Gallery, in conjunction with the American Mosaic Summit 2013. This group show will feature several talented and dynamic Northwest mosaic artists.
On Saturday, October 20, from 5 – 7 p.m., I’d be delighted to have you stop by the Carco Theater in Renton. Many of my works will be hanging there in a month-long show, including some brand-new work not yet photographed.
These “minis” are just part of the fun!
I just finished this commission. It’s the Rainbow Buddha, which references the Tibetan rainbow body phenomenon, depicting someone attaining full knowledge — a body of pure light, hence the rainbow body.
Don’t forget: October 20, 5 – 7, artist reception at the Carco Theater, Renton. I hope to see you there!
Artist reception: October 20, 5 – 7 p.m. Carco Theater, Renton. Come mingle and see my solo show that will run from mid-October through late November. Unless you’re going to a show at Carco, this may be the only time you’ll get to see the show. http://rentonwa.gov/living/default.aspx?id=156
A Mosaical Divertimento
Divertimento (from the Italian divertire — to amuse) is a musical genre. The mood of the divertimento is most often lighthearted, and it is generally composed for a small ensemble.
This is the tale of a small ensemble of Seattle mosaic artists of varying ranges of experience – Kelley Knickerbocker, me (Debbie McLaughlin), and Todd Campbell – who collaborated in summer 2012 on a public mosaic mural. A 50 square foot wall with 10,000 tesserae, this mural, entitled Divertimento, covers the southern retaining wall of the Hazel Miller Plaza in Edmonds, Washington. During this, our first collaborative large-scale mosaic, we experienced all the thrills and panic that more experienced public mosaic artists undoubtedly remember from their first project.
This article offers more than just our post-mosaic bliss, however. Our collaboration yielded some new techniques, and we want to share the process, pitfalls, and resolutions. Furthermore, amazing results can happen when master mosaicists and ‘minions’ work together and forge a blend of the tried-and-true and the experimental.
First we came up with a design to meet the city’s requirements for “background music” on the wall that would compliment – and not compete with – the dazzling steel and glass railing above it. After two iterations the design was approved, and we settled into pre-processing the aforementioned 10,000 pieces. Bins piled up over the first couple of weeks: glazed & unglazed tile, Bedrock recycled glass, beads, stained glass, pottery shards, and smalti. Not content to settle for only our rectangular pieces, we also decided to accentuate the concentric circles that are the key design element (referencing the glass roundels in the railing above) with hundreds of circular tesserae and ringsawn spiral cuts.
We constructed this mosaic on mesh with thinset in the studio in two major sections – essentially the two halves of the wall. We created large “sheets” of substrate: one layer of mesh coated with Laticrete 254 thinset, because we wanted firm, sturdy, easily liftable sections. Rather than cut smaller sections to work on individually, we decided to leave the entire half-wall substrate – cut to fit the weird, triangular-trapezoidal shape of the wall – intact and then section it later.
We then began to lay the tesserae, and build/affix the 3D sections that would stand from ½” – 2” out from the wall. Keeping the half-wall substrate intact meant we could much more easily control the andamento and ensure the overall harmony across the wall. We knew we could cut the sections with a utility knife once the tesserae were laid and firm. By the way, baggies for thinset application are an essential budget line item for tidy, non-stop production!
And here is where the magic began to happen. Todd– the team member newest to the world of mosaic –asked a lot of great questions throughout this process, and we came to realize just how powerful those “innocent” questions can be. While mulling over the best sectioning method and discussing the complications of on-site grouting of an extremely dimensional work – for the umpteenth time– Todd asked the game-changing question: “Just out of curiosity, why wouldn’t we pre-grout the sections?”
Kelley and I laughed later that we both thought, but didn’t say: “Pre-grouting just isn’t done!” But for Todd’s benefit we talked through the possibility and started to brainstorm the pros and cons of this idea. In the end, it’s exactly what we opted for: cutting the substrate sheets into sections, pre-grouting (with SpectraLock epoxy grout)and grinding the sections in the studio, and then installing. Installation was slated for a very hot week in August , and we didn’t relish the idea of grouting a wall lower than waist-height in 80 degree heat. Pre-grouting saved our backs, made for a cleaner job, allowed us to have larger, more rigid sections, and and cut on-site installation time from five days to two.
The day before installation we laid all the sections out to double check their fit and anticipate any possible problems. To our surprise and shock, two of the grouted sections were slightly warped, not absolutely flat. This was the most gut-wrenching moment of the process, producing some tense moments as we debated solutions. Should we try to crack the section and then re-grout the crack? If so, how would we crack it – try to determine & direct the crack, or simply press on the section and let it crack where it needed to? What else could we possibly do?
Two happy “accidents” occurred next: First, Kelley ended up cracking one piece while turning it over and gently pressing it against her leg. We marked the cracks in the now-flat section for later re-grouting. The other section proved more worrisome: it was a full circle, about 2 feet in diameter, with another square foot below the circle. In addition, the circle had a raised section: a piece of Wedi with tesserae: super solid – yet scarily warped. We think this happened because some of our section transfer boards were not rigid enough and bent as the grout was curing. You can’t defy gravity!
While transferring sections back to the studio, Debbie set this section up against the exterior wall, and 30 minutes later noticed that it seemed flatter. Our hearts leapt as we realized we might be able to flatten the piece while the grout wasn’t fully cured. We laid the section out flat in the hot sun, then bricked it down, and the next morning the section was as flat as could be. Yet one more reason to love Laticrete products!
Installation had its hiccups, but overall, we installed 50 square feet of mosaic in two days, including final grouting of seams and caulking of edges. We even managed a decent lunch hour both days and clocked out before 5 p.m.!
Todd’s willingness to question, think aloud, wonder, and see new possibilities resulted in a technique that I know we’ll use again in the future. We had countless other moments of learning, things we would do differently and better. But one thing I would absolutely do again is work with Kelley, a master mosaicist, and Todd, a fast-learner and fearless questioner. Each of us made substantial contributions to this project. The weaving of our conceptual contributions and actual labor make Divertimento a timeless work of art for the city of Edmonds and a pivotal experience in our development as mosaic artists.
Check it out! Our largest public creation to date. We are 99.9% done, and very happy with it. Special delights for those who look closely in person. Installed in 2 days at Hazel Miller Plaza (old Mill Town), Edmonds, Washington.
I partnered on this with Kelley Knickerbocker (www.rivenworksmosaics.com), and we brought in Todd Campbell for a good bit of labor and fantastic ideas. The ease and joy of creating with this team led to its name: Divertimento. By the way, how great is it that all 3 of us live within the same two-mile radius?
Here are some interesting specs & facts:
- 10,000 pieces – each handled multiple times from cutting, to setting, to dremeling, to grouting. This wall is highly touchable despite the incredible density and variation in height of the tesserae.
- 50 square feet – unglazed & glazed porcelain, glass, smalti, beads, pottery (all high-fire and exterior-rated).
- Built on thinsetted mesh.
- Spectralock epoxy grout (Laticrete) once again proves to be the superior choice
- Sectioned into fairly large sections prior to install because….wait for it… we PRE-GROUTED.
Pre-grouting was Todd’s amazing contribution to this project; in all innocence and wondering one day, he asks: why don’t we pre-grout? Well, after several days of thinking and mulling the pros and cons, we decided to go for it. That process deserves an entire post or article of its own.
Click on any image – they will enlarge and go into slide show mode.
Look at the gray, blank-slate wall.
Now picture a variety of circles, different sizes, with variegated andamento. Kelley Knickerbocker and I (with help from Todd Campbell) are fabricating this wall. It’s about 50 square feet and will be installed in mid-August. I’ll post more pictures and describe the process later. Feel free to ask questions along the way!
This is a one-night show at the Fremont Abbey, July 12, 7 – 11 p.m. I can’t be there, unfortunately, but my piece Log Cabin Nine will be! This piece will be part of the visual art in the cafe downstairs, while there will be performing artists upstairs.
Log Cabin Nine is a glass-on-glass mosaic, about 17 x 20 inches, designed to hang in the window. Because most people don’t have plentiful windows in which to hang art, I built a lightbox for it, so it can be hung on the wall.
Why do I think this qualifies as Extraordinary in the Everyday? Because 1) who doesn’t love a colorful quilt to cozy up with, and 2) the light streaming into our lives every day never fails to amaze me in its power to illuminate.
For more information about this show, please click below:
I want to extend a big thank you to all folks have: come to art shows, visited this website, purchased art, and discovered their own love of mosaic! Thanks also to Claire and Kelley, local mosaic artists and friends. You’re both doing fantastic work growing the profile of mosaics in Seattle, and I have enjoyed working with you immensely.
WaterLight Mosaics is looking forward to a creative year! Architectural and fine art projects are in the works, and I invite you to check back periodically for news. You might enjoy this picture of a classic mosaic tool: the hammer and hardie, used for cutting smalti, stone, and tile. The hardie is usually set into a smaller wood base, but this giant caught my eye late last year. Sadly, the Northwest Craft Center at the Seattle Center closed. This beauty was for sale, and is now waiting for its permanent home in my studio.