I like clean lines; bold, saturated, complicated colors and interesting geometric patterns. Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to mosaic. I can manipulate materials and transform them into patterns and shapes that please my mind.
This week's blog was written by mosaic jewelry artist, June Martin of Moth & Twig. June discusses her observations around finding her voice as an artist.
I admit to a guilty pleasure. Project Runway! What does Project Runway have to do with this week’s blog you ask? If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll recognize Heidi Klum exclaiming, “I don’t know who you are yet as a designer!” Or, “I knew it was you when it walked down the runway.” That got me to thinking. Is my voice as an artist apparent? This is something I’ve struggled with over the years because, to be honest, I think I have two voices. Let me explain.
I like clean lines; bold, saturated, complicated colors and interesting geometric patterns. Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to mosaic. I can manipulate materials and transform them into patterns and shapes that please my mind.
But I also love a rustic, bohemian vibe. I believe this to be a sharp contrast to my love for bold and graphic. I love both styles equally. These styles are reflected in my home environment as well.
Before mosaics, I used to spend inordinate amounts of time “playing” with my living spaces. I’ve lived in a number of unconventional abodes over the years. I love creating unique, vibrant living spaces. Clean lines, bold colors, interspersed with rustic and unusual curiosities. I currently live in a small 100 year-old Cape Cod house/loft. I’ve kept many of the original features of the house, in particular the amazing, though highly inefficient windows in the living and dining rooms. My orange mid-century modern sofa looks great next to the antique windows. My antique rustic seven-foot farm table looks smashing with the Eames-like molded plywood dining chairs. Don’t get me started on my chartreuse library/music room, which features a rustic potbelly stove, antique Gabbeh rug, and modern black umbrella chairs; perfect for cocooning into with a glass of red on a cold winter’s night. I have a voice; it’s just shared between two camps.
At a recent show, my booth featured bold pieces, which were mixed in with my rustic, natural pieces. I don’t have as many bold pieces due to the complexity and length of time it takes to create them. At this show, a gentleman from Texas was sifting through various pieces on display. He gravitated towards a piece that I made a while ago; a small square pendant made from dark stained glass and acid green mosaic gold! Yes! Acid green mosaic gold! A stunning material that I use sparingly due to the cost. The pendant was bold and graphic but was set into an antique pewter base so it shared elements of rustic and bold. It spoke to him so he joyously bought it as a birthday present for himself. He then gravitated towards a piece I had made for a gallery show. It was a very labor-intensive pendant that I was quite fond of. I told myself that if it didn’t sell at this show, it was mine. Well, it’s in Texas now, as well as five other pieces he was drawn to. I couldn’t be happier. He appreciates my work, so for me, that’s a win-win as they say. I joked around with him about how he was zeroing in on my favorite, though not as popular pieces. We connected. He also purchased a rustic style bracelet. I was sad to see some of them go but very happy to see them go home with him. It was nice to see both of my voices could be appreciated by the same person. I guess it’s ok to have more than one voice.
This weeks blog post was written by mosaic artist June Martin of Moth and Twig.
Dilemma. I have multiple shows on the horizon which I need to be prepared for, but….THERE.IS.A.SPIDER.IN.MY.STUDIO! It would be more accurate to say that the mother of all spiders (let’s call her MOAS) is occupying the space that I get to Zen out in and create art. Another way to put it is that a grotesque, eight-legged creature (no creature should have that many legs, except for the octopus because, well, they’re cute despite having that many appendages) is keeping me from doing something that I love.
I need to make art but I’m being held hostage. My partner, Andrew, is at work and won’t be home for hours. He usually takes care of spiders in our home. That’s his job, besides his job as a postman that is. I’m in charge of bats and snakes. It’s a nice arrangement. He’s not a fan of bats and snakes. I, on the other hand, am fond of them. Neither have eight legs or hundreds of eyes. I don’t actually know how many eyes the average spider has, but I know it’s lots. What the hell!? Why do you need that many eyes….or eight legs for that matter?! Sorry, I digress.
As I said, Andrew is a postman so it’s not as though he can come home and take care of MOAS. Although, I think that is reasonable but I bet the US Postal Service would disagree. By now, you may be thinking, you’re a grown woman; take care of MOAS yourself. That’s logical. But my fear of MOAS, and her most likely 5000 hideous offspring, is not logical. It’s a phobia, which by definition is an irrational fear. Although, I might interject that some spiders can kill you, so is it really an irrational fear? Food for thought. Sorry, I digress.
As I said, multiple shows on the horizon, MOAS holding my studio hostage, and Andrew dutifully at work. I knew this would happen one day. Since moving to Oregon from San Francisco (apologies) a year ago, it has not escaped my attention that spiders love Portland, and seemingly, my home. I’ve learned to check my shoes before sticking my feet in them, as well as checking the tub before having a shower. Thank god my eyesight sucks and I often don’t wear my glasses because who knows how many spiders are really lurking about? BTW, having fuzzy vision has also come in handy when I walk past a mirror. It’s like having my own personal Photoshop.
Without glasses: “Damn, I don’t look so bad.”
Glasses: “Ack! Who is that?”
Sorry, I digress.
I work too many hours at my job in mental health (I know, that makes this phobia thing even more ridiculous) to let MOAS hold me hostage. I could call my son, but he lives across town and doesn’t have a car. Besides, what kind of example would I be setting? Pfffttt, who am I kidding? I confess to making him take care of the spider situation in his teen years. That makes me a bad mom. That’s a blog for another day. Mind you, in SF we didn’t have many spiders, and certainly not like MOAS.
Is MOAS a freak of nature? Did she breed? I bet she ate her mate afterwards. She looks the type. I could enlist the help of the vacuum cleaner but I doubt she’d fit. Perhaps I should embrace MOAS by creating a mosaic of her. Maybe that would cure me. Doubtful. I guess I’ll just go for a walk. MOAS:1, June: 0
This week's blog post was written by mosaic artist June Martin of Moth and Twig.
“Without the studio, however humble, the room where the imagination can enter cannot exist.” -Anna Hansen
Whether it’s a beautiful space in the corner of your garden, a sprawling live/work space in a bustling city, or a humble corner in your flat, the art studio is a sacred space. A space to dream, create, and to explore; a space where time stands still yet flies by, simultaneously.
I moved from San Francisco to Portland about a year ago (I apologize for being another California-Portland transplant). In San Francisco, space was at a premium, even more so than in Portland. My fiancé and I shared a 650 square foot rent controlled one-plus bedroom apartment in the heart of the vibrant Castro District. My “studio” consisted of a farm table planted in the corner of the tiny living room. Luckily, my fiancé didn’t seem to mind that I took over the living room, especially since the apartment was solely his for about 15 years before my cat and I invaded the space. Though not an ideal space, I made it work, often times spilling out into the kitchen, especially when grouting mosaic pieces was called for.
Before moving in with my fiancé, I lived across the bay in the town of Emeryville where I occupied a 1200 square foot live/work space. Without defined spaces, I was able to set up or transform my art space to suit the needs of the day. Those needs toggled between working on small mosaic projects to hosting large art parties.
I confess to being somewhat of a nomad. For me, the act of moving has always been a source of pleasure, partly because whenever I move, I get to create a new space, not only to live in, but to create in as well. I am highly influenced by my immediate surroundings so each space I have occupied holds a special place in my heart and has been interesting, often unusual, and inspirational. My art space is as much a part of my art as other environments that also influence my art. It is the space where I feel happy, complete, and safe.
As I mentioned previously, my fiancé and I moved from our small apartment in San Francisco, to a cottage in the John’s Landing neighborhood of Portland. I purchased the cottage 13 years ago with the intention of moving to Portland. Life happened and it took 13 years to finally make the move. The cottage is a 100 year-old Cape Cod-turned-loft, tucked away at the end of a forested cul-de-sac. Though compact, the house serves our needs. I am no longer relegated to a corner of the living room to create art. I have a separate art studio complete with chartreuse and red walls that send a spark through me every time I enter the space. Though not a sprawling loft or a cool space in SF, my Portland studio is unique and it is my sanctuary. A place to dream, explore, and create. A safe space. A sacred space. The art studio.
This week's blog post was written by mosaic artist Colleen Patricia Willams.
This weeks’ post is about not just art, but the creative process and what aids that process. Modern American society is a busy place; work, family and other social commitments tend to take up our time, leaving us little time for leisure activities. This busyness cuts into our sleep, our meals and deprives us of a lot of necessary relaxation.
Neuroscience suggests that this trend has not been a good thing for Americans; it comes at the expense of creative enterprises, which tend to raise our life satisfaction as well as help us to live longer. Those moments when one becomes unaware of the passage of time, when the brain focuses on the project at hand, those moments are called “flow” and those moments are very good for us, not just as artists, but in other areas.
Flow is when we are relaxed, when time slips away, much like when one is driving, deep in thought; we find ourselves surprised when we pull into the driveway, listening to the music, it seemed like the drive took no time at all. This phenomenon generalizes out to the rest of our lives; at work, and especially at play, flow allows us to become one with the project, the concepts, that we are trying to express. It’s a good thing to take the time to experience flow; coloring can do this, which is what is behind the rise of the adult coloring book.
Another crucial area that needs to be considered is the role of sleep in the creative process; sleep not only cleans detritus out of our brains, but sleep allows new information learned during the waking period, to become better embedded in the brain. Sleep aids in healing and growth; growth of neuronal connections is vital to the creative process as is the pruning of unneeded neuronal connections. Sleep allows the brain to reorganize all of the input that has come into the brain during the waking period; this sleep period also allows weaker subsystems in the brain that are overwhelmed during the day, to emerge as the stronger systems are on hold. This is the origin of the A HA! moment. There are many documented instances of the answer to a critical question to a problem that come in dreams, like the invention of the sewing machine.
The inventor of the sewing machine was having a difficult time getting the thread to work; one night, during a dream, he saw the answer in the spear points that he dreamed of that night. They had holes in the tips, which when he applied this to the needles, it allowed the thread to properly loop, solving the problem he was having with his invention, that has changed the world.
The point that I hope to make for all people, artists and those who are not artists, is that we can all be creative, we can all do things to enhance our creativity, with sleep being the number one thing that we can all do, for free.
Stop by Artistic Portland to see and purchase Colleen's illuminated mosaics and hand-drawn coloring books!
This week's blog post is written by June Martin of Moth and Twig.
In my life I have been fortunate enough to either live in or spend time in various biomes including deserts, forests, and grasslands. My artwork is highly influenced by my love for nature. For example, it is easy to see the desert in the mosaic art jewelry pieces below. Hues of fiery orange and mustard depict the warmth of the sun. Turquoise, occurring exclusively in desert and arid environments, is often featured in my work, either in the form of actual turquoise stones and nuggets or turquoise ceramic earthenware tiles.
Though the arid, desert color palette speaks to me, I feel most inspired when I am in the forest, the tropical forest to be exact. As a child, I spent nearly two years living in the Philippines. The time I spend traipsing around in the jungle as a curious nine-year-old shaped who I am today. I cannot help but connect my love of art to my love of nature. I see art in nature, and I see nature in art. Though I have not been back to the Philippines since my childhood, I do frequent the wilds of Costa Rica, often, and it is there that I feel most inspired!
If you will indulge me for a moment, close your eyes and picture yourself awakening to the guttural sound of the howler monkey. To my ears, even though the first cries of the day may begin at 4 AM, their cries sound like a lullaby to me, letting me know that soon I will be gently awakened by the tropical sun, but for now, all is right in the world as I hear them getting ready for their day. The sun rises early in Costa Rica, usually around 5:30 AM. By this time the world around you is alive and bustling with activity. A cup of hot tea in hand, swinging in the hammock, I am enthralled by the abundance of hummingbirds and butterflies flitting about with their iridescent wings shimmering in the early morning sun. I ponder creating a pendant using dichroic glass to depict the impossible brilliance of color I see before my eyes.
Next, I see a pair of agoutis scampering about, foraging for their morning meal. Their beautiful caramel color fur stands out as they forage next to the lush green ferns near the banana trees. Another inspirational palette to use in my work. A pair of earrings perhaps?
At this point I hear the sounds of the white-faced capuchin monkey; a troupe making its way to my cottage, perhaps to scrounge the compost pile at the foot of the immense bamboo thicket. I see the first monkey emerge: a new mother with her infant clasped tightly around her. How beautiful they are with their cream hued faces and dark brown bodies. They scamper up and down the bamboo stalks. I contemplate a palette of cream, sienna, and the green of the bamboo leaves. Perhaps I will throw in some mango orange or mammon chino. So many choices!
It is my dream to host workshops in Costa Rica, where I can share with others my love of the art of mosaic as well as my love of Costa Rica: A seven-day intensive mosaic jewelry workshop to be held in the remote, yet accessible, Southern Nicoya peninsula. My hope is that not only will students come away with gorgeous works of nature-inspired mosaic jewelry, but that they will also come away with a sense of awe and appreciation for the jungles of Costa Rica. Adventure and art awaits! Stay tuned!
June Martin has a Mosaic Jewelry Workshop coming up in June! Check out our Classes page for more information.
This week's blog post is written by June Martin of Moth & Twig.
Micro mosaic is a special type of mosaic work that uses small mosaic pieces (tesserae) of varying materials. Micro mosaics actually date back to the 3rd century BC, though the height of their popularity was during mid 19th century to the mid 20th century. Micro mosaic jewelry became popular between the 17th and 19th century. The art often depicted famous Italian landmarks. Around 1860, artisans of Murano developed their own style of micro mosaic jewelry using tiny bits of colored glass and glass rods. Alessio Mattioli, 18th century Roman glass kiln owner, experimented on colored glass paste and developed what are called, “small filati.” This technique made it possible for artisans to create small fashion pieces. With the dawn of the Industrial age and expensive hand labor, larger tesserae came into vogue.
The mosaic jewelry I create (Moth & Twig Mosaic Art Jewelry) incorporates techniques and materials found in micro mosaic work. Though I do not consider my jewelry to be true micro mosaic art as I use larger tesserae than what is used in classic micro mosaic, I do consider my work to be miniature mosaic. I love working on such a small scale and have found that my passion lies in miniature mosaics.
I use a number of different materials for my work, including hand glazed earthenware tiles, various types of glass, filati, millefiori, beads, metals, gemstones, and found objects, to name a few. I’m constantly experimenting with new materials so my list of materials continues to expand. I’ve recently begun to work with a material called mosaic gold. The material consists of 24kt gold leaf that is mounted on glass and covered by a very thin hand-blown piece of crystal, and then fused into one solid, durable piece of glass. The result is spectacular as the gold appears on the surface of the tesserae, reflecting the purity of the gold when the light hits it just so. The material is expensive and difficult to work with so I use it sparingly, incorporating it into ceramic and glass pieces. Mosaic gold is offered in an array of colors; my favorite at the moment is acid green.
If you are intrigued by the art of mosaic jewelry, I am thrilled to announce that I will be teaching a mosaic jewelry class at Artistic Portland this April! The theme for the class is “I Heart Mom,” just in time for Mother’s Day, or perhaps you would like to create a beautiful mosaic piece for yourself! In this four-hour workshop, you will learn how to create beautiful mosaic art jewelry using basic mosaic techniques, methods and applications. Students can choose to make a mosaic heart pendant or choose from a variety of other pendant shapes and/or drop earrings. You will leave the class with one or two finished pieces, depending on the types and sizes of bases chosen. Students will also receive a comprehensive handout and resource list. See the Artistic Portland class page for more details.
Our blog post this week is written by Mosaicist and Co-op member June Martin of Moth and Twig.
Clearly I did not ever have a love affair with Antoni Gaudi since he died in 1926 and I’m not THAT old, but I am deeply in love with his works. Gaudi has been a great inspiration for my work in mosaic arts. I had the great pleasure of spending nearly a month, solo, in Barcelona, Spain. It was 2004 and I was going through some transitions so off to Europe I went, mainly because as an emerging mosaic artist, I knew had to experience Gaudi’s works first hand and I knew that a week or two was not going to be adequate in order to savor his works and the magnificent city of Barcelona.
Gaudi experienced various influential periods in his life including, but not limited to, his Orientalist period, Neo-Gothic period, and Naturalist Period. I seem to be drawn to his Naturalist Period the most, though arguably, all of his periods can be seen in his works. I remember how I felt when I first entered Casa Mila (more commonly known as La Pedrera). With its sinuous curves, interior courtyards, and rooftop with chimneys covered in ceramics and shapes that suggest medieval helmets, I remember feeling as though I had stepped into an organic being. I was filled with joy, wonder, and incredible excitement. I would soon learn that I would experience these emotions every time I viewed or stepped inside one of Gaudi’s creations. I can only envy the handful of families who have the distinct pleasure of residing in Casa Mila.
Wandering through the various areas of Casa Mila was truly an amazing experience. From the structure to the beautiful furnishings, truly a magical experience.
Could such a place exist? Again, it was like stepping inside a living, breathing, beautiful being. I was overcome by beauty, form, color, and the feeling of happiness, playfulness, and pure joy.
During my month long adventure, I continued to meander throughout the city, visiting other Gaudi wonders as well as reveling in other artists’ works including that of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. I was inspired by the fluidity and beauty of Art Nouveau, seemingly at every turn, and the Modernista buildings throughout Barcelona including Casa Lleo Morera, Casa Calvet, and Casa Vicens.
Towards the end of my stay, I finally made it to the Sagrada Familia, and to Parc Guell. I had seen and experienced so much by the time I made it to these places, that I felt it only fitting to pay homage to Gaudi one sunny afternoon at Parc Guell. After meandering around the park and soaking in the amazing structures, the mosaics, and of course the iconic Parc Guell lizard, I climbed to the highest point in the park and made sure I had a clear view of The Sagrada Familia. It is there that I enjoyed a picnic consisting of Cava (Spanish wine), cheeses, biscuits, and a few tapas from my adventures the night before.
I toasted Gaudi and his brilliance, and I toasted the other artists and architects who created such beauty in fabulous Barcelona. I felt lucky to be alive and humbled by the brilliance all around me. I took all that I saw back with me to the states and knew that I would never quite be the same. I felt newly inspired and excited to continue on my path as a burgeoning mosaic artist
Stop by Artistic Portland any day of the week 10 am - 6 pm (noon-5 pm on Sundays) to see and purchase June's work in person!
I remember the first time I toyed with the idea of delving into the world of mosaic arts. I was living in Oakland, California at a live/work studio compound called Ford Street Studios in a neighborhood fondly known as “Jingle Town.” Mosaic Artist, Laurel True was also living at Ford Street Studios. A painter friend of mine who lived in a nearby studio told me about Laurel True’s studio, which was next to her studio. It so happened that Laurel was teaching small classes out of her studio, and after having seen some of her work, I knew I had to take a class. Little did I know, this would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship…with mosaics.
Laurel True went on to start the Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA) right next to the Ford Street Studios and she has since sold it and moved to New Orleans where she continues to teach and make incredibly gorgeous mosaics. I continued my journey in mosaics as well, taking countless classes and workshops at IMA, ranging from tabletops, concrete structures, installations, and portraiture to name a few. Though I love creating larger scale mosaics, I found that my passion lies with creating micro mosaics. I never thought in a million years that this would interest me, and I can’t really explain why it does and why, truthfully, I’m kind of obsessed with micro mosaics; mosaic jewelry in particular. Perhaps it’s the process. The gratification of making something in one sitting? The challenge of working small scale? Being able to wear my art? All of the above? I don’t know. I just know that when I’m making a piece, I’m in total bliss and 200% focused on my work…which, by the way, is not work at all. It’s play! Great play I might add!
In terms of my artistic process these days, now that I live in Portland rather than San Francisco (recent transplant), I’d say I’ve found my process to be more laid back and more in tune with the natural world around me as a source of inspiration. Now that I have an actual studio rather than taking over the living room (special thanks to my partner for putting up with that for a few years!), I’m even more engrossed in the process. I tend to dream about designs (literally) or think about patterns and colors, especially when I’m out in nature. I don’t, however, plan anything out. I take those inspirations and then sit at my space and let the patterns in my head spill out organically. I’ve tried to draw out designs but I find that too restricting and would much rather let things unfold as I go.
Other sources of inspiration include my travels to Costa Rica. I love the Southern Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and especially love the phenomenally gorgeous colors and textures found in the jungles. I plan on taking my materials with me on my next trip (another plus of working micro; the materials are compact!) and creating pieces solely inspired by the sea and the jungle. I foresee creations inspired by the iridescent blue morpho butterfly and the brilliant scarlet macaw. I hope to host a week-long Mosaic Art Jewelry Workshop in Costa Rica one day soon. In the meantime, I am planning on hosting a workshop at Artistic Portland so that I can share my passion and techniques with others.
I am thrilled to be part of Artistic Portland, selling my line of mosaic jewelry called Moth & Twig. I am genuinely in awe of the talent of my colleagues and I am proud to be part of such a great group of folks. I feel inspired by the beautiful works I see every time I walk into the shop that has positively contributed to my own process.
A few weeks ago local artist Colleen Patricia Williams educated us about the rich history of her artistic medium--mosaics. This week she dives back in with with more about the history of smalti tiles.
Glass tile has a long history in art; it is believed that the ancient Egyptians were the first to create glass and to use that glass as decorative art. Art historians believe that the use of glass tiles, that lead to smalti, came to Italy from the ancient Egyptians, from the conquests of the Roman Empire. In time, these glass tiles came to be made famous by Byzantium.
In the Byzantine era, mosaics that had traditionally been done with ceramic tiles, came to be done with a new type of tile, called “smalti”. Smalti tiles were, and still are, made of glass with various minerals added to create different “recipes”, that create different types of glass tile. In the Byzantine style, the smalti tiles were carefully set at the best angle to catch the light; to this end, smalti tiles were not grouted, to allow for proper light refraction.
Smalti typically includes air bubbles, as well as often infusions of gold and silver, to create the distinctive look of smalti. Smalti recipes are jealously guarded by the manufacturers of these tiles; this has always been the case with smalti production, because of the fierce competition amongst mosaic artists. Sadly, the peak of historical mosaic work was in the Byzantine Empire and the empire’s fortunes declined in the march of history, so did the art of mosaics and smalti production.
In the 19th century, the art of mosaics experienced a revival that has continued to this day. In the 19th century, the art and designs of Byzantium became popular again, as seen by the mosaic decoration of Westminster Cathedral, in London and in the Sacre Couer in Paris.
With the advent of the 20th century and the Art Nouveau movement, mosaics moved from just decoration into large, sculptural pieces, like those of Antoni Gaudi and Josep Maria Jujol. These pioneers saw the use of waste tile as well as tiles made especially for the purpose of large scale work. Guadi is justly famous for his architecture which often incorporated mosaics. Smalti tiles became an important part of the art world again, experiencing a great resurgence that has continued to this day.
In the 21st century, mosaics have resurged as a fine art form, both in representational works and in the abstract. Mosaics are now sculptural, they are composed of found objects as well as purpose made tiles, like modern smalti. Mosaics are created from small decorative wall pieces, to the large, sculptural pieces on forms created out of substrates from concrete, to plexiglass to shoes, have become fine art with the help of smalti.
At one time, an artist had to go through an apprenticeship process to create a master artist; there are now plenty of classes to teach the budding mosaic artist how to use these tiles, which are now sold to a global market. Mosaic art has come a long way since 4000 BC with the use of rocks and shells to create loose designs, to the magic and beauty of smalti and art glass tiles.
Smalti tiles are still manufactured with the infusions of gold and silver, with secret recipes and with the famous air bubbles. In the manufacture of smalti tiles, molten glass is poured out onto a flat surface into a large pancake then broken by hand into the glass tiles that make up smalti. The breaking process involves not just a glass cutter, but also tile cutters that are able to nip the tiles into the small squares that are used to paint with glass and light.
Stop by Artistic Portland to view and purchase Colleen's own beautifully handcrafted illuminated mosaics.
This week, local artist Colleen Patricia Williams educates us about the rich history of her artistic medium--mosaics.
Mosaic is an art form that is at least 4000 years old and originated in Mesopotamia, with bits of colored stones, glass and other materials. Mosaic also had a version that used terracotta cones, with the points pushed into clay to create a decorative surface. The Greeks used pebbles to create decorations.
Mosaic developed even further with the Greeks, who took the stones and pebbles and turned them into even more intricate designs, but mosaics really reached their ancient glory with the Romans, in Africa and Syria, the wealthiest Roman provinces. Beautiful floors have been found in Herculaneum and Pompeii. The mosaics in the Roman Empire featured domestic scenes, geometric designs and depictions of the gods in their pantheon. The lowest quality mosaics in the Roman Empire were to be found in Britain since not many mosaic artists were to be found at the farthest reaches of the empire.
The first glazed mosaic tiles were found in Susa, in what is modern day Iran, around 1500 BCE. Mosaics spread into Macedonia, into Carthage, then Rome.
The development of tesserae, a manufactured tile that was capable of great variation in color, size and shape that made great detail as well as subtle color changes possible. Sometimes these tesserae were very tiny pieces, allowing the artist to paint with tile.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, mosaics in the Byzantine era went from mainly floor decorations to beautiful and intricate wall pieces that depicted religious subjects. This is also where we see the development of a new type of tile called “smalti”. Smalti tiles are made of glass, with the inclusions of air bubbles and they are often backed with silver foil or gold leaf. This gives the tiles a depth and beauty that just glows.
There are many interesting things about the Byzantine mosaics; that they were mostly ungrouted, in order to allow light to reflect off of edges. Also, the smalti tiles were set at a slight angle in order to catch the light reflections from different angles. This resulted in sparkling mosaics no matter what view they were seen by viewers.
In the 5th century, the city of Ravenna became known as the city of mosaics. The best known building in the city is the mausoleum of Theodoric, a king of Byzantium. The best known mosaic is the mosaic in the cathedral built for this same king, but now renamed Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo. The scenes in this cathedral featured images of Christ as well as images of Theodoric and his household. Many of those have been replaced by later rulers; interestingly, there is a scene of the Emperor Justinian and the Empress Theodora. This is interesting because the images of Theodoric were removed because the principle of having no images of a ruler in a cathedral.
At the same time, in the Islamic world, mosaics were also developing, with stone and depictions of geometric figures and mathematical principals. The Islamic mosaics often were made according to a technique called “zillij”. Zillij involves creating tiles specifically for the particular project, and then further handworking on each tile to ensure a custom fit that covers the entire surface in a seamless piece. Examples of this can be seen in the Great Mosque in Cordova and the Alhambra.
Mosaics have come a long way, with a venerable history. Today we use art glass, stones, found objects, whatever makes a piece work. With the new products that are out there today, mosaics have a great future ahead of them!
Stop by Artistic Portland to view and purchase Colleen's own beautifully handcrafted illuminated mosaics.