Sunday, October 18, 2015

science and art at Wendell ES

I've been back to school for Sept, working at Wendell Elementary, a science and art magnet A+ school.  This residency was another multiple grade science integration adventure.  This is the 3x5' mosaic assembled by 3rd grade, "Lifecycle of a Seed".  We learned about how a seed grows in the soil (humus, clay, and sand), needing water and sunshine, develops a root to absorb minerals in the soil, and shoot that pushes out of the ground, and then a flower or fruit develops with seeds, to start the process all over again.

This is the 4th grade panel, showing different types of fossils to align with their rocks and minerals curriculum.  We learned about how fossils are formed; trace fossils (dino footprints), casts/molds (trilobytes and ammonites), carbonization (fern and ginkgo leaves), and permineralization (megalodon teeth, petrified wood, mammoth bones).

This 5th grade panel depicts the three main ecosystems in NC; mountains, piedmont, and coastal.  We learned about how features in an ecosystem work together, and identified landforms, animals, and plants specific to each region.  The mountain region shows a mountain and waterfall, trees (there are over 100 different species, which is more than all of Europe), monarch butterflies, and salamanders (another strange fact, more diverse species of salamanders in NC than all of the world). The Piedmont region has rivers and rolling hills, with dogwoods (state flower), oaks, grassy meadows, and our state fish.  The Coastal region shows sandy dunes, venus flytrap and insects, the ocean, Scotch Bonnet (state shell), and shore birds.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

the collector

This mosaic is inspired by the story out of the UK recently about a young girl who likes to feed the crows in her backyard, and they began to bring her shiny treasures.  They are extremely smart birds, and this is a documented behavior, usually collecting their finds in their nests or gifts to mates.

The work is approx 32 in H x 24 in W, iridescent and dichroic stained glass fusions, vitreous glass tile, unglazed porcelain tile, large milifiore, found objects, chandelier pendant.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

two elementaries two mosaics

Club Boulevard Elementary, Durham NC, 5th grade legacy mosaic project 3x5', exterior, humanities focus.

Hillandale Elementary, Durham NC, 3rd grade mosaic and math (pattern, area, rotation), hurricane mascot.

ONE MORE TO GO for the school year 2014-15!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


"Ms. Brossart, our mosaics are MAJESTIC!" is what I heard today from a 5th grader at Douglas Elementary School as I was finishing up grouting and cleaning them.  What a compliment!  I have been working with these students 3rd, 4th and 5th graders for several months now and finally their mosaic panels are up on the wall in their courtyard.  They pass through this area every day to go to the cafeteria.
The 5th grade panel science theme is "force and motion".  We looked at abstract and geometric art and how simple shapes can tell a story.  The first column of green arrows shows gravity, the blue circles depict friction, the yellow arrows show force "push and pull", and the red shows inertia with the forces in balance.
The 3rd grade panel science theme is "phases of the moon".  All of the stages are shown, new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, last quarter, and waning crescent.  The Earth and stars added for additional sections to mosaic rather than just night sky.  You can tell the work has been "portioned" by the grout lines.  This is important to me for several reasons.  When kids are working collaboratively on a big artwork, they always want to be able to identify "their" work.  When the sections are blended, this becomes very difficult for young children to clearly identify and remember what they worked on.  Generally, they only concentrate on their own section, so when they see the final work it can be overwhelming.
The 4th grade panel science theme is "geodes" to go along with their rocks/minerals curriculum.  Besides cool circle art, each geode is designed with specific rocks/minerals in mind.  The black/brown outlines stand for igneous/sedimentary rock, each has a white "quartz" center, and the interior colors all match up with a mineral or stone, for example, purple= amethyst.  Another reason I like to portion the work is to keep it a manageable classroom activity.  125 students can not crowd around one 3x5' panel, with glass and cement flying to create a work.  They work at their own tables on patterns, and then the mosaics all get adhered to the panel at the end of each session.  It would take countless hours on my part to additionally "stitch" together the pieces to make a "seamless" work.  I prefer to let kids work be kids work.  For these kinds of projects, it does not distract me at all.
I also just grout over the screws so that the school can figure out where they are if they ever need to relocate the mosaic panel.  If the screws are countersunk and a tile placed over before grouting, they would not be able to remove it if necessary.  These are really important considerations when working with schools and students.  Thanks Douglas Magnet Elementary!  It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and your students!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

studio assistant

Here is my finished "Studio Assistant".  I am pleased with the light minty green background and the andamento or flow of the pieces is just right to enhance the roundness of the "dung" ball of mosaic scraps.  I also exchanged a couple of pieces in the beetle leg shadow to elongate the line.  These two pieces were already glued, and I 'almost never' pry up pieces that are glued, but it was bugging me (pun intended).  Unlike painters, who can constantly rework their art by applying more paint, working with hard materials is quite different, and once a piece is down... it usually stays down.  I normally respect this aspect of mosaic, but occasionally a couple of changes can make a big difference.  Additionally, the light tan grout complements this mosaic perfectly.  It neutralizes the background, and lets the color and texture of the ball, as well as the beetle take center stage.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Martin Cheek and a dung beetle

About six months ago, on a routine stop into Carolina Stained Glass, I found out that Martin Cheek, mosaic master from the UK would be teaching a weekend workshop right here in Durham!  I had seriously considered going to his workshop in England (sorry, Italy won out), and then again a couple of years ago saw he would be in Orlando, FL, but alas, not a good travel weekend for me.  So I was elated to have the opportunity so close to home (literally 4 miles) to meet him and spend a weekend on personal mosaic making rather than school residencies.  He is known for his whimsical and humourous animal characters, and technically sound work of over 30 years.  In fact, one of his 7 books was the first I ever bought and inspired me to make mosaics. 

I prepared a couple of potential designs for this "Incorporating Fusions" workshop, not knowing what fusions would be available...  I had a jellyfish, crow, abstract plant form, and a dung beetle design at the ready.  There were many beautiful and colorful fusions to choose from, but some of the black and dichroic fusions jumped into my hand and onto my cartoon.

Black stained glass with the natural, wiggly, rolled edge was perfect for the legs.  I did try some smalti for the first body section, but I wasn't pleased with it.

I selected some swirly round fusions for the core of the "dung" balls, and used Italian smalti to form the largest ball.  Martin's presentation included discussion of narrative... in other words, "what your mosaic is about".  I decided that my dung beetle lives in my studio and is always furiously at work rolling up all of my colorful shards into his ball...

The other new thing I gleaned from his presentations is the use of shadow.  I like the effect, but realize now that the shadow for the beetle legs is too wide.  I should have just used narrow pieces for the skinny leg shadows.  I would have selected a lighter grey, but this purple was the best available choice at the time.

I was able to complete the desert/studio floor, but wanted to access some vitreous glass tile I have at home for the top. I should have some time at the end of this week or next to finish it up.  I do like the option of creating and using the glass fusions, although I would prefer to use them sparingly.  Some of the participants were mainly using the fusions, which then resulted in mosaics very similar to Martin's.  Clearly that is what the workshop focus was about, and good for his business (some fusions were included, then extra cost per weight of fusions), I like the greater mix of materials (smalti, stained glass, milifiore, and will add vitreous glass), and feel that my own style would be best served with just a few of the fused pieces.

I did get my first mosaic book signed, as well as Martin's most current (with a new one due out this Fall), and it was super fun to sit and mosaic for myself all weekend.  Back to schools this week.....

Friday, April 10, 2015

Glenwood ES dedication

This afternoon was the dedication of the mosaic installation at Glenwood Elementary School, "Cultural Migration: What We Carry With Us".  It is in a long narrow hallway between the cafeteria and exterior windows.  There are two 10' V-shaped spans, and one shorter 6' V with about 80 6" acrylic birds with applied glass mosaic.  Each bird was designed and created by a 4th grader as part of a bigger conversation and lesson on immigration and culture.  Thanks Town of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools, Glenwood faculty and staff, and most of all, those creative, diverse, wonderful students....

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

feathers with 5th graders

5th grade legacy mosaic project : 6 panels of (hawk) feathers with various color family backgrounds.  Many of these students found piecing the shapes more difficult than they thought it would be.  Working with a  partner helped make it extra fun.
Last class of the day had the purple background pieces.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

cultural migration

This week I am working at Glenwood Elementary in Chapel Hill with 4th grade.  This residency is sponsored by the Town of Chapel Hill, and I was selected out of several applicants to create a project based on immigration of different cultures into NC.  Using migrating birds as symbols for this main idea, students are designing their own bird  with colors and symbols that connect with their family history or a historical group that settled in North Carolina.  We talked about why people immigrate from one area to another, as well as the things that make up culture and how it can be represented by colors and symbols.

This is a wonderfully diverse school and the students have made some fantastic design choices.  First they planned it out on paper.

Today they began to choose and lay out their selected pieces (precut and tumbled stained glass) and then could start to glue each piece.  A few students finished, but the majority will finish up tomorrow.  I will grout them, and they will be installed hanging in V formation in their hallway between the cafeteria and exterior bank of windows.  This hallway has windows on both sides, plenty of natural light, 15 ft ceilings, and every student travels that hall every day.  It is truly a gift to me to be able to do this work that I love.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

am I smarter than a 5th grader?

One of the school residencies that I have this year is at Douglas Magnet Elementary in Raleigh.  The coordinator there contacted me last year and we designed/wrote a grant for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades to work with me to create 3 3x5' mosaic panels, each integrating a specific theme targeting their science curriculum.  I don't know if I have mentioned in the blog before, but I am not an art school artist, I have a biology/sociology degree from UNC.  I didn't even take one art class there (boo).  When I was a kid, I loved making things, but wasn't too great at drawing and painting (therefore, no one ever suggested I should be an "artist").  It has been a treat to marry science themes with mosaic for this residency, and this past week was super busy and super fun with hundreds of students!
Third grade is learning about phases of the moon.  I definitely had to refresh myself on this theme.  We did a worksheet together, then they chose one phase to render in paper mosaic.  Their collaborative glass mosaic was also completed this week (and I will post later).

In the 4th grade classrooms, they are studying rocks and minerals, so I suggested we base our project around geodes.  Plain and crusty on the outside, beautiful minerals and crystals on the inside...  We talked about how geodes are formed, and assigned colors to the different minerals that can be found inside.  They had creative choice to design their own geode and render in paper to prepare for the glass mosaic we will complete in a few weeks.

5th graders had a different challenge.  We looked at several examples of abstract and geometric art and looked for ways they could show the concepts of force, motion, gravity, friction, and inertia.  Then, they were to do come up with their own depictions of one of those definitions using only basic geometric shapes like circles, triangles, squares, arrows.  I wasn't sure how this would work, but they did GREAT, very creative in their conceptual thinking about science and art!  Their glass mosaic will also be done in April.

Thanks Douglas for a fantastic week!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

gardening in the bag

For the last 5 or 6 years I have done a small garden in the only corner of my yard that gets AM sun and is close to a water barrel.  I have a sunnier spot, but it gets blasted with late afternoon sun (too intense for most of the veggies I like to grow) and too far to lug water from the barrel.  I saw a book about gardening right in the bag of soil, helpful if you have poor soil, and too lazy to build raised beds properly.  Of course, only certain plants are happy in these shallow conditions, but sugar/snow peas and spinach do great and you can really get them ready early.  Most herbs do well, I've grown cilantro, dill, basil, oregano like this, and zinnias too.  I put my tomatoes in large pots against the fence, and cukes against the bedspring coils.  I have a swamp sunflower (native to NC) in the wet corner (in the ground) and a pineapple sage in the other.  Finally with Spring on the horizon, and a sunshiney, warmish day, I realized that today would be planting day for the peas (otherwise if it goes too late, they get burnt up here in mid-NC), and spinach.  I uncovered last years' bags from the pile of leaves and garden debris, churned up the soil and planted.  My makeshift trellis was still up from last year, so besides sticking the seeds in, all I had to do was cover with a thin plastic sheet.  This works great to insulate and keep the creatures and birds from digging up the seeds before they have a chance to grow.  I skipped the cover last year, and had dramatically fewer plants (and more chipmunks).  Looking foward to a yummy late April harvest....

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

reschedules and intros

After two weeks of disrupted school residencies and winter weather, this week finds me scrambling to reschedule, reorganize, and refocus.  I learned a while ago not to book my calendar completely full,  but leave a little wiggle room for unforseen events.  My oldest son is home this week from college for break, so I had originally planned it as my Jan/Feb wiggle room week (not that he was wanting to spend everyday with me).  Now, I'll be at a rescheduled Elementary school most of the week, and next week will be essentially doubled up at another Elementary that I have a longer term project in progress.  The good news, of course, is that I can still fulfill these contracts, and the coordinators have been extremely helpful with making the time work despite their constraints and loss of traditional instructional time.

For this post, I wanted to touch on the importance of the introduction session of my mosaic residencies.  Generally when I go to a school, only half or less of the students have ever heard of mosaic art.  I spend about an hour with a powerpoint presentation that shows them about 15 examples of mosaics from ancient times to modern examples.  This is a very interactive presentation with historical stories about the art, multicultural references, pattern vs. picture, all tailored towards the age of participant.  By the end of the session, they have a broad understanding of what mosaic art is and can be.  Without this information, the making activity is just another arts and crafts project.  My presentation includes history, cultures/social studies, language arts (new vocabulary), math (shapes, measurement), and science (properties of materials).  You can't get any more curriculum integrated than that.  I invite anyone who does not see the value of arts in elementary arts education to come to my residency sessions... you might learn something!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

scrappy snow days

I get the sewing bug in short bursts.  I'm not fond of measuring and following specific patterns, so for this snow day creative diversion, I am working with very small scraps of fabrics (tons available at the Scrap Exchange) and 5" base blocks (also scrap fabric).   I am using a mosaic style, piecing the small scraps with some of the base fabric showing.  A small dab of fabric glue helps them stay in place.  I'm leaving the edges raw, rather than try to turn them under like traditional applique.  I've seen some great scrappy quilts done this way called "ticker tape", the raw edges get more frayed with washings and use for an instantly well loved and "broken in" look.

This method of quilting is called "quilt as you go", I am adding the 5" batting to each small block and then quilting the block with stitching that randomly captures each colorful scrap.  I have looked at several instructions online regarding binding these blocks together, and I think I will try sashing them, or creating small strips between each block to create strips, then attach a backing fabric (also scrap, of course).  I haven't started that part yet, but have been quite productive with making the blocks.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentines Day Treat

Yesterday I treated myself to a Valentine's Day workshop led by my friend and fantastic mixed media artist, Charron Andrews.  Her work is amazing, pushing the limits of collage, construction, recycling, and most common media (painting, stamping, embellishing,... etc).  I have several of her pieces and have been curious about her process. This workshop was about creating small table top or "window sill" shrines, and the various techniques that she likes to use in her process.  We began with a sample "postcard", base taken from a repurposed  mandarin orange mini-crate.  We painted, and applied papers (ripped out of free books from the Orange Cty recycle center), and then filled in the gaps with more paint or applied paper.  I did mine in a mosaic like style (of course).

We then chose a corner of the mandarin box as our shrine base and started over using the practice techniques as our guide, but selecting new repurposed materials.  I found an image that looked suspiciously like my youngest son on a bike, so I decided to use that as the main front image with his face cut out and applied to some metal jewelry scrap.  The side images are from a needlepoint book and appeared to me as mother and father figures.  Some additional embellishments that I brought from my personal stash of goodies were used to enhance the 3d effect: mini tiles, evil eye bead, metal circle clip, as well as bottle caps with the messages of "rock, paper, scissors" and a bird feather applied to the outermost edges.

With the potential of a snow day or two looming this week, I may add more embellishment and work on the contrast of the boy/bike contrast to help it stand up against the saturated colors of the needlepoint backgrounds.  Those reds/oranges really fade out the light blue. 
I like the angry bird edge.  The Rock Paper Scissors edge needs something else too.  Will post again after a bit more work.

Monday, January 26, 2015

planning ahead

I'm teaching an intro 3d mosaic course at John C Campbell Folk School November 1-7 week.  It will be very basic polystyrene carving, and mosaic application to create INDOOR "geode" sculptures.  Plan ahead now for a beautiful Fall week in the WNC mountains... you know you want to... 

All the workshop, pricing, lodging, food, etc info and booking at

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Let There Be Light

10'x3' mosaic mural residency with 425 students K-8th grade over the course of one week (plus grout day).

K/1st grade did pattern border with a partner
2nd grade did yellow sun in small groups
3rd grade worked on pink bubbles in groups
4th grade worked on large rainbow mix bubbles in groups
5th grade worked on small white bubbles in pairs
6th grade worked on gradient blues background
7/8th learned how to cut with nippers, pieced lettering and white letter banner

Thank you to Ms. Oglesby and faculty of St. Mary Magdalene Catholic School in Apex, NC for a great project!

salamanders revisited

Last Fall I was pleased to work with the 5th grade class at Salem Elementary School on a mosaic mini-mural for their legacy gift to the school.  I was really happy to be asked back to work with this 2014-15 5th grade class for an even more prominent mosaic... right at the front entry of the school!