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.