27 April 2011

Logs and Onyx

This past weekend was a 4-day weekend for us. I had Monday off and we decided to drive to Viroqua to check out the stone product manufacturer. I was looking for breakage and/or scrap...

They did not have much - it appears that the crush any breakage or scrap on a regular basis and they don't invite people to collect it. I guess it is a liability issue - no dumpster diving for stone scraps...

Although I was a bit disappointed about this, Abelisto and I went ahead and walked through their stone yard... There was some amazing granite there. I was looking for marble. Granite is a bit too hard for my tools so I wasn't interested in it, plus there wasn't any that I would call scrap anyway. I could have gotten some of the leftover pieces for $10/sq.ft., which did not seem such a bad price, but the smallest piece of leftover stone would have been around 6 sq.ft. I did not want to spend that much on a single piece - a single color.

After strolling through their leftover side of the yard, we went - just for fun - to the other side to see the really huge slices of stone. Some of them were probably 10' x 8'. All of them were very nice, some were absolutely breath-taking (especially this one brown granite with veins of deep red and black and lots of pyrite in it). At the very back of this side of the yard I found an onyx slab that had cracked and broken into one two pieces. One piece was marked 18" x 16" (but it's actually bigger than that - I think the numbers represent the largest rectangle that could be cut from the piece).

I went back in the showroom and talked them into selling me the smaller piece. I would have bought all of it, but I don't know if onyx works well in mosaics... I'll have to ask Sophie.

If it does, I'm definitely making another trip to get the rest of the onyx. You can see why:

I also located a suitable log for making my hardie blocks. Emerald, Robert and I picked it up and put in in the back of the Vibe... it's long enough to cut into two hardie blocks so that I can have a separate block for the stone (steel) cutting hardie and the glass (carbide-tipped) cutting hardie.
Needless to say, I did not cut it to length with that handsaw... wishful thinking there. I don't have a chainsaw, so I used the Saws-all... and only got 3/4 the way through the first cut. Robert had to finish that cut. And for some reason even he could not make the Saws-all work for the second cut... we're trying to find a chainsaw to borrow. Once the blocks are cut correctly, they will need to dry out somewhat. This log was cut during the winter, so it doesn't have as much moisture in it as it would if it were cut right now, but the blocks still have plenty of drying to do before I drill the holes for the hardies.

Right now, Finn thinks the log sections are giant scratching posts for him.

26 April 2011

Work in progress

I've been working in the studio quite a bit these past days. Not all of the work has been creating art - some of it has been making the space work better for me.

I finished a mosaic ATC (artist trading card) Sunday night. Tonight I finished the mosaic for Jason (my dreadlock artist) except for the grouting.

Here are some images of Jason's mosaic which I will be grouting tomorrow night:

 A photo from Saturday, or maybe Sunday - I'm trying to determine the best size to make the final piece... I wasn't sure when I started how big I wanted to make it, so I did not trim the wedi board until I had enough of the mosaic done to make that decision. The black, square tiles are not glued down here. They are just placed to make it easy to see how it would look at a given size.

How it looked at 9pm tonight.
 From this angle you can see the face, the imagining stars, the letters/words, and my signature.

 I wanted to be able to add the eye and mouth details to the face but I wanted the face to be made up of as few pieces of glass as possible so as to fit with how I did the hair/dreads. However when I tried to cut the face glass so as to have the mouth and the eye be part of a traditional grout line I got a Heath Ledger Joker effect that I thought did not fit the piece (it actually was sort of creepy). So I tossed the first pieces and cut new ones. I put my Dremel in the mini-drill press, and using the glass drill bit, I cut into the face glass to make free-form grout lines in the glass. I am really happy with this so far... we'll see how it looks after it's grouted...

 Before we can be free we must first imagine ourselves free... don't know if that's quoting someone or not. I hear/read so much that I lose track of what I've come up with and what I've simply absorbed along the way...
Something I definitely absorbed - Finally a way to sign my work... following a method that I saw Matteo Randi doing at the Chicago Mosaic School earlier this month... using narrow copper strips, bent into letters and numbers. I wanted to sign and date the pieces in a way that shows when someone is looking at the work (as opposed to signing the back of the piece). I like the way this is working in this mosaic and I'm looking forward to using this method with future mosaics.

23 April 2011

Mosaics in progress

For some reason, after a hiatus in the studio (sort of forced by too many hours at work and the beginnings of the spring allergy season) I now find myself with four mosaics in progress... I worked in the studio for several hours and got two of them about halfway done.

I have two more days of break. I wonder if I can finish any of them.

19 April 2011

Studio Reorganized

One last - and short - post for tonight.

Spent some time over the weekend reorganizing my mosaic studio (with the help of Eli and Emerald) - moved things around and started reorganizing the materials on the shelves and under the bench. There's still some sorting and shelving to be done.

Here's what it looks like now (this is a panorama made up of photos stitched together in PhotoShop - used the Photomerge process so there's a bit of distortion at the junctions of the photos I took from the center of the room)...
If you click on the image you can see what is what...

Matteo Randi's Suggested Mosaic Reference Books

Matteo Randi was in Verdiano's Contemporary Mosaic workshop with us. He had never studied with Verdiano, beginning his studies in Ravenna years after Verdiano left for Paris - I think.

Matteo's work is breathtaking, full of life and vision, both subtle and dramatic and totally captivating. And he is terribly nice and very passionate about his work and mosaic art. He teaches at the Chicago Mosaic School and sometime I plan to take one of his classes.

He teaches ancient Roman mosaic techniques and other workshops. I asked him if he could recommend a bibliography for me so that I could learn more about the historical context for mosaic (as preparation, in part, for my trip to Italy in 2012).

He generously took me to his work room at the school and we went through his books to come up with a list for me.

These first three were his suggested first purchases. I've ordered #2 and #3. 
Mosaic: Materials, Techniques, and History
Isotta Fiorentini Roncuzzi & Elisabetta Fiorentini

Glossario Tecnico-Storico del Mosaico / Technical-Historical Glossary of Mosaic Art
Manuela Farneti

Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World
Katherine M. D. Dunbabin

Some of the following are in Italian, some in both Italian and English, and some in English...
Il mosaico per immagini
Marco De Luca ; testo di Bruno Bandini ; premessa di Henry Lavagne ; introduzione di Marcello Landi.

Italian Mosaics: 300-1300
Joachim Peoschke

Mosaics of Roman Africa: Floor Mosaics from Tunisia
Michele Blanchard-Lemee (Author), Mongi Ennaifer (Author), Hedi Slim (Author), Latifa Slim (Author), Gilles Mermet (Photographer), Kenneth D. Whitehead (Translator)

Greek Art - Byzantine Mosaics
Nano Chatzidakis

Mosaici d'Artisti Contemporanei
G.Bovini, G.C.Argan, P.Portoghesi,P.Fischer, 1986
In Italian, but vaulable because it shows the cartoons and the finished mosaics.

When I mentioned an interest in how fabric and clothing is represented in mosaics, Matteo went back into his library and pulled out a book on the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna - a Mirabilia Italiae Guide book...
La Basilica di San Vitale a Ravenna
Gianfranco Malafarina, editor,
published by Franco Cosimo Panini
I haven't found a place to buy this one, so I might have to find another book that has good photos of the mosaic in the Basilica di San Vitale a Ravenna.

Day 5 at the Chicago Mosaic School with Verdiano Marzi - Contemporary Expression Mosaic Workshop

It's been over a week since the workshop finished. I spent most of last week getting website developer training and Google analytics training and haven't taken the time to finish writing about the workshop.

No one in the class finished their mosaics during the 5 days. The point wasn't to finish, but rather to participate in a thoughtful process where every step of the mosaic was carefully considered - concept, design, selecting materials/colors, cutting with the hammers & hardies (a new experience for some of us), and tesserae placement.

Around lunch time we did a critique of the mosaics. I generally love critiques, but this one was a bit intimidating - how could it be otherwise with such talent in the room - until it started. It became clear that every piece in the room was a visually compelling, dramatic, well-executed contemporary mosaic. Each artist spoke about their process for 5 minutes, then the group commented on the work, and then Verdiano asked his questions and gave his critique of the artist's work and made suggestions for finishing the pieces and things to think about for future work. Normally I expect to have some of the flaws in my work pointed out... but while all the comments were positive and affirming, it did not feel like things were being Pollyanna-ed. It just felt supportive.

After the critique we were invited to continue to work on the mosaics. I did not cement any additional tessarae to the mosaic, focusing instead on cutting what I estimated I would need to finish the mosaic and cleaning up my area thoroughly. I also shared my website with some of the students who had asked me about it. Sophie and Verdiano were also interested in the work shown on my website.

Here is my mosaic at this point. I'm waiting on some tools (steel hammer and carbide hardie to pair up with my carbide hammer and steel hardie) before I work on it again.

18 April 2011

BMW - Ideas and Thoughts

BMW is asking people for ideas for the future on facebook
"Do you have a great idea, a design, a vision for the future or a start-up concept that concerns sustainable mobility? Just go to our “Your ideas” tab and enter the details of your idea, design or concept. We will promote the best three ideas with posts on our wall. We are looking forward to your entries!"
I'm not certain that I have a specific project. But I do have an idea that I feel is critically important... not a new idea, by far, but one I don't hear enough people talking about.

We really, really need to be mindful of the entire ecological effect any given project, product, or process has. Surely we're good enough at analyzing things now that we could determine which is more harmful - paper or plastic? gasoline or electric? coal or nuclear?

I don't drive a hybrid or electric car - not because I don't feel passionately about the environment or sustainability... but because I don't know if it's worse to drive a very fuel-efficient traditional vehicle, consuming petroleum products and leaving behind the residue of my passing... OR if it's worse to drive a hybrid/electric and encourage the ecological damage that the manufacturing production of batteries produces.

So I guess my Best Idea is that we learn the actual impact of our decisions; that we require government and industry to reduce, reuse and recycle (provided that recycling doesn't use more resources than making new - another quandary for another day...), that we find a way to de-politicize the information and the actions taken; and that we reward ecologically responsible behaviors (government, industry and individual) with funding and perks - make it pay to be ecologically responsible.

This will mean that we cannot maintain constant economic growth... that, above any other postmodern economic concept, needs to be publically challenged and understood... we cannot have constant, perpetual growth - it's a fallacy to think that our resources will sustain it. Like every other rhythm on earth - ecomomic growth should ebb and flow.

11 April 2011

Day 4 at the Chicago Mosaic School with Verdiano & Sophie

With Sophie and Verdiano's gentle guiding I made some dramatic changes to the mosaic - changes to the plan I had, the final piece I had envisioned, changes in how I think about mosaic. This mosaic will, I think, be a stronger work, a less rigidly representational piece, a true abstract work (which was my goal). Although it has/will have a very real visual story for me, I think it will be more open for others to create their own stories.

Let me tell you a bit about Sophie and Verdiano...

When I met Sophie a year ago I thought she was a very gracious and warm person. It's was good to learn this week that I was correct. She is one of the most artistically generous people I know... By that I mean that she doesn't hoard her ideas, she doesn't keep secrets from others who want to develop a richer, deeper practice. She doesn't safeguard her preeminence.

And, best of all she's funny and mischievous and devoted to excellence in her art. 

Verdiano. What can I say about Verdiano... He's a strangely wonderful mix of innocence and brilliance. He, like Sophie, shares his whole self, his whole world, with you. Karen said it best Saturday night - "even though we don't share more than a few words, I understand him. I understand him without speaking." [a paraphrase… I cannot recall her exact words – they were much more profound…]

I never saw Verdiano without a smile on his face – well, except for when he was focused on what a student was trying to accomplish. At those times he got this intense, not-quite-a-frown-deep-thought look that signified a total concentration on the task at hand. I don’t know where the man gets his creative energy – he was 100% present for all 5 days.

There are some people who are the universe’s gift to the rest of us… I’m spending time with several of them right now. 

08 April 2011

Day 3 with Verdiano and Sophie...

I'll start this post off with the photos... There are three - one of the sketch for the mosaic, one of my table at the end of the day and a close-up of the mosaic.

I'm thinking its title is Facing (maybe Finding, or Hunting) the Mystery... or something like that.

I had the option to go on a tour of mosaics in Chicago, but I was on a roll with cutting tesserae, so I stayed behind and cut a lot of stone. I had enough glass cut so I just focused on the marble. You get in a rhythm and it works well - the hammer strikes the stone perfectly and the cut happens where you want it - then you get cocky and you either get your thumb with the hammer (and the hammer is sharp) or you hit the hardie with the hammer (*shame*) or your cuts go all wonky and you cannot get the pieces you want no matter what. So the moral of the story is:

STAY HUMBLE and your cuts will satisfy you (and Verdiano too!)...

Verdiano and Sophie really seem to like my mosaic at this point. I feel pretty good about the mosaic and pretty damn good about them liking it. Karen said "Wow." too. It's great to learn from people who show you where you're going good and where you could change things up and get better results. I think we'll be doing a critique on Sunday and that will be great too. I love critiques - love talking about everyone's work, together, looking for the strengths in a piece and offering suggestions for making the next work even stronger.

It's great to be working on a piece that is so different. I love the Blenko glass. So I'll be getting some of that when I get the down-payment on the next mosaic (a week from today). I've learned about some great new tools and some of them will be going home with me and others will come later (we're pulling together a list of people interested in the tools from overseas [France? Italy?] so that we can buy en masse and save). And I'm definitely getting a bunch of marble.

07 April 2011

Verdiano's Modern Expression Mosaic Class

I'm in Chicago, at the Chicago Mosaic School, studying with Verdiano Marzi. It's day 2 of a 5 day class. We're working with stone and glass. I've never worked with stone before...

I'm using a tight-grained, sandstone-colored marble, and a second, similar colored marble that has tiny geodes or crystals in it. I'm also using some gray/black marble - one with white veins and one without.

Along with the marble I'm using some smalti and some Blenko Dalle de Verre glass.

During the first day Verdiano (who doesn't speak English) described the methods for working with the various materials to create contemporary mosaics. Verdiano lives in Paris and teaches mosaic at the Louvre. He speaks to us with the aid of mosaic artist (and professional orchestral and chamber music violinist) Sophie Drouin who translates for us.

After Verdiano spoke to us, we grabbed our hammers, selected marble and glass, and learned to cut tesserae. It took me most of the remainder of the day to get to the point where I was able to cut tesserae that suited me. Verdiano says I make good tesserae... so I'm happy.

I'm staying with Eileen, and when I got back to her apartment last night I was totally empty of inspiration for the design I wanted to create. I selected the first art book I saw on her bookcase - The Color of Light, by Marko Ivan Rupnik. I saw that the first pages of the book was images of beautiful abstract paintings. I wanted to do an abstract work. I've not done an abstract mosaic and the whole point of taking a class from someone like Verdiano is to really push oneself.

I only looked at a bit of the book before deciding to take a walk on the beach. Eileen lives a couple-three blocks from Lake Michigan and there's a great beach at the end of her street. As I walked in the rapidly cooling evening air, I found and collected a couple handfuls each of some lake-smoothed brown (chert?) and black (coal) stones. When I came back to Eileen's and went back to looking at the book I discovered that the second half of the book was full of images of the mosaic that Rupnik did in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel. The chilly walk on the beach and all the wonderful images in the book opened up something for me and I sat down and made around 25 sketches for the abstract mosaic. Two of them were really strong. One was exceptional.

Today we started on our mosaics.
Here is mine around noon today.  
And here it is at 6:30 as I finished up for the day. You can see the tesserae and the andamento.

01 April 2011

Current Mosaic Project

Just some work-in-progress photos (Jason, don't look if you want your mosaic to be a surprise!)