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Chasing the Flow

If you are a  musician, you probably know what  “andamento”  means.   In  mosaic terms, “andamento” is the directional placement, course, or “flow” of  tiles in a mosaic.

Some of the first mosaics using andamento in interesting ways were made by the Romans. Have a look at this mosaic – this is a section from  the border of the “Hunting Dogs” mosaic at Cirencester.

Hunting Dogs mosaic, Cirencester
Hunting Dogs mosaic, Cirencester

Notice the tiles that flow around the sea-dragon and the fish to emphasise movement. This particular style of andamento also had a name given to it – “Opus Vermiculatum”.   There were many different styles of “Opus” (latin name for work) that could be used to determine the andamento in  Roman mosaic design and give more meaning to the work.

Usually when I sketch out a design for a mosaic I will include some idea of the andamento by drawing lines on the design. I make lots of little sketches (well scrawls really, and yes, sometimes on a bus ticket or shopping receipt whilst on the move!) until I get something I can work with.  Then I will either make a coloured cartoon  that is the exact size and transfer it to the backer board or paper (if indirect) or I will work from a small sketch and “wing it”.

I have been inspired lately though by various illustrators on the web, and decided to take more time on my sketches and final cartoons.

I am planning a series of three mosaics. These are my ideas and sketches  for the first one.

The initial inspiration came from a beautiful sunset through the trees. I got some snaps with my camera, but the colours weren’t right, there was lots of pink and orange in the sky and the sun was a deep transparent orange.

Setting sun in the trees

A couple of scrawls later I produced my first little coloured sketch. I liked the idea of the andamento flowing in the sky almost like a windy day.

Then I thought it would be nice to curve the limbs of the tree as if it was hugging the sun.

And I had the idea that perhaps the tree should also be within the same flowing wind.

But although I really liked the idea I felt that the spirit (strength) of the tree was being undermined and this was just as important to communicate. The direction of the tiles have to come from the roots and grow up through the tree. So they will be cut in half and laid vertically coursing their way up the trunk and horizontally along the limbs…

I was having difficulty with the andamento of the hugging limbs. Now they looked like a frame. And three leaves inside the sun wasn’t right, I didn’t like it…

On a whim, I tried changing the course of the andamento of the sun and the sky…

but decided I preferred the sky as it was…windy. And it was at this point that I looked back through what I had done and decided I liked the first sketch because the tree was leaning over a little … into the wind…

Still playing with the tree trunk and limbs, it occurred to me that the tree was beginning to look  quite human, like a hand… I liked the idea, and the drawing looked quite surreal…

but I didn’t think it was hand-like enough (my daughter didn’t pick up on it ) and rather than making it look more hand-like I decided to abandon that idea…

… and to help balance the space it needed a bird…

So now I am looking at it, and I am thinking, damm, I’ve gone and changed the sky, and it needs more windyness, like the one in the second sketch, so finally…

Final cartoon (?)

but wait…! If I make it the other way around I think it is better, it is more positive to position the tree growing upwards from left to the right (at least this is in Western thinking ), So…like this…

Final Cartoon (I think!)

Come back soon to see my progress on the mosaic!

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  1. Very nice lessons, thank you so much to share your experiences with us.
    For who lives in Rome like me and has seen and appreciated the best mosaics of old romans, read what you have wrote, make me happy.
    I would have more time to make mosaics!

    1. Thank you Aldo, your appreciation of my writings makes me very happy, and encourages me to carry on!
      I hope you find some more time to make your mosaics.
      Kate x

      1. Hi Kate, I think that your how-to-do explanations way is interesting and useful and very open too. Everyone having this kind of gift from the nature should share it. That doens’t means I will ever do your things as well you mine, but that will make us rich more to get money playing with stocks.

  2. Very interesting Kate. A lesson in not rushing in at your first thought….. For a minute there I wondered if this would be a birdless piece 😉

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