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Five Golden Birds

Five Golden Birds.

My latest commission was for a couple who wanted two mosaics to sit inside a couple of outside window recesses. We met in a coffee shop in Glastonbury after they had been to see my exhibition at the Abbey in January, and discussed designs and sizes etc.

They were quite into eagles and angels, but finally decided they would like something similar to the birds and colours in my 2007 smalti series Guardian of the Sun  to remind them of their family and the swifts that wheeled around their house.

Coloured sketch…

coloured mosaic sketch

To make it a little different in construction to Guardian of the Sun I wanted to use some 20mm x 20mm size smalti amongst the 10mm x 10mm pieces. (You can see this in the right hand picture) I explained that although the colours might not blend in the same way it would add a little more dynamism to the piece.

Happy for me to ‘experiment’ a little, I ordered the materials I needed and started work.


When you open a box of smalti there is always an “oh” moment! Be warned though, the moment can take many hours once opened and fondled!

This smalti is hand made in Venice by Orsoni. If you visit St Marks basilica in Venice and many other basilicas along the Mediterranean coast you will see beautiful Byzantine mosaics made with this wonderful stuff. The gold smalti is set at slight angles to make the most of the reflection of light and as a symbolic  reference to the light of god.

In 2005 I went to the Orsoni factory/ gallery/ bed and breakfast to do a weeks course and watch it being made. There were three or four men who made the glass, some of the colour recipes are secret, so by the time we got the the foundry the glass was being shovelled in and out of the furnace onto the worktop.

orsoni furnace

making smalti

smalti colours in the Orsoni foundry
smalti colours in the Orsoni foundry

The result was rich coloured beautiful pizzas of glass set aside to cool.  Meanwhile in another room up the steps from the foundry were a group of women who cut the smalti with heavy duty cutting machines rather like sewing machines.

cutting smalti at Orsoni

We didn’t see the gold leaf glass being made (this too being a closely guarded secret … or was at the time!) , however there were some women cutting it up into 20mm x 20mm squares from circles of glass that were about 100mm diameter. The 80mm square of gold leaf is sandwiched between a lower thicker piece of glass and a top very thin layer. The glass for the top layer has to be blown into large round bubbles to make it thin enough to coat the gold. Then it is broken into circles.

There are lots of different shades of gold, for this project I used two shades. The coloured smalti I used is called “piastrina” which is a flatter, more regular surface than the original smalti which has an irregular surface with holes in it. Although the piastrina is more expensive, I find it easier to use for illustrative work. It’s also easier to grout and the finished mosaic looks cleaner.

In this project I also used the vintage glass tile from Weston Super Mare that looks similar to smalti. See here for my post about it.

beginning mosaic
making a start

progress of birds mosaic

I made the mosaics direct this time. It’s very dusty work. After each session the cement adhesive is scraped away from the board and brushed off to allow the next line of tesserae to sit level and close to the last line.

grouting smalti

That old favourite occupation … grouting!

cleaning smalti

Toothbrushes and picks are essential tools.

Details on  the workshop bench…

detail of golden birds

gold birds detail

How to travel with mosaics!

mosaics in a suitcase

I had to travel on a train to install the mosaics. I couldn’t believe my luck, the mosaics fit snugly into my large wheelie suitcase and what’s more I could pad them out both sides with a deckchair cushion!

All went smoothly installing the mosaics. They were screwed onto the concrete recesses and I stuck tiles  over the top to hide the screws.

installing golden birds mosaics

two golden birds commission

three golden birds commission

both gold birds mosaics installed

The mosaics are on a north facing wall the left hand one on the east side depicting the sun rising and the right hand one on the west side depicting the sun setting. It was a sunny day when I installed them and took the photos and the gold shone and glinted perfectly!

me and the installed mosaics

Job done!


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  1. Yes Ma’am. “And Myth”, it says… Satre~? Like Pan, ya know? Angels-Birds-Cherub?
    …mermaids? …so maybe …a cool looking Goat-Dude~some fawns, never mind. Yes Ma’am.

  2. sugamomma1967 on relationship goals, love, marriage, longevity! says:

    Mosaics are so beautiful and engaging. I could just gaze at some for hours. Yours is really beautiful. Thanks for gibing some insight on how some of the pieces are made!

  3. Oh gosh, those are so gorgeous! I don’t think I’ve ever seen gold used in mosaics before.

    1. Ah, then you need to go to Venice and step inside San Marco basilica (St.Marks cathedral) . The walls and ceilings are sparkling in golden light. The Byzantine mosaics there and in basilicas all over the Mediterranean are full of the same stuff. The company I use who make the gold leaf smalti (Orsoni) also do the conservation repairs inside San Marco as well as their own work.

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