I have been busy over the summer months creating a mosaic for a customer to display behind her kitchen hob. I was delighted to be offered this commission as the subject of it was as close to my heart as it was hers. She sent me some photos of the sun setting over the Solway, a stretch of sea along the coast between Cumbria and Dumfries, with the Scottish hills in the distance. It was the view from her bedroom window when she was a child. Although I also have connections with Scotland (my grandfather was Scottish) my childhood memories of the sunset on the sea are in North Devon where I lived, in the South West of the UK, where I spent many happy hours with my family and our very naughty Bassett Hound! (another story for another day!)
So immediately me and my customer had a shared understanding remembering the beauty of the sunset over the sea, and I knew this was going to be a successful commission. As she lived only a few miles away from me, I visited her in her home bringing with me various works and materials, so she could choose the material she wanted me to use. We wrote many emails back and forth to each other about colour and composition, and it really helped that she wrote with great sensitivity and a deep understanding of her chosen subject, with a clear vision of what she wanted, whilst simultaneously allowing me freedom to use my own artistic expression.
She wanted the majority of the work in smalti and gold, because of it’s sumptuous colour and light giving properties just perfect for a sunset and reflection on the sea. As it was intended for a splashback behind the hob I made it indirect for a flat surface so it could be cleaned easily.
I used my Venetian piastrina smalti plates and cut them into square tesserae. I often use “piastrina” as it has a more regular surface without the holes, unevenness and irregularities of the “regular”smalti (sounds confusing I know!) and therefore it is easier to use for indirect work . However I also used some regular smalti that comes in 2cm x 1cm pieces, but was careful to find the flattest side to stick down on the paper/plastic.
I made the sky on paper and the sea on plastic. The only reason being that I found some plastic after I had made the sky and I wanted to try it out! Strangely enough I have never tried an indirect piece on plastic, and I wanted to compare the processes.
As I worked on the sea I was beginning to really enjoy the texture of the work as the tesserae were quite different in height allowing the light to play on the surfaces quite beautifully. But as this was the back of the work it wouldn’t be quite the same.
As the mosaic had to be installed to allow for a possibility of being moved one day, I made some wax tiles to replace 8 tiles as stops. After the mosaic was made up the stops were easily removed and holes drilled down through the adhesive and backer board. After installation I used blue-tak to stick smalti over the screw heads.
I pre-grouted the mosaic with grey grout as I was going to be setting the mosaic in a white adhesive in order to let the pieces of transparent smalti I had used shine well. The grout acts as a “stop”; not allowing the white adhesive to seep between the glass.
A toothbrush came in handy to pre-grout the irregular smalti in the sea…
The grout had to be cleaned off well, to allow the white adhesive to show through the transparent pieces.
I made a temporary frame so I could level out the tile adhesive before fixing a backer board to the back of the work.
Once the mosaic and backer board had been spread with adhesive and bonded together (no pictures here as it was a two handed job!), I left it to dry for a couple of days .
Now for the exciting bit … paper and plastic removal…
Removing the plastic was oh so satisfying! And in comparison to paper? I think a little easier, certainly in removing the plastic. However I used a very strong (builders) pva glue that was hard to remove from the top of the smalti, next time I’ll try a craft pva as it isn’t as strong. Using paper also has it’s time consuming disadvantages, especially when pre-grouting, as the grout seeps onto some of the surface of the smalti, so there was a lot of cleaning and scraping to do before I gave it all a final grout.
To finish I treated it with a water based stain resistant sealer. This can be re-applied when necessary by my customer, and as it is water based and odour-less it won’t fill up the kitchen with smells!
Anyway, here it is finished with some detail shots.
The mosaic is 101cm x 75cm made using smalti, matt ceramic tile (hills) and slate (bird).
And here it is installed!