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June 26th, 2013 by Joanne Barrett

The Trials and Triumphs of Making Mosaics

After my introductory week at the Barred Owl Retreat, I got to work making mosaic stepping stones for property. Having never actually made mosaics before, I must admit I was a little disillusioned about the whole process.

“This’ll be easy!” I kept thinking. “It’s like making a collage, or painting in 3D!”

Turns out I was due for a reality check, though. Mosaic-making is really quite the process.

Step One: Acquire Materials

I went on a shopping spree with my LEEP advisor, Jess, to get different colors of tiles and plates from some local restores. Luckily, she had some tools lying around, which are designed to break and shatter delicate things…can you believe they have tools for that?

Step Two: Smash Tiles

Lying my tiles on a concrete slab, I went to town smashing with a hammer – only to realize that when tiles break they rarely make perfect shapes. In a slight panic, I tried different methods of grooving and balancing to try and make the tiles break evenly, to no avail. I tried using the different tools she had given me, but they didn’t seem to work any better than the hammer! Resigned, I started sifting through the piles looking for anything that resembled a regular shape. I tried my “World Triad” symbol out with different color schemes and variations in size, settling at last on what seemed to work with the Outdoor Classroom where the stepping stones will be placed.

Step Three: Get Frustrated

It took what seemed like forever to get the first couple of designs laid out. I could never find tile bits that were the right size, or the right shape, or the right anything. I would try to chip off an edge and end up breaking the whole piece in half! My back hurt from sitting on the ground, my hands were bruised from faulty hammering, and the only things I had created looked like my 2-year-old nephew was  experimenting. The prospect of making twelve of these mosaics was beginning to look like it would take the whole summer. But just as my spirits were about to disappear, the most incredible thing happened!

Step Four: Learn

My dad has always said (along with the rest of the world), “Practice makes perfect.” And sure enough, the more I struggled with my little tiles and smashing tools the more I figured out. I discovered how make rectangles, squares, and triangles, how to round edges and break a large piece precisely in half. I also started to figure out which shapes go together best to make a bigger picture, something I hadn’t even considered when I first started. My first design had taken me almost three hours to complete – later on in the week I could make one of superior quality in a quarter of the time! As I learned I become more engaged and excited, thinking of other things I could do with mosaics, both at Barred Owl and in my own, personal life. Take a look some finished products, below!

Step Five: Reflect

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing studying fine art in this digital age. Sometimes I wonder why I’d study art in any age for that matter. After all, it can come down to a lot of tedious, repetitive work that many would consider frustrating, even unfulfilling. But then there are times like this, when I realize that these small tedious tasks, and the big tedious ones too, act as a vehicle for big ideas and understanding. Learning to use my brain and hands in this very specific way has reminded me what it means to learn from doing, how our minds are programmed to solve problems and make progress. It got me excited about art all over again, about mastering skills and uniting my mind with my hands.

I have since finished designing all twelve mosaics, and plan to start pouring the concrete tomorrow! Stay tuned, more to come.


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