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Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon

Trusting the Artist Self

Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon
Orange Patchwork Trivet by Margaret Almon, glass, gold smalti, ceramic, 6×6 inches, ©2015

The individual pieces that make up a mosaic are called tesserae, and making a topography of tesserae is restorative to my soul. Especially in orange.  Sometimes I get this longing to make something without knowing how it will turn out.  My artist self can be very astute and wise in the studio, in ways that are much more difficult for me when out of the studio.

Out of the studio, I expect myself to know how things will turn out, in advance, in omniscience, in complete certainty.  Then I notice the impossibility of this, and often have sharp words for myself about being perfectionistic, and then if I am paying attention, I will notice this as well, and grant myself a moment of grace.

There are ways in which this patchwork trivet is imperfect.  It is bumpy, with crooked edges, and scratches, gaps in the grout, and unevenness of color in the finish of the frame.  Perhaps you catch yourself thinking, “But I like that it looks like it was made by hand instead of a machine” or maybe you see the whole rather than the individual tesserae.  This is when my wise artist self says, “You like this and if it has to meet some imaginary idea of perfect, you won’t make any art at all.  So what shall you choose?”

Patchwork in my Etsy Shop.

More ponderings in these posts:

The Beauty of Imperfection: Hozho

The Perfect Imperfections: Wabi Sabi


A to Z Challenge 2012: G is for Grout & A Grout Monster

Grout is the mysterious element of making mosaics.  Grout can unite the pieces or make them stand apart.  The word Grout may come from the Old English “gruta” meaning coarse meal, a kind of porridge.  Grout fills in the spaces, as if a sustaining porridge, yet has no adhesive quality in and of itself.  Grout obscures the surface when applied, but then helps reveal the ultimate beauty of the glass.  Grout is why I spend so much time in hardware stores.  Grout is the fuel of my friend Joanne, The Grout Monster, who loves to grout as a healing process of playing in the mud.  Joanne is in the middle of her 2012 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County program, and for the month of April, National Poetry Month, I give a shout out to Joanne Leva, Grout Monster and poet extraordinaire.

Fruit of the Spirit: Refreshing the Roots and Bearing Fruit

Fruit of the Spirit in Polyester
Fruit of the Spirit Mobile by Margaret Almon(Age 12)

When I wrote earlier about my Fruit of the Spirit Mobile that I painstakingly stitched from polyester double knit, my mother emailed this photo to me, as she has it hanging in her dining room.  I had forgotten how pleased I was with the pineapple of Goodness, and the plaid on a diagonal for texture!  Self-Control is emblazoned a banana, my least favorite fruit, but I still enjoyed the curve.  I may have had a jumper made of the pale peach of Self-Control, and the vibrant orange of Kindness is where my eye goes to now.  Seeing it all in the flesh(fruit-flesh that is), brings back the tactile sense of making the stitches, lining up the fabric.  This part of the root system that led to my life now as an artist, and my new manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit via the commission from Suzanne Halstead.  On Wednesday, Suzanne and I grouted Faithfulness and Kindness.  The scale is much larger than my mobile, as is my excitement in seeing it all bear fruit!  More photos to come as the process continues.

Faithfulness and Kindness Emerge from the Grout
Margaret Almon and Suzanne Halstead Grouting Faithfulness and Kindness

Mosaic in Life Magazine & Andreas Feininger

LIFE magazine has posted an archive of millions of photos on Google Images, and of course I was searching “mosaic” and found a set of photos from 1955 of a woman making a mosaic coffee table, taken by Andreas Feininger. Idly searching on who Feininger was, I discovered he was a well-respected photographer, originally an architect from Germany, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1936, and started as a staff photographer for LIFE. He went on to write many textbooks of photography.

In an interview with Feininger and the ASMP in 1990 he said he was not a people photographer, and one of the few times he photographed a person, it was a mosaic(unnamed)artist, sort of the Donna Reed of the mosaic world. I can’t imagine mosaicking in bangle bracelets, and a flared skirt! I particularly like the can of “Miracle” cement. In other ways though, I feel a kinship with this anonymous woman, as she unpacks the box of tile sheets. And the close-up of her hands laying tile is even more familiar, with the timelessness of the human hand creating something.

There’s a quote in Feininger’s book, The Roots of Art: “Everything made by human hands, and most things conceived by the human mind, have their prototypes in nature.” Grouting is our way of making rocks or fossils–the latter being the sturdiest of mosaics! Conglomerate is a rock consisting of individual stones that have become cemented together with pressure and dissolved minerals.

I wonder who this woman was. Did she keep making mosaics? I am fascinated by the picture of her grouting with her bare hands(it appears she did take off the bangles). In case I didn’t mention it in my previous post, this is not recommended! Grout is very alkaline and leaches all the moisture from your skin, and can cause contact dermatitis with repeated exposure. Did she go on with her tin of Miracle, and keep creating with her hands?

Grouting a Mosaic Part 3: Remove Grout, Add Light

Wipe away the grout too soon and it all comes out of the gaps, degrouting your mosaic. It’s a balance of removing the excess before it hardens, without undoing the grouting.

And then the magic of the color emerging! This is the point of hope and relief and transformation. The color reasserts itself, comes glowing through the haze. I can scrub harder with a microfiber cloth, and dislodge the sandy residue. The process is much easier to handle if I just accept the studio will look like a herd of muddy cats came skittering through. I was fortunate to read some helpful advice on the Mosaic Artists Online Group about “dry grouting.” Some books suggest a slightly damp sponge for cleaning off grout, but that rejuvenates the muddy nature of the grout and can be very frustrating. Instead, the gentle friction of the microfiber cloth removes most of the haze.

I remove the green masking, and let the grout fully set for 48 hours, before sealing with Tile Lab Penetrating Sealer. I apply a coat with a paintbrush, and it soak in for 5-10 minutes, before polishing with a clean cloth, and repeating. The grout drinks up the sealer, and the sealer loosens the stubborn bits of haze from the tiles. Any remaining haze can usually be removed with a cotton swab lightly dipped in vinegar(I dab the swab on a paper towel after dipping). Vinegar is the nemesis of grout–acid to its alkaline, but small amounts applied just to the tiles for cleaning is very effective. I use a dental pick to dig out any buried areas, and excess glue–the scrubbies remove most of the glue, but some remains. The center orange glass tile has pinholes, and these require more effort with the dental pick. The red outer tiles are made of recycled bottles, with a smooth iridescent finish, and are a delight to clean. It’s as if they want to be cleaned, and shed the grout gracefully.

Then my husband takes a glowing picture of the final incarnation, and comes up with the cool caption of “Remove Grout, Add Light.”


Grouting a Mosaic Part 2: Take Courage

According to Constellations of Words,

The word congruent comes from the Indo-European root *ghreu– ‘To rub, grind’. Derivatives: grit, groats, grout, gruel, grueling, great, groat, gruesome, chroma (color), chromatic, chromato-, chrome, –chrome, chromium, chromo-, chromosome, gravel, congruent, congruence. Pokorny 2. ghreu– 460. Watkins

It is only fitting that grout is relate to “grueling” in origin, since there are moments where grouting appears to be a crazy idea.  After making my chocolate truffle mixture, and in my nitrile gloves, I scoop up a handful of grout and begin to cover my mosaics. Some mosaicists use a grout float or other tool for distributing the grout among the interstices, but with the variety of textures and heights of the tesserae in my work, I find applying it by hand to be most effective.  As I massage the grout into the gaps, all color is obliterated in a muddy coating.  This is a leap of faith.  Covering all the carefully glued pieces with a type of cement is counterintuitive.

Fortunately, I’ve grouted enough pieces to be somewhat adapted to the moment of transformation!  But even now, there is a realization of the point of no return.  Grout can bring a mosaic together, like its cousin “congruent,” or it can be divisive.  A dark grout unites the dark elements and breaks apart the light ones, and a light grout does the opposite.  This mirror has a medium tone that is fairly uniform across reds and oranges, so the brown grout is like a setting for jewel tones, the black velvet under the sparkly ring.  Grout is about relationships between colors, and can change the perception of the tiles, drawing them forward, pushing them back, intensifying or diluting the color.

Light Appears

Grouting a Mosaic: Part 1

Out of my growing collection of mosaics to grout, I choose the red-orange mirror, and the green box. I masked both with green painters tape, and both will receive “chocolate truffle” grout. Painters tape usually comes off quite cleanly, even after a week or so, and makes an attractive edge. It’s quite magical to peel away the green, especially when everything is covered in grout. Grout is a a way to pull all the pieces together. In drawing class, the equivalent to the grout lines was “negative space.” The spaces in between have their own form and substance. Grouting is commitment. It is possible to use a dremel drill to grind the cementitious grout out, but this isn’t something I can fathom doing.

First, I pour acrylic admix into the bottom of a plastic container, about 1/2 inch deep. My admix has been renamed “grout enhancer” by the manufacturer, which sounds like steroids. It’s the consistency of milk. I add grout slowly, 1/2 cup to start, and then back and forth between grout, mix, liquid, mix. Once it is between cake batter and peanut butter in texture, I leave it sit for a minute or two to slake. Or as my first mosaic instructor said, until you’ve lost patience or said hello to your neighbor. Then mix again. This makes the grout stronger, letting it form a few bonds and then remixing.

Chocolate Truffle Grout

There is a reason this one is called “chocolate.”