Variations on a Theme, Striped Bass Edition

The source photo I used for the striped bass mosaic. Image © Carol Archambault

A large and important element of the current mosaic we’re working on is a striped bass. The piece is called “The Care Takers” and shows Ocean View Elementary School’s stewardship of the natural environment. They are particularly involved in protecting the native marine ecosystem. Striped bass are a big part of the Chesapeake Bay story. And my life story too. My Dad is a devoted striped bass fisherman and though I’ve never had the same zeal for it, I have caught a few bass in my time. On our last trip home, my sons went bass fishing on the Narragansett Bay for the first time. It’s important that I get this right, for a bunch of people! My Dad and step-Mom spend a lot of time on the ocean and take pictures of the amazing array of sea creatures that live in the bay. They sent me this image to guide me.

Striped bass mosaic done tesserae style, haphazardly

I thought that the bass mosaic should be done tesserae style, with lots of little pieces, to echo the idea of scales. I started by breaking pieces with the hardie and hammer. I don’t do this a lot, so I’m not super skilled at it. It involves breaking the stone between a sharp chisel edge, the ‘hardie’ mounted into a block of wood, and a sharp hammer that you swing gently and precisely. Some stones respond well to this, but others do not. The grain of the dark green serpentine and the crystal structure of the gray granite created a lot of very awkward shapes. After I laid this out I decided I didn’t like it and needed to try something else.

The striped bass mosaic testing the cut stone, opus sectile style.

Most of my mosaic work generally falls into an opus sectile style. I cut the pieces into specific shapes to create a desired image. So I tried that. I didn’t get very far before I abandoned this idea too. I didn’t like the look and it was a fussy business cutting these lean pieces with gentle arcs to them. If it was going to take forever, I wanted to get a good result.

The striper mosaic tested with an orderly tesserae.

This was the final test: the tesserae idea, but with tidy pieces. I cut strips on the tile saw then chopped them up into the little squares you see here. Still time consuming to lay out, but as soon as I started I could tell that it was going to be what I imagined it to be.

The striped bass mosaic laid out in reverse, orderly tesserae.

Once I knew that it would work, I laid it out in reverse, adhering the pieces onto the paper with Elmer’s glue, face down. I won’t actually see what it looks like until the day we install it and remove the paper. That’s actually a lot of fun, the first time you see it- often at a point where you can’t do much to change it!