Carolina Wren Mosaic

I’ve fallen behind on updating the blog! This mosaic got done just at the end of June and is now awaiting framing. It’s a bit smaller than most of my birds, at 10″ by 10″. It’s a Carolina Wren, a favorite. We’ve had two nests this year- one at the shop and one on the porch at home. I like how the eye came out.

Natural stone mosaic of a Carolina Wren

Asheville School Medallion Installed

A close up of the stone medallion after installation

It took a long time to fabricate, but the Asheville School medallion finally got finished and installed just before the Fourth of July. It is set in a patio of Pennsylvania stone. Initially that presented some challenges to me in choosing colors. I dark ring of granite surrounds the medallion providing some contrast. The granite is salvaged counter top material. I flip it over so the polished side faces down, which makes it less slippery and safer for walking. I used an ager/color enhancer to darken the stone. When we finish the project I will do some detail work to get the colors more consistent. It’s just so dusty right now.

The light gray surround is gray sandstone from Tennessee, often called Crab Orchard. It’s usually much darker, but I used the grinder to take off the top layer. The exposed grain is much lighter but still has traction for walking. That is a main concern for me when designing pieces like this; it’s a walking surface and can’t be too slick, especially since it will get wet on a rainy day. One little trick I used was to add cut line details, like the scrawled text on the book pages. By dragging the grinder across the surface I implied the written word- and I added texture for extra grip. I am hopeful that several hundred years from now someone will work tirelessly to translate my “text.” I’m curious to know what I was talking about.

The badge is made of Pennsylvania bluestone. The inverted V pattern is made of a marble that I believe comes from Georgia. It’s a material I get from my friends at Tennessee Marble. The braided cord, under the lamp at the top, is made of sandstone.

The Asheville School Medallion set into the patio of Pennsylvania stone

The Asheville School Medallion is aligned with the distant peak of Mount Pisgah

The medallion is the centerpiece of a large circular patio in the midst of a garden on the Asheville School campus. Designed by our friend Mardi Letson of Gardens by Mardi. She has deep ties to the school and this is a real labor of love for her. The patio itself is made of Pennsylvania stone laid dry in a bed of crushed gravel.

This inlay features a bit of pink granite from the chapel at the Asheville School.

This is the cross inlay before it was mortared into place. The red granite is from Sweden. The little square of pink granite os from the chapel on the Asheville School campus. The day I was there to first see the site they showed me the chapel, a sturdy structure of pink and gray granite. As it happened, there was a crew there working on the heating and cooling system. They had used a coring drill to put some holes in the wall of the chapel to run their piping. I was able to find a couple of the cores they had made, 3″ diameter cylinders of pink granite. Of course I snagged all I could find! I cut a small chip off and polished it to put into this inlay.

The Asheville School Medallion is the back of my truck ready leave the shop.

I love pictures of mosaics in the back of my truck.

Stone Mosaics In A Patio

My dog and a mosaic heart

We recently built a small patio of dimensional bluestone adjacent to a newly renovated home in downtown Weaverville. A seating wall wraps two sides of the patio and frames the space. I collaborated with the family on designing four small mosaics to be nestled into the patio itself. The patio is made up of 24″ by 24″ pieces of bluestone (people who work with bluestone will snicker; they are never quite 24″. Or close to square.) I cut six inch squares out of the center of four stones, to lay these mosaics.

These sketches inspired my mosaic designs for this patio

The family developed the concept. Their daughters, ages 4 and 8 led the way. The concepts were Kindness, Honesty, Intention, and Explore. They gave me some drawings and I revised them into forms that I thought could work in stone. Small mosaics can become illegible- and hard to execute- if there’s too much going on. They gave me good ideas and I think the translation works well.

Four small mosaics in process for a patio project in Weaverville.

These are the four designs while I was working on them; they’re not grouted in this picture. I like the bold colors and simple graphic compositions.

A small stone mosaic of a tree’s heartwood installed into an outdoor patio.

This was the design I had the most concerns about going in. It’s their vision of Intention; the heartwood of a tree. I wasn’t sure if it would read, particularly in comparison to the very clear images of things like a heart or the planet Earth. But I love the way the colors work together. The green slate is smooth but not shiny. The tree bark is sandstone from Tennessee, a material we use all the time for patios and walls. I forget the name of the stone I used for the wood grain. It’s remarkably beautiful though, even if I could not find a concentric ring pattern to more closely echo the heartwood. The stone itself is super thin; it is adhered onto ceramic tile.

Carolina Wren

It’s been a year of Carolina Wrens. I had a nest at my shop, tucked in a set of shelves laden with my mosaic tiles. I saw the babies in the nest, but did not see them depart. A single egg was left behind, once the premises were vacated.

Today, Sunday as I write this, four baby wrens left the nest on our porch. It was perfectly timed just after breakfast, so we all could watch them take their first, unsteady flights. Zoe (our dog) got very agitated about it all and growled and barked at the back door. I think she was more tuned into our excitement than anything else. The fledglings all made it out okay, though one did end up stuck in a cabinet we have on the back porch for a few minutes.

Also, I’m working on a Carolina Wren mosaic. The bottom image is the nest that was at the shop with Momma sitting on the eggs.

A stone mosaic of a Carolina Wren

Stone Inlay Techniques on Asheville School Crest Medallion

This is the site of our current project, a gathering space at Asheville School. The school crest will be located in the center of the patio.

Our current project has us building a gathering space at Asheville School. The patio will be the centerpiece of the Bement Garden. We are collaborating with Mardi Letson of Gardens By Mardi on this project.

The medallion is five feet across. The Sharpie lines indicate the inlay locations.

We are building a stone medallion that depicts the school’s crest for the center of the patio. There are symbols throughout the crest that will be inlaid into the patio stone. Some are fairly straightfoward- others are quite tricky.

The most challenging part of doing inlay in stone is removing the material where the inlay is supposed to go. The following video walks through the process and the tools I use.

Grinder lines cut into stone for major stock removal.

I used both of the grinders in the video to create the outer border of the design and cut a cross hatch pattern into the stone. This allows for easier stock removal.

Hand hammer and chisel to remove the vast majority of the stone. Must be careful to not damage edges doing this.

Hand hammer and chisel were used to get out the vast majority of the stock. This is very effective in wide open areas- like the center- but not wise near the edges or in tight spaces.

I’ve removed what I could by hand chisel and grinder. Ready to tackle it with the pneumatic chisel.

I use a pneumatic chisel- made by Trow and Holden Company of Barre, Vermont- to work close to the edges. This is not necessarily a delicate tool- it’s really just a mini jackhammer- but it is more efficient than doing it by hand. I can regulate the air flow to control the strength of the chisel blows. Really though, the key is in the angle of attack. Work away from the edges of the design and away from the top of the stone.

The tree pattern space after finishing up with the pneumatic chisel.

I try to take out a half an inch of stock when doing an inlay.

I try to take out about a half inch of depth. This allows room for a stone tile- generally 3/8″ thick- and a bed of thinset tile mortar.

A mosaic tree inlay in a piece of bluestone

It fits! Some detail work on the mosaic and it’s ready for thinset. A bunch more to do!

“The Care Takers” Mosaic

“The Care Takers” stone mosaic, laid out facedown, to be prepped for travel

“The Care Takers” mosaic, intended for OceanView Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia is laid out face down. We will adhere a fiberglas mesh to the back, cut it into manageable sized pieces and load it for travel. WE built this stage for the last mosaic; it makes it easier to work on and is flatter than the floor, which it turns out, really does matter!

Kingfisher Mosaic

Kingfisher mosaic made of Blue Pearl granite

This Kingfisher mosaic is done! I just have to wait for the frame shop to reopen once the coronavirus restrictions are eased. The majority of the birds body is made of Blue Pearl granite, quarried in Norway. I used a Mexican beach pebble for the eye, which doesn’t show up great in the photo. The background is the Brazilian marble Blue Macaubas. The mosaic is 12″ by 12″.

On a related bird note, this Carolina Wren is nesting in a corner of my tile stacks. Admittedly, it’s not much of a photo, but she’s really tucked into the back of the shelf and her nest is dark.

Kingfisher Mosaic

Kingfisher mosaic pieces cut, ready for fine tuning

I haven’t had a whole lot to post lately. I have made some progress on this Kingfisher mosaic. It’s ready for fine tuning now. The overall piece will be 12″ by 12″ when it’s done.

Time Lapse Mosaic

This is a time lapse video of the girl featured in our next mosaic for Norfolk, Virginia. This piece is called “The Care Takers” and will be installed at Ocean View Elementary School. Kristin helped me do this rough layout of the stones. The girl is holding an oyster, which she will be putting in the water. I don’t like the way the oyster came out and will redo that. Ocean View has a really strong commitment to the environment and actually has programs that teach kids to be stewards of the ocean and do hands-on work with oysters and aquaculture.

All the pieces laid out and readu to go.

This is the way the finished piece will look.

The girl from the Ocean View mosaic laid out in reverse.

The whole mosaic (except the eyes) laid out in reverse. It’s glued to paper and will have a mesh applied to the back for transport and installation.

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!