Relief Elements in Mosaic Design

Relief components of the next mosaic: a scallop shell and a fish that project out of the wall.

We are working on the next mosaic for the Norfolk schools. This one features a coastal theme and numerous sea creatures. On a previous mosaic I experimented with relief elements, parts of the mosaic that projected forward off the flat plane of the wall. I really liked the way it came out and am revisiting that idea in this mosaic. So far I have three elements that I ‘sculpted’ in relief: two scallop shells and a fish. All three were made from scrap counter top material, which is typically 3 centimeters thick. Most of the work I did was with a diamond blade on the angle grinder and then running through the polishing pads to get the shine back. It’s kind of fun, at least working small on relatively primitive designs like this. I have no sculpting acumen, so it takes me a minute to wrap my head around how to get the right shape without taking away too much material. I think it’s a nice addition to the mosaics; it enhances the tactile qualities of the mosaic and encourages the students to touch the piece to interact with it.

A stone scallop shell sculpted in relief to project out of the next mosaic.

The template and finished piece of a stone fish made in relief to project out of the next mosaic.

Camp Allen Dedicated

A full view of The Dragon Family mosaic. © Dave Chance Photography

Camp Allen Elementary School in Norfolk has been open for a while, but they just had a dedication ceremony there. I wasn’t able to attend, but they unveiled our mosaic “The Dragon Family” at the same time. There’s a clip of them showing it off in this video.

The Dragon Family Mosaic

A full view of The Dragon Family mosaic, reflected in the polished floor. © Dave Chance Photography

Of all of the mosaics I have created for Norfolk schools during this project, Camp Allen’s “The Dragon Family” was the most student-driven design. Before I started my work, I visited the school to meet with a leadership council comprising a small group of smart, thoughtful and articulate students. I told them about the project and they told me about the design. They wanted a dragon, the Camp Allen mascot.

I was not particularly keen on the idea at first. Every school has a mascot, a logo, a cartoon creature to rally the sports teams. I imagined the artwork to be something more quote unquote- serious than a mascot. Then kids made it clear to me why the artwork absolutely had to be a dragon.

The students told me what they saw in the dragon and what they saw in themselves: strength, courage, resolve, and fierceness. The dragon was a symbol, a powerful representation of them and their school. It was an illuminating conversation that guided my work.

But I wanted something more than just a dragon on the wall; I hope to make art that tells a story, that shares ideas, and has room for interpretation.

Many of the schools that I have worked with in Norfolk deal with high levels of student turnover. At Camp Allen, military families are routinely deployed to other parts of the world- regardless of the school schedule. New students arrive on a weekly basis. Camp Allen’s leadership has found innovative and creative solutions to help ease this transition for students. The kids told me about the houses with their names, colors and points system, so similar to the Hogwarts houses in the Harry Potter books. Every kid on that leadership council had a story about arriving at Camp Allen as a new student, nervous and unsure. They were welcomed. They were included from the first moment. They described the school as a family.

“The Dragon Family“ mosaic represents that story of Camp Allen. It is a place where young people are protected and supported and encouraged to learn, to grow, to create, and to make friends. To me the dragon on the wall is the school- its principal, its vice principal and administrators, its teachers and assistants, its custodians and volunteers, its amazing students, its parents- everyone who contributes and everyone who takes part.

Early in the design phase, there was some concern; we wanted an approachable dragon, but not a silly cartoon. Sometimes, fairy tales dragons can be scary, frightening beasts that must be vanquished, but that’s not the message we wanted to send. In this story about Camp Allen, dragons are caring and supportive. But I do hope some of the fierceness still comes through. Do not mess with a dragon’s family, because dragons will always protect their treasure.

A full view of The Dragon Family mosaic, in the school’s main hallway. © Dave Chance Photography

Detail from The Dragon Family mosaic, of a boy playing trumpet to the dragon. © Dave Chance Photography

Detail from The Dragon Family mosaic, of a girl writing protected by dragon’s wings. © Dave Chance Photography

A detail of The Dragon Family mosaic. © Dave Chance Photography

Detail from The Dragon Family mosaic, of a boy reading on the dragon’s back. © Dave Chance Photography

Ocean View Mosaic

The ocean in the Ocean View mosaic

We’ve started laying out our next large scale mosaic installation.

Our next large public art mosaic will be for Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. It’s called “The Care-Takers.” Right now we are working on the ocean part of the mosaic, which is rich with sea life. We’ve all been working on the background, which is primarily bluestone, with some Blue Macaubas mixed in for flashes of brightness. Jonathan cut this sea turtle, which is made of serpentine and green marble.

Sea turtle mosaic in the early stages

This sea turtle will be part of the Ocean View Elementary School mosaic

Hammerhead Crew

In the end of October 2019 we installed “The Dragon Family”, a 130 square foot natural stone mosaic that resides in the main hallway of Camp Allen Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. This photo shows the crew just after we finished the install, before we climbed into the truck for the long ride home. From left to right: Marc (me!), Fred Lashley, Tony Costa, and Jonathan Frederick. This was Tony’s last gig, as he left to pursue his dream of being a firefighter. More photos of this mosaic and the construction process to come…

The crew after finishing the dragon mosaic

Hammerhead crew after finishing “The Dragon Family.”

Stream Path Stone Mosaic

Stream Path Stone Mosaic

The North Carolina Arboretum commissioned Hammerhead to design and build a stone mosaic in their stream garden. The stream garden is located immediately adjacent to the Arboretum’s signature quilt garden. The Stream Path stone mosaic was fabricated at the shop and installed onsite.


For the rapids section of the mosaic, the branches are made of Tennessee sandstone and often correspond with drops in elevation in the stream, to create visual interest and to enhance the sound of the water moving. Kind of like a real branch or log fallen across a stream…

I used a Dremel rotary tool to engrave this mayfly into one of the background stones near the frog in the stream path.

A fun detail of me working under the bridge is that you can see the ‘map’ on the wall. It was a handy reference to have. It shows all the stones and their positions.

Stream Path Stone Mosaic

The map is also pictured here on the level across the stream while Jonathan works.

Process shots from the shop of stone crayfish and the trout chasing minnows.

After fabrication comes transportation. Here is the trout as well as part of the background stacked up in the back of the truck.

Top Ten Stonework Photos

Top Ten Stonework Photos

Photographs are an important part of my stonework. They are essential tools in sharing my work with others. A strong portfolio drives business.

Photographs are part of my process as well. I take pictures throughout a project. Studying them later- that same day, or months on- helps me troubleshoot problems and see where potential lies. They show flaws and places to grow as well as the tiny little details that make all the difference.

Photographs act as my memory. I don’t have any stonework of my own. Much of my work is hidden in backyards and hard to get to. My archives- a disorganized mess of over 20,000 images- help me see what I’ve done. This helps me keep things in perspective; in the depths of winter it’s a nice reminder that the weather will someday break and we can get back to making things.

What follows are my favorite ten images from the first ten years of Hammerhead Stoneworks. These are not the best pictures or the ones that make up the strongest portfolio. These are the photographs that speak to me of the process and the materials and why I love what I do. Click on the titles to read the story behind each of the top ten stonework photos.

John’s Exploded Mosaic

Top Ten Stonework Photos

This might be my favorite image of the last ten years. It’s a memorial mosaic I made, resting in the back of my truck ready to be brought to Riverside Cemetery for installation. There’s something about the exploded, expanded view that I really enjoy. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in the back of my favorite old truck, which now rests dead in the driveway. Residual bright blue spray paint pokes through seams. The name plate at the bottom was carved by me. It’s not at all expertly done done but I was proud of the accomplishment. The family decided to add the dates of John’s birth and death, which wouldn’t fit on this piece. I cut a new stone and had it engraved. I may still have that nameplate somewhere at the shop.

Feathers & Floors

Top Ten Stonework Photos

Twenty years ago Kristin I took an off-season trip to Italy. I had just started stone work and was mesmerized by the craft on display throughout the country. The floors in Venice, especially at Basilica San Marco, were breathtaking and completely changed the way I thought about stone. Their color palettes were bold and clashing, their patterns chaotic and busy, and yet the end result was endlessly fascinating and beautiful. My pursuit of mosaic goes back to the moment I first saw those floors. This small section of the Phoenix Rising mosaic reminds me of those floors. It is a thread- however modest it might be–that connects my humble pursuits to the master craftsman of that bygone age.


Top Ten Stonework Photos

When I take pictures of my work for my portfolio, I always have to be reminded to show the contacts surrounding the finished piece. Future customers want to see how the wall interacts with the landscape. They want to see how the patio looks with tables and chairs. But I am always drawn to the close-ups, to the images that explore the stone and the stone alone.

This particular image is from my first public art commission”The Blue Spiral” in Gainesville Florida. This shot was taken in the shop during the fabrication process. I love the textures in the tight lines. In this image I saw the potential of the idea being realized.


I made a mosaic for the North Carolina Arboretum. It lines the floor of a water feature and includes native species like this bullfrog. As is often the case, my favorite photograph is early in the process, when I recognize that the idea will work. I love the colors here. Most of the stone is regional and in its natural state. The tympanic membrane is a highly polished scrap of marble salvaged from a company that makes countertops.

GreenMan at Rest
Top Ten Stonework Photos

There are so many better pictures of the GreenMan mosaic, Hammerhead’s first large scale wall piece, but this is a favorite. I took this picture at the shop, while we were fabricating. The whole face is there except the eyes, which went through several iterations before I got them right. Even without the eyes, I could tell that this was going to work. This was a crazy time for Hammerhead; GreenMan was built on top of the labyrinth at our shop.

Little Men

Top Ten Stonework Photos

This is a sentimental choice. I don’t love this wall- one of my first- but I do love those little dudes, who are not so little anymore.

Marbles Inlaid

Another shop shot, another moment when a weird idea came together. I had tried prototypes of this idea before, with limited success. Prototypes aren’t supposed to work, I guess. They’re give you the info you need for when you convince a customer to let you build something crazy, like a bench that’s supposed to look like it’s balanced on a bed of marbles.

Alien Landing Pad

Top Ten Stonework Photos

There’s not even any stone in this picture, but I still love it and wanted to include it in the top ten stonework photos. It’s the layout of a hexagonal folly that we built for clients in Biltmore Forest. When we were done, they were married there. I like the vivid colors. I discovered the secret to laying out a hexagon on Wikipedia. It involved aligning the centers of three circles with identical radii. The points where the circles kiss each other become the corners of the hexagon- whose sides will be the same as the radius used. This very simple and practical approach to geometry spurred an ongoing fascination with old school Islamic tile mosaics which are incredibly complex and are designed with only a compass and a straight line.

Labyrinth With Red Leaves

This one soothes me. It’s really the only portfolio-ish shot amongst the top ten stonework photos. It’s been my desktop wallpaper for months now.

Worshop Pegboard

Order is fleeting; chaos always wins. This was taken the day we hung pegboard in the shop. It’s been a mess ever since.

Bonus Image: Hovering Stone

Jonathan Frederick took this shot of me as we were installing 3000 pound chunks of granite at the entrance to the labyrinth. Bodie is running the crane as I escort the big guy to its new home.

Phoenix Rising: Photographs of the Finished Piece

Completed Stone Mosaic: Phoenix Rising

Huge thanks to photographer Dave Chance for getting these excellent photographs of the recently completed stone mosaic in a school in Norfolk, VA. Phoenix Rising is part of a series of six mosaics Hammerhead is making for schools in this area as part of a public art commission. You can peruse Dave’s portfolio here.

© 2018 Dave Chance


Completed Phoenix Stone Mosaic

© 2018 Dave Chance

Completed Phoenix Stone Mosaic

Head of the Phoenix © 2018 Dave Chance

Stone pattern © 2018 Dave Chance