Monday, March 30, 2015

Pothole Mosaics

I recently found an article about Chicago "guerrilla" artist Jim Bachor, who creates mosaics in potholes. It's a really beautiful idea! There are other artists working in the medium of potholes, but none who actually fill the potholes.

I wanted to know more about him, so I did some background research about him and the pot hole project. Jim has a degree in Graphic Design from the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. On a voluntary archeological dig in Pompeii, he melded his interests of art and leaving a mark on this world. 

Jim started with just a few potholes in 2014. This caught media attention quickly and took off. He was featured in more than a dozen online and print articles and television coverage, including Gizmodo and Fox News.

Jim started a Kickstarter Campaign earlier this year to fund five more potholes. One hundred nine people donated to his campaign, which has allowed Jon to expand his plan to include eight potholes. Potholes have turned out to be a good canvas for him. 

Jim's personal statement reflects some of my own opinions about mosaic art. "Marble and glass do not fade. Mortar is mortar. An ancient mosaic looks exactly as intended by the artist who produced it over two millennia ago. What else can claim that kind of staying power? I find this idea simply amazing," he writes on his website.

"Brought to you by. . ." J. Bachor

He elaborates, ". . .my work surprises the viewer while challenging long-held notions of what a mosaic should be. Like low-tech pixels, hundreds, if not thousands of tiny, hand-cut pieces of Italian glass and marble comprise my work.

This work is my mark."

You can check out the Pothole Installation project on his website, which includes a map of each mosaic.

May all of your scores run true!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jewelry Making Tips for Glass Artists

Learning how to create beautiful pendants, bracelets or earrings in fused glass,  soldered stained glass, or even mosaics is a great way to make unique gifts or some money on the side. I've been making jewelry for a long time, and I've found some great sources for findings (those pieces that piece work together, e.g. jump rings and bails). I also have my favorite materials for assembling great jewelry that I will share. For this post, I'm going to focus on findings that don't require special jewelry tools. I will save that for later.

One of my favorite jewelry suppliers is Fire Mountain Gems. They have a wide variety of products, including beads and gems, and they also have a monthly sale section. I have picked up some great deals from their bargain section. They have wonderful customer service, too. I often get my orders within days of making an online order.

The other supplier I really like is Jewelry They carry a lot of the same type of supplies as Fire Mountain Gems. I will often compare prices between the two just to get the best deal.

 Because I am focusing on findings that don't necessarily require jewelry tools, all of the findings in this post will be glue on types. The recommended adhesive for glass and metal is E6000. Please read and follow the instructions. E6000 does have nasty fumes that you do not want to inhale.
So what basic findings will you need?

There are three types of bails: glue on, snap, and ice pick type. For a lot of fused glass and mosaic pieces, the glue on works best. The ice pick and snap style bails are for pendants that have a hole that the pick can go through or the snap can clamp on. Glue on earring bails make earring construction easy, too.

                                  Assortment of glue on and pick style bails (

Earring bails (

Bracelet links also come with blank glue on pads, too. These are a really great way to make bracelets.
Blank bracelet finding  (       

 Bracelet with glass, by P. MacLeod

Glue on ring and hair pin/clips, lapel pin and tie tacks are also available. 
24 Hour Creatives

24 Hour Creatives

So these are the kinds of findings that anyone can use to create special gifts or personal jewelry. They are an easy, low cost way to wear your work.

May all of your scores run true!

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 Society of American Mosaic Artists Conference in Philadelphia

The 15th conference of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) took place 3/12 - 3/15 in Philadelphia, PA. From my stalking efforts and reports by friends who went, it was another success. I wanted to get a friend who went to give me an exclusive blog post about her experience, but she was toooooo busy with activities at the conference (this is normal). After checking out this year's juried show on the SAMA site, I took a trip down memory lane.

The first conference was held in Orangeburg, SC on the campus of SC State University. I had just heard about SAMA and decided that this was something that I HAD to get in on. That conference was very small, with maybe 50 participants. It was a thrill to be with that many people with the same passion. There were presentations, opportunities to make connections, and a key note speaker. Isaiah Zagar, the Philadelphia artist who created Magic Gardens, was one of the speakers that year. (He was also at this year's show and a speaker at last year's.) I was proud that one of my own pieces was juried into the first-ever SAMA mosaic art show.

Close up of a portion of Magic Gardens, by Isaiah Zagar

I joined SAMA and continued to participate for the next several years. The next conference was in Miami. It was bigger, better, had more speakers, and a vendor market place was added. The 2004 conference was in Chicago, and again, it was bigger and workshops were added. The cost continued to rise, also. The next conference I attended was in Washington, D.C., which was the last time I could afford to go. The board now offered different levels of membership, too. I had a professional membership, which cost more than the registration fee for the first conference. A couple of years later, I let my membership lapse. I stayed close with people who continued with SAMA and the conferences, so I kept up in some ways.

For the first time in some years, I visited the SAMA website to see the awards for the juried show. I was mildly surprised to see that they no longer follow the old tried-and-true show award structure: Best in Show, 2nd place, 3rd place, honorable mention(s). SAMA has always tried new approaches to their conferences and shows, so it wasn't a big surprise. For a time, they offered separate awards for over-sized pieces, specifically for public art or installations. Best in Show is still top dog, but there is now an award for Technical Distinction, one for Contemporary Innovation, and two jurors awards. The winners are exemplary for their creativity and demonstration of skill. The number of selected pieces looked small to me (36 total), but the size of the venue could have been the reason for this. Competition is rigorous, which is indicative of the mission to elevate mosaic art. Overall, it was an excellent collection of mosaic work.

The Storm, by Nermine Elmasry of Zamalek, Egypt

 As SAMA continues to grow (current membership is more than 900), I hope to find my way back and after adding so many more skills from iMedia to my own knowledge base, I might be interested in joining one of their many boards. Who knows?

May all of your scores run true!


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Interview with Mosaic Artist Lou Ann Weeks

If mosaics are your thing, then Lou Ann Weeks should be a familiar name to you. Lou Ann has been active in the mosaic community for 15 years creating murals, custom mosaics, and original works. Recently Lou Ann announced a product that she developed just for mosaic work called "Skeewpics". After checking out her email announcement and thinking about what a great idea Skeewpics are, I had a "I need to talk to her" inspiration. So here is my interview with Lou Ann.

You’ve been working in mosaics since 2000. What was your first project or introduction to mosaics?

Mosaics took root in my soul when I discovered this art form during a stained glass class.  The teacher had created some small mosaic pieces and they caught my attention – I was never the same again!  My first commission came very quickly after this and it was to create a 7-foot portrait of the Mona Lisa for a local restaurant.  They asked if I could create it, I calmly replied, “Yes” then when I got home, panicked!  I’d never had a commission, let alone done a portrait.  That’s when I got busy and found Sonia King’s class and signed up!  She helped me prepare by creating a small mock-up of Mona Lisa during class so I went home feeling much more confident.  

Do you have a preferred material, style, or technique that you prefer? If so, what type and why? 

My preferred material is stained glass.  My preferred technique is direct.  I also love to grout my pieces.  Coming from a stained glass background has definitely been a major influence in my mosaics – I’ve always loved glass; the color variations, textures, and versatility it provides.  I’ve pretty much done a lot of different things to experience and learn from them, but I always come back to stained glass.  I don’t think I have a particular style, other than I like Realism – I’m not into abstract art.  Also, working direct is where I am comfortable.  I like to see what I’m doing when I’m doing it.  As far as loving to grout, I’m a weirdo; most people don’t enjoy this part, but I feel like it’s kin to Christmas morning.  Cleaning off the grout is like opening a present – you are surprised by what you find!

You have developed your own tool set, Skeewpics. What was that process like?

Skeewpicks came about by my searching for tools that really help me clean away the extra adhesives and grout that always end up on my pieces.  I found myself only using these 4 tools regularly and thought they might help others as well.  Also, they had a really rough grip that kept annoying me, so I came up with a comfort grip for them.  I added a carrying case and there you are – Skeewpicks!  I put together a video on how I use these tools, too; so I hope it will help other artists.

I gather that you have a “day” job in Social Media Marketing. How much time do you devote to mosaics?

Yes, my full time job is in social media marketing.  My husband and I work together and since it is a fairly new business, it takes up quite a bit amount of my time.  Unfortunately, mosaics goes on the back-burner – but, one day soon, I will be able to devote more time to my mosaics.

You’ve traveled to different countries and toured mosaic sites. Do you have favorites? Which ones?

I am very fortunate to have been able to travel some over these last 5 years, and enjoy seeking out mosaics wherever I go.  My husband is a photographer, so I am always able to get great images!  I have been surprised at how abundant mosaics are when you look for them.  My favorite place so far is the ancient mosaics found in a museum on an archeological dig in Vienne, France.  You can walk among these ruins and get close to wonderful, ancient Roman mosaics.  You feel as though you’ve gone back in time.  I’ve written a little about it in my blog on my website, along with other places I’ve been to as well at IC Mosaics.

If you could do anything in mosaic with any material, what would you do?

I would always stick with stained glass as my material.  I am so comfortable with it and never get bored.  As far as a specific project, I am always looking for the next piece to learn more, stretch more and be challenged.

As an instructor, what’s your favorite class to teach?

I love teaching beginning mosaics using stained glass and tools like grinders and wet saws.  There is so much you can do and teaching beginners is so much fun as they are enthusiastic and excited about learning. (Editorial comment: find her classes here.)

What do you like about teaching?

Sharing what I know is what I enjoy about teaching – I also am continually learning from my students!  It’s rewarding when they have finished a mosaic and are beaming in pride and joy.  Working with students in a school setting is also very rewarding, as the whole school gets to see their work and the faculty is very enthusiastic as well.

Additional comments/advice?

I would advise new mosaic artists to not be afraid – just jump in and go for it.  Mistakes will be made, but generally that is how we all learn.  Then I would tell them to join the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), go to the conventions, and take workshops whenever they can.  So much can be learned there and new friends will be made.

                                                                  Mona Lisa Mural by Lou Ann Weeks

I hope this has been an informative and inspirational post.

May all of your scores run true!


Monday, March 9, 2015

New and Beautiful Technique from Bullseye Glass Company

To set my flat fused bottles apart from many other artist's flat fused bottles, I would sometimes apply bronze, silver and gold leaf to the back of the bottle. This jazzed up the clear bottles and set my work apart from the others. The metallic leaf gives an interesting shimmer to the look. Because it's not fired on, the bottles can't be washed. But I sealed the foil on the back, and it could be wiped with a damp cloth.

I was reminded of this when I went through my email last week. I'm on several email lists and often retail businesses are marketing the same things--one-time sales, deals, and specials. But that day I got a real treat from Bullseye Glass Company. It was this very detailed project using silver foil fired between two layers of glass (below). They even included a firing schedule! 

Because I haven't fired foil directly in the kiln, I decided to dig around on the internet to see what other people have said about it. And I'm glad I did. Silver can stain the kiln shelf THROUGH the glass and stain future projects with the ghost of the silver shape. The information I found didn't indicate if this happens even with using fiber paper, so that might prevent the staining. However, if the silver itself gets on the kiln anywhere, it will stick and stain any glass it comes in contact with during firing. So if the silver ions come in contact with the shelf, any glass that you place there and fire in the future will turn yellow. I haven't found any information about how to clean that off, either.

I do want to try this out sometime, but I will be extra careful.

May all of your scores run true!

2. Place silver between layers of paper and tear into strips. Layer the silver between Red and Clear sheet glass. Keep the silver away from the perimeter to minimize potential shelf contamination. Fuse the layers together.
3. Cut the fired sheet into jewelry components.
4. Coldwork the edges to smooth them. We used a small flat lap grinder.
5. Drill small holes with a rotary tool and a diamond coated drillbit. To open up or countersink the hole with a flame or conical-shaped diamond bit. This can help with stringing the finished piece. (See Drilling Small Holes in Jewelry and Ornaments for more information.)
6. Clean the drilled components, and then re-fire to firepolish according to the provided schedule. Note that cooler temperatures will maintain crisp edges, while hotter temperatures will achieve more softening. Fired effects will vary depending on the characteristics of the ground edges as well as how your kiln fires.

Suggested Fusing Schedule
300°F (167°C)1225°F (663°C):45
600°F (333°C)1425°F (774°C):10
AFAP900°F (482°C)1:00
100°F (56°C)700°F (371°C):00
AFAP70°F (21°C):00

Suggested Firepolishing Schedule
300°F (167°C)1000°F (538°C):30
600°F (333°C)1275-1325°F (691-718°C):10
AFAP900°F (482°C)1:00
100°F (56°C)700°F (371°C):00
AFAP70°F (21°C):00

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cost-Saving Hacks

As I've said before, glass is expensive. So when ever possible, I look for ways to save money. I'm going to share a few that I use with you in this post. If you have a creative hack of your own, please share!

1 - Glass frit sifter. I spent about $50 on a frit maker (it's really hard to control how hard you hammer, so I broke down and bought a real tool), and then I realized I needed a way to separate the sizes of frit. I checked into products online, and a set of nested sifters in 4 different mesh sizes cost nearly as much as the frit maker! That's when I got creative. I went to the Dollar Tree and bought a wire strainer. Then I found one with a finer mesh at Target. I spent less than $10 and I have found that those two are all I need to do what I want to do.

2 - Grinder back splash.  I do like the vinyl-covered back splashes, but when I first bought my grinder, I didn't have a lot of extra money. I did have plenty of cardboard, though. So I took a section of cardboard 12" wide and 30" long, taped the split in the flap with duct tape, and set it up behind the grinder. It wasn't beautiful, but it kept the glass slurry off of the wall. This has come in handy a lot for me over the years, especially when I worked with art centers with squeaky tight budgets. Saves you $20!

3 - Grinder sponges. This isn't entirely about money. It's about convenience. Those 1/2" strips of sponge that fit behind the grinding head to keep it wet wear out. They wear out often. I just keep a couple of household sponges in the studio, and cut a new one when I need it. I just can't fathom ordering those. 

4 - Molds for slumping or draping. Molds are really expensive. But, with some luck, you can find stainless steel cups or other cooking dishes that you can use at a fraction of the cost. Just prep them with kiln wash like any other stainless steel mold. Bisque molds, like the kind used for painting and glazing ceramic, could be a cheap and interesting mold. There is a creative reuse center here in Durham called The Scrap Exchange and they often have molds. Just be sure to check the bottom. If there are no holes, drill a few vent holes with a tile bit, and prep as normal.

5 - Hands free measurement. There are a lot of liquids that expressly warn against skin contact, such as mold hardener. I found that keeping a old syringe, medicine dropper, or turkey baster around comes in handy. The syringe and medicine dropper are good for smaller bottled liquids, and the turkey baster is great for larger bottles. If you work in mosaics and use liquid admix, this is the way to go!

Please feel free to share some of your cost-cutting ideas with me!

May all of your scores run true!
Purple translucent votive by P. MacLeod
Photo, Rodney Scurlock

Monday, March 2, 2015

Get the Most Out of a Class

I taught mosaic and fused glass classes for adults and children for 12 years. I also have taken many mosaic and fused glass classes. In that time, I have noticed that how a person selects a class can make a big difference in how they viewed their experience. As a student, you want to come make something great, learn something new, and have fun. These notes may help you decide which classes to choose.

If you are a beginner, look for a class taught in a studio where you can use tools without having to buy them. Class descriptions will note if tools are supplied. This is important because if you have never tried any glass techniques, you have no idea if you will like working with glass. Glass cutting tools are an investment. Cutting glass takes practice and a lot of people are frustrated for the first few classes. If you find that you do like working with glass, then consider buying your own glass cutter and running pliers. (See post about tools.) Plan to buy glass, though. (There should be a supply list.)

About buying glass, some studios will require that you bring your own glass. Glass supply retailers often offer classes. Depending on their policies, you may or may not be able to bring in your own glass materials. Arts centers may or may not sell glass or other materials, but those that do, sell by the pound.

Read the class description carefully. I thought it was odd that people would sign up for a class without knowing what they signed up for. Sometimes they were delighted; sometimes they were disappointed. For instance, someone may misunderstand "Stained Glass Mosaic Class" and expect to create a stained glass panel that would be soldered. In most all cases, you should be able to call and talk to the instructor if you have questions. You should also know what the studio or arts center's refund policies are.

If the description is well-written, you should be able to figure out if the class has been planned properly. There is nothing worse than taking a class only to find that the instructor didn't plan enough time to complete the project, or that the class was planned to only get to a mid-point, not a complete project. Look for information like, "Create your own beautiful stained glass lamp shade in this 6-week course." Again, if you have questions, a phone call should clarify anything you need to know.

Depending on what you expect to get out of a class (learning something new, furthering a skill, having fun), you will want to think about the value of that experience. If you plan a little before you sign up, you can insure that you'll get the most out of your class.

May all of your scores run true!

                                      Photo by Valerie Clack, mixed media workshop 2010