In the beginning was a blank slate. Even farther back was a chaotic shop with forge and assorted pieces of metal and other heavy-duty guy-type raw materials, but when I arrived in October of 2006 the subfloor was in and insulating was commencing. I ordered windows and a wood-stove and laid a roof slate hearth and finished the corner so that the heat shield could be in place and the stove installed. By March I could sleep in the finished painted corner upstairs and June saw things unpacked and sorted to their appropriate places in my converted back of the garage.
I knew I would do some kind of mosaic behind the stove and for two winters imagined various designs in that space as I lounged in my comfy chair in front of the fire. The entertainment factor of an active imagination is most fun. I could contemplate the blank grey expanse behind the stove and my imagination would try different designs while my existential inner self was perfectly happy with the imagined results. I did need to decide on a real design and of all the things that I imagined, what I most wanted to see behind my stove was a view of The Canadian Rockies.
I had a book about the paintings of J.E.H. MacDonald done at Lake O’Hara that I thought would translate well in tile. I love his use of colour and the impressionistic style lends itself to the equally impressionistic mosaic form. It would be my first BIG project so I consulted with my mosaic guru, Lisa, to get a reality check, making sure I wasn’t being overly ambitious. She’s a bit like a pusher but instead of drugs, she gets you hooked on broken china and vitreous glass tiles. The only down side is a propensity for tiny cuts in your hands and many late nights affixing tiles to surfaces. Anyway, Lisa gave me the green light saying only, that the mosaic would take on its own form and would relate to the source material in its own way. Like any idea that gets translated into the real world, the materials and the tools (in this case, my hands and nippers) shape the outcome.
I found a great tile source online and started making a shopping cart with various tile colours. I had some already but I needed way more. I did a casual count in my head recently and figure that there are 27 different colours of tile not counting the mix of greens I bought on eBay or the big beads I used as part of the ground. The area is a bit over 24 square feet.
When the tiles arrived I started by pre-cutting tiles so that I would have less to do as I was placing them. I chose to use only glass tiles and all small ones and nearly every one was cut at least once and some two or three times. I determined the shapes of the tiles depending on the part of the landscape being depicted. The lake would be horizontal rectangles, the ground would be square (solid seeming) and that part went more quickly because I used some whole tiles. The trees would be triangles (that’s awkward) and the mountain would have to be smaller squares because it is in the background.
I started tiling in the fall of 2009 and began at the hardest part, in the back behind the stove and low. Actually I began with the lake, then went down. I didn’t get far before winter arrived and the stove was going all the time. Crouching down behind the stove or leaning over it was not fun and I could only manage two hours at a time which coincided with how long my adhesive stayed viable and in that time I could maybe tile a 6″ by 6″ area.
Last fall (2010) I resumed the tiling, determined to get it done before winter. I was happy to finally get into the trees and being able to stand and tile was fun and a lot easier on my joints and knees. A larger person would not have been able to get in behind the stove to tile, but a larger person might have been strong enough to move the stove out of the way. I placed the last tile in early December just as I was needing the stove on in the daytime and decided to do the grouting in the summer.
This past week I spent a couple of days making sure there was no adhesive encroaching on the image surface in preparation for grouting. I chose a medium grey colour grout to pull all the colours together. Grey is a common colour in nature and seemed to me to be the best choice for a landscape that had both earth tones and jewel tones and the whites and blues of the glacier.
I chose a cool day to grout and mixed with an acrylic liquid rather than water. I think that makes it stronger but it sets up quicker as well. After about a half hour it is time to wipe the excess off with a damp sponge. The sponge gets mudded up easily and I went through three buckets of water. I realized later that I could have been a bit more aggressive with that part because when I got to the polishing, there was a lot of grout left on some of the tiles especially low where it’s hard to reach. It didn’t take me long to decide it was time for the power tool option, so I bought a Dremel with some cool bitty sanding wheels (always wanted one, so what a good excuse) and that finished the job.
So there it is; done. I can’t believe it, and I did it. I feel like I’ve been released from the Home for the Bemused. I came up with this idea and even with the constraints of materials and my rookie experience it’s a fair approximation of my envisioned mosaic. How cool is that?
Lisa, if you read this, you are a star; the reason I attempted this in the first place is all down to you and your positive encouragement. I can’t thank you enough for giving me the courage to go with what I really wanted, no compromises. When I sit in front of the fire in the winter and look at my Rockies view, thoughts of my beloved mountains will vie with thoughts of my tiling guru. And for my next project, something small, like a trivet.