basement workshop

After many delays, I invested time today in getting the basement really set up for working with glass. Over the six months—it’s hard to believe it’s been that long—since I took the mosaic-making workshop in Ann Arbor, I’ve slowly accumulated the necessary supplies and tools. I now have two work tables (one made from two sawhorses and a door, and one a converted sideboard), shelves, a selection of stained glass, grout, primer, plywood, a jigsaw, storage containers, two kinds of adhesive, safety goggles, and the necessary tools for actually cutting the glass itself. Most importantly, I have the space, as we’ve worked hard to get the non-mosaic related stuff in the basement organized and stored and distantly as possible from the space where the little shards of glass are likely to be flying around.

In a happy coincidence, a friend from college who lives in town has also recently learned to make mosaics, so he and I have had two successful play dates so far. The process is simple: he comes over, we both sit in the basement and work on our individual projects, and everything gets stored on my aforementioned shelves. Today I was able to have everything organized and set out when he arrived, so we both made quite a bit of progress on the pieces themselves. He’s been generous enough to allow me to use the vitreous glass tiles that he bought as a lot on eBay, so we’ve had fun exploring the colors and exclaiming over the sheer volume of tiles he’s acquired. I imagine that I won’t work with tiles exclusively; on my current piece (an exciting 9×9 inch square) I plan to used stained glass for the background after working the foreground in tile.

This evening, after our play date was over, I spent some further time gluing my tiny pieces of tile to the board so that I could feel accomplished before heading to bed (I like to lay out relatively large sections, swap pieces in and out, generally fiddle around with the tesserae, and then glue them down all at once when I’m satisfied with the final result). Having just started today, I’ve completed maybe a quarter of the surface (so, if you’re following along at home, that would be a 3×3 inch square…in 5 hours of work), and the last thing I did before cleaning up was do the edge tiles, so that they can set up overnight. Which means that with only 15 more hours of work, I’ll be ready to agonize over the grout color and find out if I remember how to apply it!

It’s really amazing how much time even small works take, which I suppose is why they cost quite a bit as art pieces. If I were figuring my time at my adjunct teaching rate (let’s not even consider an attorney rate), I’d be looking at a $400 trivet, before even thinking about the cost of supplies and the nebulous calculation of the market value of my creativity itself. Of course, I hope I was a better sociology professor after 8 years than I am a mosaic artist after 6 months! Check back with me in a half dozen years or so.

basement workshop

Classical Chinese Garden, Portland

On my last day in Portland, I visited the Classical Chinese Gardens, in historic Chinatown. It was really lovely, even in the winter, and I regretted not having my camera with me. I would have liked to have photos both of the archway into the the area—reminiscent of the one in DC’s historic Chinatown—as well as of some of the interior features. Although it was quite a cold day, I enjoyed seeing the winter architecture of the garden perhaps more than I would have the in the summer. It provided a lot of material for ideas for the growth and planning of my own garden, in terms of layout of paths, beds, trees and shrubs, and—of course—the water features. I wouldn’t mind having a few bonsais in the house (I really loved the examples of the forest formations that I saw), nor a gong or garden bell, come to think of it.

It’s my hope that our yard will eventually accommodate a pond (which will have to be small), a walking path (ditto), and a patio of some kind. I would have to say that, of all the features there, the paths and patios at the Chinese Garden were the most thought-provoking; they were done in a variety of pebble mosaics, something that I hadn’t considered for our own (eventual) patio, but which I really liked quite a lot. Although I don’t have any photos of my own, they are in the same style as these ones at the Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver, BC. I had been considering just sand-packed flagstone, but the texture of the pebble mosaic was really nice, and the quality of the stones was somehow both more formal and more homey than the flagstone. We have a rectangular space for the patio, ‘in’ the L of the back of the house, so a formal pattern would fit quite nicely.

We’ll see. Besides being the middle of winter (such as it is), my own skill with mosaics is far from the level needed to start working on major home projects. Not to mention the leaking garage foundation, which takes a slightly higher priority than making our backyard a haven of art and serenity.

But only slightly.

Classical Chinese Garden, Portland

reflecting on 2006

This past year included several good changes for me. I bought a house, I left teaching, and I moved to a new state.

I also learned to do two things I’ve wanted to learn for years: how to use a pottery wheel, and how to make art mosaics. I plan to work in both these media during the coming year, and it’s always nice to be able to accomplish something on my list of things to do in my lifetime.

On a smaller scale, I successfully knitted two scarves–one for me, and one for my toddler pal. I technically learned to knit in 2005, but these are to date the only two things I’ve successfully completed, and I have yet to learn how to knit things that are not rectangles of some kind. I have yet to return to studio painting, but I painted my dining room and one bathroom, and I have plans to paint nearly every other room in our house. I am nowhere near as skilled a painter as my grandfather, but I was pleased to paint the rooms without using edging tape, and with only minimal drips on the plastic (I haven’t taken the leap of some in my family of not putting down plastic at all).

This past year I also lost my pet hamster, Ernest, to old age. When I got him in 2004, it had been 10 years since the last time I’d had a pet. He was a good little guy, and well worth the $8.99 we paid for him.

All in all, 2006 was a full and swiftly moving year. It’s left me with lots to build on for 2007.


mosaic mirror
My first mosaic project, made during the mosaic workshop I took in Ann Arbor, inspired by my grandparents’ blueberry farm.

reflecting on 2006