Paisley Series, Panel 2: Greens

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 23, 2013 by Laura Paull

Paisley Series, Panel 2: Greens

You work feverishly night after night, and week after week — month after month, even!  — to execute a vision. Much of the work is tiresome, tedious. There are not enough ways to cut a square inch tile into different shapes. Your hands ache from gripping the tile cutters. Your neck gets a kink from bending downward for so many hours at a time. But the vision enslaves you. You must see it completed.

You focus your mind to penetrate the task. When you are able, you set everything else aside. In fact, you find, there is nothing else more important, other than earning a living. And you immerse yourself in color and form. In this case, the color green, and its complements.

In the dark of winter when the California landscapes are brown, I exult in the richness of these glass greens. In my mind ‘s eye I am a cat rolling madly in a patch of fresh catnip. And I take from nature the permission to use mad contrasts – tropical pink-oranges; a bit of red with purples. Shocking.

And finally it is done.  And no sooner is it done than the fever subsides, and you are outside the vision again.

How is is possible that, after so much labor and concentration, the work would NOT match your vision of it — not exactly? I imagine this is the oldest lament in the realm of art.

But the fact is that each one of these pieces involves a great deal of experimentation and “on the job” learning. As I am doing them — doing what it is I THINK I want to do –I become ever more aware of what I don’t know, and what I’m doing wrong, and what I need to do next time.

So they are obsolete as soon as I finish them, except as a document of my experience. I know, I know — “it’s all about the process.”

So here’s my accounting for Green Paisley:

On the plus side:

– good blending of various greens to form a harmonious OVERALL green statement in the large paisley, a blending of  pattern and non-pattern; color transcends pattern.

-I love the little area of “pixilated” red/orange/pink tesserae just below the large solid swirl of pink/orange. A good resolution of a materials problem that makes the statement that it’s all about the color.

-I did manage to achieve my previous goal of including repetition: making the same element at least twice! (The two smaller green paisleys). Almost the same. But now that I’ve done that, I’m not sure it’s such an improvement.

-Greater freedom in use of color.

-Discovered the brightening effect of putting in tiny splashes of color within the grey background (I didn’t do this in the first panel, the purple paisley) though I may have gone overboard on it.

On the minus side:

-I realize I have a great deal to learn about:

1-backgrounds, insofar as the arrangement of tesserae: I could use a whole class on it. For example, I chose the crazy quilt option, thinking that it would form a distinct contrast to the ordered arrangement of tesserae in the paisley forms. But would it have looked better if the background tiles were laid out in lines swirling around the paisleys, accentuating their movement? Needless to say, I’m going to have to experiment…

2-The importance of grout lines as an element in the whole. My instinct is that they are as important as the silences in music, or the negative space in a photograph.

3-Proper spacing between tesserae (at least an eight of an inch) if I’m going to grout – placing the tiles so close together didn’t allow enough grout to flow between the tiles. I didn’t pay attention to this AT ALL — because, I think, I was subconsciously moving toward a no-grout technique (in which the tiles are placed closer together ) but I haven’t even achieved the correct use of grouted tile technique before abandoning it! Basically, you can’t have it both ways.

4. Design within the space! Mosaic is different than it would be in, say, a drawing or painting or fabric print, because the options for filling narrow spaces along the edges are severely limited if you want to keep the background tesserae more or less within the same size range. It was hard squeezing them in, in any truly fluid way.

5. Cutting glass. I need better control of cutting curved lines in glass in order to have real options.

So. My verdict: pleasing and happy to look at, but not a major achievement. Looking at my earliest work, I feel like I am going backwards — In “Hiding in Plain Sight” I did so much without having the faintest idea what I was doing, yet it turned out so well. I can only hope that this exercise is a process of turning the process inside out in order to truly master it.


On to Paisley # 3: Yellows.


California Central Valley, From the Sky

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 10, 2012 by Laura Paull

California Central Valley, From the Sky

Photo loosely based on aerial photos of the California Delta by Adrian Mendoza.

I’ve long been transfixed by the patchwork quilt of the farmlands occupying the vast Central Valley of California, as seen from the air, and the way the rivers wind their way through them, having their way with the land.

My boyfriend Adrian Mendoza loves to photograph from small planes, particular the area known as the California Delta. I’d studied hundreds of his photos, trying to figure out how I could translate the delightful natural patterns into an adequate mosaic.

I started working on this one during a workshop with Sonia King at the Institute for Mosaic Art in Oakland several years ago. The main gift she gave me was her advice to try to create the flow and movement of the water. My glass cutting skills were crude so I ended up laying the water pieces in and tearing them up again many times before I was more or less satisfied. One big decision was whether I could use that big piece of brown glass with the flow already  captured — without breaking it up. I chose to use it as is, and I think it works to convey the watery muddy overflow at the bend in this river.

But the real challenge was capturing any sense of distance and perspective. The photographs I based this piece on covered a vast expanse below, and the details were so tiny. I really had no idea how small or large the tesserae needed to be in order to show a given measurement of distance; the result is that it looks cheerful but more clunky like folk art – an entirely different image than the photos.

Friday night I had a chance to discuss these issues with the mosaic artist Kate Kerrigan, who works in representational and landscape mosaics based on her own photographs. She showed me, in her commissioned piece showing a Stanford architectural scene, how incredibly tiny the tesserae had to be in order to show the archways in the distance of her piece – a distance that could not have been more than a few hundred feet from the buildings in the foreground, as opposed to a few thousand, as from an airplane. Smaller than a newborn’s pinky nail.

So I’m looking forward to taking her one-night class at the IMA, May 2, on working from photographs. I expect to come away with a better understanding of  perspective and a few solid revelations.

Meanwhile, I gave this piece as a wedding gift to a Central Valley girl who I know and love, and she says she loves it.  So it’s on to the next one. I know I’m not done with aerials.

In Awe of Kate

Posted in Uncategorized on December 2, 2012 by Laura Paull

Looking forward to Kate Kerrigan’s new show in  North Beach (San Francisco) opening this coming DEC. 6.  Her transition from photographer to mosaic artist (though she still shoots photos as the basis for her mosaic work) has resulted in some of the most exquisite renderings of light, of luminosity, of composition and perspective, that I have seen in any mosaic work

I’m so impressed that I’ve signed up for her May 2 workshop at the Institute of Mosaic Art. Here’s the information about her upcoming show:

Focus Gallery 
1534 Grant Avenue (North Beach) 
San Francisco, CA 94133 
Show dates:  December 6 -18, 2012 
Opening Reception: Thursday, December 6, 5-8pm  
(also First Friday North Beach Art Walk  Reception December 7,  6-9pm)  

Gallery Hours: 

Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 2-7 
Thursdays and Fridays 1-7
Saturday and Sunday noon-5
Closed Mondays

Paisley Quartet, Panel I: Repetition? FAIL!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 2, 2012 by Laura Paull

“Pattern can identify different cultures at a glance, can suggest other places, can conjure varieties of feeling, can change expectation, relieve boredom and calm what is cluttered.”
-Jacqueline Poncelet, Ceramic Artist

Laura's Mosaic 01

Completed this first of four paisley panels  I have planned – the study in purple – at the end of October. As I reflected in my previous post, I was seeking to discipline my mind and hands enough to design and implement an actual pattern, which was one reason why I chose the paisley form. Every paisley design I saw in my research depended absolutely on the repetition of a motif, no matter how simple.

In this respect, I failed. This piece contains three paisley forms, and each one turned out entirely different. The call of experimentation, of playing with color and available materials, was just too great for me.

I did seek to create some repetition in the use of the round blue glass pieces in the fat parts of the paisley, and in the way I surrounded these pieces with smaller tesserae. The arrangement of color, especially in the places where there is a progression from one color to another – a spectrum – as in the flower stems, was deliberate.

But overall it appears I am unable, at least with this design  and within the square foot of the  substrate,  to come up with a satisfying pattern that I can repeat. Maybe someone can help me figure out why. I have no background in graphic design, textiles, block printing or any other medium in which paisley designs are common. But it’s not as if I haven’t doodled in my day and come up with a pattern.

What I found in my process was that I was more interested in finding a visually pleasing flow of color, allowing my materials to find each other, and dance.  Maybe the fact is that my  artistic inclination is toward the abstract. If so, I won’t resist. But I have an instinct that working within the restraints of a motif (paisley), and trying to discipline my design, will improve the outcome of any future work I do, representational or abstract.

So although a part of me is longing to break free, I won’t abandon my paisley studies. I’ve started Panel II, this one in the Theme of Green.

In Search of Precision: Paisley in Progress

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 17, 2012 by Laura Paull

Still very much in progress — this is the first in an envisioned quartet of color-themed foot-square pieces in exploration of the paisley motif.  Because they are so small I have had to break the glass into pieces as tiny as a baby’s fingernail, and I often feel more like a dentist than an artist as I pick the tesserae up with a curved dental tweezer in order to place them. 

All I am after is to create something utterly pleasing to the eye, and in this case, beauty requires absolute precision. This is hard for me; it is a discipline, a practice – not joyful experiment. But the vision of what I want has taken possession of me and I bend my neck to the devotion, or end goal.

I have discovered one thing about myself already: it is nearly impossible for me to repeat a pattern. Fully aware that the beauty of a paisley design depends on repetition — every paisley Image

shape I fill comes out different. I struggle mightily to bring this necessary element into the process, and feel that I am failing. In this way, experimentation raises its indomitable head. We’ll see what wins out.


Writing and Art

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 4, 2011 by Laura Paull

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton Chekhov

Next week I will fly to Austin for the annual gathering of the mosaic-making tribes, the SAMA conference. I was asked by the administrators of the college where I teach to help them explain the need for a teacher of writing and journalism to take such a trip. this is what I wrote:

“I advise my students, ‘In order to contribute anything of value to the stream of mass media, you must know or learn things that other people do not (yet) know; and in order to write art reviews or theater or film criticism, you must know a great deal about art’.”
As a writer and a teacher of writing, I have always been eclectic. I tell my students that they must strive to live a rich and varied life, on any income; that they will pluck their words and metaphors from the treasures of their experience. Discussing the agony of the blank page and the mystery of the very first sentence, I show them an article I published about the Farmers Market in San Francisco’s Civic Center, and how the lead paragraph emerged from a stew of visual memories I’d formed wandering among Swiss peasants in Fribourg, decades prior. As a teacher of humanities (film) and mass media as well, I immerse myself continually in the visual and performing arts. These activities contribute to my understanding of the world and the richness of my lectures.
Over the past decade I have also developed as an artist in an art medium known as “mosaic.” I have produced large format murals and smaller pieces, including a mosaic violin. For me, the art of mosaics parallels the writing process, although mosaic making is altogether more physical in nature. From the nascent desire to express something – a message, if you will — to the conceptualization of a vehicle for that ‘message,’ both arts drive towards a piece of work that can convey thought, feeling and even information. In both processes there is the assembly of materials, the ordering of elements, the unforeseen spark of creativity, the intensive labor of technique. In my own experience, the process of creating mosaics and that of writing inform and enrich one another,and i have started a company (Quake Mosaics) and a blog in which I write about the process of their creation. I share this blog with students in order for them to see how a writer can use their interests to develop subjects worth writing about, and to understand visually the elements of story-telling.
In recent years, the art of the mosaic has boomed internationally, as both trained and self-taught artists have explored and experimented with traditional techniques, remaking an ancient art for the 21st century. And some of the work is breaking new ground as a form of expression uniquely capable of expressing messages about today’s fractured world. For this reason I propose to attend this year’s conference of the Society of American Mosaic Art (SAMA) comprising five solid days of cutting edge presentations and workshops; exhibits and discussions. For the most part, I am attending in order to enter more deeply into the global discussion about this unfolding medium, not so much as an aesthetic but in its capacity as a conveyor of complex human messages. One keynote event will be the American premiere of a documentary film “Fold, Crumple, Crush” about the work of the Nigerian artist el-Anatsui, who transforms discarded foil bottle tops and rescued copper wire into vast, shimmering wall hangings. The film and lecture discuss questions about the source of inspiration, how an artist finds and sustains an original voice, how art finds context in the environment of its creation, and the nature of art itself. Another presentation features maverick Australian artist Pamela Irving, for whom mosaics are about story telling, examining the narrative tradition in mosaic from the ancient practitioners of the art, to her own innovative practice. Yet another workshop will examine the social and educational impact of community-built mosaics in projects from Haiti to Oakland CA. …”

I’ll be blogging in the evenings from the retrofitted silver Airstream trailer accommodations that I have rented for three nights. I am as sure of my purpose as I have ever been. I hope the college administrators agree.

Inspiration: Tofino

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 8, 2010 by Laura Paull

My first mosaic: how could I know?

This was actually the first mosaic I ever made. It is 4 feet by 8 feet. I knew nothing about mosaics. I was driven by sheer inspiration. That is to say: I was insane.

I had just come back from a visit to my friends Kathy and Gary Shaw in Tofino B.C, where I had been inspired not only by the community of residents, who seemed to create art in everything they did (their homes, their  gardens, their food, etc),  but by the land and seascape in which they live this artful life, teeming with exuberant nature. We kayaked on the ocean there, and from sea level saw otter and dolphin and fish leaping from the waves, bear prowling the shores of not-too-distant islands; we peered up with drenched faces at all manner of long-winged birds. So I plunged into this project and essentially taught myself “on the job,” consulting with craftsmen and hardware store experts whenever I needed to know something.

I collected the materials as I went: scavenging remnant tiles and orphan dishes at the Goodwill, dredging the bottom of my jewelry box, emptying cups of stones and shells I had brought home from beaches all my life.If I suddenly realized I needed a dash of purple in the sky or  red tile for the starfish, off I would go in search of that element, disrupting the work.

The mermaid was a fancy of course – but if mermaids live anywhere in this world besides Ireland, it would be in the watery realms of Vancouver Island and Puget Sound. I modeled her on my step-daughter Sarah, who was not yet a woman, but was soon to become one, and this is what I imagined she would look like. She eventually

did, and does.

Framing it was a nightmare; with its base of marine grade plywood glued to hardibacker and all that tile and stone grouted on top, the thing weighed some 250 pounds when it was done. It took three strong men to hang in its original setting and three more to carry it to the place where you see it here, inside a fence by my hot tub.

I know now that I made every mistake in the book, and would never do a mosaic in this way again. Yet somehow it all came together, over six months of sustained drive and naive inspiration. It makes me happy to look at it when I’m soaking, and other people tell me it makes them happy too.

There is something to be said for “art primitif.” Now at least, when I take a workshop and the teacher tells us what to do and what not to do — I really get it, because in a sense, I’ve already made all the basic mistakes. Now, I think, I can move on.