The magic of mixed media mosaic
by Karen Harry
I have been creating things out of polymer clay and making mosaics for many years, but it took a long time for it to occur that the two could be combined. This realisation (which many had come to before me) started a journey along the mixed media path and the infinite range of possibilities that it presents.
There are many ways of combining clay in mosaic. My work is heavily influenced by my professional background in archaeology and draws on the past, real and imagined, for inspiration. Polymer clay lends itself in a unique way to replicating some of the materials found in ancient artefacts – metals, enamel, jewels, especially when combined with glass, embellishments and vintage jewellery. It can be used for everything from creating faux gemstones to castle walls.
Polymer clay can be used to make tiles to use as you would glass or ceramic, or can be added to provide complex shapes, depth and texture. It is especially useful for creating details at a small scale that would be difficult to achieve with vitreous tiles or ceramic – spirals are a particular favourite of mine.
I also have an obsession with light, and my choice of mosaic materials is guided by surface reflective properties. Clay may not be the first thing that comes to mind when looking for luminous materials, but it can work beautifully. There are specialist clays available like Fimo Effects and Sculpey Accents, or surface treatments can be used to produce the desired effect, and here the possibilities are endless. Clay can be stamped and textured; it can be coloured with paints, powders or inks; inclusions such as sand can be added; the clay can be covered in gold leaf or coloured foils; images can be transferred or decoupaged. It is limited only by your imagination and desire to experiment.
There is a distinct contrast with how light reacts with polymer clay compared to other mosaic components, giving a greater sense of movement and life than if only glass or ceramic were used.
This contrast is useful for distinguishing between key elements in a piece. One of the benefits of a mixed media approach is the scope to play with depth. A mosaic need not be flat and smooth (unless it is to be walked on or sat on of course!), and the use of materials of varied thickness can create new levels of interest and opportunities for expression. I often use layering in mosaic, such as a frame of trees or vines superimposed on the main piece, giving extra dimensionality to the work.
There can be difficulties when combining different materials within a mosaic, not least the issue of grouting a piece with channels of varying depth. Polymer clay and grout are also not a happy combination, but with care it can be done. I generally base my decision on whether to grout on the balance of materials. If the clay is a small component of a predominantly glass mosaic then I will grout, but protect the clay sections during the process.
Other alternatives are to use liquid clay as a grout, or gaps can be filled with small embellishments such as seed beads. It may not be necessary to fill grout lines at all, in much the same way as smalti are best left ungrouted.
I take a lot of inspiration from non-mosaic mixed media art such as incorporating textured backgrounds, re-purposing objects using ageing techniques or using components made for altered art sculpture. Once you embrace this approach every object you encounter becomes a candidate for inclusion in the next piece of work! Mixed media offers an endless range of creative opportunities.
You can see more examples at: https://karenharrymosaic.wixsite.com/mixed-media-mosaics