By Kim Larson, a California based artist and graphic designer
I began attempting mosaics in 2006 after accidentally discovering a small mosaic school and store near my home. At first, I wanted to simply try my hand at perfecting lay patterns and color combinations – literally trying to get the glass and tile to “speak” for me. So I chose for my subject matter the female nude as I thought it was the absolutely most cliche subject in art. In doing so, I felt I wouldn’t have to worry about the design but could concentrate on the tessarae. Yet I didn’t want to simply make art on the typically-shaped bases like squares, rectangles or what-have-you. So I designed and cut the nudes out of plywood, sealed them with bonderizer and proceeded to mosaic them. I was hooked. I loved my cut-out nudes and so did everyone else, it seemed.
Now, I had been a graphic artist for years – sitting at a desk for hours at a time, sweating out deadlines, glued to the chair and designing for everyone but myself. So one of the aspects of mosaics that I like the best is the physicality of it. I especially love creating and installing mosaic murals and sculpture for the garden. One must not only have a good design sense but be physically able-bodied too.
There was no real moment when I said I wanted to create sculptures – this has been simply a natural progression of my artistic inquiry. I had worked at the afore-mentioned mosaic school for a few months and picked up tidbits of information about creating concrete sculpture. So I bought a sheet of 3 inch thick styrofoam insulation from Home Depot, a roll of fiberglass mesh, several pieces of 3 foot long rebar, one bag of cement and one of sand. For my first attempts, I designed a seahorse, a fish, a butterfly and a frog – each about 20 inches long or so. I cut them out of the styrofoam with a hand-held jigsaw and drilled a hole into the bottom side of each one. Then the rebar was inserted into the holes and held in place with glue. This would serve as the “leg” that would be stuck into the ground as the support. The next step was to create a slurry of water and cement, dredge strips of the fiberglass mesh through this mixture, and begin to wrap and cover the styrofoam base. (This is much like the papier mache process except the flour is replaced with cement). The strips can be as long or as short or wide or narrow as can easily be applied to the base. I also wrapped extra mesh around the area where the rebar entered the styrofoam as reinforcement. When that was dry, I mixed up a batch of concrete using a drill with a “paddle” attachment and slowly covered and sculpted the final shapes. These were then the substrates for the mosaics. I am now completely hooked on sculpting for mosaics! Believe me, I am far from an expert at this – and there are plenty of people with more experience – but I am loving the exploration. Since those first pieces I have continued to attempt larger and more complicated shapes. I adore finishing a project and placing it in my garden and watching people’s reactions to each new piece.