I'm really drawn to mosaics, but I've often felt they were overwhelmingly time-consuming. Not only do you have to create lots and lots of identical clay tiles, but you then have to line them up perfectly and adhere them to your background surface. And don't get me started on the mess grout can be! Still, I love the look — and when I'm in a certain kind of mood, it's worth all the time involved.
But when I got Laurie Mika's Mixed-Media Mosaics book, I realized mosaics don't have to be so time-consuming. I read her book cover-to-cover as soon as I got it (it's one of those craft books that's actually interesting to read!). I was immediately attracted to some of Mika's time-savers, like the fact that she uses a variety of tile sizes and that (gasp!) she doesn't use grout. Now that I've had a chance to try out some of her projects, I wanted to share my thoughts.
About The Book
First of all, let me just say that this whole using-different-sizes-of-tile thing is new to me. I've mentioned here a time or two that I tend to be a little obsessive-compulsive. There's a reason I'm a big fan of TV's "Mr. Monk." So I was originally pretty unsure about making the tiles different sizes. Shouldn't all the tiles line up perfectly? Aren't perfect geometric patterns part of the beauty of mosaics?
But I'm sold on the idea now. First, it's way easier just to make a bunch of different-sized tiles. No measuring, no stressing. And I ended up enjoying the puzzle-like assembly of all the different elements. I was surprised at how well it all matched up, actually — I had to trim my clay tiles here and there, but nothing major. And it was freeing not to worry about whether things lined up perfectly.
Of course, this this puzzle-like arrangement all works out because of Mika's unique alternatives to grout. My favorite is the "grout stick" made with metal leaf (I also love the other cool things she does with metal leaf). There's still a time and a place for grout, and she has a few tips on that towards the end of the book. But the no-grout approach is clean and fast, and I can certainly see using it for many of my mosaic projects.
Another pleasant surprise about this book: I didn't realize just how much I'd enjoy the tile-making. It was really a lot of fun — I could have spent hours building up a huge supply of tiles! She has several different techniques (stamping, painting, scoring, etc.) for making your own tiles from clay or decorating pre-made tiles.
Some die-hard "why-would-I-buy-what-I-can-make?" polymer clay artists may cringe at that last part... Mika encourages the use of pre-made tiles to supplement your handmade ones. I bought a few glass tiles for my first project, and I'm still unsure whether I like the idea. Yes, it's much easier to grab a few perfectly shaped, color-matched tiles from a bag. And it can give a nice range of textures to your artwork. Still, there's something about it I don't like. Maybe I'll get more comfortable with the idea after a few projects. Or maybe I'm just a polymer clay purist. Either way, I'm glad she included this idea for another mosaic time-saver.
There were a couple of places I felt the book was lacking. First, she recommends using Original Sculpey White for many of her tiles. I always cringe when I see that, especially in a book like this that's intended both for polymer clay and mixed media artists. I wish she had given information on the clay's strength issues, so that new-to-clay folks won't be disappointed if they find their tiles breaking.
Also, when I was scanning the Table of Contents, deciding whether to buy the book, I noticed what appeared to be a section on "Bringing Meaning to Your Work." I was looking forward to some discussion on the process of making mosaics, the artistry of combining elements to share a message. What I didn't notice til later is that this "section" is only one page — kind of a tease really. I would love to have seen more there.
However, we do get a peek into Mika's process in the 6 featured pieces of her art. I like that she tells how she found her supplies, what her inspiration was, etc. It's a nice glimpse at what she was thinking as she created some of her beautiful mosaics.
- Title: Mixed-Media Mosaics: Techniques and Projects Using Polymer Clay Tiles, Beads & Other Embellishments, by Laurie Mika
- Price: $16 + shipping
- Great tile-making ideas and painting tips. Unique ideas for mosaics, many of them real time-savers
- Wonderful box and "mosaicon" projects
- Nice descriptions of the process behind her featured works
- I don't like that she recommends Original White Sculpey
- Would have liked to see more on "Bringing Meaning to Your Work"
- Who It's Good For
- Both mixed media artists new to clay and clay artists new to mosaics will likely enjoy this book's tips. And the wide range of unique ideas should satisfy intermediate clayers and mosaic buffs.
- If you're the type who wants to create something exactly like the book's examples, you'll be disappointed. She uses lots of found objects, so that's pretty much impossible. While that makes it a little trickier to decide how and where to start, it's good in that you're challenged to do your own thing.