Designed and edited by Jonathan Hill www.jonathanhill.co.uk All images belong to the author unless referenced at the end of book. Printed and bound by Ripe Digital www.ripedigital.co.uk Typeset in Akzidenz-Grotesk
Oldest surviving mosaic
Roman mosaics in Britain
Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna
The oldest surviving mosaic, from around 3000 bc .
Although the oldest surviving examples of mosaic art are wall decorations, it is likely that long beforehand early man was laying stones in his cave to make a functional and attractive solid floor.
Wall mosaic designs were created with clay pegs imbedded into columns of the Stone Cone Temple in Mesopotamia.
Roman mosaics in Britain
Most Roman mosaics in Britain were laid between 150 and 200 AD, but it also saw development in the late third and early fourth century with wealthy landowners enlarging their villas.
As well as creating bold geometric patterns, Romans created mosaics depicting mythological scenes.
Mosaics were often laid in Roman bathhouses, with mythological marine creatures being popular subjects.
Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna
Ravenna converted to Christianity very early, in the 2nd century AD. As Romeâ€™s power declined, Ravenna took over as capital of the Western Empire in 402 AD.
Ravenna has the finest collection of early Christian mosaics, notably those in The Basilica of San Vitale. Ravennaâ€™s mosaics have been collectively designated a World Heritage Site.
Antoni Gaudi Park Guell
In Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi worked with Josep Maria Jujol to produce the stunning ceramic mosaics of Park Guell between 1900 and 1914.
They used a technique known as trencadis, in which tiles covered surfaces of buildings. They also incorporated broken crockery and other found objects, a revolutionary idea in formal art and architecture.
It’s generally overlooked that some of the most spectacular and innovative mosaics were the work of Gaudì’s collaborator, Josep Maria Jujo.
The bench at Park Guell snakes its way around the edge of a large square. Construction of the bench took place in the later stages of the parkâ€™s construction, from 1910 to 1913.
GaudĂŹ is said to have used seated workmen as actual models for the form of the seat and Jujol carried out the decoration, using tiles and handmade ceramics.
Paul Bull Mosaic Artist
Paul Bull started his career as a mosaic artist in 1974, working with his father Brian G Bull. â€˜My Father left school at the age of fourteen to start an apprenticeship with his father, who was at that time one of the leading floor and wall craftsmen in the west of England. He had an
interest in mosaic techniqes so he visited Peter Maddalena, the leading mosaic craftsman of his time. He had been involved in the mosaic work on palaces and domes in Russia, and my father learned many techniques from him, including the creating of domes.â€™
â€˜I started my apprenticeship in 1975 working on the Woodchester Pavement. Throughout 1974 I used to cut all the tesserae to be used on the pavement, in our shed, for 50 pence a bucket. By 1978 the studio was trading as Brian Bull & Associates and we had begun working in the Middle East.
Over the next 20 years my father, sister, brother and myself worked on palaces, mosques domes fountains and swimming pools. You name it we worked on it, but the work in the Middle East came to an end in the 1990sâ€™.
Cleo Mussi Mosaic Artist
Cleo Mussi makes exquisitely mosaiced 3D figures, using tiny pieces of crockery, clipped to size and shape and grouted into place.
‘It’s difficult… if I say I make mosaics, people have images of all sorts of hideous things, but if I say I deconstruct and reconstruct ceramics, that’s a bit pompous. I usually end up just showing people my work.’
Marco Bravura Mosaic Artist
Marco Bravura is an Italian mosaic artist whose work has been exhibited internationally.
His monuments can be found across Italy and the Middle East, and he has a sculpture installed on the grounds of the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna, a World Heritage site.
David Bowers Community Mosaic Artist I met with David and asked him a few questions about his work, and he generously invited me to join him at a project he had at a local school.
How did you get started making mosaics with schools? It started as a hobby when I was doing shift work. I didn’t take art at secondary school or anything like that. I’ve been doing it full time for 10 years now, I’m always busy. I started classes and someone said, “Why don’t you have a go at teaching schools?” I sent out some letters to schools and one or two of them came back. It went from there and eventually I couldn’t do the shift work any more so I packed it in and never looked back.
Can you talk me through the stages of a project? For a normal project, the school would come up with a theme for the mural. The kids that are taking part in the project then submit sketches to fit in with that theme. I then work with 6 kids and we develop the sketches and say we like that, we like that etc. Then we have a pile of sketches that we like certain elements from, and realistically the kids do a lot of the same stuff, and I don’t personally believe in competitions where you only get one winner. This way a lot of the kids different designs go in it so we cherry-pick the best ideas, then myself and six kids do our own individual little A4 sketches.
‘kids love that bit because they get to muck about with cement, which they absolutely adore, and then it’s done.’
Then I work on a big A2 piece of paper and we look at all our own sketches and then pick out the best bits from that, and bring it all together and colour it in. It’s quite nice if 30 kids have all put a rainbow on their ideas, that seems to work quite nicely. I spend a lot of time cutting out the tiles, and then kids come along in groups and take turns to set them down. In the afternoon of the second day the kids come back and they grout it, kids love that bit because they get to muck about with cement, which they absolutely adore, and then it’s done. I’m biased, but we do quite a nice job.
Why do you think making mosaics is still quite popular? It goes in phases; it’s quite an approachable thing to learn. Most of us have hang-ups about painting and drawing from school days, and mosaics doesn’t really have a lot to do with that. Once you learn how to use the nipper, which takes about 5 minutes, it’s all about trying to visualise stuff.
There’s always people doing workshops, there’s quite a few mosaicist who work in schools up and down the country. If you get a painted mural it looks lovely, but if someone comes along and tags it you’re buggered because you can’t take it off. Whereas with mosaics, because it’s tiles, you can get a normal chemical cleaner and just remove it.
‘it’s quite an approachable thing to learn.’
What are your usual projects? Normally entrance wall murals, it’s nice for a school to have an entrance wall mural that’s been made by the kids. I’d say three quarters of the mosaics I do for schools are entrance wall murals. Each school has a strapline or a motto so sometimes it’s themed around that.
I worked at a school down in Plymouth and theirs was ‘Free to fly, onwards, upwards, together’ so we had these kids that were flying through the sky, but I talked to the school about whether we could enlarge upon it so we looked at different animals that could fly, so there’s Pegasus in there, there’s Icarus, we’ve got Mary Poppins, Superman, a witch and a little fairy in there!
‘I’m making a Superman, what are you doing at work?’
I’ve done healthy eating ones; now and then I do murals where I can get a TARDIS in there. I’ve got friends who work in IT who have quite boring jobs so I text them and say, ‘I’m making a Superman, what are you doing at work?’ They don’t like that.
Are there any artists who inspire your work? I love Gaudi, I’ve been to Barcelona, and I’ve been to Venice. Cleo Mussi, her stuff is absolutely amazing. I suppose one of my weaknesses is that because I didn’t go to university to do art that my knowledge of artists is quite limited, so my art has been developed bit by bit but then it’s developed working with kids. I would like to know more about different artists but I haven’t got the time. I go to galleries and I enjoy art but I just haven’t got the time. I’m a bit of a Pre-Raphaelite fan, and I like street art and Banksy so I suppose there’s little bits that come in there.
What do you think children get from these projects? When I do these design workshop with the kids, when I take 6 kids to look at other children’s designs I always say to the school, ‘You don’t necessarily have to give me kids that are arty’. ‘If you give me 6 kids, give me 3 kids that are arty and 3 kids that could do with the confidence boost’. For me personally art shouldn’t always be about ability. It’s about expressing yourself, even if you can’t draw perfectly or whatever.
I talk to the kids a lot about Quentin Blake, and show them pictures of his stuff and say look, technically his stuff doesn’t look right, but it’s equally amazing because you understand what his imagery is.
‘You can be critical about your work but you should also celebrate what you’ve made and to be honest, that’s the thing we all forget to do’
It’s funny when you work with kids as they get older they’re more aware of their artistic ability. When you get to adults we all get hang-ups about painting and drawing. When I’ve done adult workshops at the end of it somebody might look at their mosaic and say ‘I wish I’d done this, wish I’d done that’ and I always say to them, ‘look, it’s fine to critique your work but if you look at it, at the beginning of the workshop would you believe that you could produce what you have?’ and obviously the answer is generally no. You can be critical about your work but you should also celebrate what you’ve made and to be honest, that’s the thing we all forget to do.
What is it that you enjoy? The part of the job that I like is at the end of it when the kids have all done their bit and it’s finished and the kids go ‘that’s mine’, ‘I did that’. I worked down in Yeovil and we made 4 murals over 7 days, I worked with over 450 kids. So at the end on the last day, we’d got them all finished, they had an assembly for all the kids, we set up
each of the murals so they were all standing up so all the kids could see them, and then we unveiled each mural one by one and the kids were all going ‘wow.’
‘I always think that the process is more important than the outcome’
What was really nice at the end of the day all the kids went back to class and then we set the murals up so one was in each corner and a couple of hundred kids came in with their parents and showed them what they had done. That’s the bit I love about it, seeing the kids either individually or collectively going ‘I made that’ or ‘we made that’. For me that’s part of my job, personally I always think that the process is more important than the outcome, even more so with kids.
You do get mosaicists who work in schools and sometimes when I look at it I think ‘that’s too good.’ If you look at it and read the small print it’s designed by the kids and made by the artist. I don’t get it; I don’t understand why the school’s employed them.
It should be made by the kids, you can encourage the kids but it should mainly be done by the kids. Some stuff is just a bit too good.
‘you can encourage the kids but it should mainly be done by the kids’
Kate Rattray Mosaic Artist I visited Kate at her workshop, where she told me about her practice and let me have a look around at her completed work and current projects.
Is this where you make all of your work? Yeah, I think as a mosaic artist I’m probably one of the messiest ones. I have seen other people’s workshops and they are a lot tidier than mine. It may be just that they tidied up before I got there. I’m so unorganised like that, I’m organised in different ways. Like when I’ve got to get things done by and things like that, but not with just having space for everything. It’s going to be a nightmare with the swan in here; the lion was really hard work I was squashed up against the wall.
‘as a mosaic artist I’m probably one of the messiest ones’
Why are you working with your tiles on paper? I’m doing what’s called double indirect. Indirect would be done upside down, the design would be back to front, so that when you put it onto the board you turn it over into the tile adhesive and soak the paper off. I’m doing it double indirect so that I can see what I’m doing as I’m going along, so this is what it will look like. When I’ve done it I’ll lay a sheet
of paper onto it, turn it over, soak that sheet off and then I’ve got the indirect, and then that will go into the tile adhesive. Weird way of doing it but I wanted to be able to see what I was doing, and also by doing it on the paper I’m not covering up my drawing with tile adhesive.
Do you work in schools? They don’t seem to get back to me, I expect David gets most of them. I actually did pass one on to him because it was in Bristol and I thought, ‘I can’t be bothered’. I could do with the money at the moment. It is hard work as well, it’s so exhausting. I’m just absolutely knackered by the end of the day in schools.
‘It is hard work as well, it’s so exhausting’
You do adult workshops quite often though? I do workshops at the stained glass place in Bristol. This time I had two teachers, one was a physics teacher and the other was a psychology teacher. The physics teacher does a lot of her own stuff; she’s a bit of a craftsperson really. She only sells a bit, she doesn’t do it as a business. She makes silver jewellery and stained glass, all sorts of things.
The other guy was a planner for his real job and does stained glass as a part time business really. Normally they’re fairly artistic and they want to pursue a bit more.
‘Normally they’re fairly artistic and they want to pursue a bit more’
It was unusual this time because they all knew about cutting glass and how to do it, whereas normally they’re not really sure how to go about any of it. Quite often they’re total beginners and they just want to do something a bit different or they love mosaics and want to know how to make them, it’s a mixture. Quite often they’re teachers or they’re social workers or something like that funnily enough, people people.
‘When I’m teaching I really enjoy it’
I do them all over the place when I’ve got a chance or when I can be bothered. I’ve got to do a lot more workshops. When I’m teaching I really enjoy it, it’s just the lead up to it because I have to prepare things. I’d like to have a big enough studio so that I could run workshops but I’ve looked at places for ages and I can’t afford the rent. If I knew I was definitely going to make money out
of it and people would buy my stuff then I’d do it, but I don’t know if I would, its too much of a gamble.
How long have you been making mosaics? I’ve been doing it now for about 18 years and I’d never say I’ve made a living out of it. Now it’s got to the stage where I’ve got to really try and make a living out of it, so I’ve got to try and do some more workshops and really push it a bit more. You don’t make a lot of money? It is hard; people don’t seem to buy them very much. Maybe I’m not going about it the right way on my website. I don’t think it’s fashionable again, it comes and goes and I think its possibly going through that unfashionable stage. If people are wanting installations in their homes then perhaps they’re wanting lovely big glass things. It’s very difficult. I’m trying everything. I do get people asking how much is something, ‘I really like it’ and all this but they either don’t get back to me or they say ‘oh I can’t afford that at the moment, I’d love to have it but no.’
‘it’s got to the stage where I’ve got to really try and make a living out of it’
How does a normal project work? Clients normally have some sort of idea, so they’ll ask, normally email and just say, ‘are you interested, I want something for my house’ or, ‘I want something for a friend.’ They look at my work more and find things they like in other pieces, they’ll say, ‘I really like the background of this one, can you do something like that?’ So I send photos of the drawings, and I send photos of the project half way through, but it’s as much as they want really I can send more.
How did you get started? We’d just had our first 2 boys and we moved into a schoolhouse in Devon, near Exeter. I hadn’t been out of college for long after finishing my degree, and I was doing collage work and exhibiting it. I asked the teacher if I could do any work with the kids and he took me to this wall and said, ‘can you make a mosaic on this wall?’ so I said, ‘okay then.’
I didn’t have a clue so I rang a mosaic artist first of all and asked if she could give me any advice and she just said, ‘get my book,’ but I thought ‘I’m not buying your book’ and I went and got loads of really old books out of Exeter library, ancient ones, but they were amazing. I wish I could get hold of them again. I just read everything and taught myself, I don’t think I even did any little ones to prepare. I talked to these builders and they put up a concrete screed for me and showed me how to make up the mortar and I just got on with it. It has always been a case of learning from my mistakes.
‘It has always been a case of learning from my mistakes.’
The school then asked me to do the garden with lots of little mosaics in and then another school asked me, so it took off with schools really. When my kids had gone to school I just wanted to really concentrate on developing my style and developing my technique.
Did you make mosaics during your degree? I didn’t do any mosaics at all when I was studying my degree. I had a bit of experience in ceramics, I’d done O Level ceramics and I’d done evening classes, but at college I was doing video and dance. I gave up dance and I was doing photomontage in my final year. So it is kind of the development of what I had done, but it was more of a very chance thing that the teacher had asked me to do it. It’s funny how things turn out. I do sometimes wonder if I’d carried on doing collage whether I would actually be earning a bit more money. It would have been cheaper for a start.
What do you enjoy doing most? I get much more enjoyment out of doing sculptural pieces, I’ve got one that’s going into the ‘Art at the Edge’ Olympics thing, and that’s going to be in Bath in a little garden that you walk past near Bath Spa. I’m also mosaicing a swan for the Swans of Wells public art project, like the Lions of Bath project I took park in. I’ve been sponsored by a firm of solicitors and they were happy to give me free reign over the design, although they were keen to have some black and green in it as they are the colours of their logo.
‘It’s funny how things turn out.’
Have you always lived in the countryside? I was brought up in a village; there was a lot of countryside around. When we got married we lived in Newton Abbot in the town, but the other places were all in the countryside, and at college I was in a small countryside campus. I must admit I do feel cut
off from the world, although it’s great for nature and inspiration, it’s brilliant for that, but for people and culture it’s quite cut off. I’d love to be able to go out and go to the theatre and go to a gallery and not have to travel a long way, it does get a bit lonely at times, bit it’s good for inspiration and I think it does help my work.
Image Sources Pages 8, 9
Fischer, Peter (1971) Mosaic History and Techniques. Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Pages 10, 11
Rainey, Anne (1973) Mosaics in Roman Britain. David and Charles (Holdings) Ltd.
Pages 14, 15, 16, 17
Cetto, Anna Maria (1960) The Ravenna Mosaics. Hallwag Ltd.
Pages 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27
Gomis, Joaquim (1971) Park Guell. Ediciones Poligrafa
Pages 30, 31
Pages 32, 33
Pages 34, 35
Pages 60, 67
All other images taken by Jonathan Hill
Thanks to Kate Rattray, David Bowers and Chandag Infant School.
This is not a guide to the complete history of mosaics of a single region, nor is it full of step-by-step instructions on creating your own.
This is a showcase of some examples of the greatest historical mosaics, and case studies of artists who are keeping this technique alive over 5000 years since it first appeared.
This is a showcase of some examples of the greatest historical mosaics, and case studies of artists who are keeping this technique alive ove...
Published on May 8, 2012
This is a showcase of some examples of the greatest historical mosaics, and case studies of artists who are keeping this technique alive ove...