The Beginning of My Spiral Series Mosaics

I think I’m one of those artists who flit about, like a butterfly or maybe a magpie, attracted to the next color or shape. I try things, I meander from one thing to the next. I get inspired by a shape…. or color.

And such was the case with this short series I created in 2009. This piece is the first of four in the series. And then abruptly ended.

What happened? Was it just that my eye had been attracted to something else or was it that I’d worked it through and was ready to move on? Whatever, I think I fully intended to do more and create a much bigger series. And so I haven’t posted them before. I thought at some point I would get back to it. But no, never happened, so today I’ve decided to post Spiral #1.

Yellow Wedge on Blue, Floating,  mosaic by Helen Bushell,

I was playing with shapes, like the wedge of yellow and the spiral. . I must admit that I am a sucker for spirals. Love spirals, still do. Originally, it had been a little sketch on paper with shapes floating about and I’m sure it was Will who suggested that the whole base of the piece could be cut out in a shape as well.

It is not created with the usual mosaic materials of smalti but with dishes and a few ordinary tiles. I had very little of certain plates, precious bits and stuck them down carefully. And they became the little floating pillows, or that is how I think of those shapes. I liked creating a whole new texture by setting down the design of the dish in a whole new deconstructed way.

Yellow Wedge on Blue, Floating,  mosaic by Helen Bushell,

And what to title it? How about something descriptive, like “Yellow Wedge on Blue, Floating”

Yellow Wedge on Blue, Floating, mosaic by Helen Bushell,



Earth Day Abundance – Recycled Art Supplies

Leading up to Earth day I’ve been signing petitions almost everyday. There’s one or two in my email everyday. I care about all the things I sign petitions for:  like no oil tankers on my coast, no nasty pipeline through the forests, saving whales from navy maneuvers, the list goes on and on. So many nasty negative things.  But today is Earth Day and I want to talk about being a Positive force and Abundance!


I want to talk about up-cycling and recycling from an artist’s point of view. I want to talk about looking for art supplies. And all I see is ABUNDANCE! For those of you who are artists and are already using ephemera and found objects to make artworks, you know what I’m saying. There is just so much out there and it’s cheap, almost free, just waiting to be reused, with imagination. It’s more than a trend now, it’s more than a movement, it’s become a way of creating for many artists. And that makes me feel so much more optimistic, it’s the balance to all the negatives that I’m signing petitions against everyday.


My way of life, of finding and reusing everything is so rewarding I couldn’t do anything else now. It’s a way of seeing things. For instance a broken favourite egg cup or milk pitcher causes only a moment of regret and then,


well, it will join all the other shards collected in recycled salad containers ( made from recycled plastic) in my studio.  Another way to create studio storage.


And one day become a Pique Assiette Mosaic tray like this one with handles made from old silverware.


Although I do not subscribe to magazines, since I get them from the library, I do buy old ones sometimes at garage sales



and they become part of my stock of color supplies for collage birthday and anniversary cards.


Or for playing with, creating colorful collages.




And beads, there are so many beads out there, in thrift stores, and me, the eternal magpie always attracted to color and texture can’t help but collect them in my little recycled boxes.


And the boxes stay under the coffee table and sometimes, when I’m watching a movie I’ll bring them out and string them together into a bracelet or two.


Even old frames are collected, most free or almost free. I also collect old board that we cut up to fit those frames and with a coat of gesso they are ready to paint on, whenever the urge strikes, and I never have to worry about the cost of framing.


So this is my little treatise to Earth Day. My little contribution to saving Her from all the baddies out there. It’s small, but there are a whole lot of artists out there just like us and every bit of positive energy counts in the grand scheme of things, I’m quite sure.



Low Tide and a Haul of Pottery Shards

Horizon with Mt Baker, Sidney BC photo

Bill has gotten into the habit lately of taking long walks by the ocean and he noticed that the tide was getting unusually low. Which of course tripped off the idea that if the tide was low in Victoria it would be the same in Sidney. And sure enough, we found that there would be an all time low tide on March 31. Easter Sunday. The lowest at 1:30 pm! And immediately set about a plan of being there to find beach pottery.

I worried, I fumed, I wondered would we be too late? There had been other low tides but at later times, times we couldn’t get there. Had all the pottery been picked clean? On the day I got us up early, Bill protesting that we had until 1:30pm. I said no I have to be there early, as it’s going out, to be there to find what I need. I had mosaic projects in mind, I needed pottery.

The day arrived, sunny, warm, breezy, it could not have been more perfect. The tide is usually much higher than the next shot. And we were able to get into corners and areas that are usually covered by water.


Low Tide, Sidney BC photo

And what did I find? A beach full of pottery.

Beautiful pottery, in among the beach pebbles and beach glass, lying in the seaweed, ignored by everyone.

Low Tide, Sidney BC photo


Low Tide, Sidney BC photo



All the others searching that day were only looking for small perfect bits of beach glass in hard to find colors, or tiny,tiny bits of pottery that had a pattern on them also hard to find. But us, we love what everyone else seems to overlook. The warm whites and creams of larger pieces, the curve of the underside of the plate or saucer, the speckled surface, the bit of a cup handle, or even the remnants of a spark plug.


Beach Pottery Shards from Sidney BC,



The day was perfect, blue sky, the tide slowly going out. We took our time, enjoying every second.

Taking our best recycled basmatti rice bags to the beach we set about collecting. We took breaks from our bent over searching and sat, totally relaxed, faces to the sun, taking in the sounds of seagulls, breathing in the smells of ocean and seaweed.  We gazed at Mt. Baker, its snowy peak framed by poles set in the ocean, perches for squawking seagulls. Then back to collecting. And oh,what a lovely haul.


Beach Pottery Shards from Sidney BC,

Soon to be maybe another birdbath or column in garden. Or another mosaic frame.

Beach Glass and Beach Pottery Bird Bath by Helen and Will Bushell,


Beach Pottery Mosaic Mirror by Helen Bushell,

But the loveliest thing is the feel of beach pottery, it’s warmth, its smoothness. If you use the pieces as we do, only fitting and arranging without ever cutting them, you can run your fingertips over the smooth surface of a finished mosaic and feel the gentle curves that have been tumbled for a hundred years in the ocean.




My Over the Top Cats and Roses Mosaic

Actually, I created this mosaic a few years ago. Another one of those shrines that come together almost serendipitously. I had an idea of creating a mosaic with cats and to that end I’d been collecting all sorts of cat ornaments. And although there are quite a few on this particular piece, there are still an awful lot left over that are still waiting for homes on a mosaic or at least a shelf or windowsill. I do sometimes bring them out to the kitchen windowsill to sit among the African violets. But I wander from the point…

Ok I had a amassed a huge collection of thrift shop cats, since I tend to have a soft spot for cats. And I was looking for some sort of a background to set them against but nothing had came to mind. Then one summer day, Bill and I came upon a garage sale that had a lovely collection of rosy bone china saucers. As I remember it, the cups were missing so the saucers were going cheap. And they were absolutely full of bloom and color, you could almost smell the scent of roses coming off them. I snapped them up. I’d suddenly had a vision of my cats with all these roses!

Cats and Roses mosaic, Helen Bushell,

Almost as soon as I decided on the theme, I found at another sale soon after or it could have been the same day, quite a collection of rose ornaments with these deep purple roses as well.

I put together a bit of a unique color scheme. Not so pastel, with that dark green around the rim and those dark almost black roses. And now I also had the place for some really outrageous rose ornaments as well. I decided to go over the top!

And it must have been too, because when I had a big display of my mosaics at the local municipal hall, I got written up in the local community paper. And what did the writer wonder about? Well, as I remember, she wrote that although she loved all the mosaics I’d made, she thought the whole Cats and Roses shrine was a bit too sweet and she hoped I was being facetious when I made it.

All I can say is that she did get the gist of it. It was meant to be Over the Top. But I like the combination of Cats and Roses, they have an affinity. Both so beautiful but with sharp bits like claws and thorns. So maybe not so sweet after all? Who cares? It’s not meant to be serious.

Cats and Roses mosaic, Helen Bushell,

But it’s over the top Kitsch too. And I love kitsch. I once heard of a garden that was full of things that were over the top kitsch like flamingos, vintage signs and the oddest things for embellishment. What I loved most, though, was the unapologetic sign in the garden that said to please tell the gardener if anything “tasteful” was found and he would make sure to remove it right away. Love it. Hope you enjoy my little Over the top take on Cats and Roses.


Boxing Day Drifting

driftwood-and-oarlockAfter all the fuss and rush of getting ready for Christmas what with the shopping for and wrapping of presents, baking and cooking all the goodies, putting up and decorating the tree, sending out the cards, making cards to email, it was nice to coast into Boxing Day.  So we slept in, dawdled over brunch, and left. We just decided to drift through the day, without much of a plan. My only stipulation was to get a Decaf Mocha with Whipped cream at some point. Bill said that’s fine by me and off we went.

Well, with these references to coasting and drifting you must have figured out we were heading for our fave beach, Clover Point. And as for drifting, I did have a smidgen or maybe even a kernel of a plan concerning driftwood and brought along my favourite beach combing bag, a bag that has been repurposed from a Basmatti rice bag. Just the right size and quite strong too for holding all my little treasures.

I’ve seen wreaths made from driftwood and it occurred to me that it wouldn’t hurt to look for some good bits while on the beach. If you’ve never seen a driftwood wreath, just buzz Google images and be inspired. And then if you are even more in need of inspiration for what some can do with driftwood, take a look at the driftwood horses by Deborah Butterfield. She couldn’t have picked a better subject than a horse, with all the lovely arcs and lines.

Of course when we got home, we laid our finds out carefully in the green house to dry. And even now, just haphazardly arranged, the wood has a softness and beauty that will only get better as it dries and the colors bleach out.  And while they’re drying I’ll have time  peruse all those lovely wreaths on Google and to figure out just how to go about making the wreath. Of course the tough part will be trying to find some time to actually create it.


The beach at Clover Point is full of small stones and each one is like a little abstract composition in itself. I can never resist taking home a few of natures compositions to admire later.

driftwood-and-stonesFor years I have collected stones with a single line running through them. Then one day one of my students told me that when a stone has a line in a circle on it, you can make a wish on that stone. So now besides being the most wonderful minimal abstract, a single line wrapped around a stone, it’s also a chance to touch the circle, close my eyes and make a wish. And there are so many things to wish for….

wishing-stonesI leave you with the piece of driftwood I always love to see but have to leave behind, it’s just too big for the car……



Dragon Alley and the Shadow Portraits


The garage sale season is pretty well over so, for the last two weekends, we’ve been giving ourselves little gallery tours. Interesting things happen when you do this, especially if you are artistically inclined. You start to really notice more around you. Looking at art recharges your creative batteries and we found ourselves taking in our surroundings with a bit more interest, a bit more spark.

For instance the lovely carving in the header was in Bastion Square and I honestly don’t believe I’d noticed it before.

Although our little tours took us all over Victoria downtown, Fort Street and Oak Bay Ave. today I’m just going to focus on a little corridor of live/work condos in Dragon Alley. Dragon Alley is in Chinatown, and on our way to Chinatown by way of Fan Tan Alley, we noticed this sign in the window of a coffee shop.


Now, we are a couple of old hippies ourselves and got quite a laugh out of this sign, obviously a collectible. But it made me pause when I think of how back in the 60’s and 70’s we were really into organic and all those values like fair trade.   We had such a hard time finding those kinds of products. And now, here they are, ubiquitous. I like to think that those hippie ideals are finally coming to fruition. Took a while but all the signs are here at last.

Ok, on with my little tour. The first thing you find when entering Dragon Alley from Fisgard St is Lyle Ink Gallery. It’s actually in the former dining room of the occupant’s condo. It’s tiny but full to bursting with exuberant art, most made by Lyle with a few pieces by a good artist from the 60’s, Roy Lichtenstein thrown in too.


The architects who designed this space had the artistic sensitivity to keep the flavour and texture of the place. This wall created from rusty panels becomes an abstract art installation with it’s rusts and color and texture.


The Alley is full of all sorts of little businesses, even a gift shop for dogs! Right next to it, we came upon this water feature wall in the space between two condos. Love the plantings and the quiet water falling into the pool below. But couldn’t help feeling that it really could have used one of our Summer House Studio cast stone sculptures. Maybe I should have dropped them a card…..


You enter Dragon Alley through a long brick lined corridor between two buildings. You exit the same way. I had to catch this long view as we left the Alley.


Leaving the Alley, I just happened to look down as I crossed the street in the bright sunshine and really noticed my shadow. It sparked a little impromptu art photography. Bill and I quickly got into the fun of it, playing and creating portraits with our shadows. See what a little gallery hopping can do?  The last one is my favourite.




I leave you with a few of the relatively new galleries, not in Dragon Alley, but all eclectic, experimental, and fun that we re-discovered and in one case, discovered for the first time. One is View Art Gallery on, you guessed it, View Street, also in a condo main floor. The other is Polychrome Fine Arts on Fort Street. And the last in Oak Bay, a photography gallery called Luz Gallery.  And thinking back to the Hippie sign in the window, maybe just my imagination, but all these galleries sort of bring to mind those “hippie” days so full of new ideas and new ways of thinking.


A Study in Contrast or How I Created Two Very Different Mosaics from the Same Shards

detail, Pale Beach Pottery mirror by Helen Bushell,

A month ago, picking through all my bits of ocean tumbled pottery, I’d started a new pique assiette mosaic mirror. You would think that picking bits from the exact same basin of shards, I would come up with almost the exact same mirror frame that I’d created back in January. That was when I’d first started experimenting with these smooth, aged and beach sanded shards.

Beach Pottery shards,

And maybe, I might have. But as I was arranging shards, I found myself attracted to the lighter pieces, the undersides of plates, the curves and how they created a pattern and a movement.

Stealing time here and there from other things, I finally got to the stage of grouting last Friday. And accompanied by the soundtrack to “Monsoon Wedding” CD, ( another lucky garage sale find), mixed up a a couple of different grouts until I got a shade to my liking and grouted it up. BTW, if you have never seen Monsoon Wedding I’d highly recommend it. The movie is colorful, lively and has great music…..but at the end, for all of us mosaic lovers, there is a wedding scene in a mosaic covered grotto. I just kept playing that scene over and over trying to take in the mosaics. And yes that is an old toothbrush, that I’m using to clean off grout. And you thought there wasn’t another use for them.

grouting, Pale Beach Pottery mirror by Helen Bushell,

I was struck by the contrasting frames that I’d created with almost the same ingredients. All the result of my choices from the pool of shards. I couldn’t resist hanging them side by side to enjoy the contrast. The first mirror is a collage of all of the rusty and patterned pieces. The second mirror frame is a quiet, almost monochromatic arrangement, with the movement created by the curves as the central theme.

 Pattern and Pale Beach Pottery mirrors by Helen Bushell,

Of course, I did add a few little detailed pieces to break up the surface and add interest. In the header of this post, if you look carefully, you will find the tiniest little blue heart. In this corner you will find the few special bits I loved and a found space for, like the floral shard of some long ago shattered tea cup or a remnant of the  manufacturers mark on the bottom of the dish.

detail, Pale Beach Pottery mirror by Helen Bushell,

And here it is, up close and personal, on a more pleasing background to highlight it’s quiet colors. I’m quite happy with it. It’s a bit of a departure for me too, the artist who likes bright and gaudy, don’t you think?

Pale Beach Pottery mirror by Helen Bushell,


#9 in the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – A Rather Fishy Mosaic

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

Sometimes as you scan the shelves in a thrift store something just calls out to you, reels you in and you know you must have it. Ok I couldn’t resist alluding to fishing terms, but this little fish ornament had me hooked and became the start of this next mosaic. I just loved these little pink fish, even though I had no idea what to do with them.

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

But then, later that summer, I found a really crazy beach-colored teapot, with a seahorse handle. Check out the under shelf area here.

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

It also had a rather wonderful lid with a seashell on it.

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

Well, of course, it all came together, all I needed were a few more fish.

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

The next step was to create the backing. I thought round, like a porthole. And then how was I to attach the little fishies? I needed shelves. And under the shelves I wanted a curved area. You really don’t want to know what a hassle this was and just how much mastic glue there is under these pieces to create this effect. But I love it. It worked.

Suddenly all the dishes in watery colors and patterns called out to be used. And, along with a nice discovery of using the underside of dishes to create this undulating seaweed feel, everything just flowed together. Just can’t resist the watery terms.

A Fishy Mosaic by Helen Bushell

Do you remember those fish ornaments in plaster with bubbles that everyone in the 50’s had in their bathroom? Well, maybe not or maybe yes, depending on your age. Giving mine away again. Well, this is my answer to those plaster fish. And of course, it’s hanging in the watery room of the house, the bathroom.


#8 in the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – Serendipity and The Happy Little Trio

Happy Trio Mosaic by Helen Bushell,

I just realized that I haven’t carried on with my “inspiration series” for a while and thought of this odd little mosaic to post about today. I call them “The Happy Trio” and they never fail to give me a smile.

I often get my inspiration in a serendipitous manner. Now did you know that the word “serendipity” was coined by Horace Walpole as “the gift of making delightful discoveries by pure accident” in his fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip”? We have adopted it as our motto for years.

My delightful discoveries were the two Japanese figure ornaments that I found in a Thrift shop one day. They were so unique and such good work that I wondered how someone could have given them away. I still wish I knew who the original designer was but there were no tags or identification as is often the case with ornaments. Will found the little cat in the middle, also a Thrift find, and gave it to me, as a present. And right away I knew just where the little cat must be…..

Happy Trio Mosaic by Helen Bushell,

I set the three of them together and wondered how to create a mosaic home for them. The circular back was maybe inspired by the Japanese flag, really I don’t know. It just came to me. I always love the look of checkerboard and somehow it felt right to use that and a modern design behind them.

And the chopsticks? My son, Dave, had given them to me. He was watching me one day, as I was putting the pieces on the back and suggested using them. I’m so glad he did. I think it makes the piece.

detail,Happy Trio Mosaic by Helen Bushell,

So now I present the finished mosaic. Here are the Happy Trio, posing graciously and quite happily under the Bonsai tree.

Happy Trio Mosaic by Helen Bushell,

The gift of being able to make delightful discoveries by pure accident.
(Coined by Horace Walpole after the “Three Princes of Serendip”, a fairy tale).


The New Pique Assiette Buddha Shrine Part 5 – The Inevitable But Strangely Perfect Conclusion

The Buddha Shrine is finally done. My little Buddha, rescued this summer from the back of a truck full of junk, now sits in splendor, cross legged, quietly contemplating the lotus flower I have bestowed upon him. Will is sure his expression is now one of serenity with just a hint of a smile. All problems have been solved, all has come to it’s inevitable conclusion, all is as it was meant to be.

Well that’s pretty well how it seems to me now, now that it’s all done. The dishes I thought I needed, I didn’t need. The dishes I had and the decisions I made now all seem right, destined even.

I suddenly came to a conclusion about the back and just filled the space with green and blue turquoise dishes. Dishes, I might add, that were in my kitchen cupboard all along. Sometimes I use dishes meant for mosaic for a while and I’d totally forgotten they were there to be used.

back, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

The color fit well with the front of the shrine and it also leant a quietness to the design. So another problem solved with no effort.

The edge was done with the little scraps of gold tile I had left and the skinny little pieces seemed to be the right design solution after all.

side, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

So yesterday, Will and I donned our rubber gloves and slathered on the grout. The grout color was somehow fittingly called Green Tea, to which I added water colored with just a bit of Phthalo green paint. I wanted the grout to be more turquoise. Oddly that didn’t work either but the color actually became an almost exact match for the Buddha’s antique finish. Another strangely perfect conclusion. I was actually quite pleased when we finally glued him in place and grouted around him, just how well the grout color fit so well with the Buddha.

 Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

So here it is, all done. Candles lit. Shown here as he is in daylight.
Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

And then here as he is at night with the glow of the tea lights flickering on his meditation.

Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

Now all I have to do is find a spot for him or a new home where he will be appreciated, where his serene meditation of a lotus flower in front of the tranquil green rippling pond will remind an onlooker to slow a bit and quiet their thoughts. And realize that everything has a way of flowing, just as this little shrine did, to it’s inevitable conclusion.