A Deceptively Delicate Floral Patchwork Mosaic

Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

There is, to me, a visual connection between pique assiette mosaic and patchwork quilting. In fact, one thing I’ve noticed with many of my mosaic students, was that those who had previously worked with fabric patchwork, had no trouble at all visualizing a patchwork of patterns with broken dishes. They instinctively reached for dishes in the Thrift shop, that though very different in pattern, had a thread of color or style that could easily work together.

This little mosaic is only 8 inches by 8 inches. Before I started it I had been looking at fabric patchwork and as a change from my last much more abstract piece, I decided to use up a few of the floral designs I’d been collecting.

from Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

As I was working, arranging bits of dishes and deciding on the patterns and colors,

from Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

it occurred to me to introduce a bit of surface relief with lids, a bit roundness to contrast the square format of the mosaic.

I happen to have a rather nice collection of orphaned lids and was spoiled for choice. I left spaces for the lids as I went along,

 from Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

but glued them down before grouting.

Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

As I work in my studio, I like to play all sorts of music and I found that I seemed to be listening to a lot of music by women. Which got me thinking about quilts made by women and how floral patterns are so often associated as being feminine.

Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

And it occurred to me as I worked away, cutting and gluing, sometimes singing along, and sometimes pondering, that quilts, fabric, flowers and women are often associated with being delicate and only beautiful. But women know that that look of delicacy may be very deceptive. Women, far from being the “delicate sex”, have a strength of their own, often shown by their nurturing skills. And fabric quilts, while beautiful and fragile looking are often made in hard times, and still survive  for many years, a bit frayed but still strong and warm.

from Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

Flowers too, while being delicate and having a short life, are sometimes the crowning glory of robust plants that have pushed up through hard soil and even the cracks in cement! OK, I suppose, I was having one of those feminist moments.

But, as I broke dishes and reassembled the pieces into other patterns, I also thought of the strong women in my life that have dealt with and are dealing with breast cancer, and just how strong you have to be to come through that challenge.

At any rate, back to my little mosaic. It is a mixture of delicate flowers and even delicate china, as in that fragile golden cup handle that just felt right attached to the side. It is probably the most “feminine” looking mosaic I’ve done for a long time, and I love it.

Floral Patchwork mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com




What a Difference a Grout Makes

In the summer, Will and I often work together on a big mosaic project, facing each other across a worktable, under the pergola, which is covered in vanilla scented clematis. It’s a time that we enjoy as we chat and work, while listening to music and enjoying the aviary that is our summer garden. Usually, the project keeps us at work for a few weeks.

But this summer we didn’t get a chance to and missing that time of working together, we decided to spend some time together instead in my studio each creating a small mosaic, but still enjoying our chats and music. There is something very companionable about working with another artist even if on different projects.

We’d picked up some 8 inch x 8 inch wooden box panels at the artist supply store and after a quick gessoing to give us an undistracting ground, we set to work.  We work in a type of mosaic called Pique Assiette, which uses broken dishes.  I’d saved a lovely plate of black speckles on white, precious to me because I only had the one. I also had a small amount of black plates with a jagged white line that I’d set aside long ago for some special project. Today seemed like the time to use them. Will, on the other hand, wanted to create something with mostly white dishes, with a minimal design and color. We save the middle of dishes just for the great supply of whites, once you’ve used up the fancy edges on top of the dishes.

So after snatching time in the studio over a few weeks, we finally got to the grouting stage. And then of course, the big question is, what color grout?

I’d already pretty well decided on black since I wanted to set off the white bits with black grout and create a contrast with the lines created on the black dishes with white lines. Here is the piece without grout. I especially enjoyed how often the piece of black plate had these wonderful little x’s or crosses that I could feature in the design.

Ungrouted Speckle Mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.comshell, summerhouseart.com

And then, voila, the difference with grout.


Speckle mosaic grouted by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

And Will also decided on black grout to create even more interest in the design he’d created. And as I alluded to in the title, I’m showing how different the look of each piece is after grouting. In his piece the contrast is the greatest and I couldn’t resist showing the difference. Without the grout his white areas are as one, a white background united setting off the arcs.

Ungrouted Blue Over mosaic by Will Bushell, summerhouseart.com

With black grout the whites are suddenly set apart and create a whole new texture. A whole new composition!

Blue Over mosaic by Will Bushell, summerhouseart.com


One thing that we have learned is that with black grout you have to be ready for surprises and be able to use them. The surprise is that all those little scratches on your white dishes that you were unaware of, suddenly show up when you apply black grout. You can look at them as a blemish or you can look at them with an artist’s eyes and see them as line work that adds texture to the whites. So the latter is what we expected and used.

The other interesting design element that I like about working on this type of a panel surface is that you get to play with the top and sides too. So I thought I’d share those with you too. Love those little x’s!

Top side Speckled mosaic, by Helen Bushell summerhouseart.com

Right side Speckled mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

Bottom side Speckled mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com


A Whole New Look at a Couple of Our Mosaics

Will and I have been wondering how our Pique Assiette mosaics might look on entirely new Products, like prints for instance.  We weren’t sure how mosaic would translate into print.  Recently I posted about a table top/ wall piece by Will called Blue Fandango.

Blue Fandango Mosaic, Will Bushell, summerhouseart.com

Since we have a shop on Society6, we chose them to do our first experiment.  They do such a great job of printing on all types of products from Prints to Shower curtains.  It’s all Print on Demand so only printed when ordered.  Just click on the pic to take you to our shop on Society 6. And I have to say we were quite pleased with how Blue Fandango looked as a print…

Blue fandango art print Society 6 by Will Bushell, summerhouseart.com

So, we thought why not a Blue Fandango Pillow?

Blue Fandango Pillow Society6 summerhouseart.com

And then how about a Blue Fandango laptop cover?

Blue fandango laptop skin Society6 by summerhouseart.com

Which made us think of other mosaics like the tray with the Toucan colors that I posted about some time ago.

Toucan Tray by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

And we tried that as as shower curtain…

Toucan shower curtain Society 6 by summerhouseart.com

Then an Iphone case.  I actually like the way the glass marble ties in with the camera on the phone.

Toucan phone case Society6 by summerhouseart.com

and thought, hey why not leggings?  You’re never quite sure how a design will wrap around, but we were pleasantly surprised.   Look for all of our products that we’ve created on Society 6 at our Summerhouse Art shop there.

Toucan leggings Society6, by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com



The Little Mosaic Table That Caused Happy Giggling

I just love having students that just can’t wait to start making mosaics. All that enthusiasm just makes the classes all the more fun. And I also don’t mind when a student says they have never done anything creative ever before. Because I know that making a mosaic is a great way to discover your creative side. Bonnie fit both of those categories.
The mosaic classes were a gift to herself in a time of lots of personal responsibilities and often stress with elderly family and other things. It was to be a chance to just have some fun and learn something new. I assured her that the meditative aspect of making a mosaic is just what you need when life is stressful.

Student Bonnie with Helen Bushell, mosaic class at Summerhouse Art
The first class is always me overwhelming the student with all the possibilities of what they can choose to do. The more possibilities I showed her, the more Bonnie just got more excited to start. So off we went shopping and at the Sally Ann Thrift Store, as we like to call it, we found a perfect little table. And, since I always encourage everyone to only buy things that really spark for them, Bonnie found lots of really colorful dishes to break. The next two classes were lots of fun. Bonnie is a really cheerful person and also an excellent student. She picked up quickly on every little bit of instruction I gave, from creating texture and movement, to learning how to cut dishes up and how to make the pieces fit.
The last class is the grouting class. And by that time, Bonnie had made the decision to paint the table bright yellow, (it had been a rather unhappy brown), to play off all the color in the dishes on the table top. I loved her choice.
To make sure her little table looked finished she decided to paint it the week before the grouting. I’m so glad she did! It made all the work of grouting well worth it. And yes that is us using old toothbrushes to clean each of the pieces. That’s the beauty of pique assiette, you get to do a lot of recycling.

So here it is! We decided to take its picture out in the garden in the sunshine. Mosaic always looks so wonderful in the sun! And, as for Bonnie being worried about never having done anything creative before? Well, with her enthusiasm and hard work, she had surpassed that goal. She’d created her first piece and it looked good! I know she’s discovered her creative side and I’m sure she’s a natural at making mosaics. When I emailed her all the photos we took of the classes, I told her again how much we  loved how the table turned out. She wrote right back and said, “ I just love the table too. Every time I walk by it I just giggle happily.” Can’t ask for more than that!

Student Bonnie's Mosaic Table, Summerhouse Art mosaic classes
Student Bonnie’s Mosaic Table, mosaic classes, summerhouseart.com



The Last of the Spiral Series Mosaics


These are the last of my short series of spiral mosaics. I’d been experimenting with shaped “canvases” so to speak, with the motif of a black spiral holding the composition, with “floating” triangular shapes and pillow shapes.

Black Spiral, Yellow Triangle Mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com
Although these last two look quite similar, they do have their differences. The first one has the spiral coming out quite squarely from the side, rather bluntly. The colors include purple and greens.

Black Spiral, Yellow Triangle Mosaic, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

It has a bright yellow triangle floating near the bottom. Throughout the design there are bits of my favourite “embellishment”, the black and white checkerboard. I do have a weakness for the black and white checkerboard.  Another simple title “Black Spiral with Yellow Triangle”, sort of descriptive, I thought.

Now the last Triangle Mosaic has the spiral coming out, sort of shyly, from behind the composition.

Black Spiral, Red  Triangle Mosaic Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com
I had one plate of white specks on black that I used in both pieces. I’d been hoarding that plate for a while, waiting to use it in just the right place. And I’m sure when I finished these two mosaics, there was literally not a scrap of it left.

Black Spiral, Red Triangle, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

I find the shape of the entry of the spiral a bit more graceful. And the black and white checkerboard is now a string meandering from top to side. At one point it pierces through the red three cornered shape. This one I titled ” Black Spiral with Red Triangle”, another quite simple title, but it does distinguish it from the other.


Black Spiral, Red Triangle, Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

I’m sure that for some, in both of these pique assiette mosaics, there is entirely too much detail, they’re just too darn busy, but I like that. And the big black spirals are your only source of calm. And I like that too.




This Spiral Mosaic Has a Story

This piece is one I just refer to simply as the “Purple Spiral”. It was the second in my Spiral series. I was playing around with a shaped base, playing with movement and playing with floating shapes again. But this post is more about the story of the tiles and how I came by them. This story starts way back in Calgary in the summer of 1988.

Purple Spiral mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

A little background here. We are garage sailers. All spring, summer and fall we look forward to Saturdays when we look for bargains and sometimes art supplies. Sometimes I‘ve found tiles on our garage sale travels.

And the white area of this mosaic is made from little one inch tiles from Italy, that I had saved, waiting to use them for something special. They are from a huge cache of tiles I found many years ago, in one of many dusty boxes of tiles piled up in a garage in Calgary. Each box had a different color or style of tiles. Some beautiful, some not so much. Some styles of tiles had only a few square feet of tiles in them.

Purple Spiral Mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

At the time, I didn’t buy any of those tiles but for some reason, why, I didn’t know at the time, I saved the man’s phone number in a little black notebook that I always carried in my purse. This was before I’d even started making mosaics.

A year later, in the summer, I think it was 1989, we had started making mosaics. And I remembered that I had still had that phone number. I called the man. Did he still have those Italian tiles? Yes, he said. We’ll come and see them. He still had a huge number of dusty boxes piled up in the hot garage and after doing a cursory check of what was there I asked how much? $100 he said.

Now this is where it gets funny, because we realized that this was a REALLY GOOD DEAL and also realized that there were far too many for us alone. My good friend Mary Kennedy, a fellow student from our Art College days had run into me in Value Village one day buying dishes to break. Intrigued she’d come to our studio to see what we were up to and also caught the mosaic bug.

So, when faced with such an opportunity, I called Mary and said I’d found a LOT of Italian tiles and she had to buy half of them. She said Ok, I’ll bring my truck! Not how much will it cost? Not what sort of tiles? Just, OK I’ll bring my truck. Who does that? Mary. Isn’t she wonderful? I never get tired of telling this story.

Anyway, long story shorter… we hauled home the tiles and split them up evenly and really enjoyed using this mish mash of odd tiles for a few years. Some I’m sure were from the 60’s, sometimes just a few of something. When we moved to Victoria, I ended up giving a lot of those boxes of tiles away, Hey, they’re very heavy! But I did save a few boxes of special ones. And there were only a few of these precious, to me, white ones.

Purple Spiral Mosaic detail by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

Ok, maybe this whole piece is about special bits. The little pillow shapes are made from just a couple of little saucers, so obviously also being saved for something. I had no more of those saucers.

Purple Spiral Mosaic detail by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

As I sketched out the design, it seemed that everything came together. The yellow area is mixture of saved yellow dishes. All the bits and pieces, saved for years, suddenly had a place to be.

Oh and even the edges of the piece have a story. The tiles used there are from a box of mixed glass tiles found at the side of Dallas road years ago, put out for someone to come by and use. And slowly I’m using them too.

Purple Spiral Mosaic detail by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com


“Blue Fandango”, The Mosaic

Thought I’d finally feature another of Will’s mosaics. This one is totally different from the first piece I featured a while ago, the one that we refer to as the “Green River” mosaic.

Will started this piece spontaneously, without a real plan. And really, that is often a wonderful way to start, open to possibilities and surprises, cutting dishes and fitting pieces intuitively.

He began with the small blue arc and from there created the larger blue wave-like arc. All of the mosaic bits and pieces are made of plates, and the blues are a mixture of various blue plates, patterned and textured. It’s a mosaic style that we both work in, called Pique Assiette, which basically refers to a style of mosaic created from dishes.

Blue Fandango Mosaic

The arcs in place, he then decided on filling in the space with various whites, culled from different plate centers and even parts of the makers logos printed on the underside.

Blue Fandango Mosaic

At this point it becomes more of an intuitive exercise, mixing the textures and the varying white shades, creating visual interest. The little rows of black and white squares arc off the main blue arcs. And then to lead the eye and give the whole composition another element, pops of color were included in the white areas.

On the whole, the piece has, for me, endless fascination. The name was spontaneous too, coming to him as he surveyed the finished piece. He titled it “ Blue Fandango”, and it does suit, I think.   It also was made to be both table top and a wall piece.

Blue Fandango Table


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, summerhouseart.com

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, summerhouseart.com

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

Yellow Wedge on Blue, Floating, mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com



More Student Mosaics, These in Delicate Blues

I often ask students of my mosaic classes when the pieces are done, if they would mind if I shared their work on my blog. And sometimes they’re quite happy to share. Like the two students I had just recently, both busy moms, who managed to fit in the classes as a morning out. Jillian and her sister-in-law, Shannon, were so much fun to work with.

My studio is very small so, of course, I only have very small classes, two students, tops . I teach a type of mosaic called Pique Assiette, which is done with broken dishes and lots of bits and pieces, even ornaments sometimes. Although I often teach just one student at a time, I have found over the years that encouraging friends to take the class together is much more fun for everyone. No stress, just friends enjoying learning something new and having a good time.

Their shopping class yielded not only some nice dishes but also the bases for their mosaics. Shannon found a frame that she will fill in with a blackboard later and use for a notice board at home. She included bits of tile from a home renovation and also some dishes with blue and white designs.


As you can see, in this close up, the result works beautifully.


And Jillian found one of those beveled boards that when the picture on it was painted out, became a good base for this gorgeous little abstract. Her mosaic was made from a mixture of striped dishes and dishes with delicate pattern as well as some plastic tiles from a craft shop. The composition, very intuitive, works very well too. After a bit of light blue grout, to tie it all together, we were all very pleased. The results were stunning and I’m sure these Pique Assiette Mosiac pieces will add a wonderful personal touch their homes.   Later, Jillian painted the edge a lovely magenta which brought out the color in the mosaic.


JIllian's finished mosaic


The First of Will’s Mosaic Table/Wall Pieces

It occurred to me one day recently, that although I have header photos on the blog that feature two of Will’s mosaic tables, I’ve never actually done a post about them. In fact, there are quite a few pieces of his and many of mine, that have, as yet, never been written about.

In some cases, I’ve been saving my pieces until I had a series. More about those, another day. And with Will’s tables, maybe I just felt like I wasn’t the one to be writing about them. And of course, there have been so many distractions, new projects, health things, whatever, to put off writing about and featuring some of our work. Ah, well, never mind, I’ve decided to feature one of his tables today. It’s a start, of sorts. This table is made from a mixture of tile and broken dishes in the picassiette or pique assiette style (apparently there are two versions of the spellings).

Green table-top-view

We sometimes call this table the “Green River” mosaic, a reference to the meandering flow of green tiles that moves from dark shades of greens to lighter shades, a flow that snakes its way across the piece. But it is in no way a landscape, but more of an abstract design.

Will started with the shape of green, then intuitively filled in the remaining space, much as he would a drawing or painting. Simple arches and spirals of black, white and turquoise tile draw the eye over the ground of varying shades of white punctuated with flashes of red.

turquoise-glass-arcwm spiral-cls-upwm purple,-orange-spotswm red-arrowwm

The piece functions as a table top when laid on its rattan basket which forms the table base. And when we don’t have room for a table, the basket is stored and the piece works beautifully as a mosaic wall hanging. I never seem to tire of looking at it, taking in the little details, letting my eye move with the flow it creates. To me it is the magic of mosaic combined with Will’s drawing sensibility to create a very lyrical artwork.