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


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.




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