Inspiration, Pique Assiette Mosaics and A Quote by Picasso

Picasso quote on studio door,

I found this quote the other day in my internet wanderings and immediately copied it and attached it to my studio door. A little reminder to find some time, no let me rephrase that, make some time to let inspiration find me working. My time is so precious, there is just not enough of it and sometimes I feel like I squander it. Oh, I really do need, somehow, to find a way to do it all, all the things I need and want to do.

Right now I’ve got all my bits of ocean tumbled pottery spread out on what little space is left on my studio work table. I’m creating a new mosaic with them.  The first mirror I made with them is in a previous post, The Beach Shard Pottery Experiment.   The plants are crowding out the work space because I had to move them to the table, so I could put the starter seeds in the window instead, but that’s another story and another place I’ve spent my time.

in progress, Pattern Beach Pottery mosaic Helen Bushell,

But I have made some time, put some music on and started to move the bits around to find the right composition. At first, I looked for the odd bits with pattern on them and made them the focus.
in progress, Pattern Beach Pottery mosaic Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.comLater I realized that I was enjoying the off white bits, the bits that had curves of the plate rims on them and started to see that I could use them as the focus and create an interesting surface with those.

in progress, Pattern Beach Pottery mosaic Helen Bushell,

I’m trying to create a sense of movement with these curves.

in progress, Pattern Beach Pottery mosaic Helen Bushell,

So there it is, that’s as far as I got. Only a little time and then I went off to help with Easter dinner and make a Rhubarb Cobbler with fresh spring rhubarb from the garden. Delicious, by the way. My mosaic will have to wait for me, but I will get back to it, now that inspiration has found me working.

If you find mosaics intriguing I hope you’ll spend a little time yourself on my posts about my pique assiette mosaics.


The End of Garage Sailing Season

Today, after checking the paper for garage sale ads and noticing so little out there, we have not gone out garage sailing. We’ve decided what is there is so far apart that it would waste gas, so it looks like last week was our last outing. And last week we went all over and spent a dollar, just a dollar. Got 5 CDs but found nothing else we could really use.

So today as a little wrap up, I thought I’d show the sights, the fun stuff, we’ve enjoyed along the way to sales. Because part of the fun of cruising around looking for garage sales is the stuff you run into along the way.

This is something we spied, drove past and backed up again to see it. OK we’re old hippies and here was this van, that just expressed those days. It was flower painted, a VW van known as Hippie haulers in those days, but the bumper had such a fun message. Had to get a photo.

Our flash-backs are all natural
Our flash-backs are all natural

Then one morning we came across this veggie garden out in the street, on the boulevard, in the front yard. Something that’s becoming a trend is growing your own food and getting rid of front lawns. Whoever grew this certainly had green thumbs. Everything was just totally and abundantly sprawling almost over the curb!

Potatoes and squash sprawling over the curb
Potatoes and squash sprawling over the curb
front yard veggie abundance
front yard veggie abundance

Now, we’ve always had a thing about Jaguars, the cars that is, especially the one that Morse drove in the Inspector Morse Mysteries. There is just something about a Jag, the old ones especially.

Look at all those curves
Look at all those curves

They have a beautiful design to them, lots of curves, and to us, they just suit having people in them. That’s something to notice, whether a car actually looks good with a human in it. So many new cars don’t, people look proportionately wrong or squashed or maybe the car looks so aerodynamic that you only notice that. Anyway, we came across the Jag Show in Oak Bay one afternoon.

Not quite
Not quite

We tried to make our little Subaru look like a Jag one morning this summer but these were the real thing.

Just dreaming
Just dreaming

That’s Will with his choice. I guess, as artists, we are just attracted to this car that is itself a work of art, right down to the hood ornament.

Sculpted right down to the hood ornament
Sculpted right down to the hood ornament

All summer we’ve tried to take in Jazz in the Park. Often during intermission we wander around Beacon Hill Park taking in the sights. Now what is it about a duck with it’s bottom pointing up as it looks for food underwater that I just can’t resist taking a photo?

Upturned duck
Upturned duck

And this photo, of the trees, just behind the bandshell, brought to mind Emily Carr, an eccentric, now finally famous, local artist and writer.

Emily's trees
Emily’s trees

If you’ve never heard of her, you must look her up. She’s been an inspiration to me most of my life. I love all of her work but the trees she painted are my favourites. Just looking at these trees you can see how she felt moved to capture the flow, the strength and beauty of these coastal trees.

So that’s it, a hodge podge of our little travels. The garage sailing season is over and that time will now be spent on other things, like work in the studio on mosaics or work on sculpture. Or maybe finishing up projects started and forgotten over the summer. An end to one season and the start of another.


#5 In the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – Feng Shui and the Foo Dog


I like to dabble in all sorts of things, like to shake up my thinking a bit. Feng Shui was one of those interests that I took up for a time and I even incorporated some of its ideas into my home here and there. For instance the far corner of the greenhouse, the “wealth corner”, is full of Jade plants, or money plants. There are other little touches throughout the house too. And I admit that keeping the Chi flowing is a good reason to tidy up. But for an old hippie like me, there are just too many rules to Feng Shui, so I just picked up a few that I liked.

Feng Shui Mosaic, Helen Bushell,

When I found the Foo Dog or Lion at a flea market, I knew I just had to do another Oriental Shrine pique assiette mosaic and I wanted to incorporate a bit of Feng Shui too. I’d already done a small shrine incorporating a couple of Blue Willow porcelain saucers, some chopstick rests, a little Buddha and a stork figurine.  Pique Assiette mosaics, by the way, are a type of mosaic quite different from the usual mosaic made with tesserae, because of the use of the dishes and ornaments.

I’d been trying to cut a round mirror when it just cracked on its own in this wonderful semi-moon shape. Well, something like that cannot be wasted! The shape of that mirror dictated the shape of the shrine and created the shoulders to put the little chopstick rests on. Everything just flowed together.

Where did I get almost all of these wonderful ingredients for the shrine? Well, here in Victoria, we have the most wonderful Chinatown ever. I love shopping in Chinatown, especially in a hidden little alley called Fan Tan Alley which is just too much fun to prowl.

Fan Tan Alley entrance from Pandora Street, Victoria BC, photo
The mystery entrance to Fan Tan Alley from Pandora Street
Fan Tan Alley,  Victoria BC, photo
Character shops in the alley
Fan Tan Alley,  Victoria BC, photo
The window of Dragon Song Music
Fan Tan Alley,  Victoria BC, photo
Baskets in a Fan Tan shop window

Now, with the find of the Foo dog, again things that I needed just seemed to fall into my lap. The background was made from some really good, antique Blue Willow dishes, given to me by an antique dealer friend of Eric’s. They were chipped and perfect for breaking. And break they did, like butter! So easy to cut and shape.


detail, Foo Dog Mosaic, by Helen Bushell,

More chopstick rests and another little Buddha were found on a trip to Chinatown. Any excuse to go there will do, after all. Other oriental saucers were found in Value Village and before I knew it, the piece was ready to start.

Foo Dog Mosaic, by Helen Bushell,

But this time I wanted to incorporate some Chi into the design. Chi is a flow of energy in Feng Shui . For that I wanted a water flow, so I created a little “golden river” for the fish to swim in, that led to the serene Buddha. The Foo Dog or Lion was at the gate to protect the Buddha and would keep the “Blue Willow garden” tranquil.

And so Feng Shui, with a nod to tranquility, Chi, and the garden became a design element in this little shrine.


#4 in the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – Intuitive Composition

Making a Pique Assiette mosaic can actually be a meditative pursuit.  Pique Assiette Mosaics are a type of mosaic made with dishes and found objects.  Part of the fun with this is wandering  through my huge collection of dishes to find pattern and colors that work together. The time spent cutting pieces of dishes or tiles, the slow work in arrangement of those pieces is a quiet and focused time.

Past inspiration entries have been about an idea that started a piece, as in the Hawaii shrine or a certain dish that inspired a shrine as in the Geisha Ladies Japanese Shrine. The composition was planned, the drawing made, the goal in mind, more or less. Now I’d like to show a much more abstract way of approaching mosaic. Strangely enough it is the easiest to do, the hardest thing to explain and also the hardest to teach. A photo or two might explain it better.

All artwork has a composition. Good composition has a balance to it. Not that everything should be symmetrical, but that colors and pattern are visually weighted  to make the piece have  balance, as in not top-heavy, or with too much happening on one side, without the balance of a larger area opposite to give an equal weight. I think it’s something we all do intuitively.

Sometimes I just want to create a surface, a surface that has no real narrative to it, in that the surface is not a picture of anything. It doesn’t tell a story, the pieces don’t make up a recognizable object like a bird or tree. It’s just a surface. I like to think of it as abstract.

Sometimes I feel like doing a nice relaxing mosaic. I just want to play with color, texture and pattern and let the mosaic happen.
The two mirror frames I’m showing today were done just for the fun of creating an abstract surface.

Pique Assiette mirror, by Helen Bushell,

To start I choose the basic shape. These were square, because I just happen to like the square format. The mirror is set just a little deeper at the bottom, to give a visual lift to it. But I have sometimes thought it would be interesting to have each side equal because then there would be no up or down designated and the mirror could be turned to enjoy a new view of the design.

detail, Pique Assiette mirror, by Helen Bushell,

Next, I chose the colors and other elements. Maybe I’ll have only one plate with a pattern on it that I love. So I choose that and then choose other colors and textures to compliment it or set it off, riffling through my collection of dishes for just the right ones. The first mirror frame above, has a plate from the 50’s on it, a delicate turquoise and black pattern of leaves and lines shown in the photo above. I only had one of these plates so could only use it sparingly. The broken pieces of that one plate are placed throughout the design, a little bit here and there, spread out over the surface.

Pique Assiette mirror, by Helen Bushell,

detail, Pique Assiette mirror, by Helen Bushell,

And all the other space? Well, that’s were intuitive composition comes in. That’s where letting the mosaic flow on it’s own comes in. I just start. Putting down a piece in the corner, whatever fits, and keep going from there. If a piece fits naturally next to that, in another color, it goes next to it. The curves above give a sense of movement.

It’s like fitting a puzzle together. Your eye scans the broken pieces for fit, for a color, a texture and if it fits, in it goes, glued down and on to the next one. You step back now and then and sense, rather than see the balance in the composition. You know intuitively that you need a bolder color over in this area to balance the pattern across from it. It’s hard to explain, but much easier to do if you let your instinctive color response go to work.

detail, Pique Assiette mirror, by Helen Bushell,

And yes there are a few “rules” to make the composition more interesting for the “eye”, such as varying the size of the pieces, as in the close up shown above.

The mosaic, with the help of my mediative, intuitive senses and vision, just creates itself. And at the end, what do I have? If I trust myself, and let things happen, very often a piece with movement, that encourages my eyes to roam the surface directed by a curve of color which leads it to another color or texture that leads it to another area and somehow you end up with a surface that your eye loves to skate over,over and over. Eye-candy I like to call it.

Why is it so hard to teach? Most people are not used to just letting go and allowing intuition to take over. That’s the crux of it I think. But once you do and let it happen the focus on arranging and searching for the next piece is meditative and quite relaxing. And once you’ve done it once, maybe just a little bit addictive.


#3 In the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – Meditation, the Bowl and the Buddha

Meditation was something that I always wanted to do but never thought I could. I’d read about it and researched it a bit and decided it was not for me. Me, empty my mind? Don’t think so. Find 30 minutes to meditate more than once a day? Uh uh. So I gave up on it. But one day at the library I found a book written as though just for me, “Miss Instant Gratification”. It was called “Meditation Made Easy” by Lorin Roche.

Well, I snapped it up and you know, it was wonderful. The book made it all easy. You don’t have to empty your mind, just return your focus to your breathing, after allowing thoughts to “float through”. Ok I could do that. And you can do it in 5 minutes! Or even less once you get the knack of it.

He encourages you to develop your own way of meditating that fits your life. Since then, I’ve been recommending his book and been busy teaching my version of it to everyone I think needs it . And that, just recently, included my #1 son Paul (we have three sons and he was our first) and his wife, Olya, who are just a bit frazzled with a quite wonderful, adorable, beautiful and totally lovable (grandma speaking here) two-week old son.

Which brings me to my next Pique Assiette Mosaic inspiration and how it came to be. Bet you wondered where this was leading, didn’t you?

Buddha Shrine, Helen Bushell,

Again, the piece started with a piece of crockery but this time it was already broken.  Using crockery, dishes and ornaments puts this mosaic into the Pique Assiette category, which roughly translated means “stolen dishes”.

Hart, our fellow artist and great friend, had a client who had this lovely Japanese bowl, actually an antique, maybe valuable, now not fixable and she gave it to him to do his creative magic with. And he gave it to me.

Somehow the colors in the intricate pattern which are an almost burnt orange color and a deep blue seemed to be a perfect backdrop for one of my most meditative buddha ornaments from the Japanese restaurant collection. And with the thought that a circular shape would be most restful, the design inspiration was almost complete. Another blue plate, with an edge of concentric raised lines, was broken to create a feeling of rippled water in front of the meditating figure which became the finishing touch.

So there were all the elements of design inspiration: Meditation, Japan, blue rippled water, circular shapes being restful, the beautiful pattern of the Japanese bowl in burnt orange and blue, and the white buddha all coming together.

Buddha Shrine, Helen Bushell,

Today this mosaic has it’s honoured spot in the corner of the greenhouse, in amongst the plants and next to a wicker birdcage. It draws my eye and just it’s peaceful look gives me a meditative moment. And according to “Meditation Made Easy”, sometimes a moment is all you need.


#1 in the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – Hawaii

Next week I’ll be starting mosaic classes for a few new students and I know that one of the questions everyone usually has is how to come up with an idea for a piece. So I’ve decided to do a series of blogs on inspiration.

Well, getting inspiration is really not all that hard. Sometimes you just let it all happen. Often, my problem isn’t getting an idea but choosing which idea to work on. I usually have too many ideas. I’m a Pisces and apparently making decisions is tough for those of us in this area of the horoscope. Or, as Jimmy Buffet says  ” Indecision may or may not be my problem”.

It may be easier to show how inspiration works than explain it. So, as I said in the beginning of this blog, I intend to do a series and will show a few of our mosaic pieces and how they came to be. And hopefully that will say a bit about inspiration.

#1 in the series is my favourite mosaic,” Aloha”, one of the first mirrored and shelved mosaics I did. What was the inspiration? Well, obviously, Hawaii. We had enjoyed every moment of a vacation in Hawaii. We’d immersed ourselves in every touristy thing and soaked it up. We wore Hawaiian shirts and shorts and carried our camera around our necks.

Will and Helen in Hawaii,

I fell in love with the Hula dance and the music and Will and I both fell in love with Hawaiian shirts. And then of course there were the palm trees and all the tropical flowers, like orchids. Well, nirvana. And did I mention that the first morning on Oahu we went, wait for it…yup, garage sailing. And some of the pieces that went into this pique assiette mosaic came from those Hawaiian garage sales.  Pique Assiette, by the way refers to a type of mosaic done with broken dishes and found objects, which is right up my alley.

Once we got home, I had the idea to make a piece to commemorate our trip, and things just started to happen. Things for the mosaic started to appear on trips to thrift shops.


The dishes with the palm trees and parrots, the Hawaiian dashboard dancer ( I LOVE kitsch) , the bananas and the plates and salt and pepper shakers. All of them just appeared in my site lines as if by magic.

Aloha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

At some point I got the idea to have a shelf to hold all of the Hawaiian goodies. And then I had to create something to put under the shelf. This gave the extra benefit, we realized later, that when you were sitting down you had a whole other dimension to enjoy in the mosaic.

detail, Aloha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

So that’s how inspiration works. Get an idea, a germ of an idea and somehow what you need for it will make itself available. And all of those things will, if you let them, arrange themselves until they feel just right to you and viola! There you are with a mosaic project to do.

And another thing, don’t let the reality get in the way of artistic inspiration. Ok, I know that bananas don’t grow that way on banana trees and that there aren’t really any parrots in Hawaii, why I don’t know. And that bird that’s sitting on the pineapple on the top, well, that just happened and looked good. So go with the flow, relax and let inspiration take it’s course.


Bird Playgrounds

The lilac is in bloom in all its glory. The breezes carry the perfume and you have these little moments of pure joy as you lift up your face to catch that wonderful scent.

arbor sculpture
arbour sculpture

I just had to take a photo of one of Will’s found art sculptures with a background of lilac blooms to set it off.

We have a couple of arbours in our garden. One is to hold the clematis and the other in the far corner of the garden carries the grape vines. Each one of these was made with all found materials. As a finishing touch Will and I went beach combing, not exactly a hardship for us, to find the embellishments. These arbours are projects that never really finish. Will works on them as he finds time and inspiration. We have stacks of beautiful driftwood piled up ready at hand for him to create with.

A door knob on high
A door knob on high

I personally love the spirals he’s created with recycled,rusted barrel hoops. The one on the grape arbour has as it’s crowning glory an old glass doorknob. There is really something magical that happens when the sun hits that doorknob just right and it glows and sparks as the sunlight streams through.

We like to joke that these sculptures serve a much more distinctive and important purpose. They are not just art, or as I like to think of them, three dimensional drawings of curves and lines. No, these are bird playgrounds. Little sparrows and wrens love to play on them, ducking up and under and chasing each other and happily chirping. It’s a sight to see.

And I love to tell Will that he has real purpose as an artist, not just to create lovely bits of sculpture, but more importantly he has a definite role as a bird playground creator. What more could he want?