The New Pique Assiette Mosaic Buddha Shrine, Part 1 (In the Creative Flow)

I thought it might be fun to work on a pique assiette mosaic and post the progress and the process from the beginning but in installments. Something to look forward to for some and something to keep me from procrastinating. Because I do procrastinate sometimes. Doesn’t everyone? Maybe procrastination is too hard a word. Let’s just say I get distracted by all the other things like worries and other work. But once I start on something creative, I find myself getting happy.

We are really into garage sailing. Not just for the good finds, but for the time out, the enjoyment of it all.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

This mosaic’s main piece was found while out garage sailing. It had been tossed on top of a pile of things in the back of a truck full of junk waiting to be hauled off to the dump. I just happened to see it while on my way from one sale to another on the same street. The little Buddha had been a lampstand, but the base was broken. I found the owner of the truck and he very kindly gave it to me, probably wondering why I would even want it.

It sat in my studio for weeks. Now and then I’d show my find to my students, proudly holding it up and saying that some day it would be the start of new piece. As soon as I had some time.

Then finally, last week, the little Buddha finally got his day. Will and I needed something to change the day, something to do to relax, get happy. We pulled out the Buddha and began. First we pondered, should we keep the light fixture attached and make another lamp? I looked around the studio for dishes and ornaments to compliment him.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,
some of the pieces that would compliment the Buddha
detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,
trying out ideas

Some of these dishes had been saved for a long time, all slightly Oriental and exotic. One idea followed the next and soon we were in the flow. We saw him in front of a pond with a floating lotus flower, meditating with some sort of ray pattern as his backdrop. With this sudden realization we dropped the idea of keeping the light fixture, dismantled it and saved it for some future project.

cutting off the broken lamp base
cutting off the broken lamp base

Will carefully sawed off what was left of the lampbase.

As always, things just seemed to come together. The lotus flower was part of a broken ornament and was originally going to be part of the pond in front in our design.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

Then it turned out it fit just perfectly into the front of the Buddha ornament itself. Ok, no problem, I had a slightly worn lotus shaped tea light holder to replace it’s original spot. Oooh, tealights in front of him, now that would be good.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

Sketches were made, deliberations on the placement of the pond, the back drop, the curves and layers, and finally the pattern for the stand was cut out of newspaper. Will, obliging as always, went down to the workshop and cut and screwed and glued the base for me from plywood.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

While I listened to sawing downstairs I broke the dishes and spent some time doing a few trials of placement for the back-drop.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

Finally, I could start. And in the bloom of the moment I actually got quite a bit of the backdrop covered.

detail, progress, Buddha Shrine by Helen Bushell,

The golden pheasant plate has become the border, the pheasants flying over his head. One oriental plate with a black background became the ray and two other plates also having a floral oriental feel but with white backgrounds became the filler.

Next will come the pond, the lotus flower and leaves. Will I need a spot for another tealight? Decisions, decisions. Trial and error. Too much pattern? Will it “work” together? I love this part. Doing a bit, stopping, standing back and looking, assessing. I’m getting happier.

Click for part 2 of the Buddha Shrine Creating in Real Time


#6 in the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – Using Intuitive Design on Pots or How Not to Be a Control Freak

Mosaic Inspiration #4 I talked about the intuitive process to create an overall random design on a flat surface like a mirror. And if you’ve looked at our stepping stones you’ll see that I use this method there as well. I admit, I like working this way, it’s meditative and challenging at the same time and never boring. And there are benefits!

 Mosaic Pot by Helen Bushell,

Now, I have to say that working like this is especially fun on 3D surfaces like pots. I’ve done quite a few pots in this manner. In each case, I selected dishes that had colors, patterns and textures that I liked together. To those, I added some solid colors and a few marbles. Marbles have a way of glowing when the light shines through, that I find totally captivating.

Pique assiette Mosaic Pot by Helen Bushell,

I tell my students that doing intuitive mosaic design has one really great benefit, especially if you tend to be a control freak. You will learn to let go. Working intuitively allows you to forget control and just go with the flow. After all you are not creating a picture, or a rigid pattern. Nope, just an overall pattern with a mixture of surface designs. Ah, the freedom to just let go and mix it up.

Going with the flow also applies to fitting dishes onto a curved surface. A dish does not have the same curvature as a pot. To make up for this you often have to adjust how you apply a piece to the curve of the pot. Oh sure, you can keep breaking the piece till it’s small enough to apply to the curve ( um, this could be called exerting control) or…you can just find the curve of the dish and find a place where it will match the curve of the pot. Ah, even less control.



Pique assiette Mosaic Pot by Helen Bushell,



Pique assiette Mosaic Pot by Helen Bushell,

Using dishes that have color on the bottom as well, creates an extra little benefit. The ridge on the under side of the plate, once broken, can be pieced back together to create some very nice undulating lines, thank you. I’ve used this often to create a flow or direction. It’s a little trick that I totally took advantage of on some of these pots.

Pique assiette Mosaic Pot by Helen Bushell,

The last little benefit about applying pique assiette mosaic to pots is that unlike a flat surface like a tray or mirror frame, you can’t see the whole surface at once. You may ask, how is this a benefit? Well, if you get tired of one side you just turn the pot around and viola, you have a whole new surface to feast your eyes on.


The Gorge On Art Show

Our site at the "Gorge on Art" show
Our site at the “Gorge on Art” show

This weekend we’ll be packing up our tent, our mosaics and our sculptures once again and setting off for another show. We’ve participated in this one many many times. It’s always enjoyable and so far we’ve only had to take the tent down once when it threatened to take off like a sail in the wind. Hey, it keeps things exciting.

Every summer The Municipality of Saanich creates this wonderful event to show off all the artists that inhabit studios all over the town. There will be 48 artists booths, a variety of musicians and good food all along the Gorge Walkway.

My personal favourite thing is having students that I’ve taught from years past, pop in and say hello and tell me what they’ve been up to. And it’s always fun to get a chance to show off our new sculptures and talk about the fun of mosaic.

A pair of beautiful Newfoundlanders
A pair of beautiful Newfoundlanders

And did I mention that we have a weakness for some of the wonderful dogs that accompany their owners to this event. Don’t you just love these two teddy bears?

Here is the poster for the show, with a list of all the artists participating.

gorge show poster

artist list

So if you live in Victoria or are visiting, this is well worth taking in. Please come to #4, the Summer House Studio booth and say hello. If I’m not sneaking off to take in the variety and inspiration along the walkway, I’ll be there with Bill, breaking dishes.


#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.


#2 In the Pique Assiette Mosaic Inspiration Series – The Japanese Plate

I didn’t have an idea for this piece to start with. I wasn’t thinking about Japan at all. Until I found this beautiful plate at a garage sale. It was an authentic gorgeous plate Hand Made in Japan, printed on the back and had a little chip in the border. The reason it had been sacrificed to the sale table I suppose. The pattern was of chrysanthemums or carnations, I’ve never been sure. But I think that the former is more of a Japanese favourite. It was a large plate, about 12 inches across. I saw it as a background for something. And I knew it would look really good broken and reassembled in a mosaic.

Geisha Mosaic, Helen Bushell,

So the plate was the start or maybe it was the finish. Because suddenly I had a use for a few things that I’d collected in my studio and it all came together. The Geishas are actually drink glasses from a Japanese restaurant.

Geisha Mosaic Detail, by Helen Bushell,

The backs of them are open and there is a little hole in the front of each one to put a straw in so you can sip your drink. These drink glasses come in all types of figures from geishas to samurai warriors to Buddhas, lots of Buddhas. You find them everywhere at garage sales and thrift shops. And I have a collection of them. Ok I have lots of collections but more about that on another blog. So now I had the geishas in front of the plate, on a shelf and I needed something else. The quiet little birds had been gathering dust for ages and their color caught my eye as being perfect with the colors of the plate. And they gave this sort of lyrical touch to the ladies.

Geisha Mosaic Detail, by Helen Bushell,

What else? A bowl. A Japanese bowl to float a flower in for my little Japanese shrine.

Geisha Mosaic Detail, by Helen Bushell,

Then there was shape of the background to deal with, and in keeping with the theme, I drew out a pagoda shape for the top of the shrine. Now I only had to come up with something for under the shelf. I also collect those little porcelain floral bouquets. No, not to display, but to take apart very carefully with plyers or a hammer and chisel, and use the flowers on mosaics. They’re good even if a bit chipped because you can hide the missing petals in an arrangement easily. So under the shelf there is an arrangement of flowers. They don’t necessarily match the plate but who wants to be too matchy-matchy? And the little lid from a broken pot, turned upside down? Well, that became the finishing touch.

I suppose this was a case of inspiration backwards. The plate started the idea and the Japanese shrine came later. The Hawaii shrine started with an idea and the pieces came later. Backwards, forwards. Inspiration works either way if you let it.

Quote for today. Apropos, I think, for today’s blog

Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.
Thomas Dewar