Another Student Enjoying Mosaics

Summerhouseart Student Tanya's mosaic mirror

The first class in my mosaic classes is all about possibilities. First, I like to show students as many possibilities of what they can do with broken dishes as I can. I give them a tour of all my mosaics, then I show them lots of books of mosaics and for about 10 minutes I give them a taste of actually breaking dishes in my studio with my two wheel cutters. And then …. we go Shopping at Thrift stores for dishes to break! Everyone’s favourite part!

Some students are overwhelmed with all the possibilities and some just get even more excited to start. Tanya was the latter. In fact, between the 1st class and the 2nd one, she made a couple of small mirrors on her own at home! For her project she chose to make a pretty good sized mirror, which was going to be bit of work. But Tanya, who has her own studio/gallery in the Yukon where she makes jewelry, is quite used to getting down to work. And that she did.

As you many have gathered, I teach Pique Assiette mosiacs, which is a type of mosaics made with broken dishes and I always encourage students, when we go shopping, to look for color and patterns they’re really attracted to. I’ve always found that you tend to actually use those dishes, and may ignore the ones that you don’t have quite the affinity for. Tanya chose a lot of blue dishes, in a variety of patterns and I threw in a little donation of one of my hoarded abstract plates to use too.

She had the mirror ready for grouting for the last class. This is us cleaning up the grout and glue from each piece of mosaic.  And yes, that is an old toothbrush I’m using, works really well for this task.

Summerhouseart Student Tanya's mosaic mirror

We’d chosen a grout that would set off every piece. A little comparison here to show the finishing touch the grout makes.

Summerhouseart Student Tanya's mosaic mirror

Summerhouseart Student Tanya's mosaic mirror

One of the things Tanya wanted was to create a mirror that could be hung either horizontally or vertically as a diamond. And for that we devised a pretty balanced design so that it would look great either way.

Summerhouseart Student Tanya's mosaic mirror

Tanya had a far reaching plan too. She wanted to offer more than jewelry in her gallery. When she posted her little mirrors and her finished class mirror on her Facebook, she was already getting orders for more! And no wonder!  I think she’s a natural at mosaic.

She’ll be heading back to the Yukon in the spring and has been busy finding more dishes to take back to her studio there to create more mosaics.  She creates some lovely jewelry too at her gallery/studio Motherlode Jewellery.



Introducing the Students of My 2010 Pique Assiette Mosaics Classes!

My mosaic classes are probably a bit unusual. For one, they are very small. I only have only one or two students at a time, three in a pinch. I teach in my own studio and it’s not very big. I may have 4 to 6 students over a whole summer, and usually teach them one at a time.

The next thing that’s different is that I ask the students to each come up with their own unique project, something that means something to them, something they may have been dreaming of doing. I never set a project for anyone, they set their own.  The beauty of this approach is that I never know what will happen or what they will create and it’s quite wonderful.

The last is that my classes are 4 evenings or afternoons over 4 weeks, with lots of time to wonder and create. They aren’t a short workshop over a couple of days. I like to have lots of time for sharing creative ideas and mostly I want it to be an experience that gives my students time to have some fun and go slowly and ponder each piece. After all, mosaic is a slow art.

I have very few students, this year actually fewer than usual. But, I like the fact that my classes are flexible, they can accommodate things that happen, postponements caused by illness or family matters that can’t wait. We often work around all of this and this year was not an exception. The first two students I’m introducing had such problems and their projects spanned a good few months. But the results were worth the wait.

Fern Often someone comes to me with an idea already drawn out, a dream project, something that has been niggling at them and waiting to be made real. This was Fern. The idea was there and when we jumped into her van to cruise thrift shops in the first shopping class, serendipity was at work and she found everything she needed to create her mirror. Bill and I threw in a few ideas for approval and the project was started. That was in July 2009.

Student Fern at Summerhouse Art mosaic class

In between came illness, a move and long stretches where she couldn’t work. But, we kept in touch by email and I always knew she would finish it. And, finally, this year in January, the time came for the grouting.

The mirror was worth the wait. Fern was a natural mosaic artist, pieces fit beautifully. Plus, she had found the most wonderful brownish-purple glass tile on the net to augment the design on the front spirals and around the edges. It’s a quietly classical and beautiful mosaic complete with hummingbirds.

Student Fern's finished mirror Summerhouse Art mosaic class

Marianne was another with a treasured idea, and had all the pieces for it, saved for years. She loved the four reproduction tiles by William de Morgan she had found years ago. Plus she had a huge collection of beach pottery shards. When I saw them I agreed with her that they would make the most wonderful pairing ever. We didn’t even bother with the shopping class and spent the first class creating the design of the large mirror support that would be needed to have the proportions work out. Now, I normally discourage large first projects. I don’t want a new student to burn out and get overwhelmed and then end up hating mosaics. But Marianne was not to be dissuaded and assured me that there would be no stopping her.

Student Marianne Summerhouse Art mosaic class

Because of its size we decided to have all the classes in her apartment overlooking the ocean view. Lovely, I really enjoyed that view, even with my fear of heights. But, the project was slowed by her suddenly having to go away to take care of her elderly mum. When that was taken care of, Marianne, who had her own health problems too, still soldiered on with a few visits from Bill and I to see the progress and enjoy tea and goodies. Finally, the time came for grouting, the exact color picked for grout and the three of us went at the grouting, working hard. The result? Well, as you can see, it was perfect! The gorgeous tiles were set off beautifully by the mixture of very carefully placed pottery beach shards.
Student Marianne's finished mirror, Summerhouse Art classes
Anne had a lot of experience with other crafts and was wanting to try mosaics. The shopping class yielded quite a few choice dishes and Anne went off home to ponder a design. She came up with a landscape of mountains, trees and a waterfall.

Student Anne Summerhouse Art mosaic class

When it comes to design I always try to encourage each person to go with the feel of it. I’m a big believer that we all have our own intuitive sense of composition. We worked together on this in the class and then Anne, led by her own “feel” for what looked best, would adjust, rearrange and create what would ultimately work well for her. The finished piece was lovely and serene, with a bit of influence from Emily Carr’s trees and quiet gradations of tone in the colors.
Student Ann's mirror Summerhouse Art mosaic class

Della sparks with energy. She’s always busy, always learning new things and has a background in quilting. Quilters, I’ve found, seem to take to mosaics like ducks to water. Della was no exception. Plus, as she said many times, she was into the “drama”. By that she meant, lots of color, lots of movement. She wanted to do a table top and had brought with her a patio table for which she wanted to create a new top.

Student Della mosaic, Summerhouse Art mosaic class

Well, when we had finished with creating the design of rivers of various surfaces, overlapping and crossing the table top it looked so good that she had to find an even better table to put it on. And she found it! The whole finished table with it’s dramatic top was absolutely meant to be and gorgeous! And soooo dramatic, don’t you think?

Student Della's table Summerhouse Art mosaic class

Susan and Nancy, good friends, took the class together. Here we all are in my studio working.  I did tell you it was a small studio, didn’t I?

Studio mosaic class, Summerhouse Art class
At the first class, Susan had an idea ready, sketched out and was ready to roll. The shopping class just had her finding so much good stuff that we had to spend a bit of time fine tuning and putting things back before checking out.

Student Susan, Summerhouse Art mosaic class

Her rolling waves and ocean bottom wall piece that was made to set off the candle holders (a gift from a sister), was a rollicking and exuberant bit of mosaic work. It even has a reference to the book The Life of Pi with a tiger in a row boat on top of one of the waves!  You can just see it, still unglued, on top of the second wave. I basically left Susan to do as she wanted, just giving little bits of direction now and then. With some people, you just let them go with it. And it worked out very well I’d say.

Student Susan's mosaic, Summerhouse Art Mosaic class
Nancy came to the class ready to mosaic but without any fixed ideas or plans. I assured her that very often students find just the thing at the shopping class. And that’s exactly what happened. After finding lots of dishes that appealed to her, we found the most wonderful little table crying out for some mosaic just before heading for the cash register in the thrift shop.

Student Nancy, Summerhouse Art mosaic class

I always tell students there is only one rule when shopping and that is only buy what you really like. And all of those dishes in colors and patterns that Nancy liked looked great when collaged together on the table top. It really looks beautiful, as though it was always meant to be this way.

Student Nancy's table, Summerhouse Art mosaic class

I think this years students were amazingly talented and really worked hard to create their lovely mosaics.  Now my only hope is that this will spark even more mosaics in their futures.  I just love getting people hooked on this most addictive art form.  Bravo everyone!


Bridges of London and Budgerigars, a New Pique Assiette Mosaic

Bridges of London and Budgerigars Detail, Helen Bushell,

the inspiration
I’d had this fantastic plate with the bridges of London all around the rim for ages. I’d had a few ideas for it but nothing that really inspired me into action. Nevertheless, I’d broken up the pieces and kept them together with masking tape for years. They were waiting for me, dust covered and dirty, on my studio shelf. And no, I don’t dust my studio much, there are just too many dishes and ornaments and I’d never get anything else done. Priorities you know.

Bridges of London and Budgerigars Detail, Helen Bushell,

the ingredients
For some odd reason I’d always thought of the bridges with Budgies or Budgerigars as the Brits called them. For me they went to together. I just happened to also have a “loverly” set of salt and pepper shaker blue budgies. And I also just happened to have a plate covered in, what else, English Ivy.  Ah the joys of having lots of used plates and ornaments to recycle and transform into something fun.

And that “something fun” was a new mirror for over the sink, so I’d have something entertaining to look at while doing dishes. There are always so many dishes to wash aren’t there? And me, I’ve got a low boredom threshold.

But what shape could this take? What would tie it all together? Finally, inspiration struck. An English Mantel clock! Or at least the shape of one….yes that would work. And with that, all the other questions were answered. I needed another plate for the “shoulders”, easy to find, waiting there all along in my studio stash. And the final touch? Well, what are the Brits famous for? Their gardens of course! So out came the porcelain flowers. You know, those little bouquets your mum collected.

Bridges of London and Budgerigars Beginning, Helen Bushell,

the finished piece
It took a while, but finally all the pieces were in place.  Well, almost, the budgie perches needed mosaic and the grouting needed doing.

Bridges of London and Budgerigars Detail, Helen Bushell,

The only thing left to do was glue on the budgies and the flowers. With a bit of careful chiseling I freed some flowers and leaves from their little porcelain pots and glued them into place.

Bridges of London and Budgerigars Detail, Helen Bushell,

Now, I’ve got the Bridges and Budgerigars of London over my sink, surrounding a mirror that reflects the stained glass window we bought years ago, also from England. And I must say, I rather like it.

Bridges of London and Budgerigars,  Helen Bushell,


#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.