Two Students Create Two Very Different Mosaics

I teach Pique Assiette mosaics, a type of mosaic made with broken dishes,  in my tiny, little studio, a sunny former bedroom in a 1922 house. This little room has a big work table and is full of dishes and supplies for all the art forms I indulge in. It’s just the right size for mosaic classes for one or two students, no more. And that’s the way I like it, because it allows me to really teach to the needs of each person and it also allows each student to do exactly what they want, or at least have a chance to discover what they want. And such was the case with Irina and her work mate, Jessica.

Jessica knew exactly what she wanted to do from the first class. She had been inspired by an image of a horse, one from a logo of a computer game her husband liked. So we loosely followed that and created a plywood backing shaped as a shield. The shopping class was easy since she’d already decided to look for white and blue dishes. The trick with a piece like this is to create lots of texture and color interest by intuitively and loosely mixing up the shades of white and blue dish shards. It did become rather a big project and she even had to run out to buy more dishes to finish but she did get a sense of how to create a lovely surface. The mosaic took more time to do and required a bit of delay before grouting. But I’d rather students had the extra time to work and finish what they envisioned in an enjoyable manner.

Here she is, looking pretty happy, after the grouting was finally done, with the mosaic on my easel.

Student Jessica with finished mosaic,

The finished piece has this lovely ancient look and feel, a beautiful roughness that the original logo never had.

Student Jessica's Finished Mosaic,

Irina, was, much like most of my students, not quite sure of what she wanted to do. This is where the shopping class often shows the way, when you find some dishes or colors you like. Making a mosaic with broken dishes is much looser and intuitive than the traditional mosaics. Mosaics done with glass tesserae, can be quite tight and often lend themselves to very symmetrical designs. I encouraged Irina to tap into the intuitive flow of the patterns and arrange the pieces until they “felt” right. She was really terrific about trying all sorts of arrangements. But I think, as the crunch came to finish in time to grout, she just finally stopped trying to get it perfect and just let the “flow” happen. And I’m so glad she did!

Here she is working hard cleaning off the grout in the last class, still wondering, would it all work and would she like it.

Student Irina, cleaning grout,

Well, I think she’s looking happy with the result, don’t you?

Student Irina with her Mosaic,

And here it is, a closer look at finished mosaic.  I think she did the most wonderful job, creating a lovely, colorful flow of flowers and colors. It’s just a small piece, but it’s got a real song to it.

Student Irina's Finished Mosaic,

Two students, two very different results, but both learning how to use their intuition and how to be loose with the shards of broken dishes and by doing so, finding the flow in creating. Turned out perfectly I’d say!

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Two Very Different and Unique Floral Mosaic Table Tops

What I like about my mosaic classes is the way it’s never boring for me, as a teacher. Unlike many instructors, I’m never constantly teaching the exact same project, over and over again. With my classes, each student gets to pick their own project and I just basically facilitate them in their plans. However, that said, students sometimes do pick the same type of thing to create, but I find that they never ever do the that same thing in quite the same way!

For instance, quite a few students do pick a table top as their first project, since it’s a nice sized first project. But, I have to add that each one ends up creating something totally unique and very different. And that’s what keeps it all interesting. For instance, Gail and Jane, two students who took classes separately this spring both decided to make mosaic table tops.

Gail had actually come to her first class with just one thing on her mind, which was to reconstitute a treasured plate, that had been accidentally broken. But I knew that she would have lots of time after doing that and I urged her to do something more in the classes, and create another project. After our shopping class where she’d found lots of floral themed dishes, she decided to create a table top. Hers is a lovely floral arrangement that incorporated whole plates surrounded by a mixture of colors and textures. Turned out great didn’t it?

Student Gail's Mosiac Table top

And yes, we did come up with a scheme to resurrect her other treasured plate too. Luckily, I found another wooden plate to glue it on to and she surrounded the original plate with a complimentary mosaic border.  She was happy to be able to display it again. A success, we think.

Student Gail's scenic plate with mosaic border,

Now Jane, my last student, also ended up deciding to do a floral table top. But, here, the similarity ends. Her design is unique to her own vision and very different again. Jane came to the 2nd class after the shopping class with a plan of action. She’d sketched out a garden picture, complete with flowers springing up from grass and dirt, all against the backdrop of a blue sky. It all came together beautifully. Each flower, a distinct set of floral dishes and the sky is a mixture of dishes in all sorts of textures but all various shades of blue. The whole arrangement worked brilliantly!  So there we have it, two floral Pique Assiette table tops but each totally and beautifully unique.

Student Jane's mosaic table top,











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,

And then, voila, the difference with grout.


Speckle mosaic grouted by Helen Bushell,

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,

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,


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

Right side Speckled mosaic by Helen Bushell,

Bottom side Speckled mosaic by Helen Bushell,


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


Showing off some Student Mosaics

Every now and then, it’s nice to show off the work done by the students who take my mosaic classes. Shelley, who had always wanted to do something in mosaic, brought along her friend Vicki. Both were a lot of fun to teach and said they wouldn’t mind me showing their mosaics on my blog.

Although neither of them had a definite project in mind, they were ready to try anything. The type of mosaic I teach is Pique Assiette, basically made from thrift dishes. The shopping class was where they found their projects. Both found wicker tables that just needed Will to cut out a plywood top for.

Shelley’s Mosaic Table

Shelley found lots of floral dishes that were in colors that all worked well together, but worried that it would all look too busy. Vicki, on the other hand, wasn’t sure about a few black plates with white stripes found in the Bibles for Missions Thrift store. As luck would have it, she then found some great old vintage dishes at home in green. And somehow, as I assured them it would, all of it came together beautifully.

Shelley’s colors and flowers when mixed together with floral bits and solid colors created an overall summery pattern and Vicki’s white striped plates totally worked perfectly and echoed the white wicker table she found.

Mosaic has a way of doing that.

Vicki's Mosaic Table
Vicki’s Mosaic Table




Another Student Taking Mosaic in Her Own Direction

I never really know where my mosaic classes might take a student. Some only try the medium out on a one time basis, mosaics being one more thing in a series of hobby classes they “taste test”. Some take off with doing more of the Pique Assiette type of mosaics I teach, like Murray Goode, who was featured recently. And some use the class as a jumping off point to other forms of mosaic. Such was the case with a student I had a few years ago, Anne Hauser.

I always try to encourage every student to work on projects of their own design. My classes feature a shopping class where we look for dishes to break and use since that is my focus in mosaics. But the method of mosaic lends itself to other types of tesserae, like glass. It’s always interesting to hear from my former students and see where they have taken the original classes.

Anne did stay with dishes at first, as shown in this very creative composition she made of a broken teapot. The teapot had been a favourite of a friend and Anne recreated it in a mosaic for her after it had broken. I liked not only the sentiment but the composition was unique too. The pot was the only mosaic on the surface, not surrounded by mosaic in the background. Quite novel.


Anne says she hardly ever works with dishes anymore and has switched to using glass now. She created a music themed piece for her husband as a gift where there is a bit of transition to glass. The sax is from a plate and she added gold sprinkles to the grout as it set. The rest of the piece is from glass. Anne-Hauser-note-mosaic

She’s gone on from there to create collages of a sort with mosaic surrounding photos under glass and a mirror frame with glass and rhinestones! As she said recently in an email   “….I seem to have gravitated to glass and tiles along with odds and ends that I find. I’m working on one now that incorporates a pewter sailboat, beach sand and pebbles, some tree leaves I made from putty, and glass.  Not sure how it’s all going to turn out, but interesting”

I really like that she is having fun and sounds quite fearless, really, with not being sure how the piece will look in the end, but being ok with that.  That’s real creativity.


Always Fun When Students Get Hooked on Mosaics


I’ve given classes to a lot of students over the years and I’ve always enjoyed having a chance to help people create their first Pique Assiette mosaics. Some people come to the first class with a project that they’ve been hoping to do for years and bring dishes they’ve saved just for that purpose. Others just want to try it out and we find dishes and perhaps a table to mosaic at the “Shopping Class”. And I always know that making mosaics won’t always click for everyone the same way it did for me.

Murray Goode's Dragonfly Tray
Murray Goode’s Dragonfly Tray

It’s always a bonus when some of my students keep in touch and send me emails with mosaic projects that they’ve done since those first classes. It’s so much fun to know that I’ve played a little part in getting someone else “hooked” on making mosaics.

Murray Goode's Mosaic coffee table
Murray Goode’s Mosaic coffee table

Murray Goode is one of those people who just clicked with mosaics. I sensed that he was delighted with the medium right away and I enjoyed getting a few emails later with more of his projects. Murray was still working as a school teacher when I first met him, but now he’s retired and finally has really got the time to indulge in this art form.

Murray Goode's Blue Willow Table
Murray Goode’s Blue Willow Table

We were in touch just recently and I discovered that not only is he still making mosaics, but is exhibiting and has his own website too! He has a few pieces being shown at Cabin 12 Restaurant here in Victoria. I’ve picked just a few pieces today to post, but encourage anyone to go to his website to see the work of someone who is really enjoying himself making mosaics. I know I’ll be following his website from now on, just to see what new mosaics he’s created.



An Abstract Tray


There’s something about trays. They’re easy to find in thrift shops, the ones I like the best are the light weight wooden ones with handles. They’re just the thing for a quick study in mosaic, offering a chance to try out colors or patterns or a new idea. And when finished, they’re so useful. A great way to take hot casserole dishes to parties or haul out your teapot and cups to the patio.

Of course while in thrift shops I’m always trolling for interesting dishes, too.  Once I started making Pique Assiette mosaics I never looked at dishes the same way again. I tend to wonder how they will look broken up. I look for a variety of colors, texture and pattern. Sometimes I get really lucky and find a stack of dishes that has it all. And if I’ve got the money, I snap them all up, because when you’re shopping thrifts and garage sales you can’t always come back for more later.

These plates with their lovely colors and textures were one of those lucky finds. I knew I’d always like the patterns and colors and would be able to use them for more than one project. And I knew they’d have wonderful “broken” possibilities.

disheswmI could have done the whole tray in just the dishes but I chose to add more blocks of solid color using ordinary tiles in a lovely dark blue and a black. I like abstraction in mosaic, just fitting in pieces where they fit, creating a bit of a balance of colors. It’s a fun, intuitive way to work, with a surprise composition at the end.



New Years resolutions? .. . or trying to create order in my chaotic studio.

The new year has begun. Usually my New Years resolution is not to make any resolutions. Resolutions are usually difficult goals, like lose weight, eat less sugar, eat less chocolate, eat less of all the things I enjoy that are bad for me. We’re talking deprivation here. So no, I don’t make resolutions. I don’t want to start the year thinking of LESS. I want to start the year thinking of MORE.

MORE happiness, health, wealth, laughter, creativity…..

Ah creativity, that brings me to my studio. Another area that I could use MORE in. As in more space, more time, more organization? Ah yes, perhaps since I don’t have more space, it’s time to get down to organizing all the stuff I’ve got in there. So many dishes, so many shards that I can’t throw out and have saved for future works.

So I’ve dragged out all the little pots and trays full of  broken dish shards left over from making Pique Assiette mosaics. I’ve  spread them out and started to reorganize them. It’s looking like chaos here.  But I’ve set myself to sorting, categorizing, creating piles and piles colors, textures, patterns and whatever, all the while taking lots of tea breaks to keep from being overwhelmed with the chaos I’m creating.

chaos-in-studiowmAnd hopefully, when I’m finally done, the shards, at least will be saved, sorted and ready to be used. Another recycled package put to good use. All those salad packages make the best transparent storage ever. These packages plus other smaller ones I save from where ever I can, go to good use here.

boxes-of-shardswmAh chaos to order….now that’s a start for the New Year.


The Japanese Shirt that Inspired a Little Flurry of Pillow Making


The thing with shopping at garage sales is that A. you never know what you will find and B. you never know where what you find will lead you.
I like to call it creative shopping.

This summer I snapped up a lovely pillow with a Japanese theme of a pagoda and a scooter. A few months later I found this shirt, full of lovely geishas.


Now it just so happens that I have a little collection of Japanese fans, that grace the mosaic I created of Birds and Geishas, that I posted about last year.



A few years ago I’d created another Japanese themed mosaic that also resides in our bedroom. I titled it my Marriage Mosaic. Just to quickly explain, it turned out that after I had put this little tableau together, I found out that, in Japan, the pair of geese or ducks are symbolic of a long marriage. And although I am nothing like the shy little bride on my mosaic, I love the idea that this little mosaic symbolized our long marriage.


Now it also just happened that, being someone who hardly ever throws anything out, I still had a few shirts stashed from our holiday in Hawaii that I’d found at garage sales there. All with Japanese themes and all just waiting to be recycled.


All that was needed was to play with the material and come up with some pieced fabric designs. Almost  like making a mosaic but with fabric. A little trick I like to use when making pillows from old shirts is to use the button front as part of the design. Much easier to undo buttons and insert the pillow than to have to sew in a zipper.



Also a good way to recycle most of the whole shirt, buttons and all. But just a word about my kind of sewing, it’s pretty fast and loose, I cut things out by eye, not one for measuring much. In fact, I just piece things together til I like the look and then cut it all to size.

Of course, I couldn’t stop at just one. This lovely shirt with its gorgeous picture of a Japanese fishing scene just had to become part of another little pillow.


And that’s it, pillow making is over for now. All the little scraps still left over will be saved for another day and another inspiration. But there’s nothing like creating something new to look at and enjoy.