Presenting the 2009 Summer Students of Pique Assiette Mosaics!

One of the things I enjoy doing every summer, besides working in the garden, or garage sailing is teaching mosaics. This summer was no exception. I love mosaics, especially pique assiette which is making mosaics with broken dishes and found bits and pieces. And along with that, I really enjoy getting students hooked on mosaics too. So every summer I take a few people through the journey of not knowing much about mosaic or their own innate talent, to going home, four weeks later, with a beautiful finished piece all of their own design and inspiration. Can’t have more fun than that.

Now usually, because I have a very small studio, I only teach one or two and in a pinch, three students at a time.  At the end of the summer, when everyone is now curious about what other students have done, I usually have a party/show of work. But this year it was not to be. I got hit with a flu bug at the end of the summer and along with that and other reasons the party just didn’t happen. So instead I’ve decided to post everyone’s work on the blog today. Sort of a mini show. The party would have been more fun, with lots of cookies and iced tea, but hopefully this will be ok too. There will be a couple of students that won’t be included this time, because they haven’t been able to finish their pieces yet. But for now I’d like to present my Summer of 2009 students.

Rahni is, like us, a real recycler.

Rahni with her inspired piece
Rahni with her inspired piece

Her piece has as it’s base part of an abandoned table that she found. She loved the color of the wood which was weathered and gray and quite wonderful. Now the only rule I have is that when we shop in the first class, the Shopping Class, everyone’s favourite, that you can only buy dishes you actually like. And in no time Rahni had found dishes that were absolutely perfect with her weathered table.

Rahni's table mosaic
Rahni’s table mosaic

From there, with her very strong sense of color and style, it was a wonderful journey for her to the finished piece, a striking and beautiful cityscape made completely from broken dishes.

Everyone who takes my class is encouraged to create their own project. Sometimes, it’s not clear what to make till the shopping class, when suddenly the dishes you find and the objects that you want to mosaic all come together. So it was for my next students, close friends, Jane and Lisa who were a hoot to work with.



These two had me laughing constantly. Jane found the perfect mirror frame and Lisa a pot. Both worked in an entirely different manner.

Lisa's finished piece
Lisa’s finished piece

Lisa, who had done quilting, zoomed through the dish breaking and worked intuitively, creating a lovely “crazy quilt” of texture and color on her pot.

Jane's mirror frame completed
Jane’s mirror frame completed

Jane, on the other hand, worked in a more deliberate manner and carefully, cutting the dishes into quite small pieces, created a beautiful watery flow of color diagonally across the frame. Their different ways of working were a constant source of fun to them. And you must admit the pot and mirror frame are gorgeous!

Jude came to my class excited that she was finally going to do mosaic. She’d been inspired by a trip to Italy and maybe that was why I found that the dishes she chose just had a bit of a Tuscanny feel to them.

Judy working on her mirror
Jude working on her mirror

Together we came up with the Fan design as the base for her mosaic. One little problem was in finishing the corner where all the pattern converges. But serendipitously, she found a little brass fan that just finished that corner perfectly! The result was this almost antique looking piece, striking with it’s blend of earthy tones.

Judy's finished fan mirror
Jude’s finished fan mirror

Now, hopefully, Jude, who I think is going to continue with this new art form, has created a new place to work. I don’t think her husband is going to allow her to keep using his pool table as a work area…

My last three students, were Susan, who’d done a bit of mosaic back in Australia, and her friend Kathryn who had brought along her mom Glenna, both new to mosaic.

Susan, Glenna and Kathryn in the studio
Susan, Glenna and Kathryn in the studio

I always encourage everyone to decide on their own project. Susan had sort of decided on a mirror, Kathryn wasn’t sure and Glenna kind of liked the idea of an umbrella stand. Off we went shopping at the Thrift store that evening and Glenna actually found an umbrella stand! Now that was lucky! Kathryn decided to use a pot she found with just the right shape.

Some students need more help, encouragement and direction than others. Susan, was not one of those. She preferred to quietly work on her own.

Susan with her finished mirror
Susan with her finished mirror

And delightfully came up with a wonderfully flowing design composed of oriental dishes. Quite fabulous.

Kathryn got right into breaking dishes and soon got the knack of intuitively placing all the different designs to create a great overall texture and pattern. She loved the suggestion of creating a new effect around the top of the pot with linear lines from plate edges.

Kathryn's pot before the grout
Kathryn’s pot before the grout

The pot  was transformed into something quite beautiful!

Glenna had the biggest project and thank goodness was a hard worker. She had been so sure that it would be a complete disaster that I even worried a bit that she would give up before it was done. But in the end, with just a bit of direction and some renewed faith in her choice of color and pattern, the stand was a complete success.

Glenna's umbrella stand before grouting
Glenna’s umbrella stand before grouting

A beautiful mixture of greens and blues and yellows that totally transformed the stand into a work of art.

We all sat back and admired the finished, grouted mosaics!
The finished, grouted mosaics! Pretty wonderful eh?

At the end of the last class, we all sat back and surveyed their finished and grouted mosaics from the couch.  All had to agree that they had done a wonderful job!

All in all, the summer was a success, I think, for everyone. Everyone had fun. Each had a wonderful piece to add to their homes and for sure, as they all told me, none would ever look at a dish or plate the same way again. From now one they would all look at a dish and wonder how it would look…..broken.


#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.


The Show at Hatley Castle

You would think that with a craft show looming on the horizon that we would be responsible and get everything ready on the couple of days beforehand but no, not us.

Instead we decided to have a little party at our house to celebrate our good friend Hart’s birthday on Friday night with our usual compliment of fun loving friends and two of our sons in attendance. It was a Mexican theme with everyone bringing food and goodies with a Tex Mex flavour and even the music I found was Mexican. I love having these get togethers on a weekend night, nothing beats good conversation, laughter and good food with friends.

Then Saturday, instead of staying home and designing a new hand out card in the morning, the lure of garage sailing was just too strong to resist. One of our three sons, Dave, in his call to wish me Happy Mom’s Day late Sunday night, said he was pretty sure we are addicted to garage sailing to which I replied that it was not an addiction but our way of having fun. And we did have a wonderful morning buying plants, finding good free stuff and taking our usual ocean side coffee break in the beautiful sunshine. Lucky for us, Eric was at home while we were out galavanting preparing the sculptures and packing them up for Sunday and doing other little odd jobs like repairing our show table.

Finally by late Saturday night we did get everything done. The new card had been designed and printed just in time before Office Depot closed. The car had been packed with all the mosaics and pots and boxes of supplies. All that remained was for Hart to come over with his truck in the morning so we could load it up with table, chairs and sculptures. With me running around telling everyone to hurry because we have to get there before the end of load in time at 9, we finally were on our way. That is, until we realized about 4 blocks away that we had forgotten the tent. Now you cannot screech to a halt when you have vehicles loaded with artwork so we coasted to a stop and turned around to get the tent. Well at least we were only a few blocks from home. You may say you should have a list of things to check off. Well we do. But we’ve done shows so many times that we sort of gave it cursory attention. Actually I think we did pretty well. The only other things I forgot were plants for the mosaic pots display and that was soon solved by buying some more plants for the garden at the show. Or was that just an unconsciously cunning way for me to justify buying more plants?

A view of the Castle from the front lawn
A view of the Castle from the front lawn

The show itself was great. Sunny, breezy and beautiful. Lots of people stopping and signing up for classes and taking a real interest in our sculptures. Our spot was on the front lawn of Hatley Castle overlooking the ocean. We all managed to take time off from our booth duties at different times to take in the rest of the show. I even managed a guided tour of the castle with our good friend and writer, Lia, who is also a tour guide at Hatley, giving lots of little known info about the history of this now popular place for shooting movies like XMen 2 and 3. Lia has written three wonderful stories about the feline friends in her life. Watch for a special segment in our blog on these literary gems and how to get them.

Of course, I’m always on the look out for other artists who make art from recycling and I was not disappointed. I just have to share a few of my finds. Unfortunately the first two don’t have web sites yet. I loved the jewelry made by Joyce Bezusko made from bits and pieces of old jewelry she finds in thrift shops and wherever.

Joyce with her creations
Joyce with her creations

Each one is different and unique and many are really playful. She has a bit of a following with some people collecting her one-of -a-kind pieces. She also sells in Hawaii, hence the name of her business Island Girl Originals. Or is that because she lives on our little island? Hmmm. You can reach her at 250-248-0637.

Bags reborn from scraps
Bags reborn from scraps

The next was a wonderfully talented seamstress, Renee Morris, from up island in Courtney, who makes these perfect bags with big shoulder straps from scraps of great materials. Her latest designs are made from recycled men’s tweed suit jackets! Amazing bags. Her little business is called Hobo’s and you can reach her at

Amy's wonderful windows
Wonderful Windows

I loved Amy Houston’s booth with these awesome windows made with recycled glass and bottles and bits and pieces. She is part of a group called Two Glassy Ladies here in Victoria. I checked out their web site when we finally got home and it’s worth a visit for the blog and all the great glass beads they make.  The windows are created by Amy’s mom, Elizabeth.

The ladies of Wild Arc
The dedicated ladies at the Wild Arc booth

And I have to share with you the BC SPCA Wild Arc booth where they were selling baskets of flowers to raise money for Wild Arc. This is a great organization who takes care of wild animals injured or orphaned. You can find out more at

Prospective students
Prospective students

So all in all it was a great day. I always get a kick out of the people who come into our booth and are smitten with mosaics. So many admit to saving broken dishes and wishing to make something with them. I just know I’ve met a future mosaic artist.

And now I really have to finish putting away all the stuff that we were too tired to do last night as we crashed with our supper in front of the TV and watched British murder mysteries. This week, I’m planning to do gardening and plant all the goodies I’ve been collecting that are waiting for a home in the garden. Where to grow it all? Ah well another little problem to get creative about.

My latest motto to live by is to have fun everyday. This last weekend, what with a birthday party, garage sailing and doing a craft show I think we managed it.


The First Craft Fair of the Season

This weekend we’ll be participating the Mother’s Day Paint In at Hatley Castle. I’m looking outside right now and wondering is the weather going to cooperate? Today it’s raining, which is good, free water for the garden and all that. But on Sunday, I hope it’s one of those sunny warm days. Now we’ve done this show before and it did rain but only for a little bit in the morning as we were setting up our booth. Then it became a beautiful day smelling fresh from the rain and made the gardens glisten and sparkle.

Our Tent with the first of many visitors (after the rain)
Our Tent with the first of many visitors (after the rain)

These events are always a lot of fun for the exhibitors too. I’ll have Will and Hart there to help with the booth. We’ll be showing off our new garden sculptures and it’s always good to get feedback from the people browsing, about what they like.

Every summer I give classes in mosaics and creativity. These shows are my way to get the word out. It’s really something that I really enjoy doing.

Signing up for a fun-filled class

We often get couples or friends signing up together and they have a blast buying used dishes at thrift shops during the first class and then learning to break dishes in the second class. I get some real mixed reactions about breaking dishes. Some people have a hard time overcoming that conditioning that says it’s very very bad to break things. Others are just so gung ho to take out their frustrations on a dish that you have to stop them from pounding the dish into dust! But in the end, everyone makes something that’s totally them, and from that point on never looks at a dish without wondering what it will look like broken. Now we use special cutters to break up the dish and don’t smash them with a hammer unless it’s one of those really really tough plates that just won’t succumb any other way.

The other reason I love these shows is that we all take turns sneaking off and looking at everyone else’s booth. We see people that we’ve seen at other shows and get a chance to catch up and often we see some things that really inspire us to whole other directions. At the end of the day when we’ve lugged all the booth contents back to the car and packed it all up for the day, we’re tired but happy. And ready for a pizza!