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, summerhouseart.com

And then, voila, the difference with grout.


Speckle mosaic grouted by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

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, summerhouseart.com

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, summerhouseart.com


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 summerhouseart.com

Right side Speckled mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com

Bottom side Speckled mosaic by Helen Bushell, summerhouseart.com


“Blue Fandango”, The Mosaic

Thought I’d finally feature another of Will’s mosaics. This one is totally different from the first piece I featured a while ago, the one that we refer to as the “Green River” mosaic.

Will started this piece spontaneously, without a real plan. And really, that is often a wonderful way to start, open to possibilities and surprises, cutting dishes and fitting pieces intuitively.

He began with the small blue arc and from there created the larger blue wave-like arc. All of the mosaic bits and pieces are made of plates, and the blues are a mixture of various blue plates, patterned and textured. It’s a mosaic style that we both work in, called Pique Assiette, which basically refers to a style of mosaic created from dishes.

Blue Fandango Mosaic

The arcs in place, he then decided on filling in the space with various whites, culled from different plate centers and even parts of the makers logos printed on the underside.

Blue Fandango Mosaic

At this point it becomes more of an intuitive exercise, mixing the textures and the varying white shades, creating visual interest. The little rows of black and white squares arc off the main blue arcs. And then to lead the eye and give the whole composition another element, pops of color were included in the white areas.

On the whole, the piece has, for me, endless fascination. The name was spontaneous too, coming to him as he surveyed the finished piece. He titled it “ Blue Fandango”, and it does suit, I think.   It also was made to be both table top and a wall piece.

Blue Fandango Table