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Getting Started In Mosaics – What to Expect

(part 2 of 7)
designing a mosaic in photoshop

Part 2. Design

Creating a mosaic design is very different from other art forms, because we are working with solid materials trying to blend colors, create color gradients and flow, and this is very challenging. Therefore, designing a "cartoon" or pattern for your mosaic that integrates these issues is very important. There are 5 main considerations you should address before beginning your design: tesserae, flow, colors, simplicity and pattern.

First, consider the tesserae you want to use. Sometimes one particular tile or type of material can be your inspiration. In addition, choosing tesserae that has different thicknesses, or needs different adhesives, uses different cutting tools, are all details you will need to plan for.

array of types of tesserae

Flow, or the laying out of your tiles, is very important to the design. Some terms you should be aware of: Andamento and Opus. Andamento refers to the flow and direction of your rows of tesserae. Opus refers to the actual pattern of the tesserae. These are important because they affect the movement of your tesserae and impacts your entire mosaic. There are many techniques such as opus regulatum, opus vermiculatum, opus palladrianum, opus tessellatum, and opus circumactum that describe particular ways tile is laid. Be aware of these terms, and I encourage you to research each one at your convenience.

Third, color is a very important consideration for your design. When choosing colors, it helps to lay them out beside each other so you can see how well they work together. Contrasting colors tend to intensify each other so experiment with different colors until you find something that works for your project. Using a color wheel can help you make your decision too.

color wheel

Simple, simple, simple. Keep your design as simple as possible by eliminating unnecessary and confusing details. Simpler is better; as you are working with lots of small pieces to create one image, you need to let your viewer easily see what you are trying to convey. Too many small puzzling details will detract. Some of my favorite mosaics by other artists have very simple designs.

Lastly, the cartoon. After you have your design decided upon, you can either draw it to full scale, or if you're like me and can't draw very well, you can use software applications like Photoshop to create your design (cartoon) in. You will need a full size, printed pattern to work from. If you don't have your own printer, office supply stores can print them for you. Here's a good example:

printer with design coming out

You will then need to transfer your design onto your backer (base or substrate). Depending on what your backer is, you will have different options. Here's a couple. One option is to use carbon paper which you will place in between your pattern and your backer and trace over the lines, transferring the cartoon onto your backer. Another option applies if you use fiberglass mesh as your substrate. If so, first tape your pattern down to your table, then tape clear plastic wrap over your pattern to keep the pattern from sticking to your fiberglass mesh. Then tape your mesh down over this and you can start glueing your tesserae directly to the mesh. "Butter" the back of each of your pieces with your adhesive, then lay them onto the mesh.

There are still many other options for transferring your design to your substrate, so decide upon the one that works the best for your project before you begin.

carbon paper fiberglass mesh skeewbacker example of way to transfer a pattern

My next blog post will be about tesserae and tools. Hope you make it back here soon. In the meantime, check out some of the other cool stuff on the website.

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