always longer than you expect

The concrete was hard enough to step and jump on three days after it was poured. What you don’t see at that stage is the process of curing it goes though that takes about a month. Within that time it’s better not to lay our mosaic tiles in their recesses. Waiting for the concrete slab to cure allows adhesion with the mortar for the mosaic tiles to build up properly.

The plywood board is easily extracted from the recess.
An unwelcome puddle of water is exposed underneath.
By the time we could start it was already the end of October. A day or two of rain, and we need to wait. A few days of sunshine and it becomes colder. Proper setting of our mortar is sensitive to moisture and low temperatures. With the first tile we had started laying we realized that the opportunity was slipping away. The rest of the job will have to wait until spring.
A peanut buttery feel to the mix feels good
and is a suitable consistency.
Each tile will have a stained concrete band that is our choice for transition between the mosaic image and its surrounding gray paving. In order to achieve a clean line we need to fine tune our method of applying the stained concrete into the gap.
We surround the mosaic tile with a strip of masking taped cardboard
to leave room for the grout between the tile and the concrete band.
When we grout this piece we will also have a chance to see what other techniques we have to implement. This is a technically easy stage but it needs the same attention to details as we’ve invested in the process up to now. Grouting can drastically alter the appearance of a mosaic tile. If that happens we’d like it to be for the better. This is why I always tell people and try to remember myself: It always takes longer than you expect.


weather or not

Looking back at the process we went through I see that I can now afford to be a bit more personal. This month felt like a marathon. Giora and Irit, Anat's parents, my in-laws, were with us for two weeks on a visit from Israel. I was interested in reaching the final mosaic making session with as many of the tiles we needed finished. There was also an application package I was working on that needed to be sent. I had two weekends of this month dedicated to the Urban Design classes in SFU. In normal conditions this would have been busy but manageable. Even the weekend in Silverdale, near Seattle was a welcome break from routine.
Great sunny days on the weekend in Silverdale
At the end of that weekend we drove back to Vancouver to start the week. Anat's parents stayed in Washington for a few more days before joining us and leaving back to Israel. I had a few last touches on the mosaic pieces to make them ready for installation. The whole visit was turning into a great familial update with Inbal, our daughter, getting a lot of attention from her gramps.
Inbal enjoying the play, Saba enjoying his grand daughter
and the Richmond ice rink
On the first day of gramps enjoying the scenery of Mount Rainier, Irit broke her knee cap . This is one of those minor injuries that change your life in an instant and not for the better. In normal conditions she would have been operated in Washington and started rehabilitation. Being visitors in Canada with a flight back to Israel scheduled just a few days later introduced a whole set of considerations into the matter.
A short while before the accident as shot by Giora
As soon as Saba and Savta (Grandpa and Grandma) were back in Vancouver we started preparing for their flight to Israel. Rehabilitation is the most intensive component of treatment for this type of injury. An operation can be delayed for a few days without harm. Tickets needed to be changed, insurance issues were resolved and an operation had to be scheduled as soon as they landed in Israel.
Inspired by the occasion
At dinner of their last evening with us we raised glasses of wine for the admirable way Giora has managed the faxes, emails and phone calls. I complained that my desire to help wasn't fulfilled. To be honest, my in-law's independence allowed me to continue my daily activities with very little if any disruptions. No one wishes to enhance their lives with accidents and hardship. Still, whatever happens to you is part of your life. A day after landing in Israel Irit's knee cap was restructured. A day later she started walking again.
A short while before the concrete was poured
Our mosaics are waiting for a few days without rain to be laid and grouted. Vancouver weather is part of our life...


the best you can

Urban design might sound like a field that deals with inanimate components of the city: spaces, buildings, roads and other built environments. One of the reasons I've joined the certificate program in SFU is my perception of the urban as an extension of the human, physically and socially. I'm happy to find the SFU Urban Design program delivering an approach that runs along a similar line.
The plywood board is later taken away and leaves a recess
where the tile will be installed
The mosaic workshops are wrapping up to their final days of fabricating pieces. Soon we will start installing them in Norquay Park. Most of the concrete that will house our tiles has recently been poured. Each mosaic piece, as an inanimate illustration of water related creatures, is also a reflection of a person or people who created it. We've had school kids, teenagers, adults and seniors participating in this project. I've had the fortune of following some of them go through an inspiring creative process.
The story behind each tile is personal as well as artistic
There are many ways to work on the things you are currently busy with. There is only one way that I can consider to be right: doing the best you can. This is a decision that is inherently an attitude. As soon as you reach that decision, your work is pretty easy. From there you can only improve.
Some of the more compelling results come from challenges
like this somewhat messy start
Guiding people to embrace this attitude is a challenge I wasn't fully aware of getting into before joining this project. I am now looking at our finished mosaics and can't wait to see them in place. Whether it was an hour that some spent with us or a few months that others labored, each brought a piece of their own life into this. The story of each tile starts with an image anyone can see and extends to the world of the people who created it.
Grouting will probably bring this tile
to an even better expression of art.
Urban design deals with the built world and is concerned with us, living its story.



My perception of the urban environment as a tool for the use of human society brought me to engage with this project. Eighteen water drop shaped pieces are planned for the pathways and two circular mosaic pieces will mark the entry to the park. The collaboration between planning parties is the driving force behind proper urban management. The result can turn into great living conditions.
How does this relate to making mosaics with the public? When we work on laying each small piece of broken ceramic onto the surface of our concrete base, a personal story unfolds. That story will be viewed by other people who visit the park. They will have a chance to go through a journey into their imagination while walking along the pathways. Already I've had the opportunity to notice the many interpretations some of our finished pieces excite.
The light gray areas mark the surfaces where the mosaic tiles
will be placed. Click the image to zoom in
and see the placements for the mosaic tiles.
The architects have a job to do in designing this park. The builders are in charge of putting it in place. When construction is done, it is the public that will be there to live with the results. Having members of the community participate in putting a piece of their lives into the park is a neat way of tying the ends. Our taxes go into paying for this development. Our hands are still there to be part of building it. It's like baking your own cake instead of buying it in the grocery store.
These forms will be sunk flush into the concrete surface.
The resulting recesses will house the mosaic tiles.
As simple as making mosaics can be, the fact that they are going to be part of public space requires a degree of coordination that I find intriguing. Each party has a role to perform. By working together the process promotes an opportunity to make the most out of collaboration. Having a community arts project as part of this maintains a balance between the professional and the personal.
making sense of it all.



When we will look at the process we are going through these days in twenty years, what we will see is a result. The beauty of a fine process is that it can be seen in a result you enjoy looking at many years later. Our ingredients for this are planning, right team and leadership. From how things look up to now we are on the right track.
This week the two first mosaic pieces were completed. Finishing a high quality 1 square foot tile requires more than a two hour workshop session that we schedule weekly for our groups. Instead of waiting with each tile to be completed by the same person who started it, we moved some of them between groups to add pieces to the partially laid surface. This helped in two fronts: finishing tiles quickly without haste and generating a true sense of communal collaboration. 
We got to a point where one of our biggest challenges is people getting excited and engaged. Usually they just put too little mortar on a tile or lay them so that nothing seems to resemble the intended image. Add genuine interest and you can end up with a bunch of small disasters that no one knows exactly what to do with. This is where leadership comes in handy. We have great leaders helping us in guiding youth in one group. The group of adults seems to understand the need to consult our guidance. Our own leadership is then a matter of balancing between keeping a sense of interest in the work and sensitivity to each person contributing their time and energy to this project.
The demolition of the park that started a short while ago is now transitioning into pockets of construction. By the end of this month we might even see some concrete paths being poured. In those paths we will have recesses to accommodate our tiles. Although there's still a lot of work ahead of us, completion feels very close. 


learning is one thing. implementing is another.

Facilitating a Matching Fund workshop is a constant process of learning. Whoever joins us for an hour or a few sessions has unique skills, expectations and interests. For us that means we need to be many things to many people. How to do this changes from day to day. 
Yoko on the left with
the Renfrew Community Center youth group
Yoko and I are working as a team since we met less than two months ago. I'm really happy with how well we get along. Each of us learns from the other and we both manage to review our process and make decisions following each discussion. Whatever we go through in a workshop generates insights into the steps ahead. This is how we find ways of transferring our knowledge and experience to our audience.
Placing tile fragments on paper is a quick way
to feel the process of mosaic creation
The differences between kids and adults are noticeable in terms of ability to concentrate, understanding of language and amount of energy. What I've noticed as similarities is a generality that I'm taking as fact and nothing more. It is an impression that is followed by change that brings me at the end of a process to re-assess my own perception: Most of our visitors start with hardly any ability to imagine what they'd like to create. Through our guidance and leadership a gradual change is taking place in front of our eyes.
One person creates a design. Another lays tiles.
Some of our results are thoroughly collaborative
We need that change to happen if we want to generate results that reflect our capabilities. There is no question in our own ability to produce mosaic tiles that people can appreciate. The challenge is in helping our audience succeed in making similar, high quality results we would like to see in the renovated Norquay Park. In itself, this aspiration raises questions over issues relating to art, quality, and authority. It also raises questions over how far we can go within the structure of the Matching Fund.
From a crude freestyle laying start,
we moved on to fine details and attentive focus
To judge by where we are at in this collaboration, we have gone very far. We intend to continue improving on that.


leather based concrete

This week marked a shift in the process of creating mosaics with our community. Technically, we learned how to lay tiles in a way that is both simple and insightful. Socially, this method allows us to better engage with our public. It all started with what looked like a brief encounter with two local mosaic artists, Liz Calvin and Bruce Walther. They are both separately making mosaic pieces and have collaborated in a Downtown Vancouver project.

Concrete on mesh can be cut with sissors

Colored concrete is a world of exploration

Soon to be seen in Norquay Park, Vancouver BC

Both were friendly on the phone and provided valuable information that seemed quite a lot and sufficient for any good start of mosaic tile creation. This was a few weeks ago when Yoko and I were experimenting with methods to teach at our workshops. After quickly meeting with Bruce at the New Westminster Fraser Festival I went on to meet Liz in her studio.

My own joy of sharing information comes from practical realization that this is one of the stepping stones for our shared success as a society. What I've experienced in my meeting with Liz was something like a hurricane of generosity. Not only did she share information but she also provided us with tiles, materials and tools that are probably equal to doubling our budget for this part of the project. Not enough thanks can be expressed for such an attitude.

Meanwhile, in our workshops we gradually feel the growing interest among our visitors, who step into the room and around the tables with curiosity. They start with struggling to fit broken tiles side by side. As Yoko and I guide them through the process, their results begin to show nice little expressions of art. Some of them already show the glimmer of enthusiasm at the side of their eyes. They end their session with an eagerness do to more. I'm looking forward to the tiles we are about to create in the next little while.


mind off; hands on. community building

You can be done with laying tiles for a small mosaic in a short one hour and a half session. When it comes to working with the community this is what most people want on the one hand. On the other, the promise to have them learn is greatly compromised this way.
The hands-on approach allows for a fulfilling experience. The trick is to turn this into a rhythmic succession of learning waves. People can then both make something with their own hands and gain pieces of knowledge through their hands. The opportunity starts with a simple "I don't know how to draw". You never know immediately what makes people say that but with patience and persistence I usually find out that the person had something else on their mind. It could be the task that wasn't to their liking or simply a way to get some attention.
It's hard to predict exactly how a broken tiles mosaic will look like. The hammer strokes randomly produce pieces that are then placed on the design in a process similar to solving a puzzle. Playing with tiles before drawing a design on paper, helps in envisioning a style. This can later on be reproduced with realistic expectations. It would be interesting to see how the image above translates into a mosaic with the broken tiles system.
The same can be said about this drawing. Two variants are the main influence upon the quality of the final piece: the skill level of your audience and each of the participants' degree of engagement.
The sense of ownership that evolves through the process is present within the group no matter what age they are. The real benefit though of this project is getting people to interact in a way that is both fun and educational. A city needs this type of community building to really serve its purpose.


what people will understand

The design process takes us through steps of exploring options before we start fabricating. We'd like to check grout color, both within the tile and surrounding it; seeing the proportion of a tile on site can give a sense of its impact; understanding what to expect is also helpful when working in a team with a wide variety of skill levels. The Norquay Park mosaic project is a Matching Fund operation. Anyone from the community is invited to participate in workshops designed to facilitate the fabrication of mosaic tiles. Yoko and I will later on install them on site.
The color of grout greatly affects the way a mosaic looks. In this example the exact same design of tiles is completely transformed when illustrated with three different shades of grout.
It's also useful to get a sense of how a piece might look as its surroundings age. A quick test can let us make decisions relating to priorities ranging from choice of tiles to selection of colors. Three sidewalks of different degrees of wear were shot for this spread. The image of the tile was gently manipulated to illustrate a similar process of aging.
As we are making progress with the workshops, it's useful to continue exploring some of the techniques we will be using with the public. Some would step into work without hesitation. Others will express difficulties with unexpected issues. "I'm too lazy today" I've heard on the first session. Another one can't draw. The fact that they come to this workshop by their own choice puts things in an interesting perspective. The challenge in education is in what others will understand, not what they don't.
Other tests are made on the way. Some are merely illustrations done on the computer. But it's always working with the real materials when results start to give you a tangible sense of what things will actually look like. Even then, the tools we have on the computer help in saving time, money, and resources.
Then it's time to interact with our artists - the kids and other men and women from the community. They come to have fun, but are about to create a legacy for their own neighborhood.



These days I'm working with Yoko Tomita, a community artist, on the design and delegation of making mosaics for a City of Vancouver park. We started by discussing techniques and researching possibilities.
Around forty grade six kids from a local school have already created drawings of creatures related to water. The theme we are addressing is 'clean water'. We are going to create 18 mosaic pieces of a square foot surface area where tiles will be laid based on the designs we got from the school kids.
After testing with tiles and materials the first workshop will start Wednesday this week. Collingwood Neighborhood House together with a Parks Board matching fund are sponsoring this project. The plans are posted on the Vancouver website. The most prominent features of the renovated park will be a new water spray area and a basketball field.
We are also about to work on two larger mosaic pieces that will become feature decorations located at the entry to the park. Resources on the web for making mosaics are limitless. Still, as you start working on a piece, every detail involved in the creation of this form of art influences the style and quality of the finished tile. It is fascinating to see this collaboration come to life. I'm looking forward to go through the rest of the project.


tag lines

This week I was asked: If you could be teleported to anywhere for one night and one day where would it be and why? On a drive home before I've seen this question I had been listening to a few words on the radio that dealt with religion. My response was inspired by that radio talk: "I'd be thrilled to sit beside God and get a sense of what it's like to manage a world inhabited by atheists like me".

It is a daily fascination for me to think of what makes people behave the way they do. Very few people I know seem to balance between their perception of life and reality in a way that satisfies them. Somehow they make connections between events that have no functional relation. Based on their conclusions they become frustrated by the lack of results they get from their honest efforts.

God in that sense is the big question mark we are all trying to find the answer to.


helping communications last

Every now and then we get to a point where communication doesn’t work. Our interaction becomes contaminated. Language is a virus says  Laurie Anderson in Home of the brave. This rings a bell to our own experiences.
In communications we want to maintain a positive flow. Our interaction involves triggers and reactions. Let’s look at them as a mechanism. Just like my hand is a tool that helps me along the day, I want my communications with others to work for me.
I need to know my tools and remember to use them. Three simple words and one expression that we often use: Listen, Ask, Suggest and Take action. They crystallize a set of ideas. As we interact, they serve as our tool.
Assuming we understand each other’s words, we need to let them into our brains. We need to Listen. When is it that we usually find it easiest to listen? For most of us I dare to assume it would be music. When you are listening to someone else, it could be an interesting experiment to listen to the music in the words you hear.
Ask. Showing the fact that you are listening has many forms. The question moves the conversation forward whether by establishing a sense of mutual understanding or even making progress with ideas. Rephrasing your companion’s words is also a sort of question: “did I hear you OK?”
Questions can be tricky though. You don’t want to give the impression of doubt when the intention is to build trust.
Sometimes the question itself promotes an idea that both of you are interested in exploring. Our interaction involves a form of negotiation. Suggest
After gaining information by going back and forth with the conversation, ideas that come up inform our progress.
These ideas are like roads that lead to various destinations. You reach an intersection and make a choice. You know what needs to be done: Take action. If you need to do it yourself this is almost easy. If you want someone else to act for you, you’ve come full circle.
Our goal is to nurture communications that last. Take the first letters of each of the four steps we’ve just gone through and this is what you get: L - A – S - T. It always seems simple as an idea. But as we go through the day we want to remember, to listen, to ask, to suggest and eventually, to take action.   


time is money

The concept of time has always interested me. The way we use it, the devices we create to measure time, document it and display it are a product of years of development.
In 1748 Benjamin Franklin published a letter of advice to a young tradesman. It is intriguing to see the words that became one of the most used phrases related to business appear at the very beginning of that letter. I’m sure this is not the only reason his figure adorns the US$100 bill. Nevertheless, the concept is worth appreciating.
The research that went into getting this information was not paid for. For my second Toastmasters speech I wanted to talk about wrist watches. Time is Money seemed to me like an appropriate opening, especially for the group I am meeting with, mostly employees of PHN, a Canadian investment management firm.
The main body of my research concentrated on the watches though. Today, a wristwatch is considered as much of a status symbol as a device to tell time. Clock and watch makers have always taken it as a challenge to introduce new engineering advances into movements. Not all of them necessary for daily time keeping. This is how we end up with mechanical watches that provide an accurate display of time of sunset, phase of the moon and so on. Features responsible for the display of info other than hours, minutes, and seconds are referred to as complications.
Components of the wristwatch can be numerous: The common hands for showing the hour, minute and second; Other hands in watches with complications; the dial; divisions of the hour; case; winder/button; wrist band. Each of these makes a difference when it comes to designing a timepiece. You might get confused when looking for a watch. When in a shop showing hundreds of watches, concentrate on one feature at a time. Go over the watches and focus your attention on the minutes hands. Then, look at how the hour 12 is represented. After that, sweep through the winders. With this exercise you can now approach your next browsing in open eyes and possibly make a selection that satisfies you.
In an age when cell phones and digital accessories display time accurately and reliably, the mechanical wristwatch has slowly become less of an object of function and more a piece of modern culture. Go into any of the sites of watch making companies and you’d be amazed by the amount of attention given to the experience of browsing through the variety of products on offer. If you think no one buys those things anymore, think again. It took some time for the manufacture of watches to become relatively affordable for the masses. Never the less, whether cheap or expensive, for many, one of life’s more exciting rites of passage is a child getting their first wrist watch. It is also one of the most advanced pieces of technology people had before electronic gadgets evolved.
Money facilitates our journey through time. In order to gain that money – controlled use of time is required. Throughout history humanity strived to perfect time keeping devices. A wrist watch on your hand is still one of the most convenient. It shows your understanding and appreciation of time, money and culture.