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.