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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Mosaic a Tactile Mirror

One of my besties has a birthday coming up. To an artist/crafter this means an opportunity to make something PRETTY! This time it would have to be a little different. This friend of mine is completely blind. I have painted something for her in the past which she could enjoy (I'll do a blog about that in the future) and I wanted to once again make her something that she could enjoy, but which would still serve a decorative and useful purpose in her house. My choice fell on a mosaic mirror.

When designing something for a blind person, it is slightly more challenging than is the case otherwise. The design still has to meet all of the criteria for a seeing person, paying attention to layout, perspective, colour, etc. It still has to be aesthetically pleasing. An added dimension is that the intended recipient should be able to 'see' it as well. This 'sight' is by means of tactile experience, i.e. they need to be able to make it out by feeling it. There are a few things to consider here:
  • Temperature: Everything has its own temperature. For example, stone is colder than plastic. Including different materials is therefore a great idea.
  • Texture: Varying texture keeps things interesting. Smooth, rough, hairy, etc.
  • Shape/Form: Including different shapes and forms also adds interest, e.g. round, square, objects etc.
  • Depth: A lot of mosaic artists take great care to keep everything on one level. I rarely do this. In today's project I would take great care to vary this even more than usual in order to enhance the tactile experience.
  • Size: Varying the size of objects and shapes will add yet another dimension of interest.
  • Practicality: There are two practical considerations which are easily included in a mosaic. The item is intended to be touched and therefore it should be easily cleaned. Because it will be touched, it needs to be strong and able to withstand handling.
With these considerations in mind, I gathered a selection of materials which would not all be included, but will be kept on hand for consideration.

I take a piece of masonite and measure it carefully. Since it is going to be a square of 30 x 30 cm, it is easy to use my trusted metal ruler for the purpose. I draw guidelines with a pencil.

Place your saw just off the line when you saw the wood. This way you will be able to keep your eye on the guideline while still sawing in a straight line. Gently blow the sawdust away to keep the line visible.

Smooth rough edges with a file.

Decide which elements would be the most important to include and lay these in place first. I found the frame to be important and worked on this first. I used a very rough stone, cut into small squares. I randomly placed glass tiles in between to break the monotony. These would bring variation in temperature as well as texture. The second and third elements I placed together, since their positions would influence each other. The mirror would not be functional for my friend, but her guests would certainly find it so. Still, the mere fact that it is not a solid mirror, but broken into squares, with these squares bigger than the ones in the frame, as well as being a smooth glass texture, caused this to still be a tactile asset to the composition. The glass beads brought an interesting aspect to the composition. Being shaped like a wave, they changed the rigidity of the lines. It was still a glass finish, but this time it was cut glass, reminiscent of precious stones. The little figurines rode this wave and I knew my friend would derive much pleasure from trying to figure out what was represented. All of the figures are only partially glazed, giving even these tiny objects variety in texture. Next I added the metal objects. Both of these objects hold personal memories of our friendship, but they also add another material and temperature. The violin is a shaped object, where the banner has engraved letters, which my friend will be able to read  by running her fingers over the letters (I speak from experience here).

With the main elements in place, I could add the 'fillers'. It isn't really fair to call the round tiles fillers, because these were also chosen with great care. The only reason they qualify to be called fillers is because their position was determined by the main objects and not the other way around. This is a colder stone than that used in the frame. It is also much smoother. Most importantly, it is a completely different shape, and that shape varies in size. It was brilliant for inclusion in this project! But there was enough space to add a few more figurines as well and I added these happily.

Once I was satisfied with the layout, it was time to start gluing things down. This project would call for the use of two types of glue. Normal Mosaic Glue would be fine to use on all of the tiles, the mirrors, the glass and the figurines. The metal objects would best be bonded with Tombow Glue, which is a very strong adhesive that works on a variety of surfaces. My rule is: If in doubt, use Tombow. They should pay me advertising fees! Truth is that I am happy to recommend a product I have faith in.

Only the glass wave and the mirror tiles came in prearranged sets and could be glued down a such. Every single other object was picked up and glued in place individually. This took a while, but eventually the job was done. You can see glue seeping from below my tiles. Time to step away to give the glue a chance to set.

This project would require a substantial amount of grout, because of the strange shapes that were used which left big spaces/gaps between objects. I did not want to be wasteful (I never do!) and mixed the grouting a little at a time, repeating the exercise 3 or 4 times. This is a personal preference. You might choose to work differently.

There is not a single tool I know of that would make this project's grouting an easy task. There are way too many gaps, varying in sizes and depths to use a palette knife. Working the grout in with the finger, was really the only option. I also had to make sure that the metal pieces and the figurines were not completely obscured by the grouting. I could also have opted to leave their spaces open before and then to have grouted them into an elevated position at this stage. Opting for the tremendous differences in depth can be compared to expressionism in visual art. It is not because a blind person needs the exaggerated depth differences, but because I choose to make this a focal point. Again, the choice is yours. I have to add that at this stage I gained an active onlooker (read assistant) in my 3 year old niece who promptly made herself at home on the work surface and plunged her little fingers into the grouting with me. She was wholly responsible for grouting the mirror tiles herself! Of course Grandma wasn't far behind with the camera, or I would not be able to show this photo. Those hands don't go near the camera, no matter how much I would like to record the process!

Scraping the worst of the excess grouting off, I lay the project aside t dry.

Wait until the grouting is hardened, but not yet rock hard. This is the time to wash the grouting off with a damp cloth or sponge. I am not sure that you can see the difference between the dried and wet grouting, but I'll place the photo just the same. You will see it is much lighter.

Normally the damp cloth is sufficient for cleaning a project. This time it won't be. There are plenty of tiny spaces that has to be cleaned up where the grouting has to be scraped away. I use a metal palette knife for this. In the areas surrounding the figurines this is almost like sculpting.

This did not take too long but did require a fair amount of time. It is best to leave it to dry overnight. Time to step away. When completely dry, simply wipe with a clean sponge or cloth to rid the project of the thin layer of dust that will inevitably cover it.

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Remember to keep nurturing your TALENT for making PRETTY things.
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