Late last year, I decided to undertake a class for beginners in making mosaics at Southbank Mosaics, a not-for-profit social enterprise located in St.John’s Crypt, South Bank, London. They run courses all year round that last several weeks, targeted towards differing levels of experience. The courses tend to be run by tutors at the social enterprise but occasionally, artists or tutors from elsewhere will occasionally run courses*.
The mosaics course ran for two and a half hours a day, one day a week for six weeks. It was a beginners course but there were two or three other participants in the class who were more advanced, and received their training from the tutor (Paula) accordingly. I had learnt, to some minor degree, how to make a mosaic piece whilst volunteering at Southbank Mosaics earlier but that was only the direct method whereas the indirect method was to be taught in the class. All throughout the classes, Paula was a fantastic tutor whose teaching was fantastic. Providing steady advice, she was always on hand whenever I made an unfortunate mistake.
Prior to the class starting, all participants had to choose a design or image from which they would draw inspiration or try to replicate, in our own way. As I was reading on Xenia paintings at the time (Xenia was a theme of still life displaying hospitality in ancient art) I gravitated towards images of seafood and fruits displayed in Roman paintings or mosaics. The actual image I used in the end is linked here which I cannot display in this blog for licensing reasons. It turns out however, that the image of the fish is from a later period than I thought it was, and the imagery points towards some christian themes, perhaps, rather than that of Xenia (a mistake I made in haste). The mosaic in question comes from the House of Eustolios on the floor, Kourion, Cyprus, mid 4th Century AD. The Mosaic I made is:
Using the indirect method, I glued mosaics onto a piece of kraft paper that was the same size of the wooden board that forms the base of the above piece. Of course, this was preceded by hours of cutting and sizing the tesserae that I used in the piece which included ceramic and vitreous glass. In drawing inspiration from the image of the fish I linked to earlier, I also wanted to replicate, in this rather unorthodox context, the black background seen in the Third Style of Roman paintings, particularly from the Imperial Villa at Boscotrecase which I really adore.
In choosing the colours, I thought inverting the background would be interesting as well as choosing a colour palette for the fish that was either ostentatious (an exotic fish) or reminiscent of colours from one or two abstract mosaics.
As you may have made out, the laying style is a smorgasbord of differing types. Typically, we were told to lay in the style of Opus Tesselatum where tesserae are arranged horizontally but not in a grid, which I believe is particularly effective for the mosaic I made, so as to display movement and depth. However, due to time constraints brought about by my less-than-average skill at making mosaics, there were times when I had to resort to Opus Regualatum where tesserae are arranged in a grid-like manner. Opus Tesselatum is displayed below:
Of course, there are imperfections, but for the most part, a good portion of the background in the above picture is done in the Opus Tesselatum style, whereas the image below show a large amount of Opus Regulatum laying style which is easier to do in a hurry:
After the tesserae were laid onto the kraft paper, black cement was applied to a wooden board the same dimensions as the kraft paper, after which the mosaic was placed over the cement and pressed down into it. After drying for a reasonable amount of time, the kraft paper was removed and grout was used to fill in the gaps between the tesserae. After more time to dry, the almost-completed mosaic was lightly scrubbed with a sponge to remove dust and other imperfections that had accumulated on the surface during the process of mounting the mosaic onto the wooden base.
I found the classes really quite interesting and helpful as well as an experience worth pursuing. I am glad with the mosaic I came away with. More information about Southbank Mosaics can be found here.
*Occasionally, a tutor from the renowned Spilimbergo Mosaic School will teach courses on the actual methods used by the Romans.
p.s. Southbank Mosaics also have a replica of the Alexander Mosaic, made by the staff and volunteers at Southbank Mosaics. They have also partially filled in the areas of the left of the mosaic which have been lost to posterity. It is worth seeing!!