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I’m handing the site over this morning to artist Christine Brallier, pictured right, for something totally different — stained glass mosaics. (Have I ever posted about stained glass mosaics? I actually don’t think I have.) Last year, Christine released her first picture book (Brownian Bee Press), The Night Before Christmas. I read it last year, but did I post about it? Nope. I had intended to, but I got busy. When I contacted her about it this year, we decided better late than never. So, she visits today to talk about how she makes her mosaics and to share process images, as well as some photos of the stained glass pieces from the book.
Let’s get right to it. For those who are interested in even more information, Christine blogged here about her process from start to finish.
Christine: Before I discovered mosaics, I had always wanted to illustrate a children’s book but never felt very confident about my painting abilities. Once I found mosaics in 2005, I thought, what a unique idea it would be to illustrate a book with my mosaics. About six years ago on Christmas Eve, my family and I were reading “The Night Before Christmas,” as we always do, when suddenly I thought, “I would love to illustrate this book, personalize it with my family in it, and read it every year!” So, I began the process of designing and creating fifteen stained glass mosaics over the next four years.
The first thing I did was draw quick 2×3” thumbnail sketches, not thinking too much about it — really just getting the idea of it down, the side story of the cat, etc. Here’s one I did of the reindeer, which—don’t laugh—look much more like donkeys!
Some of my ideas changed dramatically, once I started the mosaic process, like eliminating the reindeer altogether when Santa is flying over the house. I simply couldn’t fit eight reindeer in the design, let alone one, since I wouldn’t be able to cut the glass tiny enough for all the detail that would require. I found such limitations to be a fun challenge — that is, for me to come up with something different, which often led to more creative choices and end results.
From there, I did hours and hours of research on pretty much every element in the book. For example, I didn’t know how to draw reindeer (as you can see), so I spent a lot of time looking at photos to find the qualities I wanted to express. In my notes, I wrote “joyful, playful, not dainty, sturdy and strong.” I found what I was looking for in images of reindeer races. What got me was that they run with their tongues hanging out, like dogs riding in a car with the top down – they look so happy! I knew I had to include that detail in my design.
I planned for an 8×10” book in the end, so I drew my final designs at 5×8”. (I draw more accurately when I draw small; don’t ask me why!) I do only a line drawing for the design and then work out all of the details, once I get to the glass cutting stage.
The preparation for the mosaic work goes like this: enlarge the design to the final mosaic size of 15×24”, tape down on cardboard (so I can move it if necessary), tape plastic wrap down over the design, and then tape fiberglass mesh down over the plastic wrap. I can see the design through the plastic wrap and will then glue the glass onto the mesh. The plastic wrap keeps the glass from being glued to the design underneath. This process allows me to make changes to the mosaic with ease, as opposed to trying to remove glass that has been glued to a board. And I made some major changes throughout, as you will see. In this image, you can see how it all works:
I don’t generally color my designs in advance, as I like to work with the glass to see what looks best together. Once I have the design taped down, I play with glass colors like this. The colors on the top are too harsh. The ones on the bottom are softer and much more appealing to me, so I went with those.
Deciding on colors for the quilt:
A big part of my process is printing out the design small and using it to play with a few different things: color, value, and andamento (the visual flow of the mosaic that is produced by how the glass is cut and how it is placed in the design). In this one, I worked on color and value:
On this one, I worked out how I wanted the reindeers’ blankets to be designed. I sometimes tweak a design at this stage, too; for instance, here I decided the tongue needed to be shorter.
In this example, I’m working out the andamento in the cat, the guitar, their clothing, and their faces. You can see the direction lines of how the glass will be laid, as well as shapes of the cuts.
In progress, working with my guides:
The biggest part of making this book was to be able to include my family in it. I worked from photos of my husband, myself, our son, and our cat. My husband posed for all of the pages he was featured in and even posed for some of Santa’s body positions, so I could get them just right.
The process of creating our cat, Raymi:
Sometimes I wouldn’t have a photo of Raymi that matched what I wanted her to be doing, so I’d do a very extensive search online for a cat in the pose I wanted. Then I’d adapt it to her colors and markings.
When I finished all 15 of the mosaics, there were changes to be made. Some were minor, but others were huge. The interesting thing is that by the time I got to the final mosaic, it had been four years since I started and my technique had changed and improved. I needed the earlier mosaics to match the quality and style of the later ones. In this mosaic, I changed the wall from dark random pieces of glass to lighter, straight cut pieces and added a darker frame around the mosaic on the wall. Much better!
This one went through a lot of revisions:
Other changes were a matter of aesthetics. I originally did the house grey, because I wanted it to be personal to us and our house is grey. It just looked so dull against the snow, so I changed it to brick. It was an additional 17 hours to change — but worth it.
This change was a necessity – I had made Santa’s bag green in the fifth mosaic, but when I got to the ninth mosaic, I realized it wasn’t going to work, because the green bag was sitting right in front of the Christmas tree and was disappearing. This is downside to not planning out all of the designs in advance. So, I had to re-do the bag in both mosaics.
Sometimes I’d get partway through an area, only to realize the colors weren’t working. Fortunately, I didn’t get too far before I decided this one didn’t work for me.
Finally, I’m satisfied with the mosaics but there is still a lot to do. I have to cut the boards, attach hanging hardware, transfer the mosaics to the boards, grout them, finish the edges, and paint the backs. When I went to attach the mosaics to the boards, I found that they were too floppy and unmanageable, so I had to first apply glue to the backs of the mosaics and let them dry so that hey’d be rigid enough for me to hold onto without all the pieces of glass falling off.
Once they were glued to the boards, my favorite part was next, filling in all those gaps with grout. I spread the grout all over the mosaic and then wipe off the surface so that only the grout in between the glass remains.
I love grouting and seeing how the mosaic changes, how it becomes cohesive and complete — and even softens the mosaic. Here is a detail from one of the mosaics, before and after grouting.
One of the last steps is finishing the edges of the mosaics with thinset to match the grout. [Ed. Note: This is pictured above in the photo of Christine that opens this post.]
I did it! Thanks so much for reading about my process.
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All images are copyright © 2013 by Christine Brallier and used by her permission.
Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.
1) The girls are off from school for the holidays, and this always means more time to read together. We’re reading a handful of good novels right now.
2) I’ve graduated to Level Two in my piano lessons, meaning book two in the course I’m using. My teacher would veer from book one an awful lot in order to let me do what I wanted, so it’s been a while with book one, but now I’m moving on. It feels good to “graduate.”
3) I so super bad wish I could see this show.
5) A kicker shared his writing with me, and it was a pleasure to read it.
6) Last weekend we saw a stage production of A Christmas Carol, and it fake-snowed on us inside the theater at the end. (Well, it only snowed on some rows, so we had extra-great seats.)
7) My husband was in Portland this past week and snapped this picture of our book in Powell’s. That was fun to see.
What are YOUR kicks this week?