Saturday, April 28, 2012

On Resisting the Urge to Collect

Alongside the problem of accumulation, the urge to collect remains a threat to order in my house. I actively resist collecting, however, to keep control one must organize with conviction because some collections may prove necessary. I used to acquire professional books, however, now I collect texts, that is, digitized books confined to that magical rectangular box, the computer. Organized alphabetically and by subject, my library remains readily available and invisible.
          Other collections may have sentimental value, therefore one must take extra precautions, such as rounding them up in one place. My mom's copper and brass collection came to live in my house. 
                             I started with three discreet shelves in a hallway. 
                         Most of the tea kettles belonged to my grandmother.
   One must be rigorous. Did you know that collections multiply when you sleep ?  
                                           Yup, they're cunning.
         So don’t let your guard down. This collection even went below the shelves.
Very old, small items appeared out of nowhere: ivory handled jackknives, keys (including a huge and ancient key to a shop in the medina/old town of Tunis), ashtrays, a bell, a souvenir Eiffel tower, toy pots, a box of colored pencils from my husband's grade school days, and a bottle top opener. A Chinese embroidered jacket found at the flea market served as inspiration for the dragon watercolor. 
This lovely set of canisters with a tray from around the late 1930s was originally silver plated as can be seen on the egg cup in the middle. It was a wedding gift belonging to my Tunisian mother-in-law.
 And this Tunisian copper and tin canister originally had a lid and held sugar cubes.
     All right. I admit I love this collection for its sentimental and aesthetic value. 
                    But I still resist the urge to collect, and the battle rages on...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Beach Culture and the Necessity of Art

Summer approaches and the Mediterranean beaches will soon entice Tunisians to drop everything and swim in warm water and play in sand—for days on end. 
Tunisian beach culture is not the best fit for me. I hung out with the swim team crowd when I was a kid—give me heavily chlorinated water, smooth sides and a flat bottom any day of the week. Who needs salt water in your eyes and the possibility of a sting ray swishing out from under the sand and zapping your knee (happened to an American woman I know)? In addition, I don’t suntan, I tomato.
              When our kids were younger we rented a beach house for a couple weeks during summers—they loved it. In order not to hate it (I mean, there’s sand everywhere, you’re lucky if you can keep it out of the food), I walked and sketched, 
or worked on various projects in the protective shade of the porch while everyone else enjoyed the beach. And this is when art becomes a necessity. Nothing profound here--just a question of keeping one's balance. 
I admit to sometimes working from a sketch or drawing when precision might be desirable and when I have a bunch of drawings in front of me because I couldn't take fabric and sewing machine to the beach. No point in wasting ideas.
Beni Khiar, Nov. 1993, 26"x37" /67cmx93cm, machine pieced, appliquéd, embroidered, and quilted
        This piece commemorates a vacation in Beni Khiar, a small beach village.
I haven't been to the beach for a number of years. Now I just say that I’ve grown roots in my garden. And yet, the memories linger...

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mosaic Technicalities

Several questions have been raised in the Comments section of a previous post  showing that mosaics interest readers. Therefore, I propose to expound on mosaic-making technique as I understand it. Keep in mind that I am self-taught and this may be all wrong.
First of all, the best bases for me are terra cotta and clay pots, which can last 25 or 30 years in an outdoor environment. Adding the tiles and cement should extend their durability by years. I don’t bother with wood, as it has low durability in my area. However, recycling is important and I have been gluing mosaic pieces onto metal paint cans and buckets and then grouting with cement (yeah, just plain Portland cement, no sand added), which seems to work in the short run. I would expect those containers to last a minimum of five years, but eventually they will rust from the inside. Same can be said for the oil tin cans I use. Since I cement the bottoms, they could last longer because the cement and tiles form the container. Time will tell—I’m rather new at this. I’ve been toying with the idea of using plastic detergent containers in order to recycle them. Cheap plastic Christmas tree balls make cool “orbs” that can be hung in the garden.    
          Warning: wear a mask when working with cement, and watch out for your back—the larger pots can be heavy. One must choose carefully where they will be placed because once planted, they’re difficult to move, needless to say.
          On the creative side, I never sketch mosaic designs and I find that I have nothing to say about the design process in my journal. Remembering that it’s “just” a flower pot is liberating. A couple of simple rules: make many and make every design different. I reflect on possible designs and work it out on the pot with a few penciled lines.  Generally, one design leads to the next. 
           I cut one color of tiles (usually white) with nippers to get rectangular or triangular pieces of the same size (more or less) to work into a design. Then I add the fill-in tiles, which are smashed with a hammer. One should use "thinslip" to adhere tiles to the surface for outdoor projects and there's a special mosaic grout. I haven't found them locally so I use a very strong glue (and keep the windows open or glue outside) and use cement for the grouting. Seems to work. I've also seen resin used, which  makes the mosaic lighter, however, I can't vouch for its durability. I darken the grouting cement with a black paint product used for mixing wall paint--once again, seems to work. I've also used white cement for grouting if the tiles are dark. Other colors can be added.
          Having saved tiny pieces for awhile, I’ve accumulated enough to use in parts of designs. Here's a floral motif: 
    There still remains room for a few more pots going up the stairs to the roof.

For information and free instructions see Mosaic Art Supply.
For inspiration check Mosaic Art Now.