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Artists Carl and Sandra Bryant use tiny pieces of glass to create intricate mosaic works of art.
by Stephanie Kaplan
Art is often a labor of love, but it’s especially so for husband and wife mosaic team Carl and Sandra Bryant. “Sandy had worked in oil painting for many years, and we wanted to try something that we could do together,” explains Carl. The couple first explored making clay fine art pieces and hand-pressed tiles for backsplashes and before settling on creating mosaics together in 2001. “We both immediately fell in love with the medium,” continues Carl. “Not believing in starting small, the first piece we attempted was a 45” x 60” mural of an urban coffee stand,” Carl recalls. “Despite the challenges, once we were done we knew we had found something that we both loved and could work on together.”
Because the Bryants are self-taught, their creative process was honed through from trial and error. Each mosaic begins with a thumbnail graphite sketch of the subject matter, followed by a more detailed pen-and-ink drawing on kraft paper. Depending on the design, Sandra will sometimes also complete an acrylic painting on kraft paper covered with gesso—“I’m just looking at shading, composition, and color when I do the painting,” the artist clarifies. Once the composition and color is established for the mosaic, the painting or drawing is placed on a board and used as a pattern guide for the mosaic. The artists utilize the reverse indirect mosaic method to create their mosaics—piecing together a standard fine art mosaic that is five or six square feet takes about five days. Once the pattern is covered with clear contact paper sticky side up, the artists place the tesserae—the individual glass pieces in a mosaic—on the pattern and move them around to create the desired design. “It’s like putting together a big puzzle,” Sandra explains. “It’s important to have the tesserae flow in a line so that the sections of the mosaic match up exactly—if the line breaks, the composition doesn’t flow.” This technique provides maximum flexibility because the artists can change the position of the tiles multiple times until they reach their desired composition. Once the mosaic is pieced together, the face of the mosaic is covered with tile tape, which is much stickier than the contact paper. Another board is placed on top of the tile tape and the sandwiched mosaic is flipped onto its front. The artists then peel off the contact paper from the back of the mosaic, grout the tiles from the back, and adhere the mosaic to its final base with white Laticrete, a cemtent-based glass adhesive. “The process of grouting the tiles from the back of the mosaic gives the top of the mosaic a very smooth surface,” Sandra explains. “We use an archival base of either fully primed top-quality marine plywood, reinforced cement, or cement board, and we use reinforced mortar that is made to adhere to glass mosaic,” Carl adds. “Mosaics have been around since ancient times and many are still in wonderful condition.”
After a one-week drying period, the artists peel off the tile tape from the front of the mosaic and fill in any small spaces between the tiles with additional grout. “I like to use different colored grouts depending on the design because there isn’t one color that looks right with everything,” Sandra explains. If I had to choose one grout color to use for all of my mosaics, I would go with a neutral beige color because it makes the tile colors pop.”
To create their intricate mosaics, the artists use many types of glass—two of their favorite manufactures are Aura and Sicis. Sandra also purchases stained glass and glass cabochons—a gem created by melting pieces of glass together—to use in the mosaics. Although the couple estimates that they have 1,000 jars of glass in their studio, they put anything they like in mosaics—turquoise or coins—anything that they find, anything that inspires them. The artists follow the same philosophy when considering the palette for their pieces—“We tend to use a lot of red in our fine art work, but we really enjoy more muted palettes as well. It really depends upon the individual piece,” Sandra says. Regardless of their color choices, the artists generally work with more saturated colors because they produce more eye-catching mosaics.
Despite the couple’s love for the same creative process, their work is quite different. Carl’s mosaics tend to be more abstract, such as Gelato and Birth of a Planet, while Sandra focuses on landscapes and still lifes. In Gelato Carl’s use of different shades of red tile makes the more intricate yellow and green design stand out. The intricate details that make this mosaic so effective can also be seen in Sandra’s Flowers on the Table. “Most of our fine art projects have an average of 1,600 individually shaped pieces of glass per square foot,” explains the artists’ website. A close look at the flower stamens in Striped Wallpaper illustrates that even the smallest part of a flower is composed of many tiny pieces of glass that add a realistic quality to the mosaic. “Sometimes one flower in our garden will inspire a floral still life,” Sandra explains.
Although the couple has only taken on one public mosaic mural, public art is something we are very interested in and would like to do more of. Installing the mosaic at the Lucille Umbarger Elementary School in, Burlington, Washington, was a challenge, but Sandra is anxious to take on similar projects because she enjoyed working with a community. Regardless of the type of mosaics the couple creates, Sandra reiterates that they continue to work with this medium for one simple reason—because it’s really fun.
For more information on the Bryants, visit their website, www.showcasemosaics.com.
Stephanie Kaplan is the online editor of American Artist.