Glynnis Lessing

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Mosaic shower surround finally finished!

My shower surround is finally finished!

Okay well, the niche isn’t but that involves a promise and procrastination.

I finally bit the bullet and decided to JUST. DO. IT.

And I’m so glad I did!! Showering in it is as delightful as I’d hoped.

In taking photos of it, I have decided to make this a post about the whole bathroom. This is possibly the first themed room I’ve ever done. It is SO fun!  Anyhow, the shower is about half of the space.

I was concerned about making the grout stick to the celiling. Obviously it is not straight up but at a pretty steep angle and I felt that if I got the grout the right consistency and also if I positioned myself correctly, I would be able to do it and indeed that was the case. I made the grout a little thicker but not so thick that it was not sticky which can happen.  The hardest part was actually getting it up in the pointy peak part where the ceiling the wall meet because it is a small pointy space.

The big mistake I made and the thing I learned was that my placement of tape was STUPID. I put it in places where I could not extract it and did not need to protect that surface. Namely on the skylight, the floor and the side of the trim. see that hint of blue along the edge? TAPE.

Anyhow, here is the end result

and let me just say that showering in here, night or day is SUBLIME. Yes, a little bit of water bounces off your body or the shower floor and gets onto the bathroom floor but a nice absorbent rug takes care of that- way better than some suffocating and ugly off-gassing shower curtain.

The only plumbing glitch we encountered was that the brand new shower head was not working.  Apparently it had gunk in it from the new plumbing- we took off the head and pulled out the putty-like stuff and then it worked wonderfully!

Here are some detail shots:

a goldfinch,

a nest,

yes, the grout on the slate looks a bit sloppy- let me just say in my defense that slate is tricky with hidden cracks and a certain “attraction” for grout.

a redwinged blackbird and its nest, this one I made and it has holes in the bottom to drain any water.

a rabbit hiding in the prairie grasses;

I’m afraid the grey grout helped this rabbit hide a little more than I would have liked.

all the little details of the shower. The shower has a prairie theme  and the overall theme of the bathroom is birds and nests.

Another note on paint color. I picked it before the lights were installed. Once they were in the green (on the bottom) was overpowering in such a small space so I picked a much lighter green and had the upper half painted with that. I love the two tone- I think it worked out well. Props to Ray, my painter!

I made this toothbrush holder/vase- I think it’s what inspired the whole theme!

Now, does anyone know where I can get some egg-shaped soap? I had to carve these myself!

Posted 9 years, 7 months ago at 6:54 pm.


Mosaic Time Line Finished!

Whew!  I am very pleased to have finished the Murphy school Mosaic Time line.

This is the 3rd year I’ve worked on it with the 6th graders.

I am continually impressed with the level of capability amongst so many of the students there.

This year we added 3 more eras:

a Sampan from Feudal China,

a Building from the Renaissance

and a Globe and ship to represent the Age of Exploration.

The steps of the process were as follows:

All the students drew pictures of things representing something from one of the three time periods.

I chose some images and made life-size drawings.

The kids came in small groups of around 8 to lay tile out on these drawings.

After the mosaic was completely laid out students or I taped the whole thing.

I then cut it into manageable sized parts.

Students applied mastic

and then with two student assistants, I lifted the parts up and held them in position while my helpers pressed it into the mastic.

Once everything was up, the students helped me with two more steps.

I had a student glue the actual time line “dashes” individually up onto  the wall while the clear tape was being removed by other students

The mastic was allowed to dry for several days.

The last stage was the grouting. I put up an outline of blue tape around each mosaic to contain the grout and then I put down a drop cloth. (These drop tarps are great in that they are pre-taped and come on a dispenser roll!)

I choose to grout alone as it is too tricky to try to manage students at the same time- it is messy, requires a fair amount of skill and can cut one’s fingers. I wear latex gloves but they offer little protection.

In fact, now that I think of it, this is the first mosaic I have done where I have escaped without sliced fingertips!  Yay!   I must be getting better at this!

After using sponges to  apply the grout using a kind of sweeping ‘S’ shaped movement to bring the grout into the cracks from various angles, I go back to the earliest piece that I grouted and hope that it has reached the “dusty” stage of dryness.

Lastly, I clean them off vigorously with paper “rags” and then remove the tape before the grout hardens completely. If I didn’t, the tape would actually get trapped under the hardened grout (it’s cement actually).

and VOILA!! The finished Time Line.

Posted 9 years, 10 months ago at 3:37 pm.


Various Projects

Apologies as I’ve neglected my blog for some time now.

I thought I would just post some pictures of the various things I’ve been up to.

I am currently very busy teaching but also trying to prepare for as many as FOUR art fairs!

That is my first and most exciting news: I’ve been accepted into the  following fairs:

The 57th Street Art Fair June  5 & 6

Krasl on the Bluff in St. Joseph Michigan July 10 & 11

The Kohler in Sheboygan Wisconsin July 17 & 18 and

The Powderhorn Park Art Fair in Minneapolis August 7 & 8  !

Also I am lucky enough to be working again with the 6th graders at Murphy School to finish our Mosaic Time Line. This year we are doing: Feudal Japan, the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration.and  for the Age of Exploration a globe with a ship sailing on it.

Whenever I get any chunk of time, I am making work for the fairs.  I am excited about the images I’ve recently carved on some  salad plates and casseroles.(I’m so mad I cropped off the bottom of the plate when I was shooting!)

Here’s another plate- this shape was inspired by a great plate I bought from Bob Briscoe

and casseroles!

side view :

and I want to do more of these!  Perspective

from aboveLastly,  I am currently in a faculty show at Lill Street. It opened May 1.

This is one of my Kelp Vases and it was Soda Fired which was just the right treatment for that surface.

Stop by and see it in person as well as all the other amazing work by my colleagues at Lill!

Posted 9 years, 11 months ago at 6:44 pm.


More Mosaic!

Well, I’m sorry but I have to post yet more pictures of the ongoing mosaic-

You remember, I’m putting one up in the new upstairs bathroom.

Here is the panel that just went up:

2nd paneland I’ve put animals in there for the first time

a rabbit hiding in the corner (that’s just masking tape on the floor)rabbit detail and a redwinged blackbird singing by its nestred winged blackbird detailYou can see the nest in the bigger picture- I made it, it’s a soap dish! I’m trying to get some egg-shaped soap.

I’m just so pleased on how it’s coming along!

both panelsAlso, either I’m getting better at installation or my daughter, who helped me for the first time, was just incredibly good. There was no swearing! Everything went smoothly!

I’m so happy!.

Posted 10 years, 1 month ago at 5:54 pm.

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New Mosaic -progress report

Okay, I can’t stand it, I have to post a couple of photos from the latest mosaic.

I do apologize to you potters reading the blog as I’ve been a bit mosaic-heavy this fall but I have been also making pots and I will post about them as soon as I get a minute.

I am working on a mosaic for a new bathroom in our house- so this is a mosaic I’ll have to look at very often.

I started out with an idea of prairie but I knew I would have to work out the colors and background as I went

early stage

– our other bath surround had the convenient design of single images on a white background. This, as you will see is a bit more complex.

too muddy

This was just too muddy for me and I took out some diagonal leaves and simplified just a little. I’m surprised actually how much that helped.

cleaner design

I’m still not completely happy with it but I do love my clouds!!


the only problem with them is that I have to use the nippers on just about every piece. It’s a bit hard on my hands. I’m so glad I invested in a pair of better nippers and I’ll bet I could stand to go up another level of tool quality.

So that’s the water controls wall- the tallest and perhaps the largest in square feet – we shall see; but it feels really good to have the first panel done and today I will be taping it and maybe cutting it up so I can start on the second panel.

I’ll keep you posted!

Posted 10 years, 4 months ago at 4:34 pm.


Grouted at Last!

Yay! I finally grouted that shower! all 120 square feet of it and as usual, I learned a lot.

First of all, grout color is HUGE.

It really makes a difference in how your mosaic reads.

So. I got one whole panel grouted in the lovely matching yellowish grout (Custard, I think it was called) and decided it was breaking up the blue swirls too much!

Note the difference between the navy blue swirls – the one on the left has yellow grout and the one on the right has dark gray.

wall by the window

At which point I briefly panicked but then decided it was not too late to do something about it.

So we got some dark grout and we have two colors of grout. As you can see above.

If you don’t want to complicate your grouting, pick a neutral value color of grout; one that doesn’t  show the spaces and break up the lines too much.

By the way, in case you are curious about the design process, here is my original drawing:the original drawingThe mosaic changed as I went along to accommodate the space, or to use less background (I added more swirls) etc.


 Okay- so here is the step by step procedure for grouting and what you will need. Here’s a list:

  • First of all you need sanded grout- and more for a broken tile mosaic than they say on the bag. The closest is if you compare the square footage for 2 inch tiles but broken tile mosaic takes alot more grout than gridded tile.
  •  2 or 3- 5 or 10 gallon buckets that you may end up throwing away at the end (if you can’t clean them enough) They sell buckets like this at places like Menard’s and Home Depot.
  • It’s helpful to have either a drill with a stirring attachment or a giant potato masher (no photo- sorry!) to stir it or something to mix the grout with besides your hands (which you can also use)
  • tarp(s)
  • blue tape
  • stepladder (?)
  • disposable rubber/latex gloves
  • water
  • lots of sponges- kitchen sized with do but I actually like a slightly bigger sponge.(you will end up having to throw away a lot of sponges by the end- get them at the dollar store)
  • “rags in a box” which are really just heavy duty paper towels. Rags work too and are more sustainable.
  • putty knife, dental tool or screw driver for cleaning hardened grout
  • scrub brush to clean the buckets and tools
  • whisk broom and dustpan
  • garbage bags
  • remember! wear really cruddy clothes- especially shoes; grout just kills your shoes.


Now, you’ve tarped the floor and taped it down. the whole base is tarped

You’ve taped all the borders- ceiling, ceiling is taped edges, 1/4 inch space for grout edge etc.

Wait, here’s the After picture for that: removing the tapeI’m getting ahead of myself but remember to remove the tape while the grout is not completely rock hard!

Mix up your grout by putting a SMALL amount of water in the bottom of the bucket. Then you add the grout. A cloud of fine grout dust will come up – don’t breathe it. Let it settle and then you can begin to stir. Keep adding grout until it looks something like this:grout consistency

then scoop some up on a sponge and start smearing it onto your mosaic. Come at the spaces from several directions to ensure you work the grout in well.using a sponge to apply the grout

After you’ve moved on to another area, check back and when the grout is “dusty” dry-ish looking- but certainly not all the way dry!!wiping it off

Like 15 minutes later- go back with a DRY sponge and start wiping it off. Do not dig into the spaces just concentrate on cleaning off the tile surface.

Later you can wipe it until it’s shiny with the “rags”. They work wonderfully for that.wiping with "rag"

Oh yeah, did I say to wear gloves?

WEAR GLOVES – not only do all the tile edges want to slice your fingertips (yes, my blood is literally in every mosaic I do) but the grout wants to suck out  every drop of moisture your hands have or will have in the next 24 hours.

Lastly, as you go back over it, I found this great “pastry” bag for grout that is awesome! grout "pastry" bag- greatest tool!!You can use that  to squeeze grout into spaces you missed or between gridded tiles that you don’t want to spend lots of time cleaning. Like these:using the bag to fill in tile joints


Okay, so here’s the finished product!!!view from the bedroom

main panel on North wall


the south wall

the west "water" wall (note unfinished niche)

wall by the window


Posted 10 years, 6 months ago at 4:36 pm.

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A brief visit to a Magical Place


We have recently returned from our vacation and stopped ever-so-briefly by my friend Riana’s to drop off some broken pottery for her mosaic work.  You can find her on my links page but I took some photos of her place. 

One of the many arches framing beautiful garden vistas

 It’s almost impossible not to run around snapping picture after picture of her work and I have photos from the last 15 years or more.

I have been deeply privileged to know this native Netherlander since I was 16!

Her garden is an enchanted place which is ever-changing as she works tirelessly and seems to add several new mosaic sculptures each year.

caterpillar bench- with a monkey on the caterpillar

Each one is in a lovely setting with very natural looking plantings around it. 

little girl statue among plantings



an arch framing another little vignette

Her imagination is boundless and many of the arches light up at night.

You can see she uses whatever materials she has at hand- bottle caps, buttons, pebbles, marbles and of course, mostly broken pottery from her many potter friends.


Note how she used fired cone packs in this one!!

cone packs detail


the arch with the cone packs - framing a view of the back porch


This was a normal old broken down abandoned farm until she rented it (she now owns it) and she works incredibly hard. 

sculpture of her golden retriever by her back door


flamingo in the garden

Best of all she offers classes! Please see her website 





Posted 10 years, 6 months ago at 6:12 am.

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Mosaic done except for the grout

At last! I’ve finished putting up the mosaic!  Yes, it remains to be grouted and that’s another set of pictures I’m sure; however, what needs to be discussed is grout color. 


view  of the left side left corner (and window wall)note that those white things are towel hooks.
 window wall (west)Will a yellow/tan grout unite the background and make it just that? The “background”? Or will it make it too strong and break up the shapes of the blues and greens that make up most of the swirls? Stay Tuned to find out!!

Posted 10 years, 6 months ago at 8:28 pm.

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Back at work on the Mosaic for the bath surround

I got another panel up today but I thought I’d also talk a little about the process.

I had a friend ask me about laying it out and I realized there are several ways.  This is what I recommend:  

Get paper as big as you can- butcher or kraft paper is ideal but if you have newprint or something, you can tape pieces together to cover your space to be mosaic’d.

Next, draw your design right onto it while it’s on the wall (if you can.) Take down the paper in sections- that is, if you are working on a really big space as I am for the bath surround, and my table is 32” wide, I have been cutting my design into strips around that wide. Note how I am choosing natural borders along which to break up my design.


Then you can either designate a table and work on it in pieces that are the size of the table top

OR buy sheets of styrofoam insulation- the thick pink works best but it’s a bit costly or very thin plywood (so it doesn’t weigh a lot). The plywood tends to warp and arch.

One artist who advised me,  lays the whole thing out in sections on multiple styrofoam sheets and stacks them on top of eachother until she is ready to put the whole thing up on the wall.

After the broken tile is laid out, I hold it all together with clear shelf paper that I get at Menard’s (though you can buy special tape or use regular tape but that gets pricey). Then, as each section is done, I cut the mosaic into 12-18 inch square sections; again following natural lines and borders using an exacto blade. That is one good reason to put cardboard under the paper- so you don’t cut up your table top. If you use the styrofoam, it is great for absorbing the cuts.


I apply mastic (that’s the adhesive- you buy in buckets) to the wall and lift the sections of mosaic and push them onto the sticky wall. This process is A LOT easier with two people, one holding up the section of mosaic and the other guiding it into place and pressing it into the mastic. But it can be done alone as I have been finding out. You can even use your feet as I do at the very bottom.

I suggest starting with smaller sections until you see the problems inherent.

Start at the bottom and leave yourself some wiggle room as the mosaic tends to expand and also to distort as it stretches and sags a small amount.

Because of this I also advise applying the mastic a bit past your edges when you can. It is easy enough to take a little putty knife and clean off excess after the tiles are up but much harder to lift all the tiles up that don’t have mastic under them and try to get some under there.mastic-detail

* Note: If your work space is a ways from your mosaic site, and you don’t have the insulation boards, you can slide/lift  your sections  onto various boards and trays, even layers of newspaper and moved them there.

You’ll note I often have strips of masking tape. Sometimes I make a spiral or something and I want it to really stay together;  perhaps I don’t have time to lay out the filler/background right then. A quick strip of masking tape is a good way to keep the piece in place. It’s also a bit stickier than the shelf paper and the more matte and rough a tile’s surface is, the less it sticks to shelf paper. Conversely, shiny, smooth tile sticks almost too much.

Here is the newest section up  and with the tape removed.  section-put-up-and-tape-peeled-off

I won’t be teaching in August, but I hope to catch up with a couple of posts I missed during my  classes. I am also hoping to finish this mosaic!!

Posted 10 years, 8 months ago at 3:27 pm.

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Murphy Mosaic Finished

I am so pleased with the final result of the TimeLine Mosaic that I worked on again this year with the Sixth Graders at Murphy school.students-applying-mastic














































We had started it last year and this year we added 3 more symbols of various Ancient Cultures.

It was really wonderful to attend the Fine Arts Festival at Murphy school and to officially inaugurate the Mosaic Time Line
















We cut the ribbon


























and then everyone viewed the symbols of ancient cultures. 


The timeline starts with  A Cave painting of a horse from Lascaux, France. 14,000 BCEview-of-most-of-the-timeline

















Next (my favorite) Anubis, Egyptian God of the Dead. 3000 BCE .  I combined the Chinese Bagua, which was discovered in 2,800 BCE by FuXi on the back of a tortoise, with dragons which are a symbol of the emperor.  For Ancient Greece, I chose a Greek pot from 600 BCE depicting Athena’s owl, and Murphy’s mascot.


This year we added an  Archer from a frieze on the wall of  Darius the Great’s Palace, Persia, 510 BCE  archer-from-darius-the-greats-palace-ungrouted





















I wanted to make sure North America was represented by thisarcher-and-olmec-head














Giant stone head created by the Olmecs in the area near what is now Veracruz, Mexico . The Olmecs came into dominance from 1200 to 400 BC 

The arched windows lent themselves beautifully to a depiction of the Rome’s best engineering feat;  an Aqueduct from 100 BCE roman-aquaduct


finally it ends on the landing with an Illuminated Manuscript Europe  representing the Middle Ages in Europe.  Monks hand-copied books; decorating pages and words with plants, animals and scenes from the text.illuminated-manuscript-after-grouting





















Here are some other photos- some taken before grouting so you can compare and some  details of the mosaics

illuminated-manuscript-before-groutingilluminated-text-mosaic-in-progressdetail-of-manuscript-murphy-owllaid out: archerdetail-aquaduct

Posted 10 years, 10 months ago at 5:12 pm.

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