Town (or area) & State/Country you reside in: Atlanta, GA
Business Name: Laura McKellar Mosaics
As a child I was always creating; drawing, working with clay, textiles, you name it. I was an art major at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, focusing on painting and printmaking, in love with Van Gogh and Matisse. After graduating, I studied graphic design at Portfolio Center in Atlanta, Ga. (I believe it’s now called Miami Ad School, or MAD Atlanta). I worked as a graphic designer in Atlanta for thirty years while we raised our three children. I finally decided to quit graphic design, get off the computer, and return to the studio to create art for me.
I was in the process of cleaning out my small home studio, (which had been dedicated to all the creative supplies I’d used in my volunteer work for my kid’s schools for the past thirty years), and I came across a box of tile and beads I’d been gifted. I told myself I’d play around with it and if I didn’t like it, I’d pass it on. That was all it took to get me hooked! That was in 2017 and I’ve been mosaicking ever since.
My mosaic work at first was rough and primitive-looking, but I enjoyed the process so much that I developed a good habit of working every day and learning something new with every piece. About a year later, my husband and I were ready to renovate our basement as we’d recently become empty nesters, and we designated a space for my new studio. I was lucky enough to create a large space with separate stations: one for cutting & gluing/layout, another for grouting, one for painting, one for framing, one for staging and photographing, and a computer space. These stations free up so much time for me; I don’t have to clean up after every mess I make as I go. I’m so blessed to have such a great space to work in.
Gardening has nurtured my love of flowers. They are my go-to mosaic subject because they bring so much joy both to me while creating, and to the viewer. Who doesn’t love flowers? I’m inspired by nature and anything floral and frequently take photos on our daily walk which end up in a mosaic. I follow lots of gardeners and florists on social media. There are so many ways to express flowers through mosaic: in a bouquet, bunch, large single bloom, nature scene, in a landscape. It’s always a happy challenge to decide which flowers, colors, layout, tesserae to choose… so many variables!
My layout process has evolved over time. I used to draw the flowers out on the board and then mosaic what I’d drawn, but I don’t even do that anymore…just too tedious! I pull together a few reference photos with a vision in mind, and start cutting and laying out the glass. I might have a pencil mark on the primed wood to indicate a horizon line or vase line, but even that is rare. I enjoy the challenge of putting stained glass shapes together and getting beautiful flower forms. It’s always exciting to see what appears on the board. I believe that is why I’m always eager and excited to be cutting glass, my favorite part of the mosaic process.
The development of my painted grout backgrounds happened this way. When I first started mosaicking, I was learning from and working in traditional styles, working from a photo or design underneath mesh and filling in every space with tesserae. I did not like how busy the backgrounds were and how their busy-ness pulled away from the main subject. I had been using a pre-mixed grout with adhesives in it called FusionPro, mostly out of just not wanting to mix my own grout. I did not want that powdery mess in my new studio and didn’t want to have to guess how much to mix every time and then have wasted grout left over. I realized the FusionPro grout was not cracking or chipping at all and thought oh, I can use that for the background. I was still using charcoal grout on all my pieces and did not like how dark my pieces were. So I started grouting in light gray, leaving the backgrounds unmosaicked, and painting my grouted backgrounds. I absolutely loved the effect, as it felt (and still feels) like a hybrid of painting and mosaic. I learned to use high-quality acrylics with good pigment and lightfastness so the color and paint will not fade. Of course the painted backgrounds are for indoor pieces only. During the last couple of years I’ve primarily been using stained glass, (my favorite material!) which feels more like “paint” to me.
I’ve learned that even when I’m not particularly motivated to create, if I just show up (get my butt in the studio!), turn on some music, (anything from classical to Jackson Browne to Beatles) and start cleaning something or organizing a space, I’ll be creating before I know it. It just happens in studio, but you have to show up! Henri Matisse said it best: “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while working."
My goal in making mosaic art has been to make art that I like, have fun doing it, and share my work with others. If I’m not enjoying the process, something needs to change. If I don’t like what I create, it’s ok, just pass it on and keep trying, duds happen. And I’m always happy to answer questions from other folks just starting out. Mosaicking has brought me so much joy and sharing whatever knowledge I’ve gained with others will hopefully multiply that joy. Keep mosaicking!
“To practice any art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. So do it.” – Kurt Vonnegut