Mosaics and sculpture


One of the ways I work with clients so we understand all the parameters of a project design, is to create a maquette.  A maquette is a small work-up of the project.  This is generally used on sculpture projects and provides a better visual to the client.  Mosaic art work has many factors, the individual tesserae, the andamento (flow & placement), and the grout color.  I highly recommend creating grout color swatches so the client may choose which grout color they prefer. 

These swatches all contain the same tesserae yet have different grout colors.  Notice the difference the grout can make.


The client picked the white grout and I grouted the maquettes. 


The maquette is generally a to-scale sculpture.  These were not designed to scale, only as examples.  Even so, the client has a pretty good idea of what the finished project will look like when combined with the rendering.

Death & Flower Sculpture Stems

My life shifted a bit this year with the sudden death of my father.  His 81st birthday would have been tomorrow and I am not quite so certain of or yet adjusted to his physical absence.  He was a great supporter of me doing my own thing and still I noticed right after he passed that perhaps I was not living my life as full as might be possible.  I noticed the areas where I play things safe, try to look good, not rock the boat or upset anyone, etc.  I do like for things to be nice, I do like to be gentle and kind, I do want people to be happy.  I am a fairly mild human being.  I also think of myself as a tad bit eccentric.  So, with that in mind, I am reinventing myself as a mixture of Elegant and Eccentric.  I am building a new website.  I am taking time to care for my family.  I am taking time off from teaching in the Fall, reinventing how and what I teach, and starting again in 2013.  I  am making those sculptures I always wanted to make and was afraid they were too silly.  By the way, I am a bit silly too.  So, here's to life, here's to death and transformation, and here's to living a life you love.

Now, back to the flower sculptures:

The stem of the flower may be finished last, after the mosaic application.  In this tutorial, I am working it now as many of you have been patiently waiting.  Again, this flower will be an indoor sculpture and will sit on a pedestal or tabletop.

I wrapped the stem in blue tape to help hold things together.  In this photo, you can see where I have marked the area I plan to trim.  If your flower is an outdoor flower and will be set into a pipe, do not trim it.

You may click on the thumbnail to view a larger image.


Cut the wire with wire cutters.


Use epoxy putty, the kind used for plumbing repairs.  It's an easy-to-use substance that can be modelled like clay.  Wear rubber gloves and work in a ventilated area when using.  Basically, follow the directions on the packaging. 


Unwrap the putty.  It will be two colors.  Tear off a bit and knead it together to form a uniform and consistent color.  Work quickly.  If the putty starts to get warm, it is curing!  You want to have enough time to use it on your sculpture.


Begin applying the putty to the stem.  Work neatly and wrap the entire stem.  If your flower will be set into a pipe, work only the section closest to the petals in order to create the look of an elegant form.


For those outdoor flowers:

Assuming your flower is mosaicked and ready for setting into a pipe, now is the time to mix more putty, wrap the stem in a thick coating, and smoosh (a technical term similar to press) it into the open end of the pipe.  I recommend copper pipe cut to length before this step.  Add additional putty as needed for reinforcement and aesthete.  Let the putty cure as directed.  It can be painted when cured.

Here, I am finishing out the stem of the indoor sculpture with more epoxy putty.


Sculpt it to your liking and let cure.


Design: Flower Sculpture How-To

How does one go about creating a design?  For me, I pick something I am interested in (talavera pottery), add a touch of something I've recently seen (the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit), follow a bit of history (Mexican folk art, Greek motifs in pottery and mosaic), and mix it all up.  I often do a search-engine look at images and after many pages of images, I create my own design.  Other searches include research through books and periodicals as  there is still nothing quite like the feel of a good book in my hands.

The shape of my sculpture influences the pattern I choose for my design.  The long, tulip-like petals of this sculpture are similar to a pattern I often see on talavera pottery.  As I was drawing my design, I realized the pattern also looked very much like flower motifs I had seen on Greek pottery and in mosaic floors.  In doing research on the Greek flower motif, I could then see the connection to other cultural designs and before I knew it, I had traveled the world through a flower motif.

On Tuesday, I had the great joy of viewing the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the

Dallas Museum of Art

 and still being in the after-glow of his work, I am using stripes in my design.  

You can see, in the image below, that I have left a hole in the flower.  I plan to add a pistol/stamen by threading glass beads onto aluminum wire and inserting this into the cluster of wires that are part of the stem.  Aluminum wire can be found in many craft stores in the jewelry section.  It comes in many assorted colors and guages.  As I have not quite determined my color scheme, I will leave the choosing of the wire color toward the last.

Choose the type of material for your project based on where it will be located.  If  indoors, you may use low or high-fired materials.  If outdoors, only high-fired, vitreous, and natural stone materials will do.  I recommend choosing a mosaic material that is thin.  If your material is too thick it might be too heavy for this particular sculpture design.  Vitreous glass, stained glass, mirrored glass, porcelain dishware (particularly the teacups and saucers), and a thin porcelain tile like Cinca are all good choices.

Choose your adhesive for indoors or out.  For indoors, I recommend Weldbond glue.  For outdoors, use thinset.

Consider how you will place your materials on the design.  There are several traditional methods of laying tesserae (I will write a separate post on some of these methods).  To begin, consider working a central motif first, if you have one.  Next, begin an outline of that motif and of the edges of each petal.  In most traditional mosaic forms, we are often trained to avoid the use of triangles.  If you are inclined to create work in the traditional manner, by all means, avoid triangle tessera in your work!

Because I have not kept a regular schedule for these posts, I will post again in the next few days and will cover some tradtional opus patterns and designs. 

Here is an interesting  link to ceramic designs:

Fortify the Form: Flower Sculpture How-To


Today we fortify the form for your mosaic flower.  Begin by cutting the plaster tape into small (2-3 inch) triangles and rectangles.  Prepare a pan/bowl of warm water.

Have all your materials and supplies at hand and begin by dipping one piece of plaster tape into the water.  Take care to not drip water onto the dry plaster cut pieces or it will ruin them.  Wet the piece thoroughly yet do not get it too wet.  With practice you will discover the right amount.  Now apply the wet plaster tape to the flower armature.  Overlap the tape as you go and make certain to press firmly into the wire mesh for good adhesion.

Continue to wrap the armature in plaster tape, inside and out until your entire form is covered.  Add a second layer.  Be neat.

Let the plaster cure until it is all the way dry to the touch.  Check for flexibility.  If the form is too flexible, the mosaic will crack.  Reinforce seams and petals, if neeeded.

Now, decide whether your flower is for the indoors or out.   Proceed accordingly:


Seal the plaster tape with a solution of Weldbond Glue and water (1:4).  Let dry.  Mosaic using Weldbond Glue as your adhesive.


Mix thinset according to directions on bag and to a consistency like peanut butter.  Apply thinset neatly to the plastered form using a pallet knife.  Smooth ridges and bumps with a gloved finger dipped in water.  Do not add too much water, just enough to smooth the surface.  Let cure overnight.

Optional Step:  Use a waterproofing membrane.

Waterproofing membrane is sold at your local hardware store in the tile and flooring department.  It is a paintable medium that provides a waterproof barrier and flexible membrane to your substrate.  Paint it on according to the directions on the bucket.  Two coats are required for most products.  The one I use is pink when wet and dries to red.

For outdoor flowers use thinset as your adhesive.  Thinset can be applied directly to the waterproofing membrane.

Let the mosaicking begin!  Here is a flower in progress by Leta Durrett.

Pink mosaic flower (WIP) by Leta Durrett.

 Why plaster the wire mesh?  We plaster the wireform mesh because it is made of aluminum and I have heard that aluminum and cement do not work well together.  The plaster cloth creates a barrier between the two substances and also provides some strength to the structure.

Why use a waterproofing membrane?  The waterproofing membrane adds an additional protective and flexible layer to your flower armature.  I am not sure it is necessary.

The next post will cover mosaic design, grouting and the finishing of the works.  I am looking forward to seeing your flowers and will post pictures from some of my students as well.


Mosaic Flower Sculpture How-To

Let's begin our flower design by drawing out the shape of one petal onto a sheet of paper.  The maximum length of a petal is 13 inches.  Stay in the 11 - 13 inch range for a petal as anything larger is not suited to these materials, and anything smaller is slightly more challenging to mosaic.

How many petals does your flower have?  I am choosing five petals for my imaginary flower.  Yours may be based on a real flower.  If so, study the design of your flower and count how many petals it has.  Make only one pattern for the petal shape.

The size of each petal is 11-13 inches long.  To this we add another 6-7 inches for a stem.  I like to measure about 6 inches of wire (14  gauge), make a mark, and then begin laying and shaping the wire to my pattern.  As I come around the pattern to the end of the petal design, I add another 6 inches.  Repeat this process until all the petals are formed.  The petals will not be identical.  Allow this to be OK as it follows the natural design of Mother Nature.  Set the formed wires aside.



Return to your pattern and add a 1/2 inch seam allowance to the outside edge of the petal drawing. 

Unroll a section of aluminum mesh, double the width of the petal design.  Fold in half along the length of the petal and trace the pattern onto the mesh using a permanent marker.  Cut out the shape.  This gives us two petals!  Now repeat this process until you have cut out all the petals needed for your project.

Place a wire petal outline on top of one aluminum mesh petal and carefully fold the seam over the edges.  Repeat for each petal.

Arrange petals, face down, and bend stems at a 90 degree angle.  Tape stems together for ease in handling.  The petals will be loose at this point so you can arrange them to suit your flower design.

Flip the flower over and begin to arrange and shape the petals.  Remember, the wire is malleable and you can create just about anything.  Do be careful and know the aluminum mesh can tear.  If so, it can be mended.  Once you have something close to what you are wanting to create, cut off some of the smaller gauge wire (2-3 inches) and begin sewing the seams of your petals together.  I find needle nose pliers useful for pulling the wire threads through the mesh.  The goal is to bind the petals together for a supported structure.  Take your time and try to design your flower such that the lower parts of the petals can support one another.  Make adjustments as needed.

My fantasy flower is looking like a tulip.  If you are a beginner in mosaics, I recommend creating your flower with petals that are more open.  This will be easier to mosaic than the flower I am creating here.

Take the time and care to reinforce the seams of your flower by stitching it together along the lines of the heavier gauge wire.  Shape the petals, study your design in different lighting, and make sure the flower sculpture looks good to you.  

Mosaic Flower Sculpture, Supply List

I have had so many requests from artists who want to learn how to make a mosaic flower sculpture.  The large sculptures we did last year are complex and difficult to write out instructions for.  Thus, I created a smaller flower that is easier to construct and a lot less expensive.  This process can be used for any flower design you like.  I will set about giving you all the instructions bit by bit.  If you have questions as I go, please feel free to comment and I will assist you along the way.  

Look at images of flowers for inspiration and choose a flower with simple petals.  I have been making lilies and hibiscus blossoms.  Also, consider creating an art flower made from your imagination.  I will create an art flower to serve as a tutorial work as we go along.

This blog post serves as the first in a series on how-tos for the flower sculptures.  


14 gauge steel galvanized wire.  This is available at your local hardware store in rolls of 100 ft. or more.

 24 gauge steel galvanized wire.  Also available at the hardware store in a 250 ft. roll.

AMACO brand aluminum wireform mesh 1/16", 10 ft roll.  Available at some hobby stores or on-line.

1 large package plaster wrap (Rigid Wrap is one brand name).  Available on-line or at hobby stores.

1 roll epoxy putty for metal.  Available at your local hardware store.

a flexible thinset - check with your hardware store or supplier for a thinset with additive.  In the US, Home Depot sells FLEXBOND in white or grey.  MAPEI also makes a very good product available at Lowes. And, Laticrete is always an excellent choice.


wire cutters

scissors suitable for cutting aluminum mesh

disposable plastic gloves

pallet or putty knife

needle nose pliers


Gather your materials and we will begin construction on the next posting!

Good Morning Texas & Big Mosaic Flowers

Friday, October 1, 2010 Katrina Doran will be on Good Morning Texas!  The show airs at 9 AM on WFAA Channel 8.  You can watch the show later that day on-line at

Katrina will be talking about the sculpted flowers on display at the 2010 State Fair of Texas that 

she created with her students from the Creative Arts Center of Dallas


Big Tex and Big Flowers

We are finishing up the flowers for The State Fair of Texas.  During the year, I taught classes at the

Creative Arts Center of Dallas

on Sunday afternoons where we learned to create armatures for mosaic flower sculptures.  The flowers are about to bloom and will be on display at the

State Fair of Texas

.  Here are photos of some of the near-completion works.  These blooms still need their centerpieces.  Stop by the fair and see all the ambitious works of my dedicated students.

Flowers in order left to right and top to bottom: Jessica Smith hibiscus, Jessica Smith lily, Leian Burttschell hibiscus, Patricia VanBuskirk hibiscus, Sue White hibiscus.