A storm in a teacup

Proverbs were a popular theme in paintings. Do you know Breughel’s proverbs painting?  

This is my contribution to Proverbs. A Storm in a Teacup. I have used mirrors for the lightening and matt vitreous tiles for the white. This started as a wood cut, finely chiseled from boxwood and printed. see below. Woodcuts are tiny little prints. I love this process working on a tiny block of boxwood.

Anyway, how were proverbs paintings meant to be received by the viewer?

Proverbs are older than the Bible. They were documented as a narrative to question one’s values, moral behaviour, our conduct  and the meaning of life.

The book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon – King of Israel.

Storm in a tea cup  is first raised by Cicero, 106-43 BC. He wrote ‘Excitabat enim fluctus in simpulo’ meaning ‘stirring up waves in a ladle’

Who was Cicero? He was an orator, a Roman statesmen, writer, lawyer and scholar.

Storm in a teacup was more popularly used in 19th century to warn people of blowing things out of proportion. I think I am guilty of that at times!


Fancy a glass of wine?

Oh hello, what’s going on here then? A bit of grape pressing in a Byzantine church of the Saints Lot (of pass the Lot) (more later) and Procopius in Jordon. Procopius was a scholar and historian. His great tome of secret writing was planned to be published after Justinian died for fear it might unsettle the readers.

This  mosaic is a section from one of the best mosaics in Jordan situated near the town on Nebo, possibly made in @ 557.  It is  a clever and sophisticated design, mocking a oblong carpet  with an interior of bordered roundels of curving grape vines. The roundels theme depicts general life, harvesting, hunting and domestic animals. The four corners lavishly display  large sculpturally designed acanthus leaves.   The roundels have donkeys, geese, camels, fox. dogs and these grape squeezers, treading merrily away. It is executed with just 5 colours of marble; I love it. All the men have a startled look on their face. To the right is a boy who looks like he is pulling a cork out of a bottle but it is actually an early flute.

However this isn’t the whole floor. Surrounding the mosaic carpet are pairs of animals designed in symmetry. Stags drinking at waterhole, geese that look more like long legged dodos and a Nilotic scene of fish, water lilies  and ibis.

Oh how we miss travel and being able to see rich heritage, thank goodness it has been restored, Lonely Planet say you just need to find the bloke with the keys.

Now about Lot, the Welsh have a saying when at the table, pass the Lot.  If you know your Bible you will know what that is. If you don’t, it is what we have with fish and chips.

Mosaics at Cottonopolis

Busy bees in Cottonopolis

Facing Manchester Albert Square is Manchester Town Hall. A grand municipal building looking like a jumbled up Houses of Parliament; it was acknowledged for its beauty by John Ruskin. This imposing Neo-gothic  structure was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1877. Manchester is known for its hard working ethos; the factories formed during the Industrial Revolution generated cotton for the nation. Like many northern cities, all the civic buildings are within one area of the city; museums often mock the architecture of Roman temples, banks, grand structures and entrance doorways with slender columns.

Let’s talk about its décor and opulence. The central clock tower has a psalm inscribed on it and for me, the main focus of the building.  Inside needs a lot of restoration, restrained stained glass windows were designed to allow as much light in to the building in order to counteract the Manchester gloomy weather. Sorry Manchester.

The opulence continues through the building, murals by Ford Maddox Brown, a sculpture hall of busts of significant people and the floors!

Cue the bees! There are 67 of them interspersed with a cotton flower design, set within a black and white tiled mosaic floor. The bees are worker bees, the symbol of Manchester.

You will find bees on the city coat of arms, in murals, rubbish bins, on metal bollards; the Ariana Grande disaster has created a resurgence of the bee symbol.

This mosaic would have been made in reverse, on sheets of brown paper to be able to transport it in to sections and set in to a screed on site. The wings and body of the bees are emphasised with opus vermiculatum, weaving around their outer edge. The floor has a large crack along the floor, which rather spoils the effect but shows its age and wear. It is stated that the mosaics are Venetian, however Waterhouse had a strong alliance with Jesse Rust who provided mosaics for Waterhouse’s buildings. I wonder why he didn’t use Rust to make these?

There is a big ongoing renovation project costing £330M to restore and update the building and keep the integrity of the design for future Mancunians. I can’t wait to see the final project which is due to finish in 2024. Perhaps my friend Tracy may share her wonderful mosaic bee.



When I hear the word bluebird I am reminded of the ‘Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. Blue birds don’t live in the UK! What is that all about?

This sparkly fella would be perfect to cheer up a patio.

Blue birds herald from the United States in the Rocky mountains. They are a  member of the thrush family and they migrate so they are a symbol associated with warding off winter.

This fella is approximately 36 x 42cm. Now on sale in Red Vintage shop, Aberystwyth.

The Festive Fox

Foxes are related to dogs BUT they have a feline trait – they can retract their claws! They can also make 40 different sounds; that’s impressive.  And unlike normal foxes this fox isn’t smelly. Foxes are mischievous, opportunists, playful, curious, clever and wise and are often part of folklore and children’s literature, especially in Europe and Asia. What springs to mind is the word cunning. Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and Aesop’s Tales, oh and then there is Michael Morpurgo.

My festive fox was made as my Christmas card design. I wanted to make something strong in contrast- that is when mosaics are the most effective I believe. I wanted to also emphasise the tail so I designed it crashing in to the opus border. It is a still life technique used to create a quirky composition.

I am particularly pleased with the mix of shiny and matt tiles and the cornflower blue shadow.  His eyes are made with irregular vitreous gold veined tiles so they refract with different lights. Again photography does not do these pieces justice, they need to be seen in the light to appreciate the subtle differences in tile and glint with the changing light. He would hang beautifully in a hallway.

Tell me what it reminds you of.

An ode to the Christmas pud!

A Christmas pudding is the spirit or symbol of Christmas, but how many of us still eat it? Is it just a token Christmas card on the mantelpiece? Not many of us. We are always too full to eat the pudding, but if we have it, we eat figgy pudding. Those of you who know the history of our cats know that Figaro (cat) would always make an appearance.

It was first served as a porridge in the 14th century made from mutton, wines, spices to hide the flavour and dried fruit and eaten for breakfast. It sounds disgusting doesn’t it! The Puritans banned the eating of pudding and by 1650 it had changed to a plum pudding; more like what we know today.

Thanks or perhaps not thanks to the Victorians it is part of the festive table today.

Who still places charms in their pud? We do! Let’s look at the symbolism of the pudding. The lit brandy flames represent  Jesus’ love and power whilst the holly is supposed to represent  the crown. Or was it just used as one of the greens still alive in the garden at this time of year with a lovely red berry? Complementary colours?

The favours, such as the silver coin started off as a many sided three-penny bit, but earlier was a dried pea.  The Victorians created more symbolism of course. Finding a button would mean you would stay single and if you were a woman and drew out a thimble that too would demonstrate that you would stay single.  Why were the Victorians so hooked up on marriage and spinsterhood? Emily Pankhurst didn’t come soon enough!

My mosaic contains beads, copper gold tiles, porcelain tiles for the pudding, cut up china with gold edging for the plate and finally smalti to create the different colours of the blue flame. 38 x 35cm.  A little festive decoration heirloom keepsake that can be displayed year on year.  £180

In a bit of a fluster.

Return to sender – a salutary tale.

A Salutary Tale

Prince of Wales feathers or Fleur de Lys? These two symbols that are interchangeable- so I thought – however from a bit of research I find it is a common mistake. Both form the same overall shape and stem from a central bejeweled coronet and are used in heraldry. But that is where the similarity of the two stops.

Did you know we hold a Prince of Wales feather in our pocket every day; the two pence coin? Many are still in circulation.

I am going to flesh this out a bit now. The Fleur-de-Lys is based on a lily and stems (excuse the pun) from the court of the French monarchs. It also forms the symbol for the scouts and in Mauritius it holds a sinister context. Slaves were marked with this symbol if they tried to escape.

The Prince of Wales’s feathers, along with the leek is also an adopted symbol of Wales, and of the Welsh Rugby Union; although Ich Dien doesn’t feature.

BUT this isn’t the logo of our native Welsh Prince but from Edward, the Black Prince in 1330-1376.  

As Alice in Wonderland says…’curiouser and curiouser…’

Where do the feathers come in then? Ostrich feathers were an Egyptian symbol of strength and purity and were often found in children’s graves- a symbol of re-birth. They were first adopted and used in European French court in 1486.

Minted coins have an Aberystwyth connection too.  Wiki says,’ During Charles I times, feathers appeared on coins because, Charles I didn’t have access to the Royal Mint. He therefore transferred the mint to Shrewsbury and Oxford. There is a mosaic below the war memorial on Aberystwyth seafront showing the coins being minted.

Why was my mosaic returned to sender? I decide to make a gift for HRH Prince Charles KG, KT, GOB, OM – and send it to Clarence House, only to have my package returned to sender! Perhaps it is because of coronavirus restrictions or that he does not accept gifts. A little surprised by this rebuff, I consequently read online that there was a big clamp down on the usage of the Prince of Wales feathers. (Wales Online November 2018) It appears that letters were sent from Buckingham Palace (2007) asking businesses not to use the logo. The logo is the personal property of The Prince and is protected from misuse.

Ah, I may have offended him anyway, should he have accepted my gift. My desire was that this mosaic stayed in Wales and I still aim to achieve this. If you have a business or Royal warrant, I would like to gift this to you; all I ask is that you pay for the postage. Just contact me.

The plaice for a fish

The plaice for a flat fish

I couldn’t avoid the pun, sorry. This has been made for a Lazy Susan –  a table centre piece. 

Although these wonderful creatures live all over the world, the European plaice live on the sandy continental shelf in about 10 metres of water and are able to survive low salt saturation so can come ashore.  They spawn on the easterly  North sea and float amongst the plankton. The infant plaice start with the eyes on each side of their head but their double eye migrates around to the top of the head but they remain right-eyed! Turbots on the other hand are left-eyed!  Nature, blimey it is a freaky world isn’t it?  To make my plaice more easy on the eye, I used florist beads instead of creating the rather unnerving fish eye. They really are beautiful creatures. The distinctive nature of the plaice are the orange spots. To emphasise those, I used iridescent beetroot tiles and copper gold tiles and to complement these orange tiles and give the iridescent tiles the best opportunity to sing. I used matt cinca tiles for the background is a lovely pale dusty pink peppered with iridescent glass tiles, so the refraction of light gives the mosaic a lively appearance.

It strikes me, why was a Lazy Susan called a Lazy Susan?  It was named after Jefferson ‘s daughter as she always complained about always getting her food last.

So we have here, a piece that is 54cm in diameter, can be cleaned and is a real table statement. £300 it is yours.

If you wish to have a piece made for a specific place let me know; this can also be a winter barbecue protector.

Are we being a wuss about lockdown?

Are we being wusses?

Another lockdown – are we being wusses about this; or is it one long battle?

Last weekends’ news from Boris Johnson and Michael Gove has been pretty shocking for all; the effect and impact it has on us in Wales is not to be taken glibly. Our lockdown overlaps England’s lockdown. The curbing of pour freedom means we need to keep mindful. It is a perfect time to do a mosaic, a nice mindful activity that can also be a present.

I know, first-hand what an impact it has having on three generations of my family. My niece who has just delivered a baby girl on Halloween in the North-west of England, no-one can see the baby and support the mother; my partner who is an introvert is actually missing people! and my daughter who is in lockdown studying in Liverpool. Where is this all going, I hear you ask?

It’s about focussing on being logical, keeping off the news streams, understanding the reasoning behind the lockdown; setting goals that are achievable to keep us busy whilst we endure another forced hibernation – making sure we look after ourselves so we can look after and be strong for others.

I have been reading diaries from the people in lockdown during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 – The Smithsonian Museum has released some letters and diaries, if you are interested. My thoughts were initially; are we being a bit of a wuss about all this? Surely those of the population that lived through the First World War coped better with a the isolation of the pandemic? – well not really and reading others’ lives puts our issues in to context. Where am I going with this? Many people made diaries during the 1918 pandemic as a way of keeping mindful, reflecting upon a situation they had no control over – and yes, even then they doubted the government’s decisions.

Obviously in 1918, they hadn’t the freedom we have today, which is what makes us feel trapped, but even the dark thoughts we mull over like, ‘will I have forgotten to socialise after all this?’- is a perfectly rational thought.

Christmas is looming, many of us have had our wages clipped, how do we cope with the festive expense? Making do; I will be making my own home-made gifts and special sauces bottled up in ribbons, salad dressings, mustards, flavoured gins, and biscuits for cheese. I can enjoy looking for old tins online or Etsy etc to make the gifts special or creating small mosaiced boxes for keepsakes. The activity of making and mosaicing is mindful as well as knowing  that your gift is made with thought, love and time, and of course less costly on the pocket.

Keep up that diary and set of tasks, however small. The activity of crossing off those tasks allows you to be in control. Weekly, monthly or daily is all appropriate.  To maintain safety, mountain climbers look for the next step and not the top of the mountain. If you are thinking about learning a mosaic in the next lockdown, my course is still available to enrol through Lifelong learning https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/lifelong-learning/online-learning/  and is £45,  not including materials. It is self-paced, lots of feedback, lots of demonstrations and advice on design, what to make, what tiles to choose etc,  The course  finishes in March 2021, so lots of time to really get to grips with it.

I have now started my new ‘ in conversation with..’ series of chats with fellow mosaicists. They will appear on this blog from time to time.