tractoring :: a mosaic


pambula tractor

For as long as I’ve wanted a vintage caravan, Julian has wanted a vintage tractor.  This probably says something about the differences between us :-) To me, the vintage caravan is this gorgeous little cubby house that I can decorate and play in – or have visitors stay!  To Julian, the vintage tractor is a marvellous and sturdy piece of engineering that is eminently practical.

This dear little one above, was not eminently practical.  Definitely more of a collector’s piece than a working tractor.  But once we are settled on Wombat Hill Farm, finding just the right old tractor is at the top of Julian’s list of things to do.

So to celebrate his love of all things tractor, I decided to make him a tractor mosaic – as a table top on a sturdy old pedestal table I found in hard rubbish.  We can put it on our porch at Wombat Hill Farm, sit by it in the afternoons, with a beer and some cheese on it, and look out at our beautiful land and marvel at all the hard work that lays before us.
favourite tiles

sketched it out

Now the table top was separated from its base by a lovely builder who happened to be building a fence in the street in which we found it.  When it didn’t fit in the car, I was busy thinking how I’d have to go home and grab a screwdriver.  Not Mum – she trotted up the street to the builder and asked to borrow one.  He didn’t have a manual screwdriver but cheerfully came down with his electric drill thing and had that table apart in seconds.  He even carried it all across to the car and put it in the boot.  What a lovely fellow!

I gave it a coat of sealer – just to make a clean surface that I could draw on and see where I am going with the tiles.

I started off with the border – very practical of me – but before I got too far around, those delicious fat tractor tyres were calling!
get sticking

love the fills

And then the rolling green hills.  This is my favourite kind of mosaic – repeating, colourful geometric patterns.  In fact, Merryl and I are both so taken with the tyres, we think a whole mosaic of circles would be wonderful …. oh yes!

big wheel

the start

building the engine

Then it was onto the tractor body … nice and simple.


Then Farmer Boot himself.  He was a wee bit amazed at the colour tile I chose for his hair … grey!  With flecks of gold.  Yep, Farmer Boot, that’s where you’re at :-)  And it’s very becoming!

tractor light

A headlight … though I can’t imagine Julian will want to navigate the hills of our wee farm at night …

ready for tractoring

And a simple steering wheel and gear stick.
love the curves

It’s simply too much fun … Despite counting down the days until we finally leave Melbourne, I do so love visiting Merryl’s studio.  It’s one thing I will miss – shall have to tile faster!


settling in a little more


Whilst Julian worked his butt – and hands and fingers – off rebuilding a fence that divides the cottage, its gardens and surrounding fields from the paddocks –

I pottered about the cottage, unpacking china and cookbooks, cooking meals on kitchen benches that were clearly built for miniature gymnasts (our cottage was one of those used to house the athletes at the Sydney Olympics and moved to our land soon after in two pieces), gathering flowers, and sneaking in a bit of knitting on the porch.
the trailer

We’d brought up the kitchen dresser, a large bookcase and Auntie Barbara’s old pine table in the trailer, so after a little help getting them across the field, through the garden gate and up the cottage steps, I pushed the furniture (with a sliding flattened cardboard box underneath) across the verandah, over the doorway and into the cottage.  So satisfying!

tied down


Our kitchen is pretty rudimentary.  We will leave the cabinets on the stove side intact – but probably replace the stove – an inefficient electric number that no matter how high we turned up the oven, couldn’t manage more than a gentle braising. But the sink side needs redoing.

No exaggeration, the benchtops on the this side only come up to my thigh – and they bow in the middle – and when you spill coffee on them, it leaks down the inside back of the cupboards below.  Nice!

We don’t want to spend a lot of money that could be much more wisely invested in farm infrastructure and animals because in a few years time, we want to build our own strawbale home.

Nevertheless, we do want to enjoy living in our little esky cottage and as we both love cooking, a few Ikea cabinets with lovely drawers and a huge china sink (a former display model that we bought for a great discount in the bargain section!) will certainly boost our kitchen’s aesthetics and functionality.

funny assortment

But cupboard space will still be at a premium, so we removed the hideous white melamine, falling apart cupboard that filled up a third of the wall next to the kitchen, and will use the lovely old wooden dresser Mum and I wheeled 2 kilometres home for our china and glassware.  ‘Cause even more then spanky new, sophisticated Ikea cabinets, I adore lovely old wooden furniture that comes with an awesome story :-)




on the stpve

I also took up a beautiful new whistling kettle – a complete extravagance, but hey, I reckon all those dreadful night duties and weekend shifts spent in a highly stressful environment are owed a little luxury, don’t you!

Of course, the kettle was meant to sit atop our new Nectre Baker’s Oven that was to be installed whilst we were there.  Oh how many daydreams I’d had, picturing my steaming kettle glistening next to a simmering dutch oven whilst the fire below crackled and glowed and a loaf of bread baked below that.  They were such good dreams!

Alas, the fellow installing our stove FORGOT.  Hmmm … I have to confess, it was all I could do to remain civil whilst he cheerfully apologised for his oversight.  All I could think was how I have NEVER had a job where I could just FORGET to do something I alone was responsible for.

It did take several minutes of hurling ugly succulents into the compost heap, and cranky texts to my mum before I could graciously let go of my disappointment and return to enjoying the loveliness we still had before us.


with needles


Good thing we had plenty of quilts and knitting to add some warmth.  And that the cottage and garden were bathed in sunshine from 6am onwards.  Yep, it was all good.

bookshelf in the garden


dappled corners

So very, very good – and I am counting the days until we return … and that wood stove is installed.

Singing of Spring :: a mosaic

with sky

Oh my sweet flowergirl is finished!  Such a lovely feeling :-)

Julian and I were supposed to be travelling to the farm this weekend past – alas, there was a deluge of rain and extensive flooding across our Gippsland route and we couldn’t go.

However, with 5 days off work and my mum by my side, that just meant plenty of hours to work on our mosaics at Merryl’s workshop.
love the tiliness of it

An extra long session on Friday saw most of the flowers in her hair finished.  Then Monday and Tuesday I spent painstaking (tedious!) hours cutting tiny slivers and shards of brown glass to fill in the background of her hair.

Oh my.  I didn’t think it would ever end!

brown tiles and favourite too

I once read that when Kaffe Fassett designed his needlepoints, he would sit cross legged on the floor, surrounded by baskets of beautiful embroidery yarn, and work away at creating his intricate images.

Then, once the essentials were in place – and he was surrounded by a chaos of colourful, unidentified yarn – he would pass the work on to his assistants to finish – and sort out the yarn.

As I cut and carefully fitted my strands of hair – with delicate pliers – in amongst the flowers and fruit, I could sooooooo understand the beauty of this approach :-)

all the brown is in

Yesterday it was finally time to grout!  Grout is like a wonderfully stiff icing – makes the loveliest noise as I mix it up.  Merryl added just the right amount of red and yellow to give my flowergirl the perfect tint of rosiness – and just like icing we had to be soooo careful not to add too much.
mixing the grout

First you slather it on nice and thick – taking care to push it firmly into all the wee spaces, but also keeping the spatula nice and flat so as not to gouge out tiles by mistake.

I managed to knock out a few – all from the hydrangea – it was made using a thicker tile with an uneven bottom which when you use it whole or halved, sits really well, but cut into small squares, became a lot harder to secure.  More glue and careful grouting solved that.

smothered with grout

Once the piece is thickly and evenly covered, you use a scraper to remove the bulk of the excess – again, taking care not to drag it sharply across the tiles and knocking them.

grout scraped back

Finally, you use oodles of scrunched up paper towel to rub it back so that the tiles are once again revealed and gleaming, and all the grout is smooth and neat.  This is definitely the most time consuming part of the grouting process – but also such a thrill as the piece comes back to life.

This is only my second piece, but it is such a delight when I rub and rub and rub and think, huh!  There’s no tile in that spot, just grout.  Fancy not putting a tile there.  And then I rub that tiny bit more and POP!  There’s the tile.

rubbing off the grout

Oh – then there’s the painting of the edge – a very imperfect science.  Again, Merryl mixed me up a lovely rosy shade to complement the grout.

painting the edge

And then ….. the grand reveal :-)

looking across

Now, initially Merryl and I thought we’d apply the rosy background grout as a base and then we would make up smaller batches of various colour to overgrout special bits – some of the more solid flowers, the brown hair, the rosy cheeks, the dark sparkly background – which would have given the piece a much more solid, more painted look.

I don’t know much about the history of mosaic techniques, but I think this technique might be a more modern thing.  I don’t know if the ancient mosaics used multiple coloured grouts in the one piece – just from my very incomplete perusal of them, it seems more traditional to grout in just one colour.  And I do like things to be more traditional.

Well, once we stepped back and looked at that rosy pale grout, all thoughts of overlaying lots of different colours vanished.

My flowergirl just looked so ethereal and spring like.  She’d taken on a whole new delicacy that we didn’t want to disturb.
from the side

Oh I am so very very very happy with this piece!

You can see in the photos above and below that there are two holes – I was initially going to use her as a table top – but then I found a great pedestal table in hard rubbish so decided the lovely flowergirl would be a delight hanging on the porch wall at Wombat Hill Farm – looking out across our garden and up the valley to Tilba.

So – we had to remove a few tiles so Merryl could screw supporting struts across the back for hanging :-)  Will be easy peasy and lickety split to fix that up on Friday.
close up of face

And then she will be perfectly lovely and ready to hang …

I must confess to being COMPLETELY SMITTEN with mosaics :-)

flower girl :: a mosaic

before the skin

You knew it was inevitable!  I did.  For a while there, I thought mosaics might be different … that I might stick to one project until it was done.  Perhaps I was misled by the structured nature of attending workshops – couldn’t show lovely Merryl and my fellow workshop creatives that I was fickle and hopped from one project to another :-)

looking down from the top

Then I realised … most of them did!  And when I walked in last week, despite my whale and her girl looking so lovely, despite not having been for a week because of the flu, despite really wanting to have my whale and her girl finished and hanging on the wall in our little cottage at Wombat Hill … I found myself cautiously asking Merryl

fig and poppy

“Would it be okay if I started something else today?”

with the skin

“Of course!” she smiled.  “Did you have anything in mind?”  Oh yes!  My head is always bursting with dreams of what I could make next.  I wanted round.  Something that could be used outdoors (so concrete board).  Something with a face.  Something with flowers.  Something that could be finished a bit quicker (isn’t that always the way … and yet seldom works out that way!)


Merryl found me a board.  I quickly gathered some of my favourite tiles and put together a simple geometric border … then once that was on, began sketching in my face, my flowers …


… and have spent the last 4 blissful visits to the mosaic workshop thinking up ways to make my flowers and filling out my flower girl’s face and cardigan.

flowers on the left

Perhaps it will be a table top – the rather chunky amber coloured beads at her neck would make for a bumpy rest for a plate or tea cup, but you know, I would know it was there and so would avoid it.  I’ll just have to make sure I’m always the one that sits at that side.
looking up

Or perhaps I’ll hang it on the wall of our porch at Wombat Hill.

looking across

There is something so wonderful about cutting and placing all these little shapes – I especially love using squares and rectangles – such as in the face above – always makes me think of ancient mosaics and cobbled paths.

I wonder if I shall finish this one before starting the next!