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!


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!


a whale of a time! *


During these wintery days in Melbourne, squeezing in a couple of hours before and after my nursing shifts at Merryl’s workshop is the highlight of my days.  I utterly adore it!

starting the hair

Last week, I got stuck into the girl in the window’s fair isle jumper – still have a way to go – the bottom row needs finishing and then there’s the shoulders to work in the same pattern and a pair of plain sleeves.  Then it was onto her hair – braids and black velvet bows and all.  I use the glue (you can see it above) to create the lines I want – it’s very forgiving.

shapely head

I’m pleased with how the hair turned out – looks perfectly hairy.  But those bows took some work.  Oh I cut and tried and cut and tried and cut and tried before I was satisfied they bore even the slightest resemblance to bows.  Oy!  They were the trickiest thing I’ve done yet.

finished plaits

velvet bow

This week, it was back to the whale and her sea.  First I laid out her spout of water using little pearlescent tiles I cut into fours and then set on point … that was super quick and satisfying.

about to become spouting water

Then I added the sea’s horizon – which of course begged for the building and rigging of my sailing ship! Such a simple layout but I do think it’s very sweet – it nestles into that wavy horizon just right.

don't want to stop

Oh and I added my soaring birds – Cape Petrels – they must be a lazy, sun loving flock who haven’t yet headed back to the Antarctic for spring breeding :-)  It was funny – because they are rather scatty looking things, I kept absent mindedly trying to brush them off my board … and would then remember, no! no! they’re birds! they’re meant to be there!


pink tiles

a scattering of tiles

Today, there were many things I COULD have worked on.  I could have finished the fair isle jumper, or the grassy hill, or the lighthouse light, or the whale’s wave, or the sea … nah!  I really longed to make that sun rise … so I did :-)

looking towards window

… and started adding a few curves to the sky … it was bliss.

with glue


I just love how the little sailing ship wound up heading straight for the sun rise, tucked into the dip of the wave and the rise of the sky.  Captain Jack would no doubt approve and I dare say Maturin would enjoy the birds swooping and diving.

so glossy

Still so many wee tiles to cut and place – hours and hours worth – but now all the elements swirling in my imagination are now firmly glued down.

I was on such a high when I arrived home, Abby suggested I start up a drop in mosaic workshop next year in Bega!  Maybe I will :-)

* you’ll have to excuse such an obvious pun
– it’s my Bob Belcher side coming out :-)


whale watching – mosaic style

with basket

glass prisms

work bench

After an intense week of learning on the new job, I awoke this morning with utter joy.  I have three whole days off AND today coincided with one of Merryl’s weekday morning workshops which meant I got to play mosaics in her beautiful studio for almost 3 hours.  Ah the bliss of it all!

shelves of glass

new cutters

I’m working on my second piece and it’s rather large.  The board is 1.2 metres by 90 centimetres.  That’s a lot of wee tiles and pieces of glass to cut, shape and glue.  Good thing I’m utterly bewitched and Merryl’s studio is filled with warmth, colour, creativity and lovely, lovely women who sit about the long work benches and chatter whilst they work.  Did I mention it’s bliss?  Oh it is.

cutting green triangles

This scene is one from my head.  I made it up as a cross stitch a few years back – “The Whale and her Girl” – but this version is slightly different.  Instead of the girl standing on the hilltop with her telescope, she’s inside her home looking out a large picture window.  Before her is my dream view.  A sun rising all goldy pink and orange against the sparkly sapphire sea.  A hilltop to her left, covered in Norfolk pines and crowned with a sturdy white lighthouse, resplendent in its royal blue trim.  An old fashioned ship, festooned with billowing white sails, bobs amongst the roll of the waves.  A glistening seal lolls about on a rock.

laying out the base

But even whilst it’s an imagined view, each of the elements speaks to my sentimental heart.

The sapphire sea?  It’s the east coast of Australia – the waters of the glorious Pacific Ocean which I’ve lived on for most of my life – stretching from Rainbow Bay on the southern tip of the Gold Coast, Queensland all the way to Eden at far end of New South Wales, the southern boundary of the lovely Bega Valley which we will soon be calling home.

And the sun?  Well it’s no surprise to you folks that I’m a huge fan of the sun, its light and warmth.  I didn’t have a clue about the reality of Seasonal Affective Disorder until I came to Melbourne.  Now, I cannot wait to get back to east coast, where the sun will rise over the sea each morning – and at the same time as me.

glueing the grass

The Norfolk pines?  I haven’t a clue who decided that the beaches of east coast Australia all needed to be edged in Norfolk Pines, but by golly, what a fabulous decision that was!  All the beaches of my childhood are trimmed with these lovely giants – Coolangatta, Rainbow Bay, Harrington, Crowdy, Clarkes Beach at Byron … I only have to see a stand of Norfolk Pines and I am instantly at home.  I shall plant a row of them on our farm and when I’m old and wobbly of memory, they shall be my good friends.

harrington norfolk pines

:: Harrington ::

norfolk pines

The lighthouse?  Well it’s my simple version of James Barnett’s favourite design.  He was the Colonial Architect for colonial New South wales in the late 1800s and was responsible for the 3 lighthouses that are so very dear to me – Byron Bay, Crowdy Head and Green Cape.  His lighthouses all have the same look – strikingly white against the blue of their ocean backdrops with royal blue trim.

Every summer as a child and then teenager, we holidayed at Byron and the fortnight was not complete until we’d trekked all the way round the beaches – Clarkes, The Pass, Wategos, Kings and finally up to the lighthouse which in those days had no safety fences, but did have goats grazing on the hillsides, and we’d take flattened cardboard boxes with us, so as to slide down the grassy front cliff face into the legs of our fathers who stood on the edge, stopping us from hurtling off and onto the jagged rocks below.  It was thrilling!

from the back

Crowdy Head was down the road from my grandparents’ cottage at Harrington.  You couldn’t swim at Harrington – the Manning River enters the ocean there creating wicked rips and enticing ferocious sharks. Instead, we would pile into Nanny’s hot station wagon and drive along the sandy track through the bush scrub to Crowdy.  It was so humid and sticky along that road.  There was never a breeze to be felt and the cicadas positively screamed through our open windows.

crowdy lighthouse

Then, just when we thought we would never get there, we’d pop out of the bush and there was the magical Crowdy Bay curving round in front of us, the lighthouse perched up on the cliff to our right.  We’d have a lovely long swim, ride the waves in on our boogie boards, dig in the sand, poke around the rocks.  Sometimes we’d call into the Fishing Co-op.  Often we’d drive up to check out the lighthouse and I’d recount my Famous Five induced fantasy which involved living in this lighthouse and defeating smugglers, and then back we’d go to Nanny’s.  By the time we got there, we were just as hot and frazzled as before we started.


Green Cape Lighthouse is a much more recent addition to my family story – I only visited it for the first time a few years back.  It was such a long drive in from the highway – a terribly remote spot south of Eden – but when we finally saw it standing proud on the edge of the fiercest of coasts, I recognised it straight away as one of James Barnett’s children.  The wonderful white. The smooth dome of the attached cottage – just like Crowdy.  The splendid blue trim.  Oh yes, this was one of my lighthouses.

But even better, I had my dear old Grandad by my side as we explored this beautiful lighthouse and its surrounds.  He was a little bit frail – we just didn’t realise how frail an old body could become! – but he was so determined to soak up every moment of that day.  He read all the signs describing the history of the lighthouse and its keepers.  He walked along every perfectly maintained path, slowly round each building taking in every detail, all the way down to the cliff’s edge so he could truly appreciate just what that light was protecting the ships from.

And he chatted to me non-stop.  Grandad was such a great talker.  We marvelled at the remoteness and how much effort must have been required to bring in all the supplies.  We chuckled over the tennis court, built by the government so that the lighthouse keepers and their familes could be the social beacons of the south.  We harrumphed over the ugliness of the modern light and its ghastly skeletal structure that has replaced the grand original.  We were saddened by the memorial to those who lost their lives aboard the Ly-ee-moon steamer.


When we finally arrived home Grandad settled by the window, looking out across the sea, with my laptop, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening reading the stories collected by the lighthouse keepers and their families who served at Green Cape, and filled us in on every detail.  

Oh I loved my Grandad so much.  We had such a special bond, he and I.  Maybe it had its roots in the very fact of being the eldest granddaughter (thereby sharing the most time with him of any of the other grandchildren) and living so close to him for most of my life.  But we shared so much more as well.  We both loved adventuring, exploring, history, and the stories of people and their places.  Best of all, we loved sharing each others company.

So Green Cape lighthouse – it will always tug at my heart.  I will look at this mosaic and smile, remembering all the fun, adventure and romantic notions James Barnett’s lighthouses have given me.  But most of all, I will think of Grandad and imagine him there beside me.

smiling whale

The billowing sailing ship – Master and Commander to be sure.  I adore those books – and really liked the film too.  In fact, you know that last scene, when Jack and Steven are in the captain’s cabin playing a duet, whilst the sailors, marines and officers beat to quarters – that’s from the String Quartet in C Major by Boccherini – “La Musica Notturne della strade de Madrid”.  And it’s the joyful music that my dear Grandad walked me down the aisle to when Julian and I were married.  I can’t decide which was luckier – to have married Julian, or be presented at my wedding by the finest gentleman I’ve ever known ;-)

My romantic heart does love a dashing naval commander and his intriguing nature-loving sidekick – such a fabulous addition to the high seas. Mind you, you’d never catch me out there aboard ANY boat. I can appreciate their loveliness just fine from the solid shore right here.

upside down lighthouse

As for the seal – well she’s a regular feature of the Fishpond (that’s what the little harbour is called) in Merimbula.  Every day when Mum goes walking with her friend Jo and Lucy, the little seal pops up onto the rocks near the bridge, lolling about all sleek and glistening.  Lucy stops and pushes her head under the railings for a better look and Mum and Jo chat to the seal.  She’s apparently an attentive listener but has dreadful teeth and is a bit smelly :-)  I look forward to meeting her and just love that Merimbula has resident seals!  It truly is such a magical place and very soon will be part of my backyard too.  Oh my goodness!


I do find that every time I turn my hand to making, what I’m really doing is telling part of my story, expressing part of who I am, in yet another way.  Sentimental but true.

When we are in our farm cottage – it’s settlement next Friday, can you believe that! – I hope to hang this mosaic on the east facing kitchen wall that is without a window.  This will be my window – looking east across the Mumbulla mountains to the ocean, with a view that will warm my heart and set off a flurry of story telling every time I catch a glimpse of it.

Ah I can’t wait to get back to Merryl’s for more cutting, shaping and glueing!  With the whale, the hill, the Norfolk Pines and the lighthouse finished, I think I shall get stuck into the ocean itself with that rising sun.  Oooooh I’ve gone tingly all over just thinking about all the lovely colour.


mosaicing at Merryl’s


Oh the frabjous day!  I’ve been pausing at the glittering windows of Merryl’s Mosaics – filled with awe at the beauty she and her students create – for as long as her studio has graced Glenhuntly Road.  Several times a year I pronounce to Julian and Abby “That’s it!  I want to go to Merryl’s and learn how to make mosaics!”  And yet it’s never happened.

second night starting point

But with the end of our time in Melbourne rushing towards us, and the recent death of Grandad, there was no more waiting for the right moment.  It had to be done!  Mum was coming from the sadness of Brisbane to spend a week with us before returning to her home.  Abby was on school holidays.  I had a week of days off before starting another fortnight of night duty (ugh!).  Perfect opportunity for finally calling Merryl and finding out just how her workshops ran and what we needed to do to start laying tiles.


It was ridiculously easy.  Isn’t that the way?  I always um and ah and um and ah and fret and hesitate … and yet, when I rang, she invited us to attend that very evening – no tools or supplies needed, she supplies everything, the workshops run for 2 1/2 hours, there’s a flat workshop fee that reduces when you bring family members and when you visit more than once in a week.  And there are sessions offered 3 nights a week and 5 mornings.  So delightfully flexible.


And you just have to visit Merryl’s website and read how she came to start her mosaic workshop – very inspiring :-)  A passion for colour and design!  A desire to create a community of supportive creativity for women!  Merryl’s a woman after my own heart indeed. tiles with pencils

Within moments of arriving, we were settled at her huge work benches, our chosen wooden boards in front of us, tools by our side, and a breathtaking array of tiles and pebbles and glass laying before us.  The ultimate child in a candy store experience.


I’m making a Hamsa (found in Jewish and Middle Eastern cultures) which represents the Hand of God and is said to protect your home from the evil eye.  Traditionally, they are highly decorated with an eye nestled into the palm.  Mine has a much simpler design – inspired by the beautiful art of Tomie de Paola, I’m creating a Hamsa that represents our little farm and when we settle in just 26 days, I hope to take my finished Hamsa and hang it on the walls of our little farm cottage.

Mum’s making a striking platter based on a Moroccan design.  She has cut and laid her tiles with painstaking precision – it is beautiful!  And I can’t wait to see how those rich blue stars leap when she’s filled in and grouted her background.

And Abby – she’s making a wallhanging based on a design from one of her favourite web based graphic novels.  You should see her in action – within moments of starting she mastered the tile cutter and grinder, carefully shaping her sparkling purple tiles to fit her meticulously measured curves.

end of second night

Oh we are so looking forward to returning next week!  And my pinterest boards are filling up with favourite pieces and designers … and birds.  I’d like to start a series of round pieces inspired by the work of the English mosaic artist Martin Cheek and representing the birds of the Sapphire coast.  And pieces for the garden.  And for the bathroom and kitchen of our strawbale home.  And for our paths.  And our exterior walls.  And …. And …. And … :-)

Thank you Merryl!


full up

We so look forward to Saturday & Sunday – long, wonderful days together.  The to-do list is sometimes crazy long …  sometimes there are surprising additions … somehow it all fits in.

9.15am  The Haircut

* could there possibly be someone else who has what I want? * that one! * the pre-snip jitters * she’s still cutting * that tickles! * gorgeousness! *

10.50am Little My’s Funeral

* after a week of green beans, spinach leaves, lots of cuddles and even a lovely warm, sunny day, Little My left us on Friday night * we wrapped her in a pretty teatowel * planted her under the camellia in the front garden * Abby & I gave the eulogy * Emma gave the toast * the girls said the Hail Mary * we asked Mary to keep our Little My happy and watch over the furry sisters whose days are so much quieter now that this busy, noisy, friendly little pig has gone * we will miss her *

11.30am An Introduction to Very Basic Woodwork

they’re off to another anime convention in October * Emma needs a scythe * fancy there being hay that needs cutting at the Melbourne Convention Centre * Jules cut it out of ply * it was taped up for painting * and there was a handle too * they had a ball! *

3.00pm An Amateur’s Attempt at Tiling the Table

* the boy change the pattern * he wanted random * it’s his room so I said he could * I’m very benevolent like that * he applied the glue/adhesive/concretey stuff * I laid the tiles * there were little thingys to put in between each tile to set the perfect space apart * they revealed I’m not very good at maths * there is a wooden edge round 3 sides not 4 * hmmmm … * but we LOVE the effect and now I want to tile the whole house *

6.10pm Embracing HER OWN Machine

* she now has her OWN machine * talk about empowering * apparently she was too scared to use any of mine in case she broke them * she bought her shirt and jacket from the oppies yesterday * she’s vlisifixed the shirt * now she’s reshaping the lapels on the jacket * first, she practiced straight lines on a teatowel * the aura of confidence around her doubled today * beautiful to watch *

Now, I have to head out into the freezing, dark rain.  I promised fresh pasta for tonight’s lasagne.  Hopefully the chickens will have laid another egg sometime during the day. Otherwise it’s packet spaghetti guys!