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 :-)