And Then the Crow Flew Away With a Strand of My Hair

Vitreous glass and gold smalti on MDF, 24″ x 24″, 5/8″ thick (60.96 cm x 60.96 cm, 1.58 cm thick). A study in black and white, and a challenging one. This will form the centre panel of a triptych, illustrating a not-yet-written but well imagined faery tale. I wanted to incorporate text from the story directly into the panel; my inspiration was book illustrations of the great American author-illustrator Howard Pyle.

There are four whites and five black shades used, in addition to the thread of gold smalti. I grouted it in two stages, using charcoal coloured grout for the crow and sky, then carefully masking off those areas (with rubber cement and tape) when they were dry, and then grouting the lettering and sea with a stark white grout.

In this sequence you can see the piece from nearly start to finish. I started by drawing the cartoon on architect’s vellum (a high quality, opaque, and quite durable paper product, not to be confused with the animal product parchment or vellum). I then transferred the design to the MDF panel with a heavy black marking pen.

Crow Mosaic Outline

My cartoon is quite simple, as I only need to see the basic outlines of major shapes. And the idea in my mind kept evolving as I went. I’ve prepared the 24″ x 24″ MDF (medium density fibreboard) panel (cut from a full 4’x 8′ sheet) by painting it with two coats of white shellac. This gives me a good white ground to draw on, and offers moisture protection to the finished panel if I hang it in a damp (not wet) environment.

Crow Mosaic Complete With Border

In this photo you can see that I have – after an interminable seeming time period – finished both the black lettering itself and the stark white background to those letters. I also have moved the promontory down in the design, allowing me more room to draw the ship outlined against the full Moon. Stacked on the face of the panel you can see some of the blacks and whites, still uncut, which I was considering for use in the background sea and sky. I’ve also gotten the gold smalti laid in for my hair; to draw the hair I pulled out one of my own hairs and dropped it on the board over the crow’s beak to mimic a natural placement, and then traced over that real hair. Detailing the individual feathers of the crow with four different black shades was immensely satisfying, and more than made up for the tedium of the white letter background.

Crow Mosaic Complete, Not Yet Grouted

Here I have finished all the tesserae work including the border edging, and now I am ready to grout. I’ve tried to capture the sweep of the ocean waves in that rough sea by laying the tesserae on at an angle, and crowning the windblown tips of the waves with whitecaps. The sky is rendered with narrow horizontal cuts of tesserae (by cutting the 13/16″ (2 cm) tessera in half and then half again, leaving four long pieces). The snowy background to the crow’s ascension is fairly large blocky pieces of a slighter softer white than I used on the letter background.

Crow Mosaic Complete And Grouted

The completed panel, after having been grouted in two stages with first charcoal and then white grout.

I don’t know why I have not yet committed the story to paper; somehow I cannot. It is as if I must draw it first. I am already at work on the cartoon for the second panel of the triptych. I know if I can just keep drawing it the entire story will reveal itself to me.

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{ 5 comments. read them below or… add one }
  • Kathleen Grant April 8, 2017, 3:49 pm

    Impressive work, boggles my mind. I barely managed to make two book ends by putting mosaic tiles on a brick many years ago. The subject of the crow stealing you hair made me smile for two reasons. When we were nine years old a blue Jay chased my girlfriend and I from her yard and into her house. It seemed to be flying directly towards our heads. We were 8 years old and terrified. Many years later on two separate occasions a llama tried to nibble at the red curly hair from the top of my five year old son’s head.

    • Octavia Randolph Octavia Randolph April 8, 2017, 7:42 pm

      Your charming comment delights me – not because of the (really scary!) episode with that naughty Blue Jay (was it thinking “hmmm…nice nesting material…” as it zoomed in on your poor little heads? – but because it underscores how attractive human hair is to animals – like that crow on its mission I created in glass tesserae.

      In the crow’s case he is carrying that strand to the man on the ship tossing on those Wintry waves. Likewise the recounting of the curious llama and your little boy’s red curls – something quite similar has happened to me, several times; I have long blonde hair and horses seem to think it looks like hay.

      At any rate I hope you take pride in your two mosaic-ed brick book ends! They sound nice and sturdy to me.

      • Kathleen Grant April 9, 2017, 4:53 pm

        I am just starting book six. As I read, it occurred to me how your crafting and writing are entwined. I have long envied the ability to write. I see now that a book must be very much like your mosaics. You start with an idea that takes form. Then the planning and gathering of materials all while sketching out your idea. You sort the pieces of tiles and glass, start placing them down dry, change them about a bit til they are in just the place to bring life to that nebulous image that was in your head. Finally you permanently fix all the pieces into their proper places to complete your work of apart. Writing, crafting a story must be much the same. Words, characters, places, events, and information gathered and honed into that story fulminating in your imagination until you commit it to publication after much tweaking. Voila. another work of art! How satisfying it must be.

  • Deb March 13, 2017, 10:20 am

    Wow! You are truly a woman of many talents 🙂

  • Curt Allred January 25, 2017, 5:57 pm

    Fantastic work! Simple, beautiful and exquisite! When did you do this?

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