I Go to Pieces — An Italy Trip Report

Old Apr 1st, 2014, 01:01 AM
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I mentioned that I had my payment ready and received look of surprise from both Gabriella and Luciana, as if it’s unusual to pay up front. Luciana accepted my payment and we settled in to begin our instruction>>

that happened with my language school too - i insisted on paying up front, but the others in the class didn't actually pay til the end - and then there was a lot of undignified squabbling about the cost which i was very glad not to be part of.

you've given us so much information, ellenem, I'm going to have to come back and read it properly!
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 03:31 AM
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annhig, The other student had paid in November so I was the only one who had to pay. I wanted to get the money out of my hands.

Yes, I guess that was a pretty lengthy post about Day 1 of the class. Many people here seemed interested in the school, so I suppose I felt I should give a detailed explanation. The other days were more about doing, less instruction. For those of you who are totally bored, my description of the other days will be much shorter.
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 05:54 AM
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Broken uncle is so funny. How interesting to learn that the first mosaics were simply pebbles in the mud. I loved the detail and am inspired to try this art form. Unfortunately, I may have to settle for a class at Michael’s!

The rustic restaurant sounded great also! More soon, please!
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 07:19 AM
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just been reading over your post about the first day at mosaic school, ellenem - thank you for posting such a detailed description. I've never thought about how mosaics are made before so you've given me a lot to think about.

I'll be looking at them differently from now on.
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 07:45 AM
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Great detailed post Ellen - keep it coming! I was thinking about attending a mosaic school in Venice, so I love all of the information!
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 09:34 AM
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Who's bored???? LOVE the details you've given on your first day of class. I wish I had thought about this myself before booking my upcoming trip. I would love to do a mosaic class.

Annhig- next year? hahahah

The food sounds simple and amazing. Just what I love. Thanks for the food descrips, too. I so look forward to those!

Looking forward to more! And pics!
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 12:04 PM
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Agree with sarge56 - certainly not bored!

Love ALL the details - of everything!
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 12:18 PM
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Loving thus...it's not boring at all!! Please keep up with the details!
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Old Apr 1st, 2014, 12:34 PM
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ellenem - a coincidence! I was watching the second episode of Inspector di Luca [the new foreign language detective offering on BBC] which is set at the end of WW2, when i thought that i recognised Bologna, not from having been there, but from your descriptions of it.

2 frames later, the caption showed "Bologna, 1945".
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Old Apr 2nd, 2014, 04:28 AM
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Thanks to all who posted kind comments and voted for details. I will add the next episode tonight.

annhig, Perhaps Bologna is next on your language school list.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2014, 12:28 PM
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The process of glass mosaics is fascinating! Certainly has given me an appreciation of the skill plus artistry that goes into creating a piece.

I look forward to reading more about your project ... and your next meal!!!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2014, 04:52 PM
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I am really enjoying all of the details about your mosaic class. What a great experience! Oh, and the food...wow.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2014, 07:49 PM
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DAY 6: Tuesday, 4 March 2014 — Ravenna

The breakfast buffet this morning had fewer items, though the alignments were just as fierce. I think only one other room was occupied, though I still hadn’t seen another guest. Dani chatted while I had breakfast, explaining that a book club would be meeting at the B&B tomorrow night and I was welcome to attend. Thank you, but I suspect a discussion in Italian about a novel I’ve never read would be too challenging.

A moderate rain fell during my entire 10-minute walk to the studio on Via Arno. If I were on a normal vacation, I’d be disappointed with the weather, but since I was planning to be in the studio all day, it matters little.

Class Day 2

At the studio, Luca had set tabletop easels at our seats, our photocopies for reference, and a group of small bowls each containing a different color of smalti (Byzantine process glass tesserae) or stone pieces as required. He had provided small pieces already cut down to a useful size, some 2-inch by 2-inch chunks we must cut ourselves, as well as sizes in between. NJ’s classic mosaic is all in stone, so the bowls by NJ’s easel contain different marbles and other natural colored stones. My mosaic is all smalti.

As discussed yesterday, Luca explained that even though this dish might contain medium green, it actually contains a variety of close but not identical medium greens. Smalti are formed by pressing glass into the shape of a pizza, and then cutting it smaller and smaller for use. Much like purchasing paint or fabric, one can never be sure that the color will match from one dye lot to another. Therefore, when one creates a seemingly solid area of color, it’s actually better to use a variety of close but not identical tesserae, since there might not be enough of one pure color to complete it.

Luca retrieved our lime putty bases from the other room where they had been wrapped to preserve moisture. We placed them on the easels and Luciana instructed us in good ergonomic practices as we work. Sit back in your chair so you are almost arm’s length from the mosaic—you will have a better view of the complete design. Lean in if you need to do so to see a detail, but be sure to sit back again. Place the hardie to one side of your knees, in a position that will require the least amount of twisting and turning to cut and place tesserae. Try to keep you hand level with you elbow as you use the hammer and hardie to cut the tile.

We tacked our photocopies next to our bases and began. The first step is to place tesserae for the main outlines. My image was a long legged, long necked bird, so I must first add the shape of the bird and the legs. Luciana said not to worry, to relax, that we were not making authentic reproductions so we don’t need to worry if every single tessera is the exact same size, shape, or color. She also reminded us that the tessera should be embedded about half its height into the lime, and the height should be as short as possible and still get a good bond. Taller tesserae = more material = more cost, and—most importantly—more weight. (Mosaicists must carefully consider the weight of their artwork and the type of structure needed to support the weight.) Very small tesserae can be taller and embedded extra deep since there is so little surface to bond.

I took my first piece of smalti, a dark blue to begin the outlines of the bird. It was just the right size, so I stuck it in place and pressed it into the lime. I placed another and another. Then I ran out of pieces that were just the right size, so I had to cut something. I took a piece that seemed like it would be the right size if I cut it in half. I fingered it, noting the sharp edges. “Don’t hold it too tightly,” Gabriella had instructed us. I practiced a loose but secure grip. Then I placed it on the hardie, aligned my hammer, and hit. Nothing happened. I hit it harder. A little chip flew off, but it did not split.

Ah! I shifted the angle of the hammer very slightly, trying to position it at a right angle to the hardie. I hit the smalti lightly — and it split. And I didn’t cut myself! I decided to cut a bunch more, since I would need them eventually. This is one of the habits, to cut a bunch of what you will need and then do a bunch of placing. Some cuts were equally successful. For other cuts, the smalti would split into one perfect half and a pile of powder or shards. NJ was equally challenged in trying to cut her stone to the size she needed. We had also been instructed not let the manufactured surface of the tessera be the side exposed to view, since it is not as interesting looking, kind of flat. This requires even more cuts to get the best surface.

Little shards began to coat the top of the wood block holding the hardie. Bits also flew to the floor or table. At this point I fell in the trap that Gabriella warned us about yesterday. “Do not brush off the table or hardie with your hand.” Unbelievable, but true, when one sees these tiny, little shards and wants to avoid leaning in them, one’s natural inclination is to brush them away with one’s hand. (I can confirm because I found myself doing it three different times.) Bad move. Glass splinters are not fun. Fortunately I did not bleed, but it was close.

Cutting and placing and cutting and placing. I could tell that NJ was feeling just as inept as I was with the placing, constantly pulling the tesserae from the lime and repositioning. My outline had some “merges” of two rows into one, as well as some triangular shapes, so I was moving slowly. Luca admitted that cutting a triangle so small is mostly luck. Sometimes, when a cut went wrong, I was delighted because I had cut a good triangle totally by accident. I set these aside for later.

Luciana sat with us to discuss smalti. Smalti are made from molten glass to which metal oxides are added to create different colors. In ancient times, there were only 200 different colors. In modern times, there are new methods so there are innumerable colors. As we worked on our classical mosaics we should keep the conditions of the originals in mind. These mosaics were on the walls and ceilings of churches and public buildings 1500 years ago. Lighting was poor. No one had binoculars or even eyeglasses. The mosaics were made to be viewed in low light at a distance. Therefore innumerable colors were not needed, just a light, medium, and dark version of a color, since that’s all one could really see in those conditions — no subtle gradations.

Periodically, Luca or Luciana checked our work, adjusted our depth of of embedding, or placed a tessera or two or three to help us move along. We also stepped over to watch Luca’s project. He was making a mosaic by reverse method, a manhole cover for a garden patio. He drew the design of moon and stars and then placed contact paper over the drawing, sticky side up. He could see the design through the sticky paper. Then he cut each tessera to fit his design and stuck it in place on the sticky paper. The side stuck to the paper would eventually be the side facing out. Luca’s mosaic would be grouted when finished, since it was a floor mosaic. Grout is used for cleanliness, for tables and floors, to fill the gaps to keep out dirt. Our mosaics were wall mosaics and would not have grout. Plus grout makes a mess of the smalti.

We all broke for lunch, but it was raining pretty hard. NJ and I decided to go to the closest place. On our way, the rain became torrential, and we stumbled laughing and soaking into the bar. It was not a great place. Some old guys on sad sofas watching soccer. We each had a quick panini and went back to studio, now soaking our shoes as well as our trousers.

As I sat down at my easel, I contemplated the piddling amount of work I had done. I began to think I would not finish in time. I would not get to do my other mosaic. Why couldn’t I cut this glass? Sometimes it worked, sometime it didn’t. As we continued to work, just when it seemed to go more easily, it seemed as if I couldn’t cut a single piece of light blue correctly. Why did it keep pulverizing? Why did my bird have so many toes? All those narrow triangles to cut!

We kept on working, mostly in silence with Luca acting as DJ, putting on classic jazz. We took turns getting coffee for one another from the espresso machine. Luca sat in my spot to take a look and give me a little boost by placing some tesserae. Then I had perhaps the best lesson of the entire week. Luca began to cut light blue pieces and had no luck. “This blue must have had a lot of bubbles and problems when it was made. It doesn’t cut well.” Eureka! It wasn’t me! (Or at least it wasn’t totally me.) Both NJ and I noted that there was a lot of waste materials compared to our successful tesserae. Luca said as beginners we wasted more, but that in general, yes, there is a lot of waste.

We continued work on our own mosaics, listing to the music, chatting a little, listening to the rain and blustery wind, and then we heard a new noise near the glass front door. We all looked up. I learned a new Italian weather word: la grandine = hail.

By 4:00 PM, my skill must have improved a little. I had completed the outline and filled in most of the body of the bird — about 20 percent of the entire mosaic. Tomorrow would be all about the background, which should be faster going, but I still felt unsure of how I would do.

I had hoped to do something after class, especially since it was Fat Tuesday, but the rain squelched that plan. I returned to the B&B to hear Dani’s story of a crazy afternoon shuttling her kids in costumes to various Carnevale parties in the downpour.

After a warm, dry break at the B&B, I had dinner at the restaurant on our corner, Al Passatore. The place was filled with locals interested in pizza on this rainy night. I had a pizza quattro stagione and a bright salad of arugula and cherry tomatoes. Quattro stagione = four seasons = four different toppings. With a glass of red wine and water the bill was €17,00.

Nestled in bed with the rain falling, my big decision for the rest of the evening: Inspector Montalbano on my Kindle or “Harry Potter e i Doni della Morte” on RAI?
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Old Apr 2nd, 2014, 10:23 PM
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annhig, Perhaps Bologna is next on your language school list.>>

possibile. ma ancora non so.

Which did you go with?

the good commissario or H. Potter?
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Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 04:52 AM
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Harry amused me for a little while, but I went to bed with the Inspector.

Just thinking that I began my workshop was a month ago. Times flies . . .
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Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 05:16 AM
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More please!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 05:57 AM
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Such an interesting report. Thank you!
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Old Apr 3rd, 2014, 09:10 AM
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I hope you are going to post a link for pictures! I cannot wait to see your finished mosaics! (And secretly hoping you took pictures of food, too!)
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 02:15 PM
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Please, may we have some more?
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 05:35 PM
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Enjoying every morsel! Can't wait to hear more of your mosaic.
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