Category Archives: mosaic


kim larson art, kim larson mosaics, impressionistic mosaic

Kim Larson is a local mosaic artist who stretches this medium to an extent we haven’t yet seen. She often works in three dimensions, crafting whimsical sculptures for the home or garden, and has a new body of work that pushes her two-dimensional pieces into the realm of abstract impressionism.

We’ve seen a couple of her public pieces already (New Art Walk in Jingletown), but today we’re going to see a number of works from her private collection, some even in progress.

I had a chance to talk with Larson about the medium of mosaics, her process, and art in general while touring her home, studio, and garden – all fantastically adorned with mosaics!  scroll below photos for interview

Below and above you see some of Larson’s nudes series… these are a relatively new exploration for her, focused on more abstract representations.
fine art mosaics by kim larson, nudes by kim larson
Below is the basis of a 3-dimensional sculpture. If you remember paper-machéing a piggy bank from a balloon in grade school (I do!), this process is similar, but instead of dredging newspaper strips through flour & water, the form is constructed from mesh strips and a concrete mixture.
mosaic sculpture, concrete form for mosaic
Here we see one of her nearly completed sculptures. Most of the glass pieces have been affixed but the overall piece has not yet been grouted (you can see the gaps between the glass squares). Keep in mind that all these little pieces of glass are cut by hand! Perhaps this why Larson says mosaics are “crazy-making”…
kim larson flounder, kim larson mosaic sculptures

More garden fixtures…
Saundra Warren tiles, garden table
garden mosaic sculptures, kim larson garden mosaics
outdoor mosaics, garden mosaics, oakland mosaic artist
dragon fly mosaics, garden mosaics, kim larson mosaics


How did you come to be involved in the Jingletown Arts community?  Did you ever live in the neighborhood?

I “discovered” IMA in March 2006, started trying mosaics, took classes and volunteered on several projects. I was also employed there as a production artist from June ’07 – Jan ’08. While I was there I became aware of JABC, saw their printed materials – postcards, posters, etc – and knew I could help! I just love the name “Jingletown” and felt that, as an outsider, I could offer graphic art work and bring more recognition to them.

For a little more info:

I see that you’ve worked in many different artistic mediums (paint, drawing, sculpture, etc.) throughout your artistic career.  Can you talk about how you came to work with mosaics?

I was laid off in 2005 from my graphic art job. I asked the universe for my next step, specifically something I could become obsessed with. And then I happened upon a business card for Mosaic Studio Supply – the store inside IMA. I was curious as to what a mosaic studio is and what it needed to be supplied with. So I went there. I was taken by the shiny, sparkly, colorful products as well as the art on the walls, the classrooms, etc. So I decided to try mosaics.

And what do you find particularly appealing and/or challenging about working in mosaics, as opposed to other mediums?

Appealing? I find mosaics to be crazy-making! At times I have to admit I walk that fine line between sanity and insanity because each cut, each piece, each color, each placement  has to be perfect! Specifically, I like to work with sparkly, mirrored, textured, brightly colored glass. I feel like I am painting with light. The reflective qualities of the glass force the viewer to move around the piece to see it truly take shape and reveal itself. Mosaics using glass is not a static medium. The play of light adds an extra dimension one doesn’t find in many other art forms.

I’ve noticed that some of your work tends to focus on animal forms.  You have some recent mosaic sculptures and older folk art pieces that showcase different animals.  Can you talk about your inspiration here?

This isn’t a deep answer: I think they are just easy. And they appeal to people.  However, mostly I rely on images and visions just popping into my head. One day the image of a frog in a particular position, came into my mind and I started creating small mosaics based on that vision. They were – and are – VERY popular and have sold like hotcakes. [see photo below] It turns out that the spiritual meaning of “frog” is “transition” and I was definitely in transition at that time in my life. That’s why I like to rely on images that pop into my mind. They are authentic to me and will resonate with the viewers.

In general, where do you look for inspiration?

I have synesthesia – my brain is wired in such a way that I see colors when I hear sounds or get a massage or feel physical pain, etc. I also see letters as colors, numbers each have a color…etc. I can “see” music especially – each note and chord is a different color and music is a swirl of shapes and hues in my mind’s eye.

So I am always in touch with the color, music and emotional meaning in the physical world around me. And I can evoke responses in viewers by the colors and shapes I use.

My mind is full of imagery so I don’t look far for inspiration!

You worked on a  couple of the pieces on the new-ish Jingletown Peterson Street Art wall – the Virgin of Guadalupe (as a solo installation) and the mosaic tree with friend and fellow artist Saundra Warren.  Can you talk about the differences in working as a solo artist vs. as a collaborator with others?  Which do you prefer?

I find mosaics to be a very lonely art. One works hunched over the substrate – walking along a precipice of insanity!! – making hundreds if not thousands of decisions a day. Working alone, I can hear my own thoughts and am not distracted. I am not a person who asks others what they think I should do next to a piece of art. I like to keep my own counsel. Then the final product is mine – good, bad or ugly! When I work with others, I happily chat, we make decisions together, I learn from them and it isn’t lonely. However the final product is a collaboration and one must share the accolades.

I like the total control I have over my own fine art pieces.

However I also really like installing mosaic murals – the time when they actually start to go up on a wall involves physical labor and is very exciting. And that is where a finely tuned team is a joy!

When approaching public works of art, is your process any different?  What about your objectives?

When I’ve created public art, I call on my past experience as a graphic artist – creating presentations, working with clients to realize their visions, discussing what will and won’t work in specific situations, designing on the computer, etc.  However I can’t totally rely on my inner inspiration when working with a committee.

My objective is always to make a great piece of art that people love!!

What do you think the role of public art is in our society?

I think the role is at least twofold – to give artists work and to elevate the human spirit. Whenever I see art in a public space I think: Wow, someone – a politician, most likely – had the guts to push for public art! I am always happily amazed to see the range of public art, the styles, colors and ideas that artists come up with. The work can be simply pretty or awe-inspiring or make the viewer ask “how did they do that?” Public art adds a dimension to our lives that is immeasurable. And art where you least expect it is a beautiful thing!

I am always struck by how many regular people hang out their shingles and open their doors during Open Studios here. It’s like people are showing us their hidden world of hopes and dreams to say “I am an artist too”!

Art in public places inspires people’s inner artist!

I see you’ve had a long career as a graphic artist?  Does your commercial work in any way inform your personal?  Or vice versa?

I have the ability to communicate visually – I always have, since I was small. Both the commercial and personal art is intertwined, I’m sure. Although the commercial work is always controlled by the client and that can be very wearing! My personal work is all mine – my inspiration, my choices and ultimately my responsibility.

Did you have any formal training as an artist?

No I really haven’t had much formal training. I spent one year in college as an art major but dropped out for many reasons. I decided to pursue my art path on my own terms and have mostly stayed away from classes and teachers. I have had artistic talent and been getting accolades for it since I can remember. Art materials have always been easy for me to learn. But it has been my responsibility to keep up the discipline to take this talent seriously and develop it.

I’m taking my first mosaic class at the Institute of Mosaic Arts this weekend?  Any advice for me?

I would say that you should learn the materials inside and out. There are “right and wrong” ways to use materials. Then keep up with your artistic development on your own….there is no “right and wrong” there. Discover your own voice – learn to make the materials speak for you.

Thanks Kim!!!

frog mosaics, frog mosaics jingletown, garden frog mosaics

Building community – one broken tile at a time…

These next photos are from a series of community volunteer projects in Maxwell Park (off High Street in East Oakland).  It’s a small neighborhood park that, until a park improvement process began in 2008, had fallen into disuse by many local residents due to crime and blight.

The primary eyesore was the small restroom building that immediately greeted visitors upon their entry to the park – ugly and typically covered with graffiti. This is what it looks like now…

welcome to maxwell park, friends of maxwell park, oakland park mosaics

It’s simply stunning… beckoning you to enter the park, step a bit closer, and examine its gorgeous glittering details.

This first mosaic was finished in July of 2009, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many volunteers, including a handful of trained mosaics artists and coordinators, and scores of local community members, young and old.

The MacArthur Metro interviewed a number of the artist/coordinators about their involvement, and I think their answers are enlightening about the power of art to transform, both spaces, and individuals. Here are their quotes (from Maxwell Park Neighborhood News by Pat Patterson):

  • Bonnie Henriquez (co-chair, stained glass and mosaic artist): “… It is a way to bring color, beauty and art into the park… Someone once said that a group is so much stronger than each individual person and that is what I saw during this project. People of all ages and ethnicities participated and are very proud of their part of the mosaic.”
  • Roberto Costa (co-chair, mosaic artist who creates abstract mosaic murals): “I saw a sense of empowerment and giving. I believe that mosaic murals represent a good opportunity to involve community members and create a stronger community around it.”‘
    Gail Murphy (Peter Pan Director and mosaic team member): “As people come to the park, we move toward knowing our neighbors and creating a more peaceful place for everyone.”
  • Beverly Shalom (clinical social worker, mosaic artist, part of the organizing committee): “What was exciting was the evolution of the wall. The wall kept changing with each person’s, including the children’s, ideas and contributions.”
  • Krista Kiem (mom and mosaic artist, owner: Krista Kiem Mosaics, main wall designer): “I liked working with all the kids and helping both kids and adults, educating and inspiring them. It was so great to see their excitement, their enthusiasm as they meticulously placed their pieces.”
  • Susan Scolnick – mosaic artist, quilter, potter: “I enjoyed the entire process, especially working with so many different people and I’ve now already noticed an increase in the number of people who come to enjoy the park. Public art changes the outdoor space and makes people feel safe. Be a part of it.”

maxwell park mosaic, krista kiem mosaic artist, community art projects

The Mosaic Team chose an overall design theme after soliciting design ideas from the community and nearby schools.  Within that framework, children were encouraged to incorporate their own designs (flowers, insects, etc.)  A special transfer process (the indirect method) allowed for them piece together their creations on sticky adhesive paper, which could later be transferred to the wall once mortar was in place.

When the wall was first unveiled, the children involved would act as “tour guides”, proudly displaying their designs.  You can see from these detail photos some of the amazing creativity incorporated…

friends of maxwell park, maxwell park improvements, oakland public mosaics
hummingbird mosaic, maxwell park mosaic, oakland public mosaic

The project was such a success, that a second wall (the backside of the restroom building) was completed in the spring of 2010, with the help of over 110 volunteers and more than 1000 volunteer hours logged!

While taking photos of this, a young boy playing nearby with friends came running over to me. I asked him about the mosaic and he smiled and said “It’s good!” As I was snapping more photos, he pulled out a small cellphone and snapped a photo himself. “Got it,” he cheered, then turned and ran back to his friends.

maxwell park mosaic project

community mosaics oakland, maxwell park, nancy karigaca, friends of maxwell park

The day I was shooting a third wall appeared prepped, and I believe they began tiling last weekend. I can’t wait to go back and see the next installment…
3rd mosaic maxwell park, maxwell park mosaics

Dimond Wayfinding Mosaics

I hope you are digging the mosaics because we have a lot more ground to cover! I’ve been scoping out tons of amazing examples, inspiring me to visit parts of Oakland I’ve never been to before.

And this next batch is specifically designed to do the same… encourage exploration.

Produced by Gina Dominguez of Snapshot Mosaics, and commissioned by Councilperson (now Mayor) Jean Quan, five sidewalk mosaics were recently installed near the intersection of MacArthur & Fruitvale at the heart of the Dimond District.

They are called “wayfinding” mosaics as their intent is to direct passing pedestrian to nearby points of interest.  The designs incorporate imagery designed to celebrate the unique features of this very cool (as I am discovering since this is my new ‘hood) neighborhood.

I spotted the first of these outside the new mural at Farmer Joe’s while shooting updates of their progress (see original post here). Then I discovered there were more of them to be found so I spent some time walking the nearby blocks to find them all.

Dominguez has posted about this on Snapshot’s site under Custom Installations, and I’m going to be pulling some quotes from her site below (italicized).

Located near La Farine Bakery, 3411 Fruitvale Avenue the hummingbird was chosen as the main design element due to its positive symbolism in Native American culture.  This mosaic celebrates the Native American Collection housed at the Dimond Library and points visitors toward:

Dimond Library, Peralta Creek, Fruitvale District, & Sausal Creek

snapshot mosaics, dimond public art, sidewalk mosaics

Located at the Dimond Library, 3565 Fruitvale Avenue, this mosaic’s design was inspired by Sausal Creek, the movement of water and the Rainbow Trout that live there. It directs passersby to:

Chabot Space & Science Center, Sequoia Elementary School, Dimond Business District, & Sausal Creek

snapshot mosaics, gina dominguez, sausal creek mosaic

Situated at the base of “Hidden Jewels,” a mural being painted on the side of Farmer Joe’s Market, its design shows the native flora found in Dimond Canyon: California Poppy, California Fuschia, Morning Glory, and California Grapes. This mosaic directs people to:

Dimond Park, Peralta Hacienda, William D. Wood Park, & Glenview District

dimond public art, dragonfly mosaic, gina dominguez mosaics

Located near Bank of America, 2154 MacArthur Boulevard, this mosaic showcases the Leimert Bridge which spans Dimond Canyon, a landmark feat of its day. Also celebrated is the heron that graces the creek with its presence. This wayfinder will direct you toward:

Oakmore District, Laurel District, San Francisco Bay, & The Altenheim

oakland public art, city of oakland sponsored art, heron mosaic

The Redwood Grove in Dimond Park and Joaquin Miller Park are featured in this mosaic that is installed at 2450 Fruitvale Avenue [outside the Wells Fargo]. From here, visitors can find:

Joaquin Miller Park, Bret Harte District, Fruitvale District, & Dimond Canyon

sequoia mosaic, snapshot mosaics, sidewalk mosaics, oakland public art

Pretty cool, right? I think they’re awesome, and I know now there are some new destinations I need to seek out, like William D. Wood Park.

Snapshot Mosaics is located in Montclair Village in Oakland and offers classes for both adults and kids, as well as open studio time for those more experienced. In the coming days, I’ll be writing a bit more about technique and process, as well as some other instructional opportunities… Stay tuned!

“Peace” mural & Mosaic history…

Here’s a mosaic with a similar theme to yesterday’s, but an entirely different approach… the Peace dove from yesterday was a smaller mosaic likely composed by just one artist. Today’s piece is the result of a collaborative effort by many, and comprises a large-scale wall mural bordering the school yard at Bret Harte Middle School.

peace mosaic oakland, pam consear, mosaic mural bret harte

This is the magic of mosaics… they come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and styles.  But first, a bit of an introduction:

Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. (Wikipedia)

As an art form, mosaic originated literally thousands of years ago – the earliest examples found in the ancient Near East (what now largely corresponds to the modern Middle East) consisted of pieces of colored pebbles, shells, and ivory. The first evidence of glazed tiles appears hundreds of years later (1500 BC), but it is not until the time of the Romans’ great influence (post AD) that patterns and detailed pictorials become prevalent.

Roman mosaics were most typically constructed with local stones and were commonly used as flooring material and decorative wall murals. “Even the pavements of Pompeii were decorated with simple stone and marble patterns.” (The Encyclopedia of Mosaic Techniques By Emma Biggs)

Below is an example of one of these early mosaics…

beware of the dog mosaic, ancient roman mosaics

Mosaico di "Attenti al cane" (CAVE CANEM) nella Casa del Poeta tragico a Pompei. Photo by Radomil

If you are interested in the mosaics of this period, there is a rare opportunity to see one first hand here in the Bay Area. Currently on exhibit through July 24th at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco is a large, intact, and excellently preserved floor mosaic dating to approximately 300 AD. The piece was excavated from a site in ancient Diospolis, Israel, believed to have been the home of a wealthy Roman. “This glorious mosaic is in America for a limited time before it is returned to Israel, where it will become the focus of an archaeological center in Lod.”

Legion of Honor
100 34th Avenue (at Clement Street)
San Francisco, CA
Hours: Tuesday thru Sunday 9:30am to 5:15 pm

In the early Christian period, mosaics were frequently used as church decoration, depicting religious scenes and iconic figures. Below are just two examples:

Mosaic of Saint Demetrius.

Mosaic of Christ in Hagia Sofia.

Mosaics would eventually go into decline around the time of the Renaissance, being replaced by the less labor intensive technique of fresco (painting).

But today the art of mosaics is making a comeback, popularized by what I would argue is a renewed interest in craft (in an age when many of our belongings consist of artless crap made in China), also its appeal as a home and garden decorative technique (think kitchen backsplash or garden table), and lastly by the inherent characteristics that make it well suited for large-scale public installations (especially those that are collaboratively produced).

Which brings us back to our local middle-school-produced-mural: “Peace”.
bret harte, pam consear, oakland school mosaic murals
Mosaics of this sort are increasingly popular at schools. The artist spearheading this vision, Pam Consear, produced another one at Bret Harte last year (“Spirit of Oakland”), an even larger one at Bella Vista Elementary (“We Are Here”), and has a concurrent project installing at Oakland Technical High School right now.

I met Consear while she and a volunteer parent were grouting the mostly finished mural last week and asked a few questions about how these projects come together.

First, its worth noting that large-scale projects like this often take many months to complete. Two groups of students from Bret Harte (after-school Art Academy students and Safe School Ambassadors) participated in this project, and the planning began as early as last September:  fleshing out ideas for a theme, prepping the surface (an old mural had to be removed), and beginning the tile making process. Consear noted the usefulness of exposing kids to such a long-term project, showing that work extended over a long period of time can yield amazing results.

Another benefit is the communal aspect of these projects.  While students can create their own individual tiles, expressing their unique personalities and sentiments, these pieces come together to create a larger unified message and vision. It’s really pretty cool because you can have two entirely different experiences of these murals… one from a distance, and one close up.

Here are a few close-ups of the students’ hand-crafted tiles, which included a variety of traditional and experimental techniques (even stenciling!)

hand crafted tiles, painted stencil tiles, peace mosaic

hand crafted tiles, oakland peace mosaic, pam consear murals

The finishing touches are being put on the mural this week, just in time for Bret Harte’s School Expo and Open House on May 14th. You can see a slideshow of the entire project at Consear’s blog here: Peace, Bret Harte Middle School.

Nice work!

PS – Almost forgot to mention that this project was made possible by a generous grant from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. Thanks to them for supporting the arts.