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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Watercolor translation - Mosaic Collage

One great thing about mosaic, you meet some nice and very creative people. I was contacted early this month by Jenni Mc Guire, who started creating mosaics in 1998. 

Jenni and I work in different ways. When I spend lots of time designing and creating a model before I cut any tessera (see my last post "Digital drawing of a Mosaic Portrait")  Jenni lets the mosaic create itself from the beginning. This is a little bit like a musician sometimes lets the music flow through them. Of course, this only can happen if you have a serious mastery of your instrument. 

Jenni has developed a very interesting mosaic technique that allows just that, she called it "Watercolor Translation".  Her friend Dodie Johnston, a writer and mosaic artist, interviewed Jenni last month about it, to help promote this technique, and Jenni allowed me to be the first to publish it ! 

I will now let you enjoy the
Dodie Johnston’s interview 
with Jenni McGuire

Dodie: I’m curious about this new mosaic technique you developed that you call Watercolor Translation. What can you tell me about it?

Jenni: Watercolor Translation is a blending of multiple art genres – watercolor painting, mosaic, and music. That’s kind of an unlikely hybrid, but one that’s very rich. It’s an abstract technique that focuses on the process, not the outcome, which can be freeing. So often in art, people are focused on the finished product, what something will look like or what kind of statement will be made. Watercolor Translation takes the emphasis off of outcome, and allows the artist to access their own inner landscape. Hopefully , they will enjoy the journey and end up with a beautiful piece in the end, but without the preoccupation about production.

Lacuna, Ceramic and glass

Dodie: How did you come up with this?

Jenni: People often ask me where I get my ideas for my mosaic pieces . Which is kind of an odd question -- where does anybody get their creative ideas?… Maybe they ask because they find my work odd. (laughs) When I thought more about that, I realized there are some influences on my work that aren’t obvious. One of the most powerful is music. I listen to music most of the time while I’m working in my mosaic studio. Not just a boom box radio on in the background, but full, good quality sound, thanks to my husband, Mark, who designed and built these great speakers, EQed the room, and made the sound in the studio an integral part of what happens there. I realized that music influences the very fabric of my art work.
As you know, I play the fiddle and in the contemporary music world there is a tremendous amount of blending and borrowing from various traditions, which creates these amazing hybrids of composition. So bringing the cross-pollinating I’ve experienced in music to my mosaic work was a natural evolution.
I love playing with contrasts—liquid/solid – hard tiles depicting a melting popsicle, straight edges arranged as flowing water, solid made to look squishy, that sort of thing. 

Hot Day - by Jenni Mc Guire

So I played around with a painting technique I learned at Findhorn in Scotland many years ago, primal painting, which involves abstract painting to music. Then set about “translating” that to my familiar world of mosaic. It was fascinating to take the flowing, fluid medium of watercolor, and see what hard, straight-edged tiles could do with it. The results have been fascinating-- quite beautiful, and I’ve even used the method with 3D surfaces.

Dodie: Do you teach this technique in your classes?

Jenni: I’ve taught mostly mosaic sculpture classes, but I’ve been teaching more and more Watercolor Translation workshops too. The facility must have the right audio equipment because full, rich sound is an integral part of the experience. Living with a sound engineer ruined me for being able to hear music on crummy systems. It makes a huge difference! Good sound defines one’s experience much more than most people realize. Noticing this is both a blessing and a curse.

The music in the WT process is deliberately instrumental and non-cognitive. You’re not thinking about the meaning of lyrics, nor associating with anything in particular, you’re just feeling the flow of it. It also touches on different temperaments so different areas of your creative sources are stimulated. It’s very powerful!

Dodie: Can beginners do your workshop, or is it more for experienced artists?

Jenni: Both! I’ve had rank beginners and experienced artists all in the same class. Mosaic in general seems somehow less intimidating than other art mediums. I often have people in classes who’ve experienced what I call “art trauma”. You know, they were at one time told they are not artistic, or internalized that their sister was the artist in the family, or felt if they didn’t paint like Rembrandt right out the gate, they were hopeless. WT sidesteps all that, letting people explore color, then form, in a non-intimidating way. It lets you question your own internal rules, because you’ve removed the focus on all the “shoulds”. For example, when you get to the tiling/translating part, if you come across a bit that you painted yellow, and you don’t feel like putting yellow tiles there, put something else! You get to decide what works best for you. I’m certainly not going to tell you not to put blue there instead, but you get to ponder it. People begin to notice where they restrict themselves, where they can let go more.

Dodie: Do you use any particular materials?

Jenni: I use a mix of ceramic and glass – all kinds of different tesserae - tile, dishes, vitreous, stained glass, smalti. I like to integrate a lot of texture with color. For classes, I provide a great variety of materials, but I also have students bring supplies to share, like a big potluck. That creates a sense of abundance and sharing, and gives everyone that much more to choose from.

Dodie: What kind of feedback have you gotten from students?

Jenni: Really positive feedback, which is great. I love being able to share a process that has meant a lot to me, and love seeing what other people do with it. I’ve had people tell me the experience was quite transformative for them. Some have integrated the method into how they do mosaics in general. Others have found it freeing and everyone finds it just really fun. Most people are pretty satisfied with the outcome and the piece they created. The final “products”, though not a focus of the workshop, are compelling.

Regine's Roadkill Redemption 2013

Dodie: I want to try it!! When can we sign up for a class or a workshop?

Jenni: The next WT workshops I’m teaching are at the SAMA conference in Philadelphia on March 11th and 12th. They’re just one day – enough time to get a taste of the process. A full weekend is preferable, but you can get a lot out of just a day. After that, I’m still working on summer and fall scheduling. 

If people are interested, they can email me, ( and I’ll put them on my mailing list to let them know the next dates and places I’m teaching Watercolor Translation.

You can enjoy Jenni's great mosaics at

Hot Coils by Jenni McGuire

I am a French Mosaic Artist. I live and work with 2 Border Collie Puppies, 2 useless cats and many chickens in Alabama and sometimes I operate a second studio in France. You can see more of my mosaics on my mosaicblues page

If you would like to commission a mosaic, or simply discuss mosaics in general please call me at (334) 798 1639 or drop me an email at

You can also Subscribe to my Newsletter where I share with news about Materials, Techniques and Sources of Inspiration of modern and antique (Specially my beloved Greeks and Romans) Mosaic Artists and Patrons ! 

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