MosaicBlues: Questions to Helen Miles .entry-content { font-size:25px !important; }

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Questions to Helen Miles

Generally, mosaic artists did not start in life as artists, and it is fascinating to discuss with them how they got into the Art. I love Helen Miles work, she creates wonderful modern mosaics inspired by the wonders of the past. She has an amazing knowledge of ancient mosaics. Actually, Helen's blog is a fascinating place to learn about them. 

Helen in her shop prior to moving back to Scotland

Helen lived in Greece for 15 years, and must have visited all the known mosaics of this country and some neighbors ! But now I will let her tell us about her Art, and how she got where she now is.

1. Helen, you recently moved back to Scotland from Greece where you lived several years. When you arrived in Greece you knew nothing about mosaics, and this is where you got started in this career. Can you tell us what you were doing before you moved to Greece, Did your previous career help you get into the mosaic craft ? 

Medusa head, 3rd C, Sparta. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

Before I moved to Greece I was a journalist but I arrived pregnant and with small children and naively wasn’t prepared for the fact that nothing was going to be possible without speaking Greek. I knew it would take years to get to the standard where I could use the language for work, so I needed to find a new career which didn’t involve speaking. Journalism didn’t help me directly with mosaics at the beginning but it certainly helped in the long run as I now use my journalism skills for researching and writing my mosaic blog.

Detail of the Nikopolis mosaics, Greece. Photo Helen Miles Mosaics

2. So there you are, a British family moves to Athens. How was the transition ? 

The transition was tough. We started off in Northern Greece, in Thessaloniki which has a very different history and atmosphere to Athens. We put our children in Greek school and I went to the university to learn Greek but it was very hard to make inroads into the community. After seven years we gave up and I moved down to Athens with the children and my husband commuted at weekends. Athens was a much easier city to live in as a British couple and we made great friends and grew to love the city and its people.

Bird and flowers, 6th C. Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

3. When and how did you decide to get into the mosaic craft ? 

I decided to start making mosaics when I was sitting on a pebbly beach in Pelion – a peninsula on Greece’s eastern coast. Pelion is a lush mountainous region in the middle of the country where it is said that the ancient Gods used to take their summer holidays. I was slowly running the pebbles through my fingers and admiring their colours and variety and from one moment to the next I just knew that making mosaics was what I wanted to do. That was at least 12 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

Fruit detail, 2-3rd C AD, Corinth. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

4. How did you get started ? There is a strong tradition of mosaic art in Greece, I understand you tried to study with Greek mosaicists ? How was that ? 

I returned to Thessaloniki determined to find a teacher but it wasn’t easy. Although Greece does have a strong tradition in mosaic making, it is generally taught in a very formal manner either as a degree course at the Athens School of Fine Arts or by graduates from the school who give private classes but are reluctant to share techniques. I spent a year in Thessaloniki and another year in Athens with master craftsmen who taught the Byzantine method – working in reverse using very small tesserae without interstices. I explored other techniques at home with books and also attended short courses in the UK with established mosaic artists such as Emma Biggs, Martin Cheek and Lawrence Payne.

The Three Graces, Lamia. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

5. So you also had to practice a lot by yourself. What were your main sources of inspiration ?

At the beginning my main source of inspiration was Byzantine stone carvings and ceramics. Thessaloniki is a UNESCO World Heritage city due to its high concentration of Byzantine churches many of which have wonderful mosaics but they weren’t entirely up my street. I much preferred the simpler, bolder designs used in the Byzantine decorative arts. Thessaloniki has a Byzantine museum so I used to go there with my camera and notebook and sketch things that interested me. Later my interest expanded to Roman mosaics and over the years we travelled a lot around the region visiting Roman sites. I find it astonishing that these works, although not exactly neglected, certainly haven’t had the attention and acclamation that they deserve. We all know the Venus of Milo at the Louvre but how many people know the Zeus and Ganymede mosaic at the Metropolitan?

Modern mosaic of St. George and the dragon. Agios Georgios, Pelion. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

6. You also went back to the UK to take some classes with well known artists there. I guess it was easier to learn with your fellow citizens ? 

Yes, but mainly because in the UK mosaic artists are expected and encouraged to explore artistically. Obviously there are rules and techniques which need to be understood but once these are covered artists then use their skills to expand the boundaries of what mosaics are and what can be achieved in the medium. Mosaic teaching and learning in Greece is much more rigid and although there are exceptions, in general classes tend to focus on the Byzantine method and style and alternative ways of doing things are frowned upon.

Pebble mosaic floor, 4th C BC, Pella, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

7. Your blog is a mine of information about the mosaics of Greece, illustrated with your own pictures. How did you manage to visit all these wonderful sites ? 

I was incredibly lucky to have so many sites literally on my doorstep. I could step out of the house and be in a 4th century basilica covered in glittering mosaics within 15 minutes. Once I started visiting sites I just kept learning about new ones and going to visit them and so it went on. It also helped that we sometimes drove from Greece back to Scotland in the summer so we were able to stop at sites in Italy and France on our way through. Macedonia is a two hour car drive from Thessaloniki and Turkey is easy to visit over a weekend so I was really just extremely fortunate.

Detail from the 4th C AD Rotunda, Thessaloniki. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

8. What do you think has been the biggest influence of Greece on your mosaic Art ? 

The two big influences are the Byzantine method which I learnt when I started making mosaics in Greece and the Roman mosaics which I visited there and elsewhere. The precision of Byzantine mosaics still echoes through my work and I find that I can’t escape it. For a while I tried to have a freer style but found myself being drawn back to what I knew best and enjoyed the most. Roman mosaics influenced me by making me want to produce mosaics which honour the ancient tradition but which are simultaneously contemporary and fresh.

Medusa head, Brading Roman Villa, Isle of Wight, UK. Photo:

9. What did you like the best in Greece ? Are you going to miss it ? 

The stones - Greece has an amazing local supply of gorgeous coloured marble and stones. I was very lucky to have a great marble merchant nearby and could just call him up and go and collect the marble I needed cut to the thickness I required for relatively little money. That can’t be replicated in Edinburgh! Yes, I do miss Greece but I am also pleased to be back home and excited about the next phase of my mosaic life.

Leopard devours its prey, Delphi, Greece. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

10. What are you goals, mosaic-wise, for the next 2 years ? 

 I have just moved into my new studio which I am very pleased with. It took me a while to find the right place and to move all my heavy materials and tools there but now it’s all done and I can start to think about the next stage. One of the things that I am already relishing is being in a place with an artistic community with similar goals and willing to share ideas, resources and expertise. Over the next two years I hope to build my Edinburgh based mosaic business and make links to other people working in the field as well as with interior designers and potential clients.

Mosaic fragments in the sea. Photo: Helen Miles Mosaics

11. Any word of advice or encouragement for people new to mosaics ? 

Just start! There’s loads of how-to information about making mosaics free on the internet so there’s no reason not to dive straight in. The only real way to learn is to practise and there’s no time like the present. 

Follow Helen : 


I am a French mosaic artist based in Alabama. 
My Art is about Inspiring People.
You can contact me by phone at (334) 798 1639 or by email at

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1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for asking me to contribute to your blog, Frederic! It was really fun to answer your questions which prompted me to reflect on where I am now and where I am hoping to go from here. I hugely enjoy following your blog and your mosaics and look forward to seeing what you are working on next. All the best, Helen.