Posts Tagged ‘Art’

The last couple of months of 2017 and first couple of 2018 have been a whirlwind.  Just starting now to surface for a bit of air!  Big things have been happening one after the other and I haven’t had a chance to write about them all here on the blog, so am catching up now because they’ve been too good not to share.

The best thing that happened in all of 2017 for me – was an opportunity to go be an Instructors Assistant for Sherri Warner Hunter at a Concrete Sculpture class held at the Arrowmont school in Gatlainburg, Tennessee at the end of October/early November for 2 weeks.

I was floored when Sherri wrote and asked if I’d be interested.  At first, I thought the email wasn’t real and had to read it a couple of times – I couldn’t believe she’d thought of me and was so ecstatic.  I’d taken a course from her in concrete sculpture many years ago (you can read about it here) and always admired her and her work so much.  From her course, I’d learned a ton about sculpture and how to properly structure an armature.  It gave me such a wonderful foundation to move forward in my own work creating 3-D sculpture bases to mosaic.  That and it is just feels kind of kick-ass to bend re-bar.  😀

Decided to drive to Gatlainburg from my home in Ottawa Canada.  It was great timing for fall colors.  I’d never been to Gatlainburg before and was excited to see it and the Smokey Mountains.

More exciting though was discovering the Arrowmont school.  This school is astonishing.  Visit it at, if you have any interest in art, craft and learning this is the place to be.  The staff are so warm and welcoming, they bring in world-class instructors, feed you tons of fantastic food and are tireless promoters of the value of arts and crafts.  Go to their site, look up their classes – you will be amazed.  I fell in love with this place.

I was nervous about being an assistant and hoped I’d be good.  Wanted to do a good job for Sherri and for our class of 10 students.  We had a class of all women which was kind of cool!  They were all so amazing, came from different backgrounds and were truly delightful to get to know.  Sherri is a phenomenal teacher and I learned a ton watching her teach and seeing how she is with the students.  It was a great opportunity for me to not be on the learning end in terms of the sculpture – but to get to learn and observe from a teaching perspective.

When the time came for me to help students it was so great!  I love love loved helping them!  I loved seeing them learn, seeing them create and watching their ideas come to life.  It was great to see their confidence build and help them be successful.  They all created such different sculptures and each and every one of them was fantastic.  It was truly a room filled with talent and I’m sure they will all continue to do great work going forward if they choose – which I hope they will all continue with it.

There were a few other workshops going on at the same time as we were there, a paper making course, water color, photography, wood marquetry and a pottery class right next door.  There was so much talent around the whole time, it was inspiring to see what the other courses worked on.  Fun for us – the pottery class had a huge kiln outside our studio and they did a soda spraying technique which caused big flames to come out of the kiln.  It was tremendously cool to watch!

As a bonus for me – when we had slow time or on the weekend I was able to work on concrete sculpture projects for myself.  It was great to be able to use the facilities and Sherri’s awesome tools, as well – having a block of time just do work on sculpture and get messy without the responsibilities of home was incredibly freeing.  I got going crazy on the weekend and carved a bunch of styrofoam like mad and created way more than I’d intended.  But sometimes inspiration (or insanity) takes over.

I could write a novel about everything that happened and how wonderful it was.  Believe me, writing just this abbreviated version has been a challenge but don’t want to make an endless blog.  Wish I could express how much I cherished this opportunity, how thankful I am to have had it, but it feels like nothing I could say expresses it enough.  I thank Sherri Warner Hunter to the moon and back for this.  She’s amazing and generous with her time and knowledge – if you’re interested at all in sculpture – consider taking a course from her, you will learn so much!  She’s here on wordpress – you can find more info on her workshops at:

If you’re interested in any other kind of arts & craft, look up Arrowmont’s schedule for 2018.  They’ve got a drool-worthy list of workshops available.  Wish I could live there and take a gob of courses myself!




Happy New Year!!  😀

Most of us make some sort of resolution each year, usually things that aren’t terribly fun and often abandoned after a few weeks.  This year, my resolution is a little challenge that will hopefully be fun, not quickly abandoned and also improve my skills.  It will be to create a new murrini (or millefiori) and post it each Monday.  I’m going to post these sometimes here but each week for sure over on my new Instagram account (@studioambenz) under #murrinimonday.


the logo

For the first week of the year – this murrini comes with a bit of a story.  I actually created it last year (had to if it was going to come on Jan 1!).  It is a bit special as the pattern is actually my logo.

Since starting in mosaics, I’ve always signed the back of my art with my name and a piece of murrini, but it was commercially made murrini and the pattern wasn’t anything special or related to me.

I wanted to make my logo in murrini and start using that in my signature instead.  The design is a stylized frog foot – (read why by clicking here)– doesn’t look too hard on paper but try building that from nothing with molten glass! o_O

You have to slowly build up the design.  A bit of black glass for the middle, then add a toe, fill in some green. All the while keeping it warm enough so it won’t blow up but not too much that it melts out of shape!  It is an intense amount of very focused work.

It took 2.5 hrs to create the design and the blob of glass was HUGE!  When you’re doing murrini you’re holding your blob in a flame and constantly rotating it, kind of like a rotisserie chicken.  As the blob gets bigger, it can get quite heavy, it is hard work on the shoulders and neck, especially after 2.5 hours of constant movement!

The I day made it, there were several people in the studio.  My blob got way bigger than originally intended and drew a bit of attention (I’m not good with attention….).  It was so big another person helped me hold one end when it came time to pull as there was going to be more glass than the width of my arms!  We pulled, I cut it so it would fit in the kiln to cool down and in that one cut could see it looked good.  I was so worn out and shaky after the intense 2.5 hrs that I had to sit down and rest before getting in my car to go home.

Wish me luck in my attempt to stick with the resolution and create 52 murrini this year!  Hopefully the end of the year will show 52 interesting patterns and some improved skills.

Best wishes to all of you for a wonderful, healthy prosperous 2018 and success in any resolutions you choose to undertake!  😀


Posted: November 29, 2017 in Enough
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The past two months have been a whirlwind of tremendous things happening one after the other.  Life is kind of ramping up at the moment for me, but in a good way.  Hope it is the sign of more to come.  🙂

I’ll share with you over the next few blogs all of the great things happening. Today’s is about a piece of mine that was accepted in a juried show!   The show was a special one to get picked for as it was the 1st year of the Canadian Annual Mosaic Exhibition.  It was such an honor to be a part of the inaugural year.  It was held at the Flagship Gallery in Hamilton Ontario during November, and there were more than 30 stunning works in the show.

The piece of mine that was chosen is a micro-mosaic called “Enough”  This technique is a little different than traditional mosaic, all the pieces in her are very tiny and have to be set using tweezers.  They range in size (width-wise) from 0.5mm to about 4mm.  All her glass was melted and pulled to size by me in a flame at GSS Flameworking.

her special murrini

I also created a special murrini (glass rod with a pattern inside) in black and white to go in her dress.  The tiny pieces take quite a long while to put together, when most are between 0.5 and 2 mm wide it is time consuming to fill even 1 square inch!

So why is she called “Enough”?

In today’s world we’re constantly connected, bombarded by so many demands on our time, so much negativity, unending terrible news stories in the palm of our hand.

A couple of folks getting up close for a better look at her tiny bits!

A feeling of frustration at this constant connection and negativity inspired to me create an abstract drawing of woman in a beautiful dress looking down with eyes closed, hands to head, having simply had enough of all that was going on around her.  The drawing laid around for months till finally she came to life as a micro-mosaic.

She is smaller (the actual mosaic size of this piece is 5 x 7, overall size 8 x 10) and floats surrounded by a background of swirly darkness representing conflict.

Really came to love her a lot and was so thrilled she was chosen for the show.  Her bits are so tiny, included below are some pictures but for best viewing click to make them larger.  I also made a little time-lapse video of her progression – if you’re interested it is at the bottom of this blog!  Be forewarned though, it was my first time doing this so it jumps a little.  Next time I won’t kick the tripod out of place so much!  😀

The whole reason I got into working with molten glass at GSS Studio was to learn how to make my own murrini (or millefiori ) and to pull glass into stringers in the colors and sizes I wanted for micro-mosaic pieces.

starting a murrini

the start, 2 layers of glass so far!

So what are murrini anyways?  Most likely, you know what it is – or you know it by the name millefiori.  It is slices of glass, cut from a rod that has a pattern in the cross section.  It is most famously made on the island of Murano outside of Venice Italy.  Often you see it in jewelry or on decorative vases or paperweights. The pattern can be anything – when it is a flower based pattern it is called millefiori (a thousand petals) other patterns are called murrini, though many would use the term millefiori loosely for any pattern as it is the more well known name.

Murrini are complex to make, involving many layers of molten glass being put together and shaped, then heated up till red hot and finally pulling the hot blob by hand into a long rod.  You have to be careful to not twist or turn the blob of molten hot glass when pulling or you risk messing up the pattern created inside!  After the rod has cooled, it is cut into slices revealing the pattern in the cross-section.


rod just after it has pulled

I buy commercial murrini made in Italy and use it in my micro-mosaic jewelry.  So why would I want to learn to make it?

While I love the murini I can buy, I just thought it would be so cool to create unique patterns myself.  Then if I’m using my handmade murrini in my handmade micro-mosaic jewelry designs, it makes the piece of jewelry that much more unique, that much more “one-of-a-kind”.  Truly, no one else in the world will have anything like it.

Most of my murrini patterns so far are abstract (my ultimate love) or geometrical.  There will be more complex designs as time goes on but so far it’s a good start!  Here’s some pics below – look for some of these in this year’s holiday collection of jewelry coming soon!  😀

Remixin’ it up!

Posted: September 28, 2017 in Mosaic General
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In Ottawa each year there is a neat festival called Remixed.  It is held in Chinatown and pairs local businesses with artists for 1 month.  The idea is to “remix” the businesses and neighborhood.  Bring art into groceries, restaurants and shops where you might not expect to see it and draw in art lovers to some of these same shops they might not know about.

It’s a fun and different vibe with businesses all along the main drag of Chinatown participating.  On opening day there is a big festival atmosphere.  All the artists sit with their installation in the business they’re paired with as visitors walk around stopping at each location to collect a stamp for a chance to win a prize.  There’s fun stuff happening outside too, along the route you’ll find various performers, demonstrations, or large scale artists working.

Art House Cafe building

The festival is a juried entry and this year I was lucky enough to be one of the artists chosen!  😀  In another but of luck, I got paired with The Art House Cafe, a great business that opened this year in Ottawa and is a hub for artists and art lovers alike.

Three of my mosaics went up on their wall and will stay there for a month.  During the opening day I had a 2hr time slot to do demos.  It was a hot day but that didn’t stop a steady stream of folks from visiting.  I’d taken a project to work on during down time but didn’t have any so only stuck a few bits on!

Roman-Byzantine-Modern Mosaic styles

For the demo, I’d set up a little “history of mosaic” table showing different styles of mosaic ranging from Roman to Byzantine to Modern.  There was also a table with examples of materials and backings you can use, some fun tools and several books with amazing mosaic pictures.

As an interactive bit for visitors, I offered to let them try out cutting a some glass with the traditional tools of the hammer and hardie.  The hammer is heavy and it shocked everyone who picked it up, but they all did great making a cut and had fun.

It was a great day, so much fun to share my love of mosaic and my art with others.  I am so happy to have been a part of this wonderful event.  If you’re in the Ottawa area visiting, the art is up throughout Chinatown till October 16.   Find a map of all the locations on



Thar she blows!

Posted: March 21, 2017 in Lampwork
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me blowing on the pipe

While I’m busy working on new mosaics to blog about in the future, I’d like to share a bit of my other glass journey, flameworking.  Started flameworking at the wonderful GSS Studio in late 2015.  You can read about my initial foray in this old blog post -> here.

Early last year I learned a new skill at the studio – glass blowing!

This is glass blowing on small scale, not big vases or cups, but beads or little forms.  To do this, you use small hand held metal pipes, get a blob of glass molten in the flame and stick it to the end of the pipe then blow on the opposite (this part is important 😉 ) end.


grabber tool and 2 pipes with ruler as size references

Sounds simple, but it’s hard to get an initial bubble of air into a blob of glass.  It feels as if you’re blowing your lungs out sometimes and nothing is happening!  You can help your initial bubble along by holding your pipe certain ways and also using your tongue to stop up the air in the pipe which forces it to expand into the glass.  But, once your bubble gets going it’s really easy to then blow too much – or hold the air in the pipe a bit long and it expands too quick – then POP!!  Your glass bubble blows up and out and all over the place in tiny little shards.  Sadly, this has happened more than once to me but now with practice it is a lot less.  🙂img_7674-516x640

After learning round bubbles, I’ve tried making different shapes or opening the bubbles up and sculpting them to make some fun forms.

Don’t know what I’ll do with what I’ve made so far – some have turned into necklaces and the rest are just some pretty baubles resting in a clear glass container.  I’ve been playing around with some ideas for incorporating them into the mosaics – but not sure yet how that will play out.  For now, this small scale glass blowing is just a bit of super fun stuff to play with and relax.  Some pics of the creations so far are below.  🙂

Getting ready to go on a little adventure, so will be MIA for a bit but will return soon with fun pictures to share!

I’ve always had an attraction to black and white, in all areas, fashion – art – photos – movies – pets.

dogs BandW

A few years ago my Mom bought me this Stephen Huneck print because of my strong attraction to black and/or black and white animals.  Nearly all of my pets growing up (and currently too) fit this color pallet.

My wardrobe is chock full of  “calypso black” and “carnival grey” as the husband jokingly likes to call it.  Goes great with my Morticia-like white skin.

**side secret – I actually love colorful clothes, but inherited a dribble tendency from my Dad and Grandmom.  Darker clothes help conceal a wayward dribble – if I wore light colors, you’d be more likely to notice that wet spot where I tried to clean off some of my morning coffee! 😀

I didn’t blog much last year for several reasons, but one reason was that I was working out a few new creative directions and wrangling with some technical problems they were bringing up.  A lot of those problems have been resolved and I’m getting started now on building some mosaics.

Choosing the color pallet for the new mosaics was one of the first steps.  While I do love the shimmer and bling of colored gold smalti, my old love of black and white has won out.  Here’s one of my worktables full of the new materials that will be used in the upcoming mosaics!black-adn-white-materials I might throw in a tiny bit of color here and there just for some jazz, but maybe not.  Black and white has an elegant simplicity that is tough to beat.

So it seems 2017 will keep me in my very black and white world!  Hope you’ll continue on this year’s journey with me (can’t believe it is mid-March already!) and soon hope to show you some of the new mosaics!  😀


What do cufflinks & a log have to do with each other?  Nothing, except they’re both recently related to my mosaics. 🙂

jc626-1-blue-cream-square-mosaic-cufflinks-mercedes-mosaics-800x600Usually in November, I’m showing new jewelry created in time for the holidays.  This year though, I’ve put jewelry making on pause to focus on developing larger art pieces.

However – I really missed making those little jewels and decided to add a few pairs of cufflinks to the shop.  I did a mix of regular and micro-mosaic styles.  I definitely see my jewelry style moving more and more towards micro-mosaic.  It is really fun working with such jc630-1-blue-yellow-white-circle-micromosaic-cufflinks-mercedes-mosaics-800x600tiny pieces and I love the extra connection that I get by pulling my own glass in a flame and making murrini.  Pics of all the new cufflinks are below.

Now, about that log…

We’ve all had those special things that thrill us to no end yet causes others to shake their heads in bewilderment.  The acquisition of a log was one of those things for me this fall.


hammer & hardie

One of the tool sets in mosaic that many people use is called the hammer and hardie.  It is a traditional tool set that has been used since ancient times.  The hardie looks a bit like a chisel and needs to be placed into something (usually a piece of wood) in order to use it.  Once the hardie is installed, you then put the bit of glass or stone on top of it and give it a tap with the hammer to break your material.

My hardie currently rests in a piece of wood that is great to work at while sitting.  But, I’ve begun working more and more while standing and needed something taller.  This put me on the hunt for a log just the right height to make a standing hardie.

m-and-log-1smOne lucky afternoon the perfect log was found after I combed through a downed pile.  It was slated to be tossed in a bonfire and had in-fact been partially burnt already.  I pulled it out, cut it to the right length and dragged it home.  It had to be de-barked and still needs some sanding after it dries a little more, but soon I’ll be standing and chopping away!

m-and-log-2smIt even has a cute little knob on the side that makes for a perfect place to grab while moving it around.  I was so tickled by finally finding the right log and rescuing it from just being burnt up.  The internal wood is really quite beautiful and it is nice to be able to give it another life as one of my tools.

Members of my household did indeed give me a bit of a head-shake about the log, especially as I was working hard to de-bark it!  But even though my extreme level of enthusiasm was not shared, they were able to appreciate how happy this acquisition made me.

Enough blogging for today – below are pics of all the new cufflinks, they make great holiday gifts (hint, hint 😀 ) and all are available for purchase in our shop by clicking here.

Winter cold made me slow and not terribly productive.  Summer warmth and sun have given energy but made me not want to sit behind the computer.  Both things have made me hugely neglectful of this blog!

wm detail (457x640)

black & white mosaic with wires in progress

Hoping to rectify this and get back to regular updates and regularly reading all my other favorite blogs.  Connecting with and being inspired by others is my favorite part of blogging – the summer sun this year has just been a stronger pull!

So, what’s happened with all that sun-inspired energy?  Well, recently finished 2 mosaics that I’ll show you soon.  One is a black & white piece that I just adore, the other is a cream/copper with tons of shimmery goodness. 🙂

I recently taught a couple of sessions of mosaic at a day camp for kids!  There were about 26 kids a session, aged 7-12 with some social skill challenges.  This was a bit daunting as I don’t have much experience with kids (don’t have any / never around any).  I was worried if I’d do ok with them.  But the kids were awesome and it was both totally exhausting and totally exhilarating!  So much fun to help them make a cool project and see them happy with the results.  Even one kid who at first told me it was “boring” ended up doing the most creative stuff and had a great time.  Think he just need to get past the hump of starting ( I can relate! ).  It was wonderful to get their little hugs and thank yous after the class was over.

bronze detail (464x640)

shimmery bronze in progress

I’ve also been keeping up with lampworking, making neat stuff with glass melting it in a flame.  The past few months I’ve learned new techniques and improved my skills a lot.  I’m now trying to create sculptural glass forms that can be incorporated into mosaics, not quite there yet but think something neat will come of it.

Lastly – tossed the mosaic plan for 2 collections that I’d laid out for the year.  I’d completed 1 of each when the husband had a thought.  He knew I had other ideas floating around and suggested making summer all about just exploring those.  He’d thought it could potentially be very neat, maybe better than planned stuff.  At first I resisted – but then went for it and have gone down a bunch of paths that led to tons of new ideas.  Fun but also kind of hard to wrangle a million ideas down to a reasonable bite to chew off. 🙂

Hope the past few months have been as lovely and creative for you as they’ve been for me.  Looking forward to catching up on all your blogs and hope to update you soon with pics of new work and other ramblings!

creative process smIt’s been a bit of a slow go since February.  Some of it I blame on winter.  Even though I’ve been in Canada (from Florida) 5 winters now, still find it a bit hard to be so shut in.  Not having open windows and lots of hours of sun makes it hard to get up and go. Hopefully spring will come soon, though as I’m writing this, it is snowing. o_O

The other part of slowness I’m blaming on riding the creative process roller coaster.  It wasn’t a lack of creativity – in fact, I had a project to work on that’s been planned for quite some time and was really excited about it.

Why the slowness then?  Since we moved last summer,  I’d not worked on a larger wall mosaic at all till now.  Instead focusing on jewelry for the holidays and then more for Valentine’s Day.

When it came time to get back into creating a new bigger wall project I had so much anxiety just starting.  Really liked the design I had and wanted to do it right yet started questioning all the plans that I’d had for it and fell into analysis paralysis.  Then, once I got going,  I went into the up and down rollercoaster ride of:  this is going great!  this is awful!  maybe it’s ok….  wow – I’m crap what was I thinking!

This up and down happens to me on nearly every project.  Except for jewelry.  Guess because they’re small and over with in a short amount of time that it doesn’t allow for that roller coaster of feelings to come.  It just had been awhile since I’d experienced this ride and and this time it really slowed me down productivity wise.

I used to think it was just me who had this awful ride on projects.  Then awhile ago someone posted online this funny “Creativity Process” list in the pic above. 🙂 It was such a perfect description that I printed it out, framed it and put it on the wall right next to my worktable.  This way – when I’m in the “This is shit, I am shit” part of the process it gives a little levity and reminder that probably it will work out in the end!

As fellow creatives, I’m curious – do you go through this ride when creating your projects?  Does it ever slow you down and if so, have you developed any tricks to get around it?