Interview with Anjali Venkat, Glass Artist

Please give us an introduction on yourself.

Like a lot of women, I play very many roles, daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother. I think it’s my free spirited nature and artistic soul that has made me enjoy my journey so far. I’m a glass artist with an eclectic sense of art and design. I have a passion for all types of art and craft. I’m nosy; I’m interested in people and what they do!

How did you stumble onto mosaics and how long ago was that?

As a kid I would visit Rock Garden in Chandigarh often. I would collect broken tiles, mirror and bangles and stick them on my cupboard, cut magazine papers and make a collage.

 Assembling bits and pieces together has been a life long effort for me.

 I’ve dabbled in block printing of sarees, painting dupattas, pottery, painting, designing carpets, bookcovers and making stationery. I use the word dabbled, perhaps wrongly… for very many years these pursuits were my source of income. But once I started working with glass I stuck with it. It’s a difficult medium and I love the challenge of it.

I have formally worked with glass for over 20 years. Initially I used to sell my paintings to make the money to buy glass and tools.

I’ve run a glass studio in Chennai for very many years. I’ve shifted base to Singapore and run a studio there today. I visit Chennai twice a year and teach mosaics there.

What is your preferred mosaic media? Do tell us about any challenges you face in its sourcing or stocking.

I am a glass artist. In my mosaics, the main materials used are always glass. I like to incorporate the unusual and unexpected into my work.

When I started working with glass many years ago, I had to rely on books…. No classes, no internet with its fountain of information. And the books were expensive!

My supplies were dependant on a visit abroad. My dear husband used to lug around sheets of coloured glass and baby diapers from all over the world!

I strongly believe that lack of resources make one more resourceful.. a lot of my work today, like using broken glass bottles, broken mirrors etc is a direct result of not being able to source readily available materials.

With today’s flattening of the world, information, guidance and supplies are easily available.

Mosaicist to a large extent are hoarders. Bit and pieces are collected over time with an idea that it might be useful in some design. This can sometimes become overwhelming. Regular sorting and pruning of supplies is essential to keep both mind and space clutter free.

What all have you made in mosaics?

I’ve mosaicked a whole bunch of things including 2’ square planters, dining tables, smaller tables, wall art, jewelry etc

What are you currently working on?

 I love what I’m working on currently. I’ve been teaching seniors at an activity centre in Singapore the joys of mosaic. The theme for the Project is ‘JOY’

Over a period of 7 sessions, the seniors have played with glass shards and tiles, drawn out and coloured what brings them joy and then assembled the mosaic on net. Initially they were a bit hesitant exploring this new medium but over time their eagerness, ideas and enthusiasm grew. Each one of the 23 participants has made a petal shape and a few leaves. I’ve assembled them into a garden of flowers. Each petal showcases what the seniors like. I fused little birds, flowers, butterflies, a dog, fish and a house with a red roof. These designs were made on the basis of their drawings. I’ve fused their names too! 

This has been a hugely enriching experience for me and I’m grateful to be part of it.

Where do you find inspiration for your compositions? What kind of themes interest you?

As I mentioned earlier…I’m nosy. I pay attention to sights, sounds, patterns, colour … basically I pay attention to the world around me! I think in the abstract, so my work reflects that. I almost never make true to life subjects, its always my version of what I see/perceive.

What is the typical size of your mosaic pieces? How long does it take you on average to complete a mosaic?

 The size of my art work depends on whether it’s a commission or something for fun. I advice my clients about suitability of size, theme, colours etc but if it’s a commissioned piece ultimately the final decision lies with the clients.  Over time, I’ve developed a clientele that likes to buy my pieces off the shelf. They finally trust my judgement!

 Time taken depends on how much time I get. Some projects have a tight deadline, others are more relaxed. I personally like to start a project and finish it as fast as I can.

Do you mosaic every day and for how many hours? Do describe your work area.

Today, I run a glass studio in Singapore. I work and teach there. I work from 10 am to 6 pm mostly 5 days a week and often teach on weekends. My work schedule depends on what I have on my plate.

It sounds like I have no life at all but for me it’s actually not work!

I have people dropping by the studio regularly and enjoy the interaction and different points of view and style of working of my students.

I have designated areas in my studio for mosaic, stained glass and glass fusing-kilns and try to keep things organized, but of course that’s easier said than done!

What challenges have you encountered in mosaic-making?

I think my personal challenges have always been in sourcing something standard that just works… Like, one just goes to X shop and gets Y material and moves on to the fun part of design etc.

I’ve moved around a bit and have had to scout around for certain materials wherever I go… cement, grout etc. These are not commonly used materials and the average person just doesn’t know enough to help.

Many individuals even without much exposure to art-creation or training, seem to gravitate towards mosaic-making to find mental peace.  Do you feel that way? Why is that?

Mosaic is therapeutic. There is something about placing one fragment after another to make a whole, that is engrossing and very satisfying. The only thought is what piece comes next, the colour, shape or size. The act of making mosaic clears the head of all the incessant chatter… a sure-fire path to mental peace.

What is your advice to a new mosaic learner based in India?

Making mosaics is picking up rapidly in India and three cheers to that.

There is so much information out there, but one does not have to follow what a hundred other mosaicists have done. There is no point waiting for all the materials that we read about to magically materialise. Take the effort to explore new possibilities.

Experiment.. Find a new way. This is also in terms of design and style. While I believe, there is nothing really original in this world, it’s nice to put one’s own spin into things. Always remember to enjoy the journey, not only the final finished artwork.

There will always be a new tool that supposedly cuts down work to half, or some shiny new material but it’s good to remember that actually most of that does not matter. What matters is what the mosaicist makes out of what is available. Their passion for their work.

Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, in Chandigarh and Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens in Philadelphia are proof of that.

What is your view of the Facebook group Mosaic India and its website? What kind of content would you like to see on it in future?

I like this group and enjoy being part of it. I’m happy to pitch in and clear any doubts that I can. However I think it would be nice if anybody posting pictures of finished work explains a bit of what they have used and how they have made it.

I think this page is not a page to show off one’s work; most people have their own FB page for that. And there are enough pages to drool over mosaics and other inspiring artwork.

 It’s for sharing knowledge.

Post a Mosaic related query and people who can and are willing to help should answer, without any prompting from the admin.

Post a photo of your work only if you also describe the process and materials used a little bit, again without any prompting from the admin.

A lot of us, including me, earn a living making mosaics. It’s not fair to expect us to give out all our ways of working, taking workshops, pricing and finding a market. Which is why some questions do not get answered. That’s totally acceptable to me. However if I post a picture of my work, I should be prepared to let people know how it is made.

Do you teach mosaic-making or will do so in the near future? If yes, please mention your city.

I teach Mosaics regularly. I have a couple of types of workshops that I conduct in Singapore, including for schools and other groups.

The age group is from 5+ to 80+ years.

I visit Chennai twice a year and teach Mosaics there. In a few days time I’m going to be teaching an intensive Mosaic workshop in Bangalore.

What do you aspire to do as a mosaic-maker over the next 5 years?

I want to be more involved with community projects and teaching; spreading the joys of making mosaics.

Please mention your preferred way for people to reach you.

 Email: anjalidesign9@gmail.com

Is there a gallery link or website of your mosaics that you would like to share with others?

 www.anjalidesign.com
FB Anjali Design   https://www.facebook.com/anjalidesignglass/

Please share some of your favourite mosaics from your creations. Is there any story about them that you would like to share?

My current two favourite mosaics are community projects. One at the Science Center in Singapore, where I was a Maker in Residence early this year. Visitors to the center irrespective of age made a small mosaic. I assembled all the pieces to make one big mural. It was great fun for me to show people how to cut glass and fit pieces together to make a whole.

The second is the Mosaic made at the senior activity centre, which I mentioned earlier.

While conducting these projects I try and make small personal charms for the participants so they can identify their handiwork in the midst of hundreds of other contributions.

 

The questions were compiled by Jyoti Bhargava and the interview was carried out by email.

Interview with Shilpa Dalal, Mosaic Artist and Painter

          It’s hard to know where to begin.  I studied Commercial Art in college and that is where a large part of my art knowledge comes from.  The rest is self-taught.  I married quite early, and because we were going to be moving all over the world, I did not work.  However, to keep myself busy I started painting in oils and and in those days I did a lot of stained glass painting.  I had some transparent glass paints and tubes of black liner and was able to do quite a few projects in those days.  I was quite busy with some project or the other, either in painting or stained glass painting and I was making a little pocket money, too. 

            Then, my daughters were born, one after another, and I decided to concentrate on them for a few years.  During this time, my husband was transferred to London, and we took our two little girls to London, and this kept me quite busy for some time.  However, after about a year or two, when I couldn’t handle singing nursery rhymes while in the shower, I decided to go back to some form of art work.  I did a few courses in clay modelling and silk painting at a local college, and then I found a weekend course in stained glass.  My husband looked after the girls for that weekend while I went for this course, and I came back all fired up to start.  I bought all the materials I needed and started working using my dining table as my work table.  Because my girls were so small, I had to be very careful that there was no glass on the carpet, and I became very good at cutting.  I made some small projects to begin with, then moved onto a tiffany lampshade and some other 3-dimensional projects.  I actually even got an order which turned out very well – a window – the largest project that I had made so far.  It was quite difficult for me at the time.  The stained glass shop was a bit far, and we didn’t have a car in London.  So, I would drop my older daughter to school, and take my younger daughter by bus to the stained glass shop and buy my materials.  I would hang them on her stroller, as it was quite heavy to carry.  Then I would come home and start working.  I had a hand held stone grinder which I had to wet with water and used for grinding my glass.  We couldn’t afford an electric grinder at the time, and I made my tiffany lampshade with a hand grinder!  But I was so fired up, that I walked through all the difficulties that came my way!

            A few years down the line and we were transferred to Antwerp, Belgium.  I found a stained glass shop fairly nearby and by then we had a car and I was driving!  Whew!  What a relief!  I also found a fantastic art store very close to my house and plenty of parking.  Both my girls were all day in school, and for the first time I had the day to myself and I could get around easily.  By this time, I was painting in oils and sending them to Bombay to an art gallery where my paintings were getting sold almost immediately.  Antwerp opened a lot for me creatively – I was able to get materials for anything that I wanted to do.  I made a good friend who was also interested in creating and together we dabbled in all sorts of arts and crafts, although my painting and stained glass was my own.  Then, one day, my friend and I saw a table made in mosaic at the stained glass store.  We asked how it was made and the owners were very helpful.  By this time, I had a very good relationship with them, and had also done some courses of stained glass with lead instead of copper foil, and sand blasting….. and I was going there all the time.  They showed us a glass cutter similar to the Leponitt ones and we were in seventh heaven… we had the means to use up the glass wastage that I had from stained glass and make some new products.  I taught my friend how to cut glass and we made a table each and then another, and I was invited to demonstrate my mosaic at a stained glass exhibition.  There I met the Leponitt cutter manufacturers.  They were demonstrating at the next table, and they introduced me to the Leponitt cutters and different ways to cut glass with these cutters…..

            Then we were transferred back to Bombay – and I had to start all over again! 

            Initially, it was difficult to find opaque glass that I could use in Bombay, so I decided to use china and tiles.  But, somehow I wasn’t too motivated by this medium.  Then I found some glass – very limited colours, but, all of a sudden I had a number of a person who could supply me with spectrum glass.  He would come home with his sample box, and I would choose my colours, and then he would deliver this to me at home.  It was fantastic!  I just had to buy a minimum of 4 square feet in each colour, so this made it quite expensive, but at least I could do some work and I wasn’t stuck!  I was painting madly, too, and had started watercolours.  I would go all over Bombay with my paints and paper in hand, and paint in plein air.  It was great fun.  I put these paintings together in a book called “BOMBAY!”  At the same time, I had started selling in a couple of stores and I was getting good orders.  I went to an exhibition at the The Happy Home & School for the Blind, and saw that they were doing glass mosaic, but with already cut up glass supplied by another stained glass artist.  They didn’t have the tools or the know-how to cut their own glass.  Mind you, these boys were partially blind and not fully blind.  So, I volunteered my services there, and provided them with the Leponitt cutters to start with.  They also learned to score and cut glass and soon there was a mosaic studio at the school, and we were producing a fair amount of mosaic.  We did some huge projects there, including a huge wall and two floors.  We even did a series of Four Seasons – 3’ x 3’ panels each depicting a season.  The school bought their own glass and invested in grinding and cutting machines.  Some of the boys I taught have graduated from the school and are now working there in the Mosaic Studio, and this is their livelihood.  I also came across another NGO called “Saathi” that looked after teenage boys and girls that had run away from home and come to Bombay.  The mosaics that they did were incredible, too.

            Around this time, I started my journey on a Spiritual Path with an Australian Guru, and I was juggling many activities at once. I had had several art shows with my paintings, but then my father fell very ill with a terminal illness, and I stopped all mosaic orders, because I knew I wouldn’t have the time to fulfill them.  I took a break from mosaic for over a year – I couldn’t get back my earlier orders and the shops that I was supplying to had closed down or had moved on.  It seemed as if the door had shut on me for mosaic.  Even if I started again, I wanted to do something that was more challenging than what I had done before.  I became very involved in my Spiritual path, and my paintings.  I had also moved house twice in this period and was a bit unsettled where mosaic was concerned.

            One day, I decided that I was not going to depend on any store buying my stuff, and I was just going to start again.  I racked my brains for something that would challenge me and decided to make some carpets in mosaic.  I had made a large one earlier 6’ x 3’, and it had taken me about 10-12 days to make it, but this time I felt to make some smaller ones.  I had friends who had birthdays coming up, and so I started again.  The carpets have been a real joy to make and have!

            I have made small and large projects in mosaics – from trays to chairs, tables, mirrors, lampbases, vases, carpets.  I have searched chor bazaar and hunted for different types of furniture to mosaic on.  Earlier, I used to do a lot of floral designs, but lately I seem to prefer more geometrical designs.  I work quite fast and once I get started on a piece, I work for several hours in a day, because I enjoy it so much, although now my back kills me!

            I have a small space in my home where I cut my glass and work.  All the glass is in two cupboards with the spare pieces in different jars.

            Although I have worked mostly on wood, I would love to work on bathroom sinks – this is a challenge for me, as I don’t know what are the materials needed in these projects, in terms of glue and grout.  The greatest challenge in India of mosaic-making is the procuring of the materials needed in smaller quantities and another challenge that I personally face is the space required to do bigger projects.  It is so expensive in Bombay to hire studio space and so I work from home, which has its limitations.

            Mosaic-making definitely is very therapeutic.  This was proven while working with the girls from Saathi.  They used to open up with their problems while doing the mosaic.

            I wish we could get more materials readily available in India, and in smaller quantities, otherwise mosaic is a very expensive hobby and this can put people off.

            My advice to a new mosaic learner based in India is “Where there is a will, there is a way”!  Just persevere and you will find the all you need!

            The Facebook group Mosaic India is a very good start – it definitely shows people how to start their own mosaics, and the website is very informative.  I feel there could be some videos and demonstrations and tutorials that people can take part in online, and that might be helpful.  Also I wish we could sell the materials needed from the website, too, so that it’s easier for people to start if they want to.  So, the materials required and some helpful videos and how to books would be greatly helpful to beginners.  Maybe a Mosaic Artists magazine giving names of suppliers, etc. based in India.

            Today, with Pinterest and Facebook, there is a lot of inspiration available on the internet.  I used to buy books because none of this was available when I started.

            I have not put my projects on the internet until recently.  Its just that with all that I was doing, I just didn’t have the time.  My children and friends have been after me to at least get on to Facebook, and so after much pushing and prodding, I joined Facebook.  Some of my recent paintings and mosaic can be found on Shilpa Dalal Studio. I have yet to add more of my earlier works and paintings, too.

            I hope to do more challenging work over the next five years – although I don’t know what that is as yet.

            You can reach me either via email:  shilpadalal2@gmail.com or my phone number:  098210 22559

            WHERE THERE IS A WILL, THERE IS A WAY!  That’s my philosophy!

How to Start Making Mosaics

Note: This post is concurrently published at http://www.jyotibhargava.com

My previous posts attempt to share leads to tools, tiles and adhesives used in mosaic-making but an interested learner may still be flummoxed in the face of choices and may still wonder how to go about making a mosaic. My view is to follow the approach below.

Join a Mosaic Workshop Makingmosaics

If one can find a trainer, making even a small mosaic under guidance
demystifies the process of holding the nippers, cutting tiles, arranging their flow, sticking them and then coming to grips with the messy but all important grouting process. One may have How-to Project books, good Net bandwidth to watch video tutorials but there is really nothing as ideal as learning by doing it under guidance.

Since the last year that I’ve been running the Facebook group Mosaic India, I’ve learned of a few India based mosaic-makers who train as well. If you wish to connect with a trainer, join the FB group and enquire about trainers in  your city.

Learn to cut Stained Glass 

India has more Stained Glass practitioners than mosaicists. It may be, therefore, easier to track down a stained glass artist than a mosaic-maker. Reach out to artists in your city, request that they teach you to cut stained glass shapes. Traditional stained glass requires steps of grinding shape edges once they are cut, copper-foiling them and then soldering multiple shapes to create a composition or 3D piece. To make mosaics, a learner can get oriented on scoring and cutting shapes of stained glass, and then move on to the steps of sticking shapes and grouting the composition.

Buy a Mosaic Kit and Make it 

A small mosaic kit comes with materials and instructions on making a mosaic. The kit doesn’t carry any nippers but it does have pre-cut tiles and other essential items. Making a mosaic using a kit demystifies the basic steps involved in creating a finished mosaic and that can get many learners going onto more. In India, I’ve heard of only 2 sources of basic kits but on Amazon US I can see 8-10 kit options. They don’t ship to India but any friend from the US may be asked to bring you one.

Offer to be a Mosaic-maker’s Assistant 

Even those mosaic-makers who do not run workshops or teach in one-on-one sessions, may value help to finish their commissioned pieces. Be on the lookout for such opportunities to learn as you assist.

Just Make It 

If you have none of the above options available to you, just make a mosaic based on your understanding from How-to books or videos and get going. Ask questions, share your experience of making your first mosaic in the FB group and keep taking leaps beyond.

In the next post, I’ll describe the exact process of making a simple mosaic to help remove any further hesitation that a beginner feels.