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Marvellous mosaics

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Landscape designers are always searching for the next ‘big thing’. With the interest in connecting people with nature and embellishing that experience through the inclusion of art, we have seen an increasing interest in the installation of art pieces as a significant component of the constructed landscape. One way of seamlessly blending the artistic world with the natural world is through using mosaics.

Garden design is intrinsically part of the artistic world and the link between art and landscape design is not as blurred as many people tend to think. The medium of an artist is a palette of coloured paints, masterfully utilised to create a masterpiece. Garden design is so inherently connected to the artistic world that the only real difference is the medium used to create a beautiful landscape or open spaces. Plants will always play an important role as the major medium of urban landscapes, but the hardscape components of landscapes also play a major role in bringing the entire design together as a flawless creation of artistic beauty.

Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of coloured glass, stone, or other materials such as shells. Mosaics are steeped in history as an art form that dates back some 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, where intricate designs were constructed using pieces of glass and coloured stones. The development of mosaics has endured through the ages and there are many examples of mosaic constructed by other civilisations including the Greeks, Romans and the Islamic world that have stood the test of time. Today’s mosaic artists work with stone, ceramics, shells, art glass, mirror, beads, and even odd items like doll parts, or photographs. While ancient mosaics tended to be associated with adorning architectural structures, modern mosaics are found covering everything from park benches, swimming pools and fountains to flowerpots.

Versatility of mosaics
In urban landscapes, mosaics are often used in creating paths, steps or retaining walls but the limitations of mosaic application are only constrained by the imagination itself. The versatility of mosaic and the materials used to create a design can bring a sense of spirituality to a landscape that may not otherwise be achieved through the inclusion of other landscape components. The modern landscape with its clean architectural lines is being challenged with more fluid patterns such as spirals and free flowing forms in mosaics and designs that embrace and celebrate cultural significance and naturalistic forms that connect to the physical surroundings. A skilfully designed mosaic can break up the somewhat sterile and controlled features of the built landscape and encourage the end user to embrace the landscape in an organic way. Mosaics provide the opportunity to develop a deeper connection with the natural environment, not just through a visual assault on our senses but through a tactile opportunity to connect directly with the landscape. This is particularly evident where mosaic paths are crafted with different size, textured, and shaped pebbles and tiles used in the design.

To achieve one of the most beautiful and stunning effects with mosaic in landscapes, designers will often collaborate with artists to develop a design that will complement the overall landscape. Once an image has been created, there are several ways that the mosaic can be developed to bring the design to ‘life’.

Mosaic creation
There are several ways of creating a mosaic in a landscape and some work best on small scale installations. When it comes to large scale installations different methods need to be employed to make the process efficient without losing effect.

Traditional mosaic installations usually involve the individual placement of the mosaic pieces into a substrate material such as concrete. When it comes to installation of a pebble path mosaic, the fundamentals of design and construction still apply. The selection of colour to provide contrast or to complement other surfaces and the plant materials of a landscape is critical to overall success. Once a design and the materials have been selected the real work begins.

Mosaic path preparation
Preparation of the path substrate is similar to that employed when installing paving.
• Once you have a design in mind, line the path with edging and spread 50mm of compacted crushed blue metal for the base of the mosaic or alternatively pour a path of concrete and the mosaic can be installed on top.
• Setting the mosaics is achieved through pouring a layer of mortar on the compacted gravel or concrete base, spreading it to fill the edges. This layer should be around 10-12mm lower than the finished product to allow for the pebbles.
• Stones should be wet prior to setting them in the mortar to display their colours and striations. Set smaller pebbles on the edges and space stones close together so the least amount of mortar shows.
• Place a piece of plywood over the finished portions and walk on it to apply pressure to press the pebbles level.
• Once level, spray the mosaic with water until it is clean and trim any leftover mortar with a trowel.
• Mortar should be kept damp on the mosaic pebble pathway for a few days to slow the curing process to make it stronger.
• Any mortar residue on the pebbles after the path has cured can be removed with hydrochloric acid and a sponge or rag then rinse the acid off with water.

Mosaic mesh
For large mosaic installations, mosaic mesh can be used to create a mosaic where the installation is difficult or where setting the mosaic is better achieved away from the installation site. It can also be useful when a number of people may be working on the same project.

When it comes to mesh there are two types available:
• Self-Adhesive (Sticky) mesh
• Non-Adhesive mesh

Steps for mosaic design

  1. Draft the design on paper.
  2. Lay design onto a flat sheet of plywood which will provide a flat sturdy surface on which to work.
  3. Lay in-between the design and the mesh, a layer of non-stick plastic wrap.
  4. The mosaic tiles can be laid on the mesh using a cement based adhesive. The adhesive can either be applied to the back of the tiles or directly onto the mesh. The adhesive needs to be thick enough to hold the tiles securely.
  5. Once the adhesive is dry the mosaic can be lifted from the plastic wrap for installation.

LithoMosaic
A patented technique for large scale mosaic installation in North America called LithoMosaic, involves creating a large-scale design and blowing it up to full size. A piece of plastic is placed over the design, with a piece of mesh over the top of it. Using a specific glue, the tiles are adhered upside down on top of the design drawing. The LithoMosaics are then shipped as a whole piece.

At the site, the concrete is poured, trowelled flat and the LithoMosaic is laid upside down so the tiles are under the surface of the concrete. The water in the concrete releases the glue. The mesh is pulled back and the tiles are set in the concrete.

Mosaic in landscapes can be both functional and inviting. Mosaic pathways can provide an area with a logical flow, not just being an element of the landscape that is aesthetically pleasing.

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