Taking inspiration from the lakeside environment that surrounds her studio, mosaic artist Cathy Taylor creates realistic images that she pieces together from bits of colorful glass. Working from her own photographs, Cathy’s images of flora and fauna honor the original subjects as she finds them in their natural habitat, taking irregular shards of glass and arranging them in an artful composition.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path?
My mosaic path started in 2005 when I visited a mosaic artist on the Haliburton County Studio Tour. I was intrigued right away and thought that this is something I would really like to try. I started with a little frame kit that was given to me as a Christmas gift. Following that I stumbled upon an organization called The Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) and was exposed to a new level of international mosaic talent that I never knew existed. From there I was able to connect and take courses from world renowned mosaic masters.
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My interest in pottery started from taking hobby ceramics classes as a teenager with my mother. I then went to an actual pottery sale in our area and fell in love with the idea and possibilities of what I could make with clay.
What inspires you to create?
I have always liked to be making something. Keeping my hands busy and challenging myself gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I can’t imagine a life without my art, so I guess it’s just who I am.
Why mosaics? Why glass? And why Pottery?
From childhood I always loved doing puzzles. To me a mosaic is a form of puzzle, cutting and shaping so I get the perfect fit. Another attraction to mosaics is the ability to use and combine many different materials which keeps works feeling fresh and new, and keeps me excited about new possibilities.
I predominantly work in glass called smalti. Smalti allows for a preparation process called fretting. This is the chipping away of the smooth poured face of the glass which adds texture and dimension to a piece that other types of glass do not. It also gives the piece an impasto impressionist look that I enjoy.
I’ve always loved pottery. Whether you throw on the wheel, or hand build like I do, the transformation that the clay goes through in a short period of time still amazes me. One minute you have a ball of clay and in next minute you have a shape that is ready to be fired and decorated.
I like having the ability to go back and forth between my 2 mediums. One is hard and sharp and the other soft and malleable. The art forms also lend themselves to each other, since I have made specific shapes in the past to incorporate into a mosaic.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
My work is usually representative of my surroundings. I am, and have been, fortunate to have always lived in rural or lakeside settings, so you will see vegetation, wildlife and activities that would be found there. I love my perennial gardens and bird watching, so often those are themes in my mosaic or narrative pottery pieces.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I think what defines my mosaic smalti work is the close fluid nature of my tesserae placement. I also like to give the piece added dimension using the thickness of glass and adhesive to achieve this.
My pottery is still evolving, but it will always have a decorative narrative purpose over function.
What do you believe is the key element in creating a successful mosaic?
Do the hardest most detailed part first. Creating portraits or representational work is detail oriented and you need to get it right. While I can change out a piece if necessary, it’s best to get it right the first time if you can…..I can’t just paint over it.
Do you plan your work ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
For the most part I am a planner, but it depends on the style of piece I am working on. My smalti pieces start with a photo which I then crop and photoshop before adhering it to my substrate as my pattern. I have a look at what colours I need and make sure my inventory is suitable. Once I start placing my tesserae this is where I allow myself some latitude on colour choices as long as they are the correct value.
My picassiette pieces start with a rough sketch and then I look at what china I have and what will suit the piece. It is a looser, playful process that hopefully results in a whimsical outcome.
My narrative appliqué pottery pieces tell a story so there is minimal planning other then having my supply of molds, stamps, stencils and carving tools handy.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I prefer to work on one piece at a time. If I have to set one aside and then come back to it, it takes me a bit to get my head back into it. I also find that if I let something sit too long, it is easy to want to move on to a new project.
Do you have a dedicated space?
Yes. I am very fortunate to have a bright lakeside studio with a view, that doubles as a gallery. It is large enough to allow me dedicated work areas for both my mosaics and all its supplies as well as for my kiln and pottery. It is a beautiful venue for the main sale I participate in yearly, The Studio Tour, Haliburton Highlands. www.thestudiotour.ca
What are your indispensable tools? How do they improve your work?
For my mosaics the number one tool are tweezers. Second would my hammer and hardie to create very small pieces of glass. I could not achieve the detail work I do without the slivers of glass I get from fretting my large smalti pieces, and the tweezers to accurately place them.
My most useful pottery tools would be would be my inventory of stamps, stencils and carving tools.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work?
My sketchbook would be my camera. I have taken 1000’s of pictures which I use for my reference. I have recently started watercolour painting which I hope will aid in my sketching abilities and will inform my mosaic and pottery in the future.
What plays in the background while you work?
Music, Music, Music. Singing brings me joy, so I listen and sing along to a variety of music dependent upon my mood or intensity of the piece I am working on. When I am not doing my art, I spend a lot of my time singing while playing guitar, ukulele and piano.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
The inspiration for my piece All Summer Long came from a picture of one of my sons enjoying the lake waterskiing. I am currently working on one of my younger son who is also enjoying the lake but on his wakeboard. I will name that piece Send It. Both of these are and were very challenging pieces getting the intensity of expression and action in the spray of water.
If you could live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose? Why?
I am pretty happy where I am, but if I had to choose I would pick the Impressionist era.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I agree with both statements. It just depends on how much work one has to put into to it to get the same results. Most people have some level of talent if they dare to try.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
The key is to start and keep trying. When I try something new and have a very definite preconceived vision of the outcome, I can set myself up for disappointment. I find that if I give myself some time and space away from the piece…when I go back to it, I usually feel differently. Just don’t give up and don’t be so hard on yourself.
Who or what inspired/influence/empowered you?
In 2010 I attended the SAMA (Society of American Mosaic Artists) conference in Chicago. While there I saw two mosaic pieces that have influenced my work going forward. The first was a piece called Bella Figura by Belgium mosaic artist Mireille Swinnen. The second was a piece called Radiance by American mosaic artist John Sollinger. These 2 pieces really helped me define and focus on the direction I wanted to take my mosaic work in. Periodically I still go back and admire and study these 2 stunning works.
Interview posted July 2021
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