An interview with Sue Riley by Anne de Groot
Is there a piece of art that you most proud of and why?
I have two pieces.
Bathroom wall: The first piece that I am really proud of is a bathroom wall 7′ tall X 5′ wide. It was always such a boring bathroom. I had gotten these tumbled glass pieces from a glass artist and used them in a 4″ area above the shower and noticed that when the water hit them they came back to life, so I continued to the wall. I used a black background and combined orange, yellow, blue and lime green (tiles that I made myself). I didn’t use a pattern, but wanted some blobs on the wall. I made my own fused glass beads within the lime green tile blobs. The challenge was that the space was vertical and awkwardly situated. I really grew artistically when making this piece, which is what makes it so special.
Garden Fence: I went from that to mosaicing the top of my fence. One of the challenges I had was that I couldn’t just apply the mosaic to the particle board, as it would contract and expand with changes in the weather. I went to Home Depot and asked them what I could use and they suggested construction cement board, which is used when you stucco a house. I laid out the cut and sized cement board on my patio and flowed the mosaic through the various sections so it looked continuous. I have over 50 bins of china and I don’t always know what colours I’m going to use, so what inspired me was a bin of imperfect porcelain flowers which were given to me by another artist. I had trilliums, blue bells, pointsiettas, poppies, etc., which gave me an idea of the colour scheme I would use to compliment the flowers. I readjusted the pattern several times, as I ran out of colours and had to substitute others. The whole fence took one summer to complete and combined my two passions of gardening and making mosaics.
Why did you start to make your mosaic art?
I’ve always been attracted to colour and patterns, I used to do stained glass, traditional rug hooking, embroidery and I love to do puzzles. I took a patio stone mosaic workshop and then I saw an article where this lady did a fireplace surround, where she used china, dolls faces, and I thought, I really want to do that.
People ask me if I get my materials from garage sales, there isn’t enough. Ironically in 1999, I met a gal at a garage sale who dealt in discontinued china patterns. She became my supplier with cracked and broken pieces she couldn’t sell. People ask me if I smash up the plates, but I don’t. I hand cut every single piece, if the piece has a picture I reassemble it like a puzzle, so you can tell what it is. That way I don’t get a lot of waste, and I keep what I want to keep of the piece.
How do you know when a piece that you are working on is finished?
I keep cleaning it until it is polished and the grout is uniform and it just looks finished to me. I’ve got to feel like this is something I would want before it is finished, it’s got to sparkle and be brought back to life. It starts off all broken and I then I reassemble it too make something new again.
What inspires you?
Taking something that someone just discards and is broken and re-imagining it as something else.
What is your most important artistic tool and is there something you cannot live without in your studio?
One of my most important tools is a popsicle stick. When I first started out I was using a wet cloth, but noticed it was taking out too much of the grout, so I started using a popsicle stick to take the grout off each individual piece. If you have glazed china, the glaze acts as a repellant, for the grout, so the grout will not stick to a glazed surfaces like china and glass, but will stick to a porous surface. That is why I do not use earthenware. I have a different technique for shells or porous pieces.
Two tools I can’t live without are my hand-cutters and a painter’s palette knife. The hand-cutters have two little wheels on them which allow me to work with finer pieces and I have more control of how it is going to cut. I use the painter’s palette knife to apply my mastic (adhesive). It’s called “buttering”. I use the point to scrape off what I don’t need and I use the edge to take the adhesive out of the cracks. The palette knife is not an essential tool; I could easily use a popsicle stick, but it’s a lot quicker if you have a tool with an edge to it.
You can contact Sue directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to see her work.