Any essay on color will define the most common vocabulary used in discussing the subject viz. hue, tone and depth (intensity). While hue is really what we refer to when we talk of color - its degree of redness or blueness, for example. Tone refers to its lightness or darkness. Depth defines the denseness of a color, it’s purity or lack of it.

Today’s mosaic materials offer a varied range of hues and tones. Think of green. It is in the middle of the color spectrum. It could be the lime-green leaves of a coral bark maple, the luminous glaze of a celadon vase, the feathery texture of a juniper, or the serene turquoise of a gentle sea. 

If green evokes a pleasurable response in you, then you want to explore its various dimensions. Color choices are intensely personal – what is bright and cheery to some, is gaudy and garish to others. 

Colors are also transformed by circumstances. Light plays a critical role in how an object is viewed and how its colors hold up. You might find the same color pleasing in one circumstance, and abhorrent in another. While it is true that “emotional” or “gut” reactions can determine how we view an object, keeping an open mind about the way colors work in different contexts is both stimulating and challenging.

Choosing the “right” color calls up many questions. First, you have the choice of the medium itself – this is very important when conceiving a mosaic project, simply because some media offer a much smaller range of hues than others. Compare, for instance, the palettes available in unglazed porcelain vs. smalti. Sometimes the decision is controlled by the material's cost. 

However, once that battle is fought, the real war begins: selecting the colors that feel “right” for the subject matter. Working in media with limited palettes forces you to think of combining materials to get the range you need (supplementing the blues of your porcelains with a few others from your vitreous glass, for example). Keep in mind, however, that such combinations are best viewed from a distance, so that optical mixing can occur. It's useful to accumulate as large a stock of material as you can afford. Occasionally, I have had the misfortune of needing “just a few more” smalti of a particular color to complete a mosaic. Since their production is based on a recipe and made in small batches, tiles are almost never reproduced in exactly the same tone. View the image below:

The background greens in the adjoining panels have the same item number in the manufacturer’s pallette. Are they the same? Emphatically not! This might be a problem for some projects. On the other hand, it is quite a thrill to be able to incorporate tiles with different tones, something unanticipated when work began. It adds an interesting intensity that came about quite by accident!

Often you get various tones of the same hue by mixing materials. Look at these green tiles (smalti, marble, murrines and glass): Some are “mottled” on one side, and have a “glazed sheen” on the other, some are “shaded”, others are “wavy”. Some are iridized, others transparent! All of this creates a stimulating depth and harmony between adjacent tiles. Such combinations can be clean and strong, or they can be muted and dirty. Mosaicists should be mindful when combining complementary colors. Giving them equal weight is uncomfortable to the eye.

Tiles are available in a variety of textures. Gold smalti, for example, comes in “flat”, “wavy” or “granulated” forms; marble is available "split", "honed" or “polished”; pebbles have a “smooth” texture, while stones and fossils can be ridged and rough. There is immense satisfaction in combining textured material in well thought-out colored schemes to achieve a harmonizing effect. 

Occasionally, I have had to revise a color scheme midway through a project. I had to incorporate a new tile or to create interest, where none existed before! Tiles with “substance” have this way of creeping up on you. When creating a mosaic, don't rule out making late color changes, within reason. After all, if you are not happy with your original color scheme, no amount of rationalizing will make it more palatable after the fact. 


Finally, grout can “make” or “break” a mosaic composition. It's worth conducting some experiments, using different colors and shades of grout on sample tile setups. Use light, dark and vivid arrays of various colors of inexpensive tesserae - just to note the grout's effects - then save them for reference.

A successful color scheme will not only have a profound effect on the senses, but will also enrich the soul.


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