Application, Realisation and exploration Mayan culture and mosaic art

Exploring sun and moon art
Sonia King

Sonia King is an American mosaic artist. She creates original, contemporary mosaic pieces for galleries, home and architectural settings. Sonia was first introduced to mosaic when she was a child as her mother worked with mosaic. Her interest is the colour, texture and how the art has stayed relatively constant. Sonia has gained a BFA from the California college of arts and an MBA from southern Methodist university. She is currently working on an interpretation of the ancient mosaic art.

“I create art to give tangible shape and form to the unknowable, creating a map to places I’ll never find again. There isn’t a destination: the process is the objective.” The inspiration for her mosaics stems from places she’s been. Her work is like a map she makes to make sense of a confusing world. Sonia’s aim is to show the world from a different perspective and to get people to see things in a new way. She wants people to study her mosaics, make them think, “is this a slide under a microscope or a picture taken from outer space?”

Sonia works with natural materials such as; marbles, glass, minerals, shells, recycled materials and found objects. Her design process is intuitive. She is driven by the desire to create. The ideas/techniques she has may take a year to develop or come in an instant. She does not work with an end product in mind. Sonia’s way of working is purely experimental. She creates all pieces by hand using tools such as; hammers, nippers and cutters. She feels she must have a physical connection with the artistic process, if she has not shaped the art with her hands it does not feel right. Sonia must control every variable within her work.

Examples of mosaics
Possible idea: sections of large mosaic pieces to make up the focul point with smaller pieces to make up the background.
Possible idea: 3D elements

Mosaic materials: china crockery, sea shells, beads, drink cans, ceramic pieces, tiles, scrap glass, mirror, marbles, buttons, stones.

Adhesives/bonding agent/background: Clay, mosaic glue, sealant, cement, welbond adhesive, grout.

Mayan Astronomy

The Mayan culture were avid astronomers. They believed the gods would communicate their actions through the stars and planets. Many of their buildings were built with this in mind. To the Mayans, the sun, moon and planets were Gods. As these moved around the sky, the Mayans believed this to be the Gods moving the Earth and the underworld. The Mayans actions were highly influenced by the placement of the Gods in the Sky.

Mayan Gods

The story of the Mayan Gods is long and complex. The Mayan Sun God is named Kinich Ahau. He was one of the most powerful Gods who would transform into a jaguar at night to travel between Earth and the underworld (Xibalba).

The Mayan Moon Goddess is called Ix Chel. She was a powerful Goddess who battled with the sun to make him descend every night. Ix Chel was seen as a maiden or a rabbit and was the patroness of childbirth and fertility.

Mayan Art

The Mayan culture was famous for it's art. The Mayans constructed sculptures and temples. They would depict their rulers, deities and mythological creatures. These were often dressed in extravagant headdresses, jewellery and costumes. They would create these incredible sculptures using basic stone and wooden tools, clay, sandstone, limestone and wood. They have also been known to use gold, jade and obsidian.

Mayan art for inspiration
Mosaic's in progress

Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish architect born in 1852. His work was influenced by the Catalan Modernista movement and progressed to incorporate a nature based organic style. Gaudi is well known for Park Güell, in Barcelona. During construction Gaudi changed the design completely to put his own artistic stamp on the park.

Gaudi's Atchitecture
Design idea rough sketches
Design Ideas
Design Ideas
Design Ideas
Experimenting with the sun beams
Paper mosaic experiments: I cut out small pieces of coloured card to resemble the mosaic tiles i will be using for my final piece. I sketched a couple of the design ideas onto some card and experimented with laying them out. This gives me an idea of the level of difficulty (roughly), the colours i will need, the plausibility of the designs and what it may look like. I didn't complete the paper mosaics as they are very time consuming and they are just experiments.
I began to finalise my design. My first sketch ( Left) was the idea to have half the sun showing from the bottom, two planets and the moon orbiting it in a black, starry background. I developed this design to have the sun beams in a different style (middle), i then thought straight lines would be easier to produce as a mosaic (right).
With the drawings I found it difficult to picture what the colours would be like because I wanted to keep the idea of the black, starry background, so I went onto the application 'Paint' and experimented with what the final colours outcome would look like. (a very rough, quick experiment).
I drew the template onto the plywood base and started to layout the mosaic pieces to see what the finished outcome will look like and to see if I needed anymore of a particular colour.
This is the final outcome with all the pieces stuck down, before the grout.
Before I started grouting, I needed to fill in any small gaps, so I needed to smash some tile pieces a lot smaller.
I wanted to test out the grout so I stuck some left over mosaic pieces to some plywood and applied some grout using a piece of cardboard. After doing this I realised some of the gaps were too big for the grouting stage.
For the gaps that were too big for the grout but too small to fit more pieces of tile, I tried filling the gaps with PVA and then thought clay would be better. (I tried these both out on test samples).
I grouted the whole mosaic and let it dry slightly, then I can wash of the excess grout using a damp cloth.

Final Evaluation

I came up with the idea for this project when I was researching designs for a sun and moon tattoo and I came across some beautiful pieces of artwork based on the sun and the moon, so I knew I wanted to do a project involving the sun and moon. After further research, I found the Ancient Mayas produced incredible pieces of art based on astronomy. I went further into their history of learning that they believed the planets and stars were Gods and their movements highly influenced the Mayas actions. All of this information inspired me to create a piece of artwork relating to their culture. I chose to do a mosaic because it is technique I have never tried before and I believe it would suit the sun and moon design.

To come up with a design I needed to gather photos and research related to mosaics and The Ancient Mayas. This included artist research and research in to different techniques on how to make a mosaic, as I have never made one before. I started of just using Pinterest and google images to find examples of mosaics and Mayan art. Next, I went into researching artists. Artist research allows me to see the process they go through, from how they come up with a design to how they produce a final outcome, which will help me develop a successful outcome. Looking at Antoni Gaudi’s work, he inspired me to use different tones and textures of mosaics. For example, the main colours I used were black, yellow, red and orange. (I used other colours as well, but these were the main ones). Instead of using one shade of each colour I found different tones and a mix between matt and gloss tiles. I sketch out many different designs, just quick drawings to get ideas down on paper and I then took ones I liked and developed these further. I wanted to get a good idea of what the colours were going to be so I took my final design and drew it on the paint app on my laptop (a very basic programme) this allowed me to see what kind of colours I would use and to see if it would work with alternate black and yellow ‘beams’.

To construct this mosaic, I started off with a piece of plywood I cut to roughly A3 size using a jigsaw. I drew a template of my design onto a piece of paper to make sure I was happy with all the angles and sizes and then traced this onto the plywood base. The template allowed me to create a clean, accurate mosaic. I chose plywood because it is strong, easy to cut and highly available, I used tiles used mainly for kitchens or bathrooms because they were inexpensive and was available in many different colours and textures and very easy to break into small pieces. To break the tiles, I started of using a rubber hammer as I thought a metal hammer would simply shatter the tiles. The rubber hammer worked well for the main colours because I didn’t need very small pieces but the metal hammer produced smaller pieces that I could use for the surrounding planets and for small gaps that need filling up. I searched through the tiles and lay them out in sections, then to glue them down I used PVA glue. PVA worked very well and it was cheap and easy to use and it is a lot safer to use than most glues. Grout is used to hold all the tiles securely in a mosaic. To use grout, all the pieces must be glued down in place to prevent any tiles being moved around. I used PVA glue which worked well to keep to tiles securely in place, but may not last very long. Therefore, I used grout. I bought a ready mixed tub of grout and simply spread it across my mosaic to fill in all the gaps between the tiles. I did come across a slight problem when doing this because not all my tiles were the same thickness meaning they were at different levels making it more difficult to spread the grout across and also some of the gaps were to big so I filled them with clay and grouted over the top. After it had been left to dry for a few hours, I took a wet sponge and wiped the tiles clean, to remove any excess grout.

The concept for my design was to represent a stylised solar system. I wanted to show the sun as the largest element because in the Mayan culture the sun God, Kinich Ahau, was the most powerful God. I wanted to incorporate planets to show it was representing astronomy and the black sections are representing deep space. My design was very geometrical using mainly straight lines, circles and semi circles. This is because I needed the design to be simple to turn it into a mosaic, but I didn’t want it to be too basic, so I used different tones and textures to add more depth and interest. The sun beams expand outwards to reflect the ‘grandness’ and ‘Perpetuity’ of the universe and to represent the power of the Mayan Gods. The mosaic is flat, although it possesses a lot of texture because the tiles weren’t all the same thickness. I feel this adds more depth into the piece. I wanted to create contrast within the piece, which was done by using clean, simple lines and shapes within the design, these contrast with the irregular, broken pieces of tile. If I were to create this mosaic again I would consider making the black sections larger or removing the sun beams altogether just leaving the semi-circle sun at the bottom to make it clearer it was space and also I feel the colourful planets would stand out more on the black background then on the colourful yellow/red/orange background.

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