The impulse to create is strong. So too is the need to commemorate or celebrate, the desire to decorate, the yearning to learn and to communicate. And all of these strands of longing can be brought together in a mosaic.
For the past decade, mosaic artist and teacher Frances Taylor has been designing and making mosaics for public and private spaces throughout Yorkshire and across the UK. There’s a good chance that you might already have seen her work without realising it, or you might pass it every day, because her mosaics – in tile, glass, pebbles and other materials – can be found in parks, schools, gardens, town centres and arts venues, providing talking points as they decorate spaces and commemorate events, people and places.
Frances specialises in participatory community mosaic art projects, for indoors and outdoors, adorning public spaces with mosaic floors, paving and wall mounted works, or with 3D sculptures and furniture. All the materials are non-toxic.
“You can mosaic almost anything,” she says. “Mosaic seating is great because it is decorative and utilitarian, and the smooth feel of the tiles adds another dimension to the experience.”
Frances is based in Otley, where she has her studio, but she also travels across and beyond Yorkshire on commissions. One week might see her working on a decorative tiled doormat for the entrance to a shop, the next she might be helping primary school pupils make a mosaic for a playground wall, or she might be installing a floor mosaic in someone’s garden, or creating a “phoenix rising” design on their fire surround.
She has created designs for the Chelsea Flower Show and the Eden Project, and enjoys designing and making one-off mosaics for private gardens (a favourite is a mosaic of a fish pond created for a London garden whose owner wanted the effect of a pond without the danger and hassle of real water and real fish – it glistens like a proper pond when it rains).
Once completed and in situ, the mosaics seem to take on a life of their own, especially the three-dimensional ones. For example, a life-sized mosaic armchair that sits outside the Woolpack Arts Studios in Otley has become a colourful, much-loved (and much sat upon) feature of the town. “Everyone has had their photograph taken on that chair,” Frances says. “The other day a man pulled up in a van, brought out a large yellow toy duck, placed it on the chair, took a photo, and then drove off again – not a word of explanation.”
Last year, as artist-in-residence at villages around Goldthorpe, in South Yorkshire, Frances created 10 large mosaics for a project working with primary schools and history groups commemorating their mining heritage. “The children create pictures of ideas often based on a theme, like ‘my school’ or ‘healthy living’. I work out a design including all the ideas and turn up in school and make the big mosaic and the children stick the tiles down.”
At the moment Frances is artist-in-residence for an Arts Council-funded project in Batley. “Mosaic is a great art form for community projects, because people can be involved in all aspects of creating the finished piece – from the design ideas to actually making the mosaic, “ she says. “The finished mosaic is not only a great piece of art, but is also very tactile.”
Frances, who is self-taught, also runs mosaic courses in her Otley studio. It’s an absorbing and therapeutic experience.
“You lose track of time,” she says. “People start off chatting, but then it gets quieter and quieter as they start to concentrate.”
It takes about three hours to make from scratch a 15cm square of mosaic, from a simple drawing or pattern. Some people come with their own ideas about what they would like to make – it might be a wall plaque, a teapot stand, a picture frame or a little piece for the garden – while others choose a design from one of Frances’s many templates, perhaps featuring a bird, or a boat, a flower.
Some participants come in pairs or small groups – mums and daughters, sisters, friends, the local WI, for example – but Frances also runs sessions for specific groups, working with charities and community organisations, hosting workshops, for example, for women at risk of offending or victims of violence.
“People get to come and do something different, and they learn something,” she says. “They can chat and they meet people with similar backgrounds and circumstances, so it’s confidence building and networking.”
As a mosaic artist, Frances also works on private commissions for shops and businesses, private gardens and homes. And sometimes she makes a mosaic just for herself, although these too seem to become part of public life. She made a 3D mosaic dog when her own real dog, Gulliver, died (she’s got another dog now – Cally). But now it goes on tour, recently loaned out to sit in the window of The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley, as part of an arts project – another town talking point.
“When properly made, even outdoor mosaics can and will last years, probably at least decades, so a mosaic is a great way to create a permanent piece of art,” she says.
From her huge collaborative mosaic pavings for public spaces through to miniature plaques with a personal message, Frances is creating art with real meaning and helping others to do the same, so that everyone can have a little piece of the magic.
Frances Taylor’s mosaic courses cost £35 for a half day and £70 for a full day.
Contact Frances on 07984 424897 and [email protected] or go to www.bighooha.co.uk/mosaic-courses