How it’s made

An ancient technique with modern materials

This type of digitised mosaic image is new and has only become commercially available relatively recently. The mosaic suppliers Bisazza have combined their art selection of premium glass mosaic tiles with mathematical accuracy to translate a beautiful Shaun Tan painting into a mosaic masterpiece.

As with all things, 80% of the work is in the preparation.

The image was scanned and reproduced as a pixilated map. Colours were then selected in collaboration with the Bisazza artistic team in Italy and Shaun Tan. These were used to establish 375 sheets of images containing 900 individual tessera to make up the whole picture.

Our job has been to ‘stitch’ together an image that is delivered chopped up, by using a technique that appears invisible, yet brings out the true character of this type of glass, its brightness, colour and shape. This then allows the artist’s work to speak to the viewer, not the mechanical interpretation of it.

There are 725 seams in this mosaic, which equate to over 227 m altogether. To make the work look seamless, a special translucent epoxy grout was incorporated to enhance the image and add robustness and longevity to the piece. Without direct impact or movement damage, this work should last for a very long time indeed.

The application process

The indirect method of applying tiles (tesserae) is often used for very large projects; projects with repetitive elements or for areas needing site-specific shapes. Tiles are applied face down onto paper or fabric using an adhesive, and later transferred. This method is most useful for large projects as it allows for time to rework areas. Mosaic murals, benches and tabletops are usually made using the indirect method, as it results in a smoother and more even surface.

The installation technique used a system of interlocking, compatible processes, some components developed especially for this work, others traditional and ancient. As a huge type of jigsaw puzzle, this was assembled directly onto the wall. The real skill was getting the mechanically interpreted image to look seamless and whole, and truly reflect the original work by Shaun Tan.

To create the background, place the tiles, clean and detail, grout and polish has taken approximately 560 man-hours. Hundreds of photos were taken and studied during the process to allow for adjustment and a ‘sharpening up’ of the image. The numbers and letters in the image were a particular focus and considerable time was taken on these particular areas, after the initial installation and before the epoxy grout.

Some specifications

Tessera (plural tesserae) in the name for individual tiles in a mosaic piece. For this work, the tiles were all machine cut.

Here’s some figures for those of you of a technical bent to contemplate.

  • Tessera: 10x10x4 mm with a grout gap of 0.775 mm.
  • Weight of individual tessera: 0.67 g.
  • Weight of glass per sheet: 711 g.
  • 900 tessera per sheet for 375 sheets: 266.625 kg.
  • Total of 337,500 tessera.
  • Backing and mounting (the secret sauce): 425 kg.
  • Grout: 54 kg.
  • Total weight added to wall: 745 kg.
  • Total Dimensions: 4.56×8.0 m.

Bisazza make square glass tiles in Vicenza, Italy, melted at 1500°C. The annealing process takes a further 13 to 15 hours, 100°C per hour to slow cool. The adhesive process (drying and curing) takes a further 20 days.

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