The CMS Blog

CMS Student Chris Elam tells us about his Monochromatic Mosaics Workshop with Toyoharu Kii

August 3, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I originally found CMS in 2008 and took a Mosaics in Architecture course with Joesph Guyer. I remember immediately having the sense that I had found my tribe and that my work in tile-setting was about to take on a whole new dimension. I keep coming back to CMS to reconnect to that tribe, immersing myself in the flow of creative forces that are alive there and to sharpen my own practice.


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Toyoharu’s class for me was one of those “beginners mind” kind of experiences. His approach is so counter-intuitive to the way I typically work that I felt I was starting all over again. No matter how many year’s we’ve been honing our technical skills as artists, I think it’s really important to subject ourselves to the uncomfortability of “not knowing.” It’s in that space that our creative practice takes on new forms and shapes and we move forward in our work. I have used Toyoharu’s technique in my own studio particularly to showcase translations of my son’s artwork and have found it to be effective in framing or highlighting a focal point in a work.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

This past year I decided to enter the certificate program at CMS, something I’d put off for a number of years. I’ve been working hard in my studio and have made good progress. I now feel that I need to allow myself to receive critical feedback from an artistic community and more seasoned artists in particular. We have such a narrow perspective on our own work and I think CMS offers much needed insight into how viewers receive our work. It’s painful at times to face our blind spots, but it’s one of the major benefits to being a part of an artistic community.


To take Kii’s upcoming workshop, register here today!

Artist Profile: Toyoharu Kii

July 27, 2018

The work of Toyoharu Kii is immediately recognizable for its signature rhythmic texture: “like a fingerprint,” in the words of Karen Ami. As a longtime visiting instructor at the Chicago Mosaic School and an independent lecturer on mosaics in his native Japan, Kii uses his own highly focused and idiosyncratic practice to make students reimagine the expressive potential of mosaics.

A Tokyo native, Kii attended Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music to study painting and drawing, but was soon captivated by mosaics and was granted a scholarship by the Italian government, which took him to Florence to study at the Istituto Statale dell’Arte. When he returned to Japan in 1982, he opened his own mosaic studio, Atelier ING. Subsequently he has charted an distinguished career, realizing over 90 mosaic mural, exhibiting internationally in Japan, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States, and receiving numerous high profile awards, including the first place at the Prix Picassiette in Chartres three times over in 2002, 2008, and 2016. In addition to teaching at CMS, he lectures at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and Kanazawa Collage of Art in Kanazawa, Japan.

Typically, Kii works in a strict monochrome using Italian white marble called “Perlino” or “Biancone”. Rather than viewing the exclusion of color as a limitation, Kii embraces it, saying “I also realized that excluding the color I feel free. I don’t need to think about the effects of color! …I suppose many people would not agree with it. Yet I believe that with the repetitive cycle of hypothesis, creation and presentation, we can have deeper understanding about mosaic art.” By removing the element of color, Kii’s white marble creations become ruminations on the power of texture, dimension, and pattern. The homogeneity of his palette allows him to highlight subtle interplays of light and shadow, positive and negative space, teasing rich complexity out of a deceptively simple aesthetic.

Recently, Kii has been focusing on the concept of rebirth as inspiration for a series of mosaics. Intrinsic to his interpretation of this idea is the power of the earth to heal itself from damage caused by humanity. In this cycle of rebirth, human intervention is a wound around and over which the earth has the potential to produce new life that can cover and erase the scars of our abuse. The timeliness of these ideas reveal the contemporary thrust of Kii’s practice; his mosaics don’t just express a contemporary aesthetic or a material awareness, through them he seeks to reflect on greater issues that affect the world and our place in it.

“I believe fine art should reflect the period in history in which the artist lives and express the artist’s vision of that period in some way,” says Kii. “How can an artist accomplish it with a distinctive artistic medium of mosaic? Finding the answer to that question will enable mosaics to have a voice in the world of art.

In his workshop Contrast Without Color, Toyoharu Kii brings these unique perspectives to the CMS community in order to present a new approach to thinking about mosaic and the possibilities for making meaningful imagery. Students learn to think about the physicality of the medium without the influence of color on design. By breaking out of the constraints of this seemingly ubiquitous design element, students are challenged to think like Kii and embrace the freedom and potential of pure form.

Kii returns to CMS this September to lead this annual workshop. If you would like the opportunity to study with Kii and learn from his totally unique process, you can register for Contrast Without Color here.


Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Becca Baruc tell us about her experience in Texture Workshop with Sue Giannotti

July 16, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I stumbled into a GoCM opening and marveled at the works. I had never seen mosaics as a contemporary fine art. That there is a thriving arts community is reason alone to keep coming back, but then there’s this medium that has so room to explore you voice in. Mosaics is a medium that combines so many other mediums, and yet isn’t as understood as other mediums!

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Taking Texture expanded the effects I can accomplish with the materials. Like painting or drawing, there are ways we can handle the tools and materials to better create different sounds and sensations. I learned entirely new ways to cut, place, and plan my pieces.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

How to find my personal voice in mosaics. It’s one thing to have ideas and concepts, and another to have technique, but to be able to pair the two so I can express my message effectively is what I strive towards.

CMS Student Mary Kirby tells us about her experience in Mosaic as an Expressive Art Form with Dugald MacInnes

June 29, 2018


How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

Good old Groupon had a offer I just couldn’t refuse.

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Dugald MacInnes is a brilliant artist who primarily works with stunning Scottish slate with which he creates absolutely remarkable art works. Taking his 5 day workshop was a revelation for me. He had us work with different shapes and materials each day, and by doing this I could get a better sense of the slate and the revelations inside every piece of stone. Working with Dugald was so pleasant and enjoyable that I knew I was going to return to his CMS workshop and learn once again for the Master from Scotland.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

The workshops and classes are always interesting and informative. Having visiting artists is such a delight.


Register for one of TWO of Dugald’s upcoming workshops at CMS here!

Artist Profile: Dugald MacInnes

June 7, 2018

Visiting artist Dugald MacInnes brings a unique scientific sensibility to his work and his teaching, embodied by the stratiform construction of his mosaics. In his own words, “it was always the rocks” that informed his artwork, and at Chicago Mosaic School he teaches students how to work with the unique properties of the capricious and rugged material of his native soil: Scottish slate.

Born in Glencoe, a volcanic valley in the Scottish highlands, Dugald (or Dugie, as he is affectionately known at CMS) grew up amidst tectonically dramatic landscapes that inspired a lifelong interest in geology and nature. He studied mosaic murals and design under Scottish mosaicist George Garson at the famous Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 1975. However, unsatisfied with investigating the materiality of stone through art alone, he pursued further study in geology and field archaeology at Glasgow University. In his artwork, aesthetic expression and scientific expertise unfold in tandem though incredibly precise manipulation of brittle materials, and meditative compositions that evoke seismic phenomena.

Favoring an abstract and highly geometric aesthetic, Dugald’s works nonetheless clearly echo geological constructs through clever arrangements of tesserae that mimic sedimentary strata and showcase natural color variegation caused by mineral deposits in the stone. His deep connection to his materials is present at every stage of his work; he personally collects, washes, and cuts the slate by hand. “I attempt to express my feelings, my knowledge, my passion for all things geology; the overwhelming nature of the forces that have formed and continue to form our planet, yet, paradoxically, the fragility of the Earth’s crust, its dynamic and sometimes destructive nature.”

Dugald is Internationally acclaimed and has exhibited throughout the United States, Japan, his native UK, and continental Europe, including as a two-time prize winner at the International Mosaic Exhibition in Chartres, France. In the past year, his work has been featured in over eight joint and solo exhibitions in the United States, France, Italy, Scotland, and Greece and this year he will return as a featured CMS artist at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics. He is a member of both the British Association for Modern Mosaics (BAMM) and the International Mosaic Association (AIMC).

In Dugald’s returning CMS workshop “Mosaic as an Expressive Art Form,” he shares these lifetime passions for geology and archaeology- entwined with a forty-plus year career as a mosaicist- with students eager to learn about the unique properties of slate and other stone materials from a true master. At the heart of his work and his teaching is a deep respect for the natural properties and expressive potential of rugged stone in a contemporary idiom, and finding ways for the most primordial of substances to speak for today.

If you would like to take a workshop with Dugald MacInnes, please click the link to view dates for this summer and enroll.

Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Jeannette Gonzalez tells us about her Ravenna Method: Ancient & Modern Workshops with Sue Giannotti

May 8, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

A friend introduced me to her experience at CMS in 2014, up to that point I had been self taught with a few local workshops to learn from. I knew the moment I walked into CMS that I needed to learn the level of mosaic art I saw all around the school & gallery. My first series of classes in June 2015 included the basic intro which fined tuned what I knew and helped me to create a better, stronger foundation on which each class afterward can build upon. I enrolled into the certification program for the structure to achieve my goals, I have seen tremendous growth and that’s what brings me back , the bonus is the CMS staff, instructors & students. The support and generosity of the time & talent give this community the global reputation of excellence. Always looking forward to my next class.


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

I took the Ravenna Method Workshop with Sue Giannotti last November. Sue has wealth of knowledge and a passion for the ancient method. She gave us incredible step by step instructions to unravel the ancient method of mosaic making, and supported it with the rich history behind it. The Ravenna method exposed a new option based on the original practice widely used by mosaic artists around the world. I felt confident after taking the Ravenna method workshop to explore on my own and discover the possibilities.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

I look forward to discovering more skills in mosaic making and learning to put it together with the artistry to create new pieces. Each class I take enables me to continue growing as an artist, and that is fascinating to realize I CAN do it!

Latin School of Chicago Comes to CMS!

April 27, 2018

Here at The Chicago Mosaic School, we are always thrilled to welcome youth and young students to the school, as part of a robust program geared towards introducing Chicago’s youth to the medium of mosaic, from young elementary school all the way to high school. This past March, we were excited to welcome ten students, ranging from the 9th– 12th grade and two faculty members from The Latin School of Chicago to come and learn the art of mosaic during their Experiential Learning Week.

CMS crafted a customized week filled with educational, hands-on mosaic learning. It commenced with a presentation and discussion in the history of mosaic, from the Roman era to contemporary mosaic art, and the utility and artistry of mosaic throughout the centuries. Students each created four projects; two made with sheet glass and two made with Italian smalti.

The time the Latin School spent at CMS included a demonstration of the safe usage of tools, cutting techniques, application of materials and creating designs, all the way to completing each piece with intricacy. The students were thrilled to be able to create their own design, and turn it into a beautiful mosaic! As there were a number of graduating seniors in the group, there were a few mosaics representing the colleges or universities that they were planning on attending in the fall. Allowing for children to express themselves and play with this tactile and explorative medium in combination with learning the appropriate techniques is an organizational vision CMS hopes to create for all its student projects.

To conclude this week of mosaic making and creativity, each student selected a world flag and used that as the design for their final projects. The flags were selected keeping two components in mind; they were selected on a global scale and represented the multicultural population of the Uptown neighborhood. These pieces will proudly be displayed at the Latin School’s new Uptown building.

CMS has a dedicated team of instructors who work with teaching youth and young people, from large-scale installations at schools, to small individual projects.   We offer both group lessons with school groups, and private lessons.

Working with Lydia and Chicago Mosaic School was a fantastic experience.  We were able to spend a week in the studio familiarizing ourselves with the wonderful world of mosaics.  We not only learned a bit about the history, but also had a ton of hands-on practice creating individualized works.  Particularly noteworthy was the fact that the school and instructor supported each individual student at whatever pace they worked and with whatever project they wanted to create.  Lydia was great helping and guiding everyone’s distinct needs.” – Lourdes Gonzalez, Latin School of Chicago, Spanish Teacher


Written by Lydia Shepard

CMS Student Deb Bell Madsen tells us about her Evening Master Studio Class with Verdiano Marzi

April 10, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

Mosaics and stained glass have captured my attention for as long as I can remember. In 2009 I took a weekend workshop in Minneapolis making a mosaic picture frame with stained glass. When I got home my enthusiasm for the creative possibilities sparked an interest in my husband too! Dean found CMS online and we began our mosaic journey together in 2010 continuing to take workshops and classes every year since. CMS has such great energy and to have the opportunity to learn from so many visiting artists and teachers who want to share their experience and knowledge is not something I can put into words.

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

My husband and I have had the great pleasure of taking Verdianos Modern Expression workshop many times and for the last 2 years we’ve joined him for his Evening Master Class where we can continue to study in a studio atmosphere with his quiet, gentle guidance. He has a way of connecting with students on both a personal and creative level which can be seen and felt in the work students do in his presence. To study with him while he shares his lifetime mosaic journey and creative experiences and knowledge is without measure. Each new project I’ve brought to his workshops has been an entirely different experience and enriched not only my work but also my approach to my practice and my life.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

To keep exploring new possibilities and ways to express what I want my mosaics to say. CMS has so much to offer.

Artist Profile: Verdiano Marzi

March 27, 2018

At the Chicago Mosaic School, we call him the Maestro, and with over 50 years of experience as a professional mosaicist he more than lives up to the title. In May, CMS is thrilled to welcome back one of our most venerable visiting artists, Verdiano Marzi. Verdiano first connected with our school when Karen Ami, then acting as president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), invited him to present at the annual conference and teach a workshop at The Chicago Mosaic School. The instant spark of their friendship paved the way for Marzi to conduct an annual residency at CMS that is now in its ninth year, and to exhibit with the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics many times over, including most recently at SOFA Chicago and Gallery 1070 as part of the GOCM pop-up exhibition.

Verdiano takes a modest approach to self appraisal, suggesting that he is “just like any other artist… I’m inspired by the details of my own personal life and relationships.”* But few artists in the world of mosaics can claim an educational pedigree on par with his: he is a graduate of the Istituto Statale d’Arte per il Mosaico and the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Ravenna, a key locus for ancient mosaics, and attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he currently lives. Originally trained in ancient techniques for reproduction and restoration, Verdiano longed to expand his personal practice and moved to Paris as a young man in the 1970s to experiment with a more modern and contemporary aesthetic.

As an artist Verdiano tackles broad human themes such as suffering and hope in crises using a vibrant, modern 

aesthetic sensibility. Coming from a strict religious upbringing, he works frequently with Christian imagery, particularly angels and icons. These works ruminate on role of saints and angels as messengers, not just in scripture but also within the iconology of popular culture. Verdiano says that the timeless motifs of angels and icons are a conceptual medium through which western culture meditates on our own humanity, our place in the world, and relationships to each other and the metaphysical. He crafts his body of work around a holistic practice that incorporates expressive drawing and sketching both abstract and representational, andoccasionally creating sculptural substructures for his mosaics.

As a teacher, Verdiano is thoughtful and empathetic while drawing on his years of experience to expertly demonstrate and guide students in best techniques. He attunes his technical mentorship to the individual aesthetic vision of each student, and relishes in the individuality he finds, stating, “every time I teach, it’s a totally new experience, even if I’m working with students I’ve seen over and over again… Some artists continue to develop variations of the same theme over and over throughout their lives. Similarly, each encounter with a student is like the first time- a totally unique exchange.” In addition to CMS, he has taught all over the world, including his native Italy, Russia, Cuba, and his home country of France.

If you would like to have the incredible experience of learning with the Maestro, please follow the links to his special Evening Master Class here.


*All quotes from Maestro Marzi are paraphrased translations from French.

Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Rona Pietrzak tells us about her Design Fundamentals Workshop with Sue Giannotti

March 10, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back?

I learned about CMS many years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia. My then-teacher, Carol Stirton-Broad, told us that CMS taught the authentic Ravenna-method; and because I had taken Luciana Noturi’s class in Ravenna, I was quite interested. Since then, I have moved back to Chicago, and I continue to go to CMS because it is a high-quality institution!


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice?

Oh my! Sue is the best. I first took a three-hour design class with her at SAMA and was blown away with how much I learned in that short time. When I had the chance to take her three-day class at CMS, I jumped at it. I loved her sense of organization, her high-level skill, and her amazing warmth, but I was highly skeptical of her insistence on planning one’s mosaic down to the placement and size of tessarae — because my style tends to me be much more intuitive. However, in that three-day class, she let me convince myself of the value of planning: I discovered that better planning helped me avoid many of the end-of-mosaic problems I have had in almost all my previous work.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?

I am eager to take Sue’s upcoming class, would love to take Dugald MacInnes’ slate class, and want to increase my cutting skills.


Experience this class for yourself and register here!

CMS Student CJ Miller Tells Us About His Drawing Andamento for Mosaics with Sue Giannotti

February 28, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I was riding the El, staring out the window, and saw the CMS sign at the old location. I immediately grabbed my phone and found the website. During my first classes I was amazed by how everyone – the teachers and the students in other classes – were excited and enthusiastic to share knowledge. That hooked me! The great variety of classes is also a solid draw, all with good scheduling options for those of us with commitments and jobs during the day. I have done stained glass and other glass art for 10 years. I was thrilled to be able to take a refresher on lead came with Casey last year, and to see stained glass used for Intro I. Then the drawing classes, the jewelry/micromosaic classes, cement carving… there are a great many options beyond and adjacent to mosaics on offer.


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Studying andamento and how to incorporate it into our designs was immediately useful – Around the same time I was taking Intro II, and was working on a fairly simple design, I thought it would be fine to just “wing it.” However, having JUST gone through the process, I decided to draw out my flows and realized my plan was going to have some terrible flaws. Putting it all down on paper beforehand let me see that I needed to turn half of the background 45° before I poorly placed the first tessera.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

Foremost, learning new techniques! In 2018 I’m planning on the direct method, Ravenna technique, and Dalles de Verre classes. I’m trying to get a few solid pieces as an examples to apply for the certificate program this Spring (the more I learn, the less I like my past pieces, the artist’s eternal struggle). Eventually I hope to develop the skills to do very “clean” work, with well-cut tesserae, and possibly even portraiture. Furthering my understanding of some art fundamentals would be great too, when I can fit the next drawing class into my schedule!


Register for Drawing Andamento for Mosaics with Sue Giannotti today!

Artist Profile: Sue Giannotti

February 14, 2018

Sue Giannotti is a Renaissance woman in every sense of the word. In addition to her role as a principal faculty member at CMS where she specializes in Ancient Mosaic Reproduction, she also serves the director of our one-of-a-kind certification program and has acted as an artist translator for visiting artists from Italy. She has been an active member of the CMS team since the school’s foundation in 2005.

One of the most sought-after instructors in the US, Sue teaches six to ten workshops a year in Chicago, though she lives and works predominantly in Saint Louis, MO. She obtained her degree from Washington University in Saint Louis and went on to study mosaic art in Italy, pursuing a certificate from the Orsoni Mosaic School in Venice. In her own practice at Mosaic Opus Studio, LLC, Sue creates personal works as well as public, private, and liturgical commissions for both isolated and architecturally integrated designs. She has served as a member of the board at the Society for American Mosaic Artists.

Inspired by her research and practice in ancient mosaic technique, her work takes a meditative approach to timeless subject matter. In her “Of Myths and Meditation” series, she works to interpret the mythological subject matter of premodern mosaic through a contemporary lens. She often favors subdued compositions and color schemes that redirect focus toward the subtleties of texture and dimension in the materials. In her own words, she engages “the medium’s ability to look soft while often being made from such strong, durable materials- a fascinating dichotomy which extends to people as well.” Of course Sue has also exhibited her personal artwork in many national and international exhibitions, recently including the Foundry Art Centre of Saint Charles, MO, SOFA Chicago 2017 (Exhibiting with the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics), The Museo del Fiume in Nazzano, Italy, and the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas Texas.

As a teacher and artist, Sue’s passion for ancient technique is put into practice every year in a series of CMS workshops that have become cornerstones of our curriculum and required courses in the certification program. In addition to her three workshop sequence comprised of Drawing for Mosaics, Design Fundamentals, and Undulation, she also instructs ancient mosaic reproduction with Ravenna Method: Ancient and Modern. Additionally she teaches advanced workshops for serious students, including Smalti Dimensions, Texture, and Advanced Materials and Processes.

Fusing the principles of ancient methods with contemporary aesthetics and applications is at the core of Sue Giannotti’s practice. CMS is proud to have her as a principal member of our faculty and core member of our community. See dates for her upcoming core sequence in April here.

Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Etty Hasak Tell Us About Her Large Scale Mosaics Workshop with Gary Drostle

February 6, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back?

I first learned of CMS when I visited the SAMA exhibit at Navy Pier. It took me a few more years to visit the school and sign-up to my first class. That was 4 years ago and I never left, taking one class after another, each class adding another layer to my work. The friendly welcoming environment at CMS made me feel at home immediately. The level of education kept me coming back. Each workshop opened another door. Each teacher/visiting artist deepened my knowledge and understanding of mosaics and helped me develop my own voice.

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice?

I’ve done large scale mosaic in the past. I wish I took Gary’s class before I did! Gary Drostle is not just a great teacher, he also made learning fun. The amount of information in this workshop can be confusing if not for the way Gary broke it down, step by step, hands-on tackling every possible problem that may or may not occur if you were to do a large scale mosaic, indoor/outdoor, in warm/cold climate, floor/wall mosaic. Although it was a large class, Gary found time to give us all personal guidance. As a bonus we also had a daily informative slide show. This workshop was very professional, informative and fun.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?

As part of the CMS Certification program, I probably took almost every class that is offered. However the learning process never ends. I’m looking forward to participate in more visiting artist workshops, whether it is an artist I already know or a new artist to the CMS.

Artist Profile: Gary Drostle

January 23, 2018

Master Mosaicist Gary Drostle has been a key member of the Chicago Mosaic School’s Visiting Artist roster for over ten years. Working as a professional public artist for over thirty years, he brings his skill in making monumental works to the midwest every year for the Large Scale Mosaic Workshop.

This focus on public work is part of Gary’s utopian view of art. He states that “to me this is a profoundly democratic view of art for all, on the street, enhancing and changing our environment, interacting with people, landscape and architecture reflecting a sense of place through the expression of our history and humanity, it is this that inspires me.”

Gary is based in his native London, but has traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Near East, and the United States. After obtaining his degree from Hornsey College of Art in 1984, he entered almost immediately into a publicly-focused practice, primarily tackling mural projects. He studied marble carving and mosaic arts in Italy, becoming a Master Mosaicist with Orsoni in Venice, continuing to apply these skills toward large-scale projects, and gaining expertise in not only the artistic practice and technique of designing and fabricating on a monumental scale, but also the intricacies of communication and logistics that are fundamental challenges in large-scale and community-oriented projects. Gary’s work segues seamlessly between contemporary aesthetics and more historicizing forms such as medieval or Greco-Roman designs, as well as between representative, decorative, and abstract imagery, remaining flexible to adapt to shifting collaborative visions and site-specific context.

Beyond mosaic, Gary has worked to create murals, frescoes, works in Keim, and illustrative media such as book illustrations, cartoons and comic art for newspapers and magazines, digital painting, and more. However, his status as a mosaicist precedes him; as a former president of the British Association for Modern Mosaic (BAMM) and ongoing editor for BAMM’s Andamento magazine devoted to mosaic history, he stands as a preeminent figure in the international stage of mosaic arts.

In the past two years, Gary has completed eight significant public artworks in the UK, Bahamas, and US, and received two awards for his 2015 restoration of the incredible Tottenham Court Road Tube Station mosaics originally designed an installed by famed Scottish artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. In 2017 he acted as a juror at the SAMA International Summit in Detroit, alongside several other key members of the Chicago Mosaic School community.

Gary returns to CMS twice this year to share his expertise and his warm spirit with us! You can register for his workshop here.


Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Sue Klein Tells Us About Her Modern Portraiture Workshop with Carolina Zanelli

January 9, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back?

The Chicago Mosaic School came into focus while taking a taking a local pottery workshop. 

My family then presented me a CMS gift certificate which I applied to a jewelry workshop and my first Smalti Weekend class back in 2010. I was hooked!

Since that time I have taken nearly every workshop available and am attempting to complete the Certification Program. My goals is not necessarily to be proficient enough to teach — my goal has been to concentrate on an art form that brings joy in my retirement from graphic design, to use my hands, not technology, to create attractive pieces, to assist and share what I can with others, and to become acquainted with like-minded artistic people.


How have the classes and workshops you’ve taken informed your practice?

Last January I took Carolina Zanelli’s Portrait Workshop—what an eye-opening experience!
This was the first time I was introduced to a method of replicating a portrait by matching the tonal properties of a photo placed below a transparent acetate overlay, then transferring it to a permanent base. It was liberating to use large pieces of full-depth Smalti, in unusual shapes—the modern Spilimbergo method, that I have come to appreciate. Carolina was gentle, soft-spoken, very approachable, and spent equal time with each student. Gripping the hammer close to the head, I watched as she fine-chiseled tesserae until it was the perfect fit—a skill I have taken away and used since.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?

I have found great value in every workshop and am learning that they build on each other. I’m proud of the pieces I have produced in each workshop, but have yet to find a style of my own. This year I plan to commit more time to working at home in order to progress. The support of the friends I have made and the CMS Staff have kept me coming back. CMS is very fortunate to host accomplished artists from around the world, each with their own unique approach and mosaic techniques.

CMS Student Eugenia Sherman Brown Tells Us About Her Color Theory Workshop with Carolina Zanelli

December 19, 2017

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back?

Not long after CMS opened in 2005, I enrolled in a 4-day “Intro to Smalti” taught by the amazing Karen Ami. Karen ran the school in a small building on Ashland Ave. There were five student desks with good lighting, supplies and instruction. I’ve come back more times that I can count!

#1 reason to return (no question): The quality of the teaching!

CMS instructors, both on staff and visiting artists, hold to high standards of mosaic practice. They impart their skills and experience with generosity and care for student education and development.

#2 social climate. CMS is friendly. The welcoming attitude from teachers, staff and other students is crucial to learning and retention. I felt received and accepted as a beginner, and I feel the same today.

 How have the classes and workshops you’ve taken informed your practice?

Profoundly. The vast majority of my mosaic education came via CMS workshops and experiences. Every class/workshop has been beneficial. After most workshops I incorporate the new skills/ideas into my own work. Occasionally, I simply take the learning, but my own work moves in other directions. I find it quite valuable to study the wide variety of mosaic art forms, even if some of those skills are not a mesh with my artistic trajectory.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?

 CMS offers students abundant opportunities to learn. The more dedicated the student, the better the results. It was (and is) necessary for me to put work into the educational process (both in class and in my home studio). I cannot always identify immediate results, but across time the growth in my mosaic practice is marked…..and quite satisfying.

 It is crucial for me to remain open to innovation in mosaic art. I am confident that in future workshops, I will have the opportunity to explore (1) creative use of materials, (2) experimentation in design, (3) innovative methods of substrate creation, and (4) professional development as a working artist. But more specifically, I want to improve my practice with more instruction in sculptural forms, Design II, and maybe more effective use of stones.


Sign-up for Carolina’s next Color Theory Workshop today! 

Artist Profile: Carolina Zanelli

December 12, 2017

Maestra mosaicista Carolina Zanelli has been returning to The Chicago Mosaic School to teach year after year since her first visit in 2006.

In her words, “mosaic is not only a way for me to express myself as an individual, to play with colors and shapes… It is also a journey inside myself, as I engage in cutting pieces and rebuilding reality”. In addition to exhibiting internationally, Carolina’s work has been featured in Eventi and Vanity Fair magazines, and in Sonia King’s 2003 book, MOSAIC.

A native of Udine, Italy, Carolina was just finishing her studies in cello performance and classics when life redirected her to the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli – School of Mosaicists of Friuli, just north of Venice. She graduated in 1995 and maintains an ongoing presence there as an instructor. Fruili is one of several mosaic schools throughout Italy, but unlike schools in Ravenna and Rome that focus on teaching historical techniques geared toward conservation and restoration work, Fruili takes a more modern approach, teaching their own direct and indirect methods. Their specialty in portraiture and their unique approach to andamento techniques are features that Carolina brings to the Chicago Mosaic School in her yearly workshops.


Beyond teaching, Carolina’s mosaic career has spanned a range of practices and subjects, traveling internationally to teach and study, creating commissions, and developing a personal creative practice. In her personal work, Carolina favors the contemporary, opting to play with the constraints of the medium by reimagining glass and stone as something more ethereal: leggerezza, lightness. With her art, she endeavors to break away from the characterization of mosaic as decorative or architectural background and instead let the medium act as a vehicle for focused visual expression and artistic process.

Her recent work has involved affixing mosaic tile to flexible, transparent silicone sheeting to create a diaphanous effect, further achieved through elongated tesserae that evoke flowing movement. Her past work has also reflected on place, choice, and identity, including mosaics that resemble traditional medieval labyrinths, using the form as an apparatus to experiment with subtle explorations of color and pattern.

Written by Grace Walsh

Sign up for Carolina’s upcoming workshops!

Color Theory: 1/29-1/30

Andamento – Spilimbergo Style: 1/31

Modern Portraiture Workshop: 2/1-2/5

Artist and Workshop Profile by Pamela Irving

November 30, 2017

It wasn’t until after graduating from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor’s of Education and a Master’s of Arts in 1989 that Pamela Irving believes her education truly began.

“My early interest in mythology has led me on a course of looking at ancient Roman mosaics. I am interested in their form, function and storytelling. Though my own work looks very different to the ancient Roman works, I reference them and my ceramic background as much as possible. The work of the ancient practitioner is my constant teacher and muse.”

Pamela Irving is well known throughout the world for creating works that are full of color and character, whimsy and subversion. Her large-scale installations can be seen around the city of Melbourne, most notably at Luna Park and Patterson Station (an international mosaic mural collaboration which she facilitated over several years). Pamela has also exhibited here at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics in shows such as Contemporary Virtuosos, Savage Curiosities, GoCM at Gallery 1070 and more.

Pamela first came to The Chicago Mosaic School in 2011 to give a public lecture, and has been with us ever since. Picassiette: Storytelling in Mosaics with Pamela Irving is an annual CMS workshop where students are given a story and then asked to express that story using broken or unbroken shards and objects that they may have a personal connection with. Year after year this workshop is filled with eager students. What makes Picassiette so successful?

“I think the students enjoy the fact that they make their own works rather than a set theme or one technique. My workshop is not designed to get students to learn any one skill; it is intended to allow students to explore their own ideas. The students can employ any number of techniques and materials and skills that they have learned in other CMS classes. I hold the belief that everyone needs to know some techniques, however what I think is more important are developing ideas. Once you have an idea, then you will find an appropriate technique and material to create that idea visually. I am interested in fostering people to develop their own story/ideas and to find the right materials and form in which to do that. I think my approach to teaching can help students to loosen up and make shifts in their thinking about their own work and what is a mosaic. I think the workshop is evolving and I want to continue to evolve it. As my own works grow and change, obviously my teaching changes. I like to teach by example.”

While Pamela is most well known for her physical art, she still looks at the art world through an Art Historic lens:

“I am keen to introduce CMS students to the richness of Australian Art. One thing I have noticed is that during my Fine Arts degree we studied American Art but that is not reciprocated in your art education institutions. While Australian Art parallels the American and European Art movements, we have some incredible practitioners that I think the students at CMS would benefit from seeing and hearing about. I hope to introduce the CMS community to some people who might change their American centric view of Art history.”

While we love Pamela coming to CMS, it’s good to know that she loves us too:

“CMS is such a unique place. I think it is a very exciting creative community to be part of, where ideas, techniques, history and forms can be and indeed are explored in so many way… where all the different approaches are embraced and validated.”

See our Winter-Spring 2018 Course Catalog

Amazing News for the GoCM: Our Art Fair Debut!

November 7, 2017

The Chicago Mosaic School is standing at another exciting threshold! More specifically, the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics (GoCM), CMS’s formal gallery, was uncovered from its temporary year-long storage to make a huge step into a broader contemporary art forum: our art fair debut at SOFA Chicago this November 2-5 at Navy Pier!

SOFA (Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design) is unique in the topography of international art fairs in its specific focus on sculptural art and design. Launched in Chicago in 1994, the fair boasts an average of 80-90 participating galleries each year and approximately 35,000 attendees in four short days. But inclusion in SOFA is not an open affair. Every year hundreds of applicants compete for coveted exhibition space, with high stakes: the fair results in an average of 15-20 million dollars in annual sales. With a strong emphasis on educational exhibition, a portion of the display space is also reserved for museums, non-profits, and universities, accompanied by a lecture series.

So what exactly did we see at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics’ two-fold SOFA exhibit?

Contemporary Virtuosos exhibits work from six award-winning international mosaicists who should be familiar to the CMS community: Verdiano Marzi, Toyoharu Kii, Dugald MacInnes, Pamela Irving, Carolina Zanelli, and Sue Giannotti. As those who have taken their yearly workshops will know all too well, these artists are some of the brightest stars in the mosaic art world, offering groundbreaking works of incredible nuance that each explore significantly independent aesthetic territories.

Variegation is a unified composite installation of singular works by twenty-one established and emerging artists. Comprised of a grid of 7”x5” mosaic vignettes, each work within the installation is an individual element that interfaces with the surrounding pieces in a larger conversation, like tesserae within a mosaic.

GoCM was honored to contribute to the SOFA Lecture Series with a panel discussion moderated by Karen titled What Was Old is New Again: Perspective on Contemporary Mosaics. GoCM artists Pamela Irving (AU), Angela Sanders (CA), Sue Giannotti (MO), and Executive Director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), Dawnmarie Zimmerman who discussed their individual paths to mosaic as an art form, and their growing interests in developing methods and process.

It’s not by coincidence that GoCM is making its big debut this year- our participation has been the result of months of vision and planning spearheaded by Art Administrative Director Oona D’mello and Executive Director Karen Ami, including the development of an independent gallery website earlier this year. In the process of moving to Edgewater, GoCM has come to forefront of our consciousness, literally and figuratively: starting next summer at 1127 W. Granville, the gallery will be occupying the storefront space of our facility. With GoCM acting as the physical face of our organization, the time is ripe to grow and develop its visibility and prestige in the contemporary art world. A long-time goal for both GoCM and CMS has been to raise awareness of mosaic as an explicitly contemporary medium. With our participation in SOFA, we were the only mosaic-specific gallery operating on such a broad stage with the highest caliber of exhibitors.

This has not been the work of one or two individuals; it has been the long-awaited result of years of collaboration, dedicated support, and significant creative work by a whole community. It is also just a single step forward on a long journey. We are so proud of our community and hope you will continue your support by attending SOFA, spreading the word, and looking out for all future programming at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics! We encourage all of our readers to come visit us at 1101 W. Granville to see our pop-up gallery featuring works by our Contemporary Virtuosos and our ongoing 4×4 project wall.

Wet Carved Concrete with Elder Jones

October 19, 2017


For about 5 years, The Chicago Mosaic School has been honored to have award-winning artist Elder G Jones come through our doors to teach his workshop, Wet Carved Concrete. Seen on HGTV and in such publications as Southern Living Magazine and the San Francisco Exclaimer, Jones is internationally recognized for being an expert in cement carving.

When I (the non-artist, but art enthusiast) think of sculpting concrete, it doesn’t seem possible. Do you pour it into a mold? Do you build it up like clay? Is it like when you were little and played with wet sand to make a giant drip pile? Surprisingly enough, it’s none of those. It turns out that the sand and cement mixture that is used sits in a form until it is stiff, and then as the material is hardening, you are able to slice, scrape and carve your piece into its desired shape.

It’s a subtractive process approach to sculpture, much like the work of Rodin or Michelangelo, who famously said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Our students were given the opportunity to reveal their sculpture from that sand and cement mixture.

This workshop has drawn students with little-to-no experience (the workshop has no pre-requisites), to our more advanced students who have taken a variety of classes at the school. Student Elisabeth Bartky says that what drew her to this workshop was her “discovered passion of carving” that she found in her Clay in Mosaics workshop (taught by CMS Founder and Executive Director Karen Ami).

According to Barky, Wet Carved Concrete with Elder Jones brought a different element to the practice of carving in which you need to practice “The Three Fs”: fearlessness, flexibility, and to be fast. But in addition to enjoying the added challenges of carving with concrete, working with Jones was definitely a highlight for students. He “is a great instructor with a fun personality, eager to share his knowledge and experiences.”

This workshop happened to overlap with The Edgewater Festival for the Arts, a public event in our new neighborhood. Many passers-by were able to come in and observe this workshop, which drew the question “I thought you were a mosaic school – what does carving have to do with mosaics?” Not only can your 40lb completed project later be mosaicked, but at CMS we delve into the art world in a larger way. From figure drawing to clay classes, you are able to hone in on your other artistic skills and bring it back to mosaics – or not!

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