With any mosaic, Roman or Modern it is usual to prepare as much of your tesserae beforehand. That way when you are making the mosaic itself you don’t have to constantly stop to get more material. In this article I’m looking at using marble rods. These are strips of marble roughly 200mm – 300mm in length, 20mm width, 10mm thickness. Using the hammer and hardie you cut the rods into individual tesserae.
You cut the rods down to your working size say, 10mm cubes. Unless you’re taking too much time with your cutting, the pieces will all end up about 8mm -12mm cubes. Then when you have enough, start work.
As you set the mosaic you cut the other shapes as you need them, the exception being if you need a lot of triangles. If you do need plenty of these then it does help to cut them before. As your work improves, then where you need triangles each time you will leave enough space to accommodate the correct size of triangle.
I don’t spend too long looking through the already cut material for a tesserae to fit a gap, maybe only 2 -3 pieces before I cut a piece to fit. The process of mosaic is too time consuming to get bogged down in things like that when you have a hammer and hardie with which to create the piece you need. As you get more experienced then you will be able to look at the gap, cut the piece and it will fit on the first or second go.
Triangles, use the ‘best’ tesserae you have already cut, i.e. the most regular sized cubes. This makes it easier to get 2 good size pieces.
Half sizes (i.e. 10mm x 5mm x 10mm), as above.
Keystone, select your cut tesserae which are slightly longer than the rest. Something which is say, width 10mm x length 15mm x depth 10mm. With this longer, more rectangular shape you can cut the triangular section off from each end without ending up with just a triangle.
The principle behind all this is to allow you to work at your best speed.
- Prepare your main tesserae before you start.
- Cut irregular shapes (triangles, half-size, keystone etc) as you go along.
- Develop your cutting skill to be able to cut tesserae to fit irregular gaps assessing the size/shape needed by eye alone.
In an ideal work you’d be working with an assistant sat next to you with a hammer and hardie. You have baskets of prepared tesserae and as you need irregular shapes you just have them cut them for you. That way you don’t have to stop, turn to the side, cut, turn back to the mosaic. You would just focus on the mosaic work itself.