How fast can you work?

July 10, 2016

The following text is from my last newsletter and I think it’s worth repeating here as it does give us an idea of just how fast a Roman floor mosaic could be laid. The full newsletter can be accessed here.
To answer the question of how fast can you work we need to look at how fast we think the mosaicists from the time of Rome worked. What is the first thing that you see about a Roman floor mosaic? Well………it’s on the floor! This should give us a clue about how they viewed them, art or craft? It has to be a craft, in much the same way as we consider how to get our bathrooms tiled. Even the Alexander mosaic was on the floor, not on a wall as something you’d spend time over in contemplation. Yes, there were those that made a statement, usually about the owner, their level of education, (look at my mosaic with scenes from Greek mythology, I must be well educated!), their ability to spend large amounts of money but mostly, I believe, they were just part of the architecture. 

As part of the fabric of the building they needed to be completed within a certain time, nobody would have a villa built and then be ready to wait a year for the mosaics to be done. When you work to recreate a Roman mosaic now then I firmly believe that it is not just the application of the Rules which makes it Roman, but also the way in which you work. You need to have a set rate of work, not fast, but a steady speed that allows you to complete similar mosaics in the same time, every time. 
How often do you go back and correct mistakes? Some mistakes you have to correct, not many though. Mostly on noticing them your attitude should be, ‘I’ll learn from that and not repeat it but it doesn’t matter enough for me to take up the extra time needed to go back and redo it’. Look at the original mosaics and see how many areas you think would benefit from a bit of tidying up and you’ll be surprised to see how rough some of the mosaics actually are when you get up close.

You should be able to lay 0.8 – 1 square metre a day, labour was never an issue in the Roman Empire with it being a slave economy  so you could have five teams working in a villa, that’s five square metres a day. The idea of the mosaics for a villa taking over a year seems very improbable. 
Set your standard of work, stick to it and then you’ll find your work speed. 

If you want to know more about the Rules in Roman mosaics then you can find my online courses here.


Learning the Rules of Roman Mosaics

October 7, 2010

Every piece of stone (tesserae) used in creating the patterns and figural images in Roman mosaics were laid according to a set of rules (sometimes referred to as Andamento). To make a copy of a Roman mosaic you need to know these 9 rules and how they were applied. The best way is to learn in 3 stages.

1. Learn the Rules and their use in a ‘perfect’ mosaic. We are fortunate now that just by looking in books or on the internet we can learn how the Rules were used by seeing mosaics from all over the Roman Empire. At the time they were laid 2,000 years ago the craftsmen learnt just by an oral transmission, learning on the job so to speak. It is doubtful they had any manuals to work from so they would have learnt from their head/master mosaicist and the teaching would have been only as good as his work. So, from this we are able to learn almost a gold standard of the Rules, how they are applied in the best of work.

2. Learn the exceptions to the rules, a good example of this is not using triangles to disrupt a curved line but using keystone shaped tesserae instead. If we look at the standard double strand/plait Guilloche pattern, you can see  keystone shapes used in the coloured lines  but  triangles are used in the inner black lines. This is because the angle of the black line is too acute and you would end up having to cut too many keystones.

In the original mosaics you’ll see that very few keystone cuts are used. When you use tesserae that are all slightly irregular you can just tease out the gaps to allow you to follow the curve without any other cutting.

3.Study the different standards of work, as with anything there will always be some workers you’d be glad to do your mosaic and some you wouldn’t, unless that was all you could afford. So when you look at original mosaics, see the Rules used, see the exceptions then try to determine the quality of the work. Some patterns are slightly off; some figures might be out of proportion (some of this may be stylistic but that is a different subject) and look at the backgrounds. The mosaicist could have done the figures then left his assistants to fill in the background, working at different angles you can get quite a disruptive effect. Normally when setting background you work on horizontal lines so look at a large background area and you can get an idea of which way the mosaicists wwere sitting as they worked.

Learn the Rules; apply them in your own work and whenever you get an opportunity look at the original mosaics to develop your eye.

Lawrence Payne