Pictured above: Frances Taylor with the piano she mosaicked for the 2015 Leeds International Piano Competition
Frances Taylor writes about her passion for exterior mosaics and looks back on how Covid-19 changed the course of her business.
BY FRANCES TAYLOR
Early in 2020, I decided to up my game. I’d been making mosaics professionally for nearly 20 years and my small business was going well; I had plenty of people attending my courses and a small but steady stream of commissions and community projects, including more than 40 school projects, under my belt.
Pictured: A project with Oakworth Primary School; Frances Taylor with her mosaicked armchair.
It was time for the next step. I had new flyers and business cards printed, I gave my studio a coat of paint, and I invested in a bigger table so that I could accommodate more people on my courses. I bought a card reader to facilitate card payments, extended the Wi-Fi to my studio, and then, a couple of weeks later, Covid-19 came along…
I stopped running courses a week or two before the official lockdown because I didn’t think I could guarantee my studio was safe. Suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands. When I was teaching, I had often felt frustrated that I rarely got time to make mosaics of my own. Well, here was my chance!
I was like a rabbit in headlights. Now that I could start producing anything I wanted, I couldn’t work out what to make or where to start. I suspect a lot of people felt the same. It was overwhelming having so much time on my hands.
My first displacement activity was to launch myself into my usually neglected garden. I made planters from reclaimed pallets. And I managed to blag, scrounge and swap seeds, and planted what turned out to be a fairly decent crop of vegetables in the tiny area available to me.
After various failed plans – learning a new language, writing a novel, re-learning how to use my sewing machine and starting to paint again – I resigned myself to the truth: I was avoiding making mosaics. My meagre savings were running low and it wasn’t clear at that point how long the lockdown would last and if there would be any financial help from the government for the self-employed. I had to force myself to start mosaicking and, once I did, it took on a life of its own.
I had always shied away from making mosaics to sell because I thought no one would pay the price I would need to charge to reflect the time it takes to make a mosaic. I had always made outdoor mosaics, including large concrete paving mosaics for schools and private garden commissions, but the prices meant that these would be out of a lot of people’s budgets.
I decided to make small outdoor mosaics on slate, only mosaicking the subject matter and leaving the natural slate background to speak for itself. I began making house numbers with birds and animals, which fitted the bill perfectly, using tiles made from recycled glass. I hadn’t worked much with stained glass at the time, but now there’s no looking back. I love the liquid-like surfaces and the shimmering reflective qualities.
Next was my research and development phase. Initially, I put some example numbers on Facebook and sold a few to friends and acquaintances, really to test the water, see what people liked, and assess how long it took to make certain things.
Then I set up an Etsy shop. While I hated the faff of setting up the shop and sort of resented the commission, it was worth the effort. It inspired me to set up a shop on my website (where I also sell mosaic kits) and to give my website a makeover. Because other people used their time in lockdown to do up their gardens, I also had several private commissions and made mosaic garden pots and tables.
Looking back, I can now see that selling online was something I wasn’t confident about – I thought that no one would want to buy my mosaics, that they weren’t good enough. Circumstances forced me to set up my Etsy and website shops, and I’m a lot more confident about my work now.
I’ve just started running classes again, with slightly reduced numbers, until the Covid-19 situation becomes clearer. For the first time, I’m exhibiting with BAMM North, my local British Association for Modern Mosaic group [the exhibition was at RHS Garden Harlow Carr and finished in April 2022]. It’s given me something to aim for and I’ve been treating it as my post-Covid business re-launch. It’s spring, the sun is out and everything is looking up. A garden mosaic exhibition feels like just the boost I and my business need.
Frances Taylor worked for many years as a human rights criminal defence lawyer before being inspired to take up mosaicking, initially as a hobby, after visiting the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna in the mid-1990s. She is self-taught and runs Mosaic Mania from her riverside studio in West Yorkshire, England.