One to Watch: Meet Jen French

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Jen French, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, has recently completed the London School of Mosaic’s diploma course. With some great experience already under her belt, Rhona Duffy talks to Jen about her journey so far and what’s coming next.

By Rhona Duffy

What led you to mosaic?

After school, I worked in childcare for many years before becoming an assistant manager in a day centre for adults with additional needs. Back in 2009, I was first introduced to mosaic through a short course at a local community college and I continued it as a hobby alongside my work. Years passed and, as a surprise, my husband booked me on a masterclass mosaic course with a local mosaicist Paul Siggins in 2017. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a masterclass, but my husband encouraged me to go and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Paul and I became friends and I’ve helped him with some projects over the years. I made the daunting decision to leave my day job in 2019 to follow my passion for mosaic. The London School of Mosaic’s (LSoM) diploma course popped up around then in my feed and my husband, once again, encouraged me to go for it. Then Covid-19 hit, so it ended up being 2021 before I got there.

What have you found to be the most beneficial aspects of studying for a professional mosaic art qualification?

I loved the practical theory elements of the diploma – learning about andamento, different mosaic techniques and styles, and how to use traditional tools like the hammer and hardie. It’s been great to get involved with larger-scale projects too. I feel lucky because I now have a wealth of knowledge and different options available to me for the future. It’s exciting – while also a little daunting – to think about where I can take things and develop my style. Most valuable of all was the self-confidence that I built throughout the diploma.

What are your favourite projects that you’ve been involved with so far?

Whilst studying for the diploma, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to help with a restoration job at St Christopher’s Chapel at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, which I found fascinating. Since the diploma has come to an end, I’m still helping fabricate the London Bridge project, which is a huge 57-metre long mosaic for the London Bridge Station – it will be incredible once complete. LSoM also commissioned me to mosaic a bird bath for Octopus Garden in Bermondsey (pictured above). The design was already done, and I was asked to fabricate it – I was blown away to be chosen. Another incredible experience was working as part of a team to lay a Roman floor at Butser Ancient Farm with Dr Will Wootton from Kings College London along with the amazing Gary Drostle and Giulia Vogrig. I’ve also done some voluntary work for Tamara Froud on a large sculptural piece and she’s now hiring me to help her with some of her projects. I recently enjoyed working with her on a school project along with all the pupils to create a large tapestry mosaic. While I enjoy being in the zone working on a solo piece in my studio, it’s a real buzz to collaborate as part of a team on bigger projects.

Do you have a top technical tip to share with other mosaicists?

I use a microfibre cloth to do the final buff after grouting, which gets rid of any dust haze. I find it works much better than newspapers or old t-shirts, which I used to use.

What are your plans for the future – both short and long term?

LSoM has commissioned me to do another mosaic, so I’m currently fabricating a large wall mosaic for Gospel Oak Community Benefit Society as well as mosaicking a five-foot concrete Easter Island statue at home. Long term, I’d love to create my own large sculptural pieces for the garden. I’ve recently completed a course using Pal Tiya, an all-weather sculpting medium so it’s a perfect substrate for future mosaics.

Instagram: @jenfrenchmosaics