Pictured above: Oliver Budd with the remake of his father’s John F Kennedy mosaic mural in Birmingham, UK
Oliver Budd shares the dos and don’ts of running mosaic classes, the wisdom he’s gleaned from his forty years of experience.
By Oliver Budd
It’s true that many artists are justifiably very protective of their hard-won knowledge. But I’ve always considered that everything I’ve learned over the years I cannot take with me when I depart this mortal coil and I think skills should be shared.
My father Kenneth, a great tutor, once said to me, “Don’t ever worry about sharing your skills. You can give anybody a box of paints, but they will always create work in different ways.” Everybody’s work is different design-wise.
So, after my father’s death, I embarked upon a series of mosaic courses, initially with pupils in schools in Guernsey and then as a visiting tutor at Chelsea College of Art in London. I then began a monthly Saturday (sometimes weekend) class in my studio in East Sussex.
The classes invigorated me because I came to realise that, by passing on my skills and mosaic knowledge, I was enabling my students to further their work and, in some cases, start a business of their own.
My studio classes start at 10am and run until 4pm. The day begins with a short but precise health and safety chat: Always wear the goggles provided, don’t brush glass shards away with your hand (I provide a large six-inch paintbrush to each student for that), and take care at all times when digging into tubs of glass mosaic.
A selection of students’ work
I never offer food as it’s a massive pitfall with the numerous allergies that abound, plus dealing with it takes you away from precious teaching time. Drinks are available and, at lunch, there’s always a glass of wine on offer. When advertising the classes, I put a list of B&Bs, hotels etc on my website in case students need accommodation.
It’s very important to achieve a good atmosphere in your class and I always make sure the mood is light and not too serious. Most students want a fun day out as well as creating art.
My main concern is to always include everyone, so I move around the studio all day, attending to each student in turn, addressing design, cutting, technique, colours, materials and finishes. I once had classes of 20 or so people but they were rather too large for one tutor to cope with and I’d end the day completely drained. Now I’m planning bespoke days for just two or three students so that I can be very precise about the outcome.
Over the years, my students have all left the studio with lovely work. Finished panels for their homes, table tops for their gardens, bird baths etc. Of course, if they were making a very detailed or larger work, the weekend courses were more suitable but many became confident enough to take away materials so that they could work on these larger mosaics in their own time. Interestingly, those students were often the ones who started their own classes later. I think it’s a matter of confidence, like so many things in life!
You need to price your classes carefully. Some materials are now quite expensive, so I have a basic price for the day, but if a student wants to cover their panel in Orsoni gold then we have to negotiate on cost. It’s a difficult equation but, over time, I worked out that I must include some of the rare materials within the basic price, so I offer a “birdfeeder” of various golds and silvers with the other materials, and put the sacks of metallics in a cupboard in the back of the studio. Upon request for more, that’s when the bartering starts!
Over my forty years of teaching, I’ve had many students undertaking their own classes. I always encourage them because, as I mentioned earlier, it’s important to further knowledge. A few of my past students have become very successful tutors and even written rather excellent books on mosaic art, which is another way to promote this unique and exciting art form.
Finally, please call me if you want any advice. Don’t make mistakes if you’re unsure about anything; false advice is very detrimental to the profession.
About Oliver Budd
Oliver Budd is a visiting lecturer at Chelsea College of Art, a member of the exclusive Art Worker’s Guild in Bloomsbury, London, and a former president of the British Association for Modern Mosaic. He lives in Kent with his wife and has two adult children.