mosaic maker and mural artist Gary Drostle

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Noel Hart, Director, Hart Associates Architects

Centaur (after Rodin) – modern Spilimbergo style Smalti mosaic

So you have a great site for a focal point mosaic work and you have an idea of the kind of design you would like - there is one more factor that is often overlooked in commissioning a mosaic and that is the style in which it is made.


Style makes a difference...

Whilst you don't have to worry about style with a Drostle mosaic work, as the designs will outline the best style to use, it's worth being aware of this important difference, this is what sets one mosaic apart from another and it's what makes Drostle mosaics world class works.

If you'd like to find out more about style in mosaic read on, if not go on to how hand made mosaics are constructed or...

find out how much a hand made mosaic costs

There are two key points to consider in the style of mosaic..
The laying style and the tesserae size.


Tesserae - the traditional name given to the tile building blocks of mosaic.

The tesserae size refers to the basic building block in a mosaic, in other words how small are the tiles cut.

Modern - The normal base tile is 20mm (3/4") square. This is good for mosaics in excess of 9m2 (100 square feet). For a real contemporary feel tesserae of differing sizes are used to create a vibrant textured finish.

Byzantine - The next size is the Byzantine Cut - half tile - 20mm x 10mm (3/4"x3/8") This is the cut of the Venetian Smalti with fine movement and expressive flow.

Roman - 10mm x 10mm (3/8" x 3/8") These small square tesserae with their hand cut irregularities give that typical Roman feel.

Micro Mosaic - 5mm x 5mm (3/16" x 3/16") and less. Tiny mosaic tesserae for small and finely detailed work.

Obviously there is a direct correlation between the complexity of the design, the size of the tesserae and the cost of the final work.

Read on to discover the traditional styles or jump to the next section on how a mosaic is made.

Roman Stag Mosaic - Washington DC

The laying styles

Traditionally the manner in which the mosaic tesserae are placed together have been given style names known as the Andamento. On large projects where many mosaicists are working on one piece this enables a set style to be laid down by the designer this enables the designer to specify the type of construction without the need for excessively detailed design. These styles are the essence of mosaic, its about lines of tesserae, pattern and flow. There are many different styles these are the main ones.


Opus Regulatum, Tiles laid in a regular grid pattern are called regulatum, a special tray is often used for laying the tesserae out and papering so that the tiles are presented ready for fixing on square sheets of paper. Generally speaking bathroom tiling is about all it’s good for as the whole system seems to negate the essential nature of mosaics. However some startling results have been achieved on large scale mosaics, in particular the exchange of computer pixel for tile has produced some amazing photographic mosaics. Regulatum has also been used effectively by Paulozzi at Tottenham Court Road Tube station, presumably to reduced the cost of covering such a large area and because the grid pattern fitted with the artists style.


Opus Tessellatum, involves using the tiles to form a basic regular pattern repeat, usually the regular brick pattern style which immediately introduces an element of direction into the tile laying i.e. do you lay the brick pattern horizontally or vertically? Other more complicated patterns can be produced by introducing cut tiles, perhaps in the manner of carpet design.


Opus Vermiculatum, from the Latin ‘worm-like’ is the most expressive form of mosaic tile laying. The tesserae are laid along the contours of the image, describing its form, you should be able to make a rubbing of the mosaic and see the design. The whole image is given a dynamic power that is unique to mosaics but which is extremely labour intensive and takes a high degree of skill to do well. The essence is to begin with a tesserae size and complete the mosaic in flowing courses of tesserae of that size.


Opus Sectile /Florentine, This technique is used extensively in Islamic tile design where it is known as ‘Zillij’. The tiles, usually larger glazed ceramic tiles are cut into shapes that describe the form, i.e. an eye shaped tile would be used as an eye. This usually has a great effect on the tile size to design scale, requiring relatively larger tiles. The technique is closely allied to marquetry.


Opus Palladianum, This technique gives a more modern feel. The tesserae are cut into haphazard shapes and laid like crazy paving. This buzzing texture is also used for backgrounds but is labour intensive if done well.




The Mixed styles

Of course having defined style there is no reason to stick to just one. The main style used in Roman mosaics is defined as Opus Classicum:

Opus Classicum, As its name suggests this is the traditional style found in many mosaics from the great Roman mosaics of the Levant to the many Victorian Classical floors that can be found here in England. The technique combines opus tessellatum with vermiculatum. The main objects of a design are created in vermiculatum and these are placed on a more regular, tessellated, background. Where the two meet the background takes the form of the object, so each object has a background halo around it. This technique creates a very strong sharp and clear image.

Opus Spilimbergo, Named after the world renowned school of Mosaic Art in Friuli this truly contemporary style uses texture, light and differing tesserae sizes to create a dynamic and expressive form. Best suited to work in marble and Glass Smalti this approach to mosaic is the height of contemporary practice.


Find out how much a bespoke mosaic costs or push the button to continue to look at constructing mosaics

mosaic maker and mural artist Gary Drostlemosaic maker and mural artist Gary Drostle