During the course of 2016, Year 10 Smartlink, Year 8 and Year 7 scholars at Galston High School participated in the communal beautification of their High school via the transformative magic of mosaic.

The 2016 Programme was made possible by Bendigo Bank, Department of Education and the P&C. With creative direction by local Artist in Residence, Susanna Mills of Susie’s Studio, scholars were involved in the process from feedback on concept designs, to volunteering to be tutored at weekly workshops with Susie’s Studio throughout 2016, in all the skills necessary to design and create mosaics for permanent installation. During the three hour workshops, participants learnt how to cut glass and ceramic tiles, cut and shape stained glass, compose letters and numbers in tiles, and were given creative freedom and mentoring with their peers in making abstract and figurative mosaic art as well as witnessing the gradual installation of all their finished artworks.

Apart from it’s visual beauty, mosaic requires knowledge of many practical and technical aspects. These include tiling onto a stable substrate, grouting finished mosaic art, exterior and interior site design considerations and artistic factors such as working with tone, colour, texture while personally contributing to a collective creative vision. These are, in fact, all the basic skills and experience which one needs to know to progress into trades such as tiling, landscape design, graphic design, installation and visual art.

Four large scale mosaic installations were done at the school by Susie's Studio: Multiple abstract bubbles covering the wall outside the canteen area, a mosaic sign for the school hall, an H20 molecule created by Susie’s Studio, and the large-scale Tree of Life installation on the stairwell facing the Senior Student's Garden. A mosaic Periodic Table- all 118 elements of it- was also installed at the Science Labs near the main entrance to the school.

Further installations such as a giant Clef note, a mosaic portrait of Shakespeare, a Rainbow Serpent, and a mosaic waterfall or spiral in the Art Quad, have been envisaged for 2017 & beyond, budget permitting.

Mosaic is an ancient art form, a frustratingly slow and methodical process which is at complete odds with the 'fast-paced immediate results world' that we inhabit today- yet it still has relevance and appeal in 2016 for precisely the same reasons that ancient cultures valued it: endurance, architectural enhancement, visual beauty and creative expression.

Our Community Mosaic Project, 2013

Artists’ Talk by Susanna Mills

How do you design and mosaic an image that represents International Women’s Day, and Neighbour Day? How do you maintain a separate identity for each, yet have them sharing the same space- and get this to work? 

Communicating all these concepts visually was a challenge- let alone executing them in mosaic with a key component being community participation. Water, history, community, women, children, fun, prominent local landmarks- The Our Community Mosaic Project represents some complicated and very specific things.

The combination of a tight deadline for a notoriously slow artistic medium and the construction of highly complex and artistic designs on a relatively small base, meant that several technical issues had to be resolved. For example, some design elements were too small to mosaic, and had to be created as ceramics, then inset into the body of the mosaic. Other design features had to be mosaiced by me, as they were too finniky and time-consuming to be done in a workshop session. Consequently, these artworks have employed virtually every technique known in Mosaic: transitioning, indirect method, direct method, custom ceramics, custom glass, custom-cut stained glass, found objects, multiple mosaic tile-laying styles, and five different grout colours.

Mosaic is the only creative medium where the materials you use share equal importance with what you are trying to depict with them.

Response to the community workshops was overwhelmingly positive. The average mosaic workshop has 12 participants- this project involved 30-45 people per workshop! As the facilitating artist, working off location from my studio meant that I had to plan meticulously for each and every workshop. Leaving behind a single material or tool could compromise an entire workshop! Planning and packing for the community workshops usually took me a full day. Due to large numbers and the diversity of  Burwood community members working on them, all the mosaics had to be prepared specifically for each workshop - often with close consultation between Burwood Council co-ordinators Rebecca Sinclair and Natasha Williams and myself  as to who was going to be tiling what at each session. Although not part of the original brief, the sign and the plaque frame were added (mosaics 3 & 4!) to provide enough work for all our very enthusiastic volunteers to do! It never ceases to amaze me how the creative process of mosaic positively engages and stimulates anyone who is given the opportunity to do it… the same buzz as shopping- but without the guilt!

Before I conclude, a brief explanation of the creative rationale behind the mosaics:

GENERALLY: The rainbow: representative of water, covenant, transcendence, beauty, light and unity. It’s the main design element that links the diptytch of the two main mosaics.

Use of colour, texture and reflection of light via the mosaic medium to create perspective, depth and visual interest.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY MOSAIC:The diver: A mosaic representation of local resident, Beverly Tickle, who was a highboard diving champion at Enfield Pool during the 1950’s

The jumping children in the background: represents the recreational and fun new children’s water play area at Enfield pool.

The swimming pool with lane ropes: represents the more serious, sporting side of Enfield Acquatic centre.

NEIGHBOUR DAY MOSAIC:The interlinked dancing figures: represent the power and the joy of community.

The symbols in and between the figures: There are general symbols of what it means to be good neighbours: a shared cup of tea, sport, a sausage sizzle. Then there are symbols which are specific to Enfield and our Australian heritage.

The background is very complicated: incorporating suburbia, and the distinctive façade and main entrance to Enfield Swimming Pool.

I would like to thank and congratulate all the volunteers from this community who made a contribution to the mosaics- no matter how small it was (and some of the tiles had to be cut VERY small!) In particular I would like to acknowledge both Rebecca and Natasha for making it possible to run and organise the workshops, while helping me get all my artistic butterflies flying in formation!

Being empowered to create a symbol of the strength, talents and creative energy of a community should be a far more frequent endeavour in Sydney and its environs. In, this regard, Burwood Council’s Our Community Mosaic Project has set an example that other local authorities would do well, to follow.

My concept illustration, for the Ella Centre Mosaic, created with hand-drawn line art, then scanned in and Photoshopped.


April-May 2010

“ Dignity dwells in our being- not in our doing.”

Thanks to a referral from Burwood Council, I was approached by Ella Centre in February 2010 to create a mosaic with sufferers of Early Onset Dementia. The Ella Centre was established in Haberfield, during 1974 and today it provides services and programmes to individuals and communities of the Sydney Inner West vicinity- specifically children, people with disabilities, the aged, those who have needs not met or acknowledged by others,  their families and carers. The centre is supported by the Uniting Church of Australia as well as grants and donations from the greater community and various Government Departments.

I met with Marcela Varsavikova, Respite Development Officer for the Centre, and the brief was to create a mosaic to beautify a courtyard alongside the old church which is now the Ella Centre. Marcela gave me an overview of the Early Onset Dementia condition. Creativity in all its forms- either visual, musical, literary or drama- is cognitive ability. Research has found that while other cognitive abilities are progressively impaired by Dementia, creativity is often preserved. The group I was going to do the mosaic with had all been involved with something creative before their condition had been diagnosed- a graphic designer, interior decorator, a musician, an art teacher, a tiler.

Any mosaic is time-consuming. This always presents a challenge. Participants must master new skills and as the artist facilitating the project, I had to find ways of ‘speeding up’ and keeping control of the process during group sessions. Marcela said the group would be mosaicing with staff supervision over five two-hour sessions. Although we were using the bigger, cheaper ceramic tiles for the background, there was still not enough time in which to complete a quality artwork. We therefore decided to make the more detailed elements of the mosaic ‘takeaways.’ The takeaways would be mosaiced separately with glass tiles by myself and staff from the Ella Centre (in between the group sessions) then integrated with the main mosaic as they were completed. I trained the staff in mosaic cutting techniques and related technicalities. Then I had to wait and see what they were able to come back with after ‘casting them adrift,’ so to speak!

The next challenge was to come up with suitable imagery which spoke about the condition.

While doing my research, I saw the condition as a mirror. This became the focal point of my composition. It is symbolic of Dementia, where the intellect is fragmented and we see a broken reflection or fleeting images of the person that was once there. But underneath the condition, it is the same person within- represented by the unbroken centre of the mirror. The observer can see themselves reflected in the mosaic and therefore becomes a part of it, for a fleeting moment. The mirror also radiates outward and upward drawing our gaze in these directions.

I introduced the human element with the reflective woman in the corner. Depending on the observer, she could be a caregiver, having to deal with the terrible sense of loss this disease brings with it, or she could be a person with Dementia, who is trying to come to terms with their condition. She is surrounded by natural beauty, all of which remind us of transformation and the very real fragility of life and the body we must live it in.

The sky and background, which were done during group sessions, are to give the impression of happiness and release. Considering the pleasure that the group had in the weekly routine of mosaicing this considerable area and their enthusiasm as they saw the artwork take shape, this was a very positive outcome.

Beaded glass hangars were added to the bottom of the mosaic because a serious condition like this makes us question our values and adopt a vertical gaze- not the lateral and rearview mirror gaze of 'normal life.' The hangars move with the wind and light, symbolizing the unseen, spiritual qualities of our lives.

Contrary to the messages imparted by the world around us, our dignity dwells in our being- not in our doing.

The Minister for Disability, Peter Primrose, unveiled the completed artwork at the Ella Centre in Haberfield on July 29, 2010 

The original mosaic may be viewed inside the centre, by appointment. Call the Ella Centre on 02 97985140


International Women's Day 2009 

Community Creations Mosaic

Carol Hamilton, on behalf of Burwood Council, met with me in December 2008 regarding an ambitious, but very exciting community project- a mosaic to be created by three different groups of women from the Burwood Community.

The vision behind the project was its relevance to the theme for International Women’s Day 2009, which was “Women and Education.” The imagery selected was richly symbolic, with the central motif being a tree- an archetypal symbol in most cultures. Each group was to be encouraged to discuss what their education had meant to them, selecting four or five educational symbols to be integrated within the tree, frame and background.

With confidence boosted by Paramatta Artists Studios ‘ARTsmart’ Course, tutor Susanna Mills decided to take on this project. There was just one catch- the 85x120cm wall-mounted artwork had to be completed in the shortest month of the year, by people with absolutely no prior experience of mosaic!  “Little did I realize that I was also going to get an education. Right from the second meeting, it became apparent we were all on a steep learning curve!” Susanna’s role was to design the artwork, according to council’s brief, then facilitate the project using her teaching and creative skills to empower participants to create a mosaic.


“First, I scamped out the design in a series of pencil thumbnails. I drew up my favourite to A4 size and scanned this black and white lineart into Photoshop. Once I had worked out the colours, I jpegged the file to council, their sponsors and partners in the project. They made a few small changes, localizing the overall design with a masterstroke- adding The Arch of Victory- a significant local war monument at the entrance to Burwood Park. Being a Council has its advantages- like a town planning department with the ability to enlarge an image up to A0 size! This was incredibly useful for assessing the design in context on site, as well as using the image for instruction. Once the final design had been approved, it was time to nut out precisely how this mosaic was going to be completed and installed by March 9th!

I devised every single mosaic short cut that I could think of and had blind faith in the fact that many pairs of hands could have the potential to speed up this notoriously time-consuming medium… I then created a 20x20cm ‘teaching tile’ which proved to be an invaluable reference for both instruction and during the process. We split each group of twelve women: six mosaicing symbols on mesh, the other six creating the main artwork. After all, there’s only so many pairs of hands you can get around a table!

Council wanted to get as many of the materials as possible sponsored by Ashfield Bunnings. It took me two entire days to work out what materials were required, their quantities and availability from suppliers. Rodney De Andread was fascinated by our project, and participated with his Bunnings colleague Suzanne, every Friday session. Bunnings generously supplied all glue, ceramic tiles, glass drops, sorting boxes, sponges and the grout. Due to cost considerations, the design adapted well to the use of 60% ceramic tiles. We exploited the varying profiles between 2mm thick glass tiles, and 5mm thick ceramic tiles, to describe perspective and volume in the image- thereby creating texture and a rich visual interest in the finished artwork.


I had become so involved in the preparations for this mosaic, that I almost forgot the first session began on Friday, February 6th! After two hours with Rodney, scouring Bunnings Ashfield for materials, I loaded up my car and arrived at Burwood Community Centre with just minutes to spare…Burwood Council ran the workshops every Friday afternoon from 4-6pm, with two sessions on a Tuesday: 10-12am and 6.30-8.30pm. Each group was given notes on the process, instruction on safety and mosaic cutting techniques- my teaching boards paid for themselves yet again! Friday’s group created the symbols in the tree, and the Tuesday groups did the symbols in the sky and frame.

 However, I could see that doubt and uncertainty clouded the eyes of some workshop participants when they saw the large base with the design on it. How was I going to get them to believe that they could do it? I decided that in between sessions, I would mosaic a section and use this to instruct them on what to do next, thereby demonstrating both the technique and the process. It would also encourage my new students to see the image progressing and taking shape.

 Any mosaic has a very definite process to it; first mosaic the subject, then the frame and fill the background last. On this one, we had to first lay ceramic tiles for the trunk and branches, then the glass for the leaves. Once the tree was done, then the banner and frame had to be completed. Last, (and the most difficult and time-consuming) was filling and creating the backgrounds…all happening while I kept a discerning eye on the symbols and transferred them to the main artwork on completion! Whew…

When the next Friday came around, it was time to lay the first tiles. This is always a confronting and defining moment of any mosaic artwork.

Friday’s group were all enthusiastic local teenagers and I had my hands full mentoring everyone on the symbols table. I was getting really concerned about losing control of the process on the main artwork, but luckily Rodney and Suzanne from Bunnings arrived and got stuck into the tree trunk and a semblance of order resumed thereafter. The Tuesday morning group were characterized by their bravery- and their sense of humour- while creating the beautiful Burwood Arch, the Galah in the sky, and the first of the frame symbols. The evening group, Asian Women at Work, grasped the concepts of cutting tiles and shape perception very quickly. Although we worked together with an interpreter, by the end of the month, this group was characterized by their efficiency. By the time we got to the last three workshops (Tuesday 24th turned into a 14-hour mosaic marathon!) we had to chase some of the participants away- they were clearly addicted to mosaic!

 On Friday 27th, the mosaic had to be grouted so that it could be installed on the Burwood Community Centre wall for the official March 9th unveiling ceremony. I double checked the smoke grey grout colour would work by grouting my ‘teaching tile.’ It didn’t ! But by adding some darker grey to the mix, it did. The actual grouting session really demonstrated to me the power of unity. Direct method mosaics with an uneven surface always take much longer to grout. Had I mosaiced this piece on my own, it would have taken me about two months to tile, and at least 4 hours to grout. But with everyone there working in relays to spread and work grout into the joints, cleaning it off and building it up, repositioning the few little bits that fell out, it took just two hours to finish grouting the whole piece.


The Community Creations mosaic project was a first for Burwood Council. Carol Hamilton and Rebecca Sinclair, the community workers from Burwood Council, and their partner organizations made the completion of this work a very special event, let alone all their assistance and encouragement during the process to both me, and all the participants. Another first, was the election of a female mayor in Burwood’s 135-year history. Mayor Lesley Furneaux-Cook took a special interest in our project and this, in turn, generated a lot of coverage in the local newspapers. There was a special dinner and presentation ceremony for all the participants and their families on Sunday 8th and the Mayor officially unveiled our mosaic on the 9th.

So, what did I take away with me from this endeavour?

I learnt about the JOY of sharing my creative skills and experiences with others, the VALUE of creativity to enhance a community and the POWER of working in unity to achieve great things.”