From Monarchs to Mosaics, Always Something New to Learn

Once again I seem to be having difficulty finding time to come inside, sit at the laptop and tell a story. This despite the fact I have a gazillion photos I would love to share and next year when I look back I’ll wish I’d written more! Ah well, here I am with enclosures full of Anise and Giant Swallowtail chrysalides and one caterpillar of each kind chomping their final meals. I’ve got one monarch eclosing today (whoops, eclosed, a healthy female) and one last chrysalis after that, which will bring my total released monarchs to somewhere around 40. It has certainly been a butterfly-filled summer!

Female monarch on Pink Ice Protea

You know what’s really on my mind though? I’m learning mosaic! This is very exciting for me. I have actually had very few art classes in my life, which is weird considering I have a degree in Fine Arts and am a professional artist. Somehow though, I managed to squeak by without much proper schooling. So now my wonderful friend Irina is showing me how to mosaic and I couldn’t ask for a more amazing instructor.

Detail of Irina Charny Mosaic
Irina Charny Mosaic – Look at all this detail!

I met Irina back in 2002. I had just taken over Trios Gallery, the best and most beautiful contemporary craft gallery in San Diego (not just my opinion, I swear). I was 31 years old and I was freaking out, having zero experience running a business and only a few precious months working in retail. Totally overwhelmed, I chose to focus on the fun part of the job and one of my first major decisions was to accept Irina into the gallery. To this day that was probably the best decision I made in ten years of running the place!

"Bad Hair Day" by Irina Charny (Mosaic: tile, 24K gold glass tile, fused glass)
“Bad Hair Day” by Irina Charny (Mosaic: tile, 24K gold glass tile, fused glass)

And it’s not just because she makes a lot of butterfly-themed pieces! I swear, I wasn’t even into butterflies back then, I was just so impressed by her skill and I loved her sense of whimsy. As you can see above, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Luckily for me, she recently started giving classes at her new studio in Costa Mesa. And she’s teaching me all her tricks! Ha, well, she’s showing me a lot of tricks, whether or not I am able to absorb them remains to be seen but I’m having a lot of fun. It’s so mesmerizing, time just flies by. It’s almost as mesmerizing as watching caterpillars chomp milkweed.

No one will be surprised to see that my first mosaic is a butterfly. The only surprise might be that it’s not black and orange. Seems the yellow and black swallowtails will have their day after all. I made pretty good progress my first day even as I learned that swirls are not the easiest thing to make with square tiles.

My first mosaic, first day's progress
My first mosaic, first day’s progress

While I worked on my little guy Irina worked on her own gorgeous butterfly, a commission for a client:

Irina Charny working on mosaic butterfly in her Costa Mesa studio
Irina showing us how it’s done

Over the course of two days I probably spent as much time crawling around on the ground looking for my flying bits of tile as I did setting the pieces in mortar, but I really enjoyed the process and in the end I’m happy with how it’s turning out. I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated listening to the snip, snip, snip of Irina’s clippers and watching her butterfly take shape before my eyes, but as she reminded me she has been doing this all her life. So maybe in 30 years I’ll be as good as she is? One can dream.

My first mosaic, pre-grouting (which will hopefully clean it up and smooth it out)
My first mosaic, pre-grouting (which will hopefully clean it up and smooth it out)

The next step is grout, which I have been told can make or break a mosaic so I’m very happy to have Irina’s guidance. She’s so good her pieces barely even require grout anymore, but mine is going to require a little love to smooth it’s rougher spots. And so as I eagerly await grouting day, and even as I acknowledge the tiniest twinge of envy, I mostly just feel grateful to have the opportunity to watch a master artist at work, learn a new skill and have some fun making stuff. I’m also relieved my real-life butterflies are about finished for the year – I need that space for my new mosaic studio!

Click here to see more of Irina’s beautiful work at

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~~~~~~~


8 Comments Add yours

  1. Helen says:

    I’d love to learn to do a mosaic…. All in the fullness of time! Well done, anyway😄


    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Ya can only squeeze in so much! But if it keeps my hands busy maybe I’ll resist spending the winter swapping seeds, and I really don’t need more seeds!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pat Sherwood says:

    You are quite multi-talented! I know that you will excel in this as well! Have fun.


    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you Pat! 🙂


  3. Kathy Sturr says:

    Beautiful! I am impressed with your butterfly – I would say you are a natural. Can I make a confession? I have been meaning to try mosaic and have a box full of my favorite broken pottery that I have actually moved from 4 different houses … I know. At least I didn’t have to worry about anything breaking. Someday, someday. I just began a pottery class that I am enthralled with. I think you should definitely stick with mosaic. I admire that you had the guts to take over a gallery at 31! Only good things can happen (and obviously have). I would love to see Irina’s commission once finished, too.


    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Don’t feel bad Kathy. I too have a cupboard of broken dishes. Dragging scraps around is the curse of the creative spirit! We have just started planning a future move and are facing the difficult selection process… what crap gets dragged along with us? I hope you keep loving ceramics. Start making space on your shelves now 🙂


  4. Robbie says:

    I would say you did a great job. I always believe an artist that gardens really captures the details in nature. Your first butterfly is really quite good for a “first.” I have tried Mosaics and I would say-pretty darn good for a FIRST!
    I stopped by her website to look at her work-WOW!
    Her butterflies are amazing + she is self-taught-WOW
    You are very lucky to have her studio near by + to learn her tricks…she sure is amazing:-)
    You raised 40 butterflies:-) I never raised them but I am proud that I had 5 resident monarchs this year. You would be proud of me, I put in a new butterfly “host” area with a variety of milkweed. The monarchs were flying around me every day I was working out in the garden. The loved the Mexican Torch Sun Flower + my red zinnias. I will be growing all those for nectar next year.
    They are amazing creatures:-)


    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you Robbie, I do feel very good about my mosaic, despite all my moaning and groaning. It was hard not to sit there and compare mine to Irina’s, which as you saw are incredible. I wish she was even closer, I’d be there every day soaking up her genius.

      As for bf’s I’ve been collecting zinnia and mexican sunflower seeds to plant a nectar garden next year. I love raising them but I wish they’d stay in my yard a little longer! Need some pretty flowers to woo them with. And I bet you had quite a few monarchs hatch in your garden. They hide really well but if the milkweed was there you can bet the babies were too!


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