What's your real name? How did you come up with your shop name?
My real name is Chris Sturhann. Pop Art Mosaics is what I've called what I do, almost from the very first mosaic. I use a lot of things like cartoon characters, advertising logos, tiki mugs, all of which I consider Pop Art.
What inspired you do create your first mosaic?
Well, I was out of work at the time. I had just been layed off from my job after 14 years. Every summer, I do volunteer work for Comic-Con International (the San Diego Comic-Con). I got layed off about about a month and a half before Comic-Con, and since I had a pretty good severance package, I decided to not look for a job until after Comic-Con. I didn't want to start a new job and have to say, "Oh, by the way, I need to take a week off, starting a week from Monday." This left me with a lot of time. I had always liked mosaics and wanted to give it a try, so I just jumped in. I don't think I even read a book or anything; or if I did, I didn't finish it before I started. I know I used unsanded grout, a mistake. I just bought an 18 inch round and a plant stand and made a table. It's still sitting on our front porch.
Has mosaic art lead you to any other art forms/been a lead to any other passions?
Not so much, it's led to cement sculpture, but I've only just taken a class and finished one piece and have another half finished in the garage. If anything, it's the other way around. The existing influences I've had affect the way I approach mosaics.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I get inspiration from a lot of different sources.
Probably, the biggest single influence on my mosaics is Hap Sakwa. Sakwa's work is featured in a book, titled Crazy Mosaic, by Tracy Graivier Bell and Sarah Kelly (ISBN-10: 1571458883; ISBN-13: 978-1571458889). I'm pretty sure the book is out-of-print, but if you go to Amazon, you can still order it new and used through various sellers. The book itself is not really anything to write home about. It's fairly typical of what you find in most mosaics books. The obligatory chapters on materials, tools, techniques, grouting, etc. Then the rest of the book is devoted to projects. The projects themselves aren't bad, although I personally think they are rather poorly executed. Where the book shines is in the gallery sections in between the projects. Sakwa's work is featured in several of these galleries. I saw his work and said that's what I want to do. If you go to amazon.com and search for the book, Crazy Mosaic, and then click on the sample pages, Sakwa's work is shown on the back flap and back cover. Apparently, Sakwa no longer does mosaics and had stopped as of the time the book was written, but his work is incredible.
Another big influnce is James Hubbell,
He's an artist/designer/architect. He's the one who did a lot of the design work on that school I've mentioned down in Mexico, Colegio La Esperanza. When I was a kid, my brother worked at a restaurant he designed called The Triton. It was a nice seafood place. The interior, the bar, the little waiting area, all the booths, were all done in molded cement with bits of mosaics and seashells stuck in the cement. I don't think there was a corner or a right angle in the entire building. You sat in a booth, and it felt like you were in some undersea grotto. That cement sculpture class was taught by one of his proteges.
I don't know whether I'd call this inspiration, but I've thought of it often since I started doing mosaics. I grew up real close to San Diego State University. In fact, the grammar school I went to shared fences with some of the SDSU athletic fields. The main east-west road that runs through that part of town is Montezuma Road. When I was in about second or third grade, someone did a mosaic on one of the concrete embankments on Montezuma Road. I walked past it everyday on the way to school. I don't ever remember seeing anyone working on it or seeing it half finished or anything. I've always assumed that it was done one summer when the last place I wanted to be was school. All I know is that I just looked up, and it was there one day. It usedbits of broken dishes and ceramic bowls, and that was the first time I had ever seen that. I'm sure it was done by some college kid, with a bag of dope and too much time on his hands. It's not that I looked at it as a kid and said, hey I want to do that when I grow up. I just thought it was cool. My dad still lives in the house I grew up in, and that mosaic is still there. It's definitely seen better days. It's old and weathered and dirty looking because it's all white, and dirt from the road sits in the nooks and crannies. But it's still there on the side of the road nearly 40 years later. That's kind of cool. I like to think that my mosaics will live on after I do.
For drawing, there's a guy, Mark Kistler. He's done shows on PBS and written a number of books on drawing in 3D for children. I've probably learned more about drawing from his books than anywhere else. He takes drawing and breaks it down into about 5 or 6 different simple things, contours, shading, perspective, horizon, and I don't remember what he calls it, but it's making objects further in the background fainter and less well defined than objects that are up close. Anyway, he breaks it down so simple that a five-year-old can understand. If you want to teach your kids to draw or learn to draw yourself, I can't think of a better place to start.
For figure drawing, the two names that come to mind are Andrew Loomis and Arthur Zaidenberg, both did drawing books in, I'm thinking in the 1940s. Both have been been out of print for years, but the Andrew Loomis books are in much higher demand and the originals are expensive if you want them. You can find bits and pieces of his books reprinted by Walter Foster, and you can find those almost anywhere, like Michaels. Arthur Zaidenberg's books haven't been reprinted, but you can pick them up pretty cheap from used book dealers. I recommend Zaidenberg's Anyone Can Draw. Of the two, I think Loomis is better, but I seemed to be able to wrap my head around Zaidenberg's techniques easier.
Beyond that, I really love cartoons and comics. My favorite stuff is old magazine one-panel gag cartoons. Especially from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. There were a lot of cartoonists working back then who had very clean simple styles. Hardly anybody draws like that anymore. Peter Arno, who did cartoons for the New Yorker from the 1920s-1960, is one who comes to mind. I wallpapered one wall of our bathroom with pages from one of his books. Dan De Carlo is another one. He started doing gag cartoons in girly magazines in the 50s and 60s, and later went on to do Archie Comics for years and years. Naturally, I like his older girly stuff best. I met him at Comic-Con about a year before he died, nice guy and still working in his 70s. Stanley Rayon is another one who was doing cartoons for the girly magazines at about the same time as De Carlo. I don't know much about him other than his name. In fact, I didn't even know his first name until a few minutes ago when I googled him. He just signed his cartoons, Rayon. They're work was real minimal, just enough lines to convey what was needed. It's a real hard thing to pull off. If you're only using a few lines, every one of the lines has to be just right or it doesn't work.
Do you have any mosaic daydreams?...... is there one thing that you dream of being able to create someday?
We live on a pretty steep hill, and there are a lot of retaining walls on our property. I'd love to cover all of them with mosaics. Also in the front of our house are about seven steps that lead from the sidewalk to the front yard. Some day I want to build an arch supported by mosaicked pillars on both sides with wrought iron gates. On the front of the arch (as you come in), I want to do a sun with a face in it, and the face would be Jimi Hendrix. Then on the back of the arch (as you leave), I want to do a moon with a face in it, and that face would be Elvis.
Is being an artist your full-time job? What other jobs or hobbies consume your time?
Not even close. I am a technical editor for a company, that makes computer chips for cell phones. I actually really like my job. It takes a certain type of person to sit and read material you don't really understand for the sake making sure that subjects and verbs agree and commas are in the right spots. You sweat the little things that no one else notices, sort of like mosaics that way. I don't think I will ever be able to support myself with mosaics. Well, I might be able to support myself, but a mortgage, a wife, and two kids? Do you know how much health insurance is for a family of four. It's scary.
Other than work, I think I mentioned that I do volunteer work for Comic-Con International. I try to go skateboarding several times a week. I used to skate as a kid, and it's about the only type of exercise I enjoy. I do have a website,
which has links to my blog, which I don't update as often as I should, and things like comics that I've done over the years.
which has links to my blog, which I don't update as often as I should, and things like comics that I've done over the years.
One thing I'm working on right now is a steampunk costume. Steampunk is something that has become popular in the last several years. It involves taking Science Fiction concepts, like ray guns, but based on Victorian technology. Think H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and the old Wild Wild West TV show. My wife and I are going to a Masquerade Ball in LA in early July. Costumes are mandatory. So, lately, I've been doing things like painting a Nerf gun brass and copper, so that it looks like something Captain Nemo would carry.
Tell us ,briefly, about your family.
Well, my wife and I will be celebrating our 20th Anniversary at the end of July. We have two kids, a son 14 and a daughter 9. My wife, Mary, the good sport, who let me make a plaster casting of her butt, also works for Comic-Con, but for her it's a paying gig. She's the Secretary on the Board of Directors. It amounts to a well-paid part-time job. She also sells collectibles on ebay, but her full-time job is making sure the kids get to and from school, and taking not one, not two, but three, count 'em, three old people shopping, and to doctors appointments etc. The three old people are her mom, my dad, and her aunt. I work on average about 9 hours a day, but I know what she does is much harder.
Do you have one or two creations that have been favorites?
I'm cheating and picking three. I like them all for different reasons.
The first one is called Mona. Sorry, it's kind of a bad picture, but that is the only one I had. I think this was the 2nd mosaic I ever did, right after getting that Crazy Mosaic book I mentioned earlier. My technique has improved since then, but it incorporates three elements that exemplify what I'm trying to do with Pop Art Mosaics. The first is from a Picasso drink coaster. While I don't consider Picasso Pop Art, I think that he and his contemporaries re-defined what art is. And that opened the door for people like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Haring to say, "Hey, why isn't this art? We think it is." The next is the Coca-Cola logo from a coffee mug. I really can't think of a more iconic advertising logo, period. I love using Coke stuff. The last is the Mona Lisa in neon. What could be more Pop Art than that? It was taken from another coffee mug from the Museum of Neon Art (MONA). I use a lot of coffee mugs.
The next is titled "Via On the Beach," although I originally called it BigGirl as I was working on it, so she will always be BigGirl to me. This was the first time I did a representational mosaic. There are a lot of things I like about. First, I think she's beautiful, without having been surgically enhanced or being a size 2. I think the materials work really well. I love the Blue Willow transferware for the wrap. The knot on the wrap is a handle from a soup tureen. The tiki mug, the stones on the beach and at the water's edge. The beach glass from a Corona bottle and a vintage Bubble Up bottle. I wanted some white for the foam of the surf. The brown plate rims for the aerolas and the wires for the hair. I think they all work together well. I like the blending of colors on the sky. I really had to think about the way the sky looks on a summer day. I love the plate labels used for shading. Something a lot of cartoonists use is a technique called cross hatching. Cross hatching is a way to render gray in a black and white line drawing. The artist uses a lot of thin black lines to simulate various shades of gray in a drawing that is really just black ink on white paper. This is my attempt at cross hatching. I use that all the time now. In fact, I will look for plates with big labels just for this purpose.
Finally, and this might be the most important, I think the composition is good. I'm pretty sure I wasn't thinking about this when I worked on it. It just happened to work out this way, a happy accident. What I really like about it is that all of the different visual elements all take you back to the subject, the water line, the sky, the hillside and the tiki looking her direction. Anywhere your eye goes, there's something to bring you back to her. I don't think I consciously thought about this as I was doing it. But now, I don't think I would attempt a piece like this without thinking of these things. There's a link to my website that has WIP photos and the full story behind the piece:
The third piece is on the wall in the front of my house near the sidewalk. It's a relatively simple piece, but the colors work so well together. The turquoise with the bright orange. The bird of paradise, another coffee mug, which complements all of them. The tiki is a rum decanter. Being gray, it stands out without having to compete with the colors. And possibly most of all, the plate rims on the outside. They're a greenish brown with a yellow and sort of blue/black highlights. They almost look like a snake skin. I wish I could find more of them. I love that piece.