A New Path and New Connections

by Joan Schwartz, Huntington Woods, Michigan, jsmosaicdesigns.com 

Gender Gap_Joan Schwartz

In the past few years, I realized that working in mosaics has become a seriously important role in my life. It’s not just the end product but the process itself. It is my mental vacation, a journey in which I get lost in an array of colors, patterns and materials… a viable antidote to stress. It is truly a drug to which I now know I am addicted. When I can’t get down to my studio, I feel out of sync, irritable, and just plain unhappy!

My first profession was a pediatric nurse, though art has always been a major part of my life.  Self-taught, I worked in many different media early in my artistic career.  I participated in local shows, winning some awards and even selling my work. I discovered that these past years were merely a precursor to finding the world of mosaics, my real creative passion.


Hearing about SAMA from an instructor and friends who work in mosaics, I did a little research and, as they say, “it was a no brainer”. I joined. I attended my first conference in San Diego and have been fortunate to be present at every one since. Doing so has allowed me the opportunity to take workshops with many of the top mosaic instructors around the world and network with the most amazing, like minded, talented, mosaic artists. SAMA has given me the chance to travel to new places, but most importantly, to improve my skills and cultivate binding friendships that will last forever.

Of course we must talk about shopping. Being the hoarder I am, the Vendor Marketplace is a toy store for mosaic junkies like myself. You can always find me in line the first day it’s due to open. Anyone who knows me well, knows my motto, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet, but I HAVE to have it” (and usually in triplicate). It is so great to be able to view all the products and try out the tools first hand. Buying on the internet is wonderful but also limiting. The demonstrations the vendors offer give us valuable knowledge which is much easier to digest than reading instructions.

Through the workshops, presentations, and organized critiques that SAMA offers, I’ve been able to view other artists’ work and hear how they found their “voice”. This broadening exposure to their styles and techniques has greatly aided me in finding my path and in expressing myself in such a way as to make my art memorable, which has been a particular challenge for me.

"Black Kimono" by Joan Schwartz

“Black Kimono” by Joan Schwartz

Another major area in which SAMA has helped me is in gaining confidence. In fact, it has only been recently that I have come to feel comfortable calling myself an artist who works in mosaics. The positive responses I’ve received from other artists whose opinions and work I highly respect have assisted me in learning to trust my instincts and the direction in which my work is headed. I’ve discovered that asking for feedback can help improve the quality of one’s creations. I’ve also learned that consistency makes an artist’s work readily identifiable and that sometimes we need to get out of our own way to reach these goals. So with that being said, in 2012 with a slightly elevated “confidence level”, I applied to MAI, and not only did I get in, but my KIMONO mosaic sold! I am still to this day in total shock and honored to have been among such prestigious company.

Each year I have returned to the conference knowing I will meet more new talented people and reconnect with those from past years. More than any other group of artists with whom I’ve worked, these new friends are kindred spirits – we feel like we’ve known each other for years, joined by this link to our craft. Everyone is eager to share any new techniques, short cuts, or special products they have obtained since our last meeting. The brown bag exchange is a great way to take home more fond memories of a new friendship and a little bit of someone else’s “special stash”.

For me, SAMA has been one of the most valuable “tools” in my mosaic studio. Like my glass cutters or nippers, it is an equally important resource I can draw on to help me create a style unique to me and develop a cohesive body of work, recognizable to others. I think of it as a snowball – each conference I attend adds yet another layer to an ever-growing and evolving process that is an integral part of my artistic journey.