Seeing the big picture is an important lesson in life. And Santa Barbara mosaic artist Christine Brallier demonstrates that putting in extra effort to the small parts makes the bigger picture all the better.

It is easy to see how Brallier, who is adorably petite, would have the perfect nimble hands for working with tiny pieces of glass to create colorful mosaics, sometimes quite large.

She has a small work area in her home with her glass pieces, art literature and completed mosaics hanging on the walls.

Don’t be fooled by the simple space, however; Brallier completes stunning and intricate mosaic designs piece by piece that she later connects together to make the whimsical pictures. She estimates every square foot of mosaic takes about 50 hours of labor to create.

 

Brallier looks at her work station a little apprehensively while she talks, saying interviews make her nervous. Her mosaics on the wall, however, are all serene pictures of animals or nature or women with gentle faces. They are calming, comforting even, like pretty images from your most beautifully illustrated childhood picture book.

Interested in holistic healing, Brallier also has a degree in psychology and is a licensed massage therapist. She calls her mosaics interactive art because she makes hers to be touched.

“A lot of mosaic artists don’t like their work touched, but I do,” she says. “I make it so I want to touch it, and I want other people to touch it, too.  It looks like it feels good, and it does.”

 

Brallier sketches out her ideas and then starts the process of cutting out tiny pieces of glass. Then she attaches them to mesh, a technique not many mosaic artists use.

“What I like to do is I do it on mesh because if I want to change something, it comes off really easily,” she says. “If the glass is dried to the board, it’s a nightmare. It’s really hard to get it to come off.”

Using mesh, she is free to make changes with ease and then attach the design to whatever base she chooses. It also allows her to create more intricate details, since if she messes up or decides to do something different, she can change it easily.

In some of the most elaborate parts of her mosaics, the glass pieces will be about the size of a fingernail clipping.

 

“I’m a perfectionist, so it works well for me,” she says with a shy laugh.

Brallier discovered the technique when she was making “The Joy of Life” in 2007, a mosaic for Rhoads Park, located in the 600 block of S. San Marcos Rd. in Santa Barbara.

Laura Schwartz says Brallier did such a beautiful mosaic of children playing for the park, her husband commissioned a mosaic of the couple’s children for their home garden.

“She was really able to replicate our children almost exactly with tiles and with such accuracy,” Schwartz says.

The art is unique and enduring and can travel with the family if they should move, she pointed out.

 

“It’s one of the oldest arts, and it’s durable too,” Brallier says. “I look at the ancient ones and how long they’ve lasted … and I’m basically doing the same thing.”

Though Brallier has studied some of the history of the ancient art form, it is today’s technology that has helped her mosaic creation the most. She has connected with many other mosaic artists around the world through the Internet.

She and her fellow artists post pictures of their works in progress and discuss the art with each other. Brallier has shared her mesh technique and other artists give her feedback and suggestions, as well.

“What the online stuff does most for me is it gives me inspiration,” Brallier says. “And I go on every day and look at all the new work that’s been posted.”

Her Internet correspondence also led to her next great mosaic endeavor: a children’s book with all mosaic illustrations.

 

After posting pictures of two small mosaics of a skunk and mouse smelling flowers, Brallier received comments from her online colleagues about how they looked like pictures from a children’s story book. 

“I’ve always wanted to illustrate a children’s book but never pursued my ideas because I never felt good about my paintings,” she says.

About her mosaic capabilities, however, Brallier does feel confident, and since her last art show ended in Los Olivos a few weeks ago, she has time to start the 15 or so mosaics to illustrate the book, a project that will take about 18 months uninterrupted to complete.

Brallier has had her work published and awarded, and she even has a mosaic portrait she made of Portia de Rossi hanging in Ellen’s mother’s house, but she expects the book to be her favorite project. She doesn’t want to give too many details away, as she plans on the story being a surprise.

“I like the idea of my family, Jack’s (her son) kids and all my future great, great grand kids having my artwork still, and it’s just nice to know that it’ll still be in the family, especially the book,” she says with a laugh. “Great, great, great grandma did that. It’ll be fun.”

 

Reach Lauren Crecelius at lcrecelius@syvjournal.com