This post and the next will be devoted to the R&D part of this order. There weren’t too many life altering lessons involved in this part because I totally enjoyed researching, experimenting and ultimately thinking I’d gotten the best idea each time I found something new to try. It was the best part of this entire experience.

Admittedly, nothing I did worked, not even what I ended up doing with all 10 balls. It was the most creative, the most one-of-a-kind and the cheapest way I could think of to make 12 inch spheres. It wasn’t a good way to do it, but it would have to do. I never thought to let the customer know I couldn’t do it. I never quit. I like that about myself; that stubborness to continue against all odds. However, in this case, I should have stopped and taken stock. I should have thought about how much stress doing the job wrong would cause. I shouldn’t have pushed away the nagging thoughts that I had. I should have been more flexible with my expectations that I put on myself and should have communicated better with the customer. Well … maybe there is a lot of life altering lessons learned, huh?!

Before I get too much further I want to share a link with you that I recently found. If I had read this or even tried to search for things like this before I got involved with this whole thing, the outcome might have been different. Although I’d probably have read it and done what I did anyway. I think I had to. Anyone who does art and wants to take it further by selling it or doing commissioned jobs, take a look at this blog and this post in particular:

Making Art on Commission: Tips for Artists

It is important to mention here that I didn’t get paid for my time at all. This still bothers me although I know it shouldn’t. I always say it’s all about the journey and I do truly believe that. But at this time in my life, at my age, my circumstances, I had a lot of debt and was obsessing over that fact. I am still in debt but I no longer obsess. I changed the way I look at what I have now because all monetary things disappeared. Once you really lose everything except people who care for you and about you, you realize what truly matters. But at this point, when I was still floundering around and trying to figure out a way to get what I needed, I had to have this job to get over the hump and it didn’t work. I got buried in more financial woe instead. And it bothers me. I am working really hard trying to let it go each and every day until it will no longer matter. I’m not there yet. That bothers me too.

It took almost 9 months from conception to birth of this custom order and I didn’t get paid for it. I even had to pay the customer back some of what they gave me in the end which means I actually lost money I didn’t even really have, and lost lots of time in the process, plus and most bothersome, I lost my physical health for a good chunk of time leaving me unable to work on mosaics for months which was probably the worst thing. I don’t want to be stressed out about money or the lack of it. It bothers me that I can’t get past these thoughts at this point in the custom order. But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit.

Lesson Three: When doing duplicates of a job, get final approval for each item made before starting in on the next.

This one thing, was the only true business lesson I learned here with this part in my story, I guess. Maybe the most important thing to realize is how duplicates of anything except maybe for cookies (which we eat 2 at a time here in our home) need to be viewed one at a time.

I assume many already know all of these things I discovered but some may not know or even consider it. If you knew all of this and you’re reading it thinking, oh man … she didn’t do that? You’re right. I should have. If you’ve thought you never would have considered even thinking about that part of a custom order when making duplicates of the same thing, then I’m glad I am here to help you.

After I had decided at the end of the 6 months that the last idea was the best, mostly because I was out of options and time, I should have made one and only one from start to finish, sending it to the customer for review. Again, like I said in the last post, doing custom orders online is very risky but in truth it never occurred to me that what I was doing would be rejected. I didn’t think I was narcissistic but I guess I was/am. I was actually thrilled that I found a way to do what needed to be done, thinking I found the answer. Not ever wanting to give in or up (a trait that is part of my genetic makeup) I thought I was “a little bit of wonderful” for doing what I set out to do with the money available to me.

So maybe I learned another lesson too because after this experience, I have become a lot more humble about my mosaics. And the low self esteem is back a bit too. But I believe it will disappear in time. After all, after 7 years of making mosaics for friends, relatives and to sell online through Etsy and other sites, this was the first time, ever, that my work was rejected. It is not narcissistic to admit (I don’t think???) that almost daily someone on Etsy sends me a convo telling me they love my shop, my work, my profile, my attitude. Yep, it is enough to make me big headed if I let it. But I still think about this job that wasn’t liked. That was referred to as “shoddy work” and “not acceptable”. And I now know that having these compliments come at me almost daily is a blessing but I don’t dwell on them either. I never took them lightly or for granted, but now I appreciate them even more because not everyone likes what I do and now I know it.

As in all things I do in life, finding a balance when it comes to my mosaics in particular is a bit of a task for me but necessary just the same. It’s just as important to remember my work was rejected as it is to keep in mind how many folks tell me they like what I do.

If I had it to do over again, each ball would have been made and sent to the customer at the time of completion. The deadline looming, be damned. If they approved how it looked, they could keep it and I’d move to the next and they’d get completed in time somehow. If they didn’t like what they got, they’d have to return it and I’d have started over, of course, but in the end, they’d have what they wanted.

Please pay attention folks and learn from my mistake: don’t ever wait until all customs are finished if you’re doing duplicates of any handmade item BEFORE getting the okay for the first one and each subsequent one after that.

Now onto the gazing balls’ work-in-progress. After I moved over the summer, I got busy ordering supplies that I knew I’d need. The customer suggested I order pre-cut tiles from a specific vendor (I had used this vendor in the past and wasn’t all that thrilled with them for a few reasons that I’ll be glad to share with anyone through email if you’d like to know who they are and why I think you should stay away from them) because she loved the way they looked. These tiles were outrageously expensive and it states on their site you cannot return your order ever which means I lost a lot of her money not following my own instincts. Although I bought all the packages they had available because that’s what the customer wanted, it was not even close to being enough for this job. It was one of those times when I was pushing that voice aside that was screaming in my head: “Don’t do this!!” that plagued me throughout this whole custom order. Once the tiles arrived and I saw how little I really had to work with and how much I assumed I’d still need, I went to my favorite website – – and bought two 16 x 20 inch sheets in the basic same color with the basic same effect at a much more reasonable price. I even got them on sale! After that I ended up ordering one more 16 x 20 inch sheet and one 10 x 12 inch sheet to finish the job. That’s a lot of mirror to cut into triangles!!

Once all the supplies started to arrive, I had to figure out the best way to build up a smaller ball to 12 inches. I had used all of the non-refundable $500 for supplies and materials and had to ask for another $100 towards the remaining balance of $500 before too long to get more supplies. That shouldn’t be a surprise at all to anyone that what I had available to me just wasn’t enough.

I started with the usual way of prepping them that I had seen and done gazing balls myself in the past. I thought much later had I just continued with this process it might have worked out better but would have taken much too long.

The first idea was to take a 6 inch Styrofoam ball and build it up with plaster cast strips and thin set. I have a great website for the strips if you need them in bulk. Please don’t buy them at the craft store if you need more than one package! Here is where I got them and I highly recommend you buy them here as well:

While this was a fairly easy but long, labor intensive process, it was working okay. What wasn’t working was the time it was taking waiting for the thin set to dry during a very rainy time of year. I sometimes had to wait 4 or 5 days in between layers and each layer only yielded 1/2 inch to the ball, if that. I started with 6 inches and within the first 3 weeks, had one and only one that was built up to 8 inches. Another 3 weeks would have taken it to 10 and so on. I was glad to see it was working but the time it was taking wasn’t working at all. I had to get all of them made a lot quicker to give myself time to do the glassing part.

6 inches on the left, almost 8 inches on the right

After realizing I might not be able to get these balls up to 12 inches in time, I decided to shelf that idea and try something else.

Taking an old 10 inch bowling ball I had in storage (I cover them in mosaics), I made a plaster cast strip mold.

many, many layers of plaster cast strips around a bowling ball cut in half to remove from the ball

Cutting the cast in 1/2 to get it off of the ball, I added more strips to its center and made it one piece again with the hole still visible. Inside the hole, I used insulation foam in a can. We purchased the wrong kind of foam. It took almost the entire can to fill up one ball but it worked. I then started the process of thin set and strips but after 2 weeks of adding 2 layers a day I still wasn’t even close to 11 inches but more like 10-1/2 inches.

We dubbed this one the "Death Star" ... look it up if you never saw Star Wars to get the reference 😉

This wasn’t working either.

After sharing my frustration with everything up to this point on flickr, many of my online friends helped me brainstorm. One suggested balloons but they were more of a teardrop shape. Children’s bouncy balls were also suggested. My daughter and I searched high and low for those in the right size. At this point summer was over and school had started. The balls were on sale everywhere and we could find 6-8 inches, a few 10 inch ones but no 12 inch. It’s too bad … they were very reasonably priced!

Then someone said I should use 12 inch beach balls and order them online. Thank you, Heidi!! BRILLIANT!! Finding a site that sold them in bulk, I purchased enough to have a few left over just in case one broke or something. The site said they were 12 inches in diameter and I was positive that after doing the plaster cast strips and the thin set treatment to each one, it would still be about 12 inches and I could get going on putting the glass on these spheres.

What the product site didn’t mention was that 12 inches was the measurement of the balls when they were DEFLATED. Really?!! Why would anybody care what size the balls are when they aren’t blown up?? Who uses deflated beach balls for any reason whatsoever? Wouldn’t you rather know what size they are once they are blown up?? Me too. Seriously … it makes me laugh now … they aren’t useable if they aren’t inflated are they?!

Frustrated and now truly almost out of available cash, I had to figure out how to use these beach balls and move on. They were between 7-1/2 to 8 inches blown up. After all of these months experimenting and trying to find an answer, I ended up with a smaller sized ball than I had during the first try.

Building them up quickly was what I had to try to do. The balls were needed in November. It was October now. I had a month to build up and mosaic 10 gazing balls. No matter what size they were at this point, I am not sure why I even thought I could still do it. I was too far invested at this point, I think, to believe anything else.

I was out of time to do much more in the research part of this project, that was for certain. As I was moving a box out of my way one day, a bunch of packing peanuts fell out of it. Hmmm. I studied one for a minute. That was it! I could use the packing peanuts as a way to bulk up the balls. It made the layer lumpy and I didn’t like that at all. I added a layer of plastic wrap over the peanuts and when I did the next layer of strips I noticed they weren’t that bad at all. So I started building the balls that way: packing peanuts, plastic wrap, plaster cast strips, thin set. Repeat.

I ran out of strips before I finished the third ball. I was on a roll and didn’t want to stop; worried I wouldn’t meet the deadline and had no idea if the strips were even necessary after a few layers. So I continued on without them.

To be continued …

Stay peaceful.

©2012 Cindy White, EarthMotherMosaics