The business of creating mosaic art

The River of Stone, a mosaic Scott created for the Cathedral of St Stephen in Brisbane.
The River of Stone, a mosaic Scott created for the Cathedral of St Stephen in Brisbane.

When you meet Lismore-based mosaic artist Scott Harrower, you quickly realise there is something different about this artist. Attractive and energetic, Harrower confidently sells himself as much as he does his art. Harrower’s beautiful original mosaic works sell all around Australia as well as other countries, with some of his larger commissioned mosaics commanding up to six-figure prices.

Harrower is aware just how lucky he is; he’s living in his favourite part of Australia and making a living creating the art that he loves. But according to Harrower, it’s not all luck and it’s not all talent.

“Art is a viable life choice that you can make a living from,” Harrower stresses. “You can be an artist if that is what your heart tells you – and you can make a good living from it, but for that part of it you need to work. I like to think that I’m a living example of that.”

When talking to Harrower it’s obvious that he is equally passionate about steering his art-based business as he is about designing and creating his mosaic artworks. This sets him apart from many other artists, and Harrower explains this attitude to his work as, “I can equally operate both my left and right sides of my brain.”

Harrower finds it frustrating when other artists express that they don’t want to market their work.

“Perhaps they don’t know how to,” Harrower says, “but everyone is capable if they are shown. You can always do a small business course to get you on track. It doesn’t matter what form of art you are working in, if you know how to market it, you increase your chance at success.”

Scott Harrower wasn’t always an artist.

“I began working in retail and then visual merchandising. When I came back from a trip overseas at the age of 27, I knew I had to do more with my life, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Then a friend showed me a book on mosaics. I loved them! It was like being hit by a bolt of lightning. I knew instantly what it was that I wanted to do. I had found my calling.”

The first thing Harrower did was to teach himself how to create mosaics and then he quickly realised that other people wanted to learn as well.

“So, I saw an opportunity, and I put together a four-week program,” Harrower said. “That soon sold out, so I did another one. Day one after I left my job and set myself up, the phone rang. It was a woman who wanted to commission me to do a mosaic for her bathroom wall,” he said. “That was all the proof I needed. I have always been quite intuitive. I listen to, and more importantly, follow, my instincts.”

The core of Harrower’s business today is site-specific architectural mosaic work.

“I’m fortunate that the medium I have chosen sits outside of that normal arts model,” Harrower said. “This is a much more involved technique. My process has always been to focus on the big picture, then work out the details. This approach works in mosaics and because I have had a retail background it gives me a level of commerciality, so I know how to market and sell my art.”

Harrower believes that mosaic is one of the most unutilised mediums there is today.

“Unfortunately, most people have a craft notion of what mosaics are, they think of broken tiles on ugly tables or pots. It would be fair enough to say that the quality of my work speaks for itself; which is why I get so much work,” he said. “This is a small industry and I’ve got a look that is definitely classical European.”

Specialising with specific architectural works has helped establish Harrower’s reputation and has obviously been a rewarding strategy on many levels.

“My work lends itself quite well to churches as well as religious schools. There’s a tradition of telling a story of God through mosaics. You can’t step into a church in Italy without seeing beautiful mosaics.”

Harrower doesn’t use tiles to create his large commissioned mosaics, choosing instead to work with tessera – a specific product for mosaics that has been used in Venice since the fifth and sixth centuries.

“I find the idea of making mosaics quite refreshing in the 21st century,” Harrower said. “There’s definitely an easier way of making a picture than through tiny pieces of tessera, but it’s really nice to do something that is really bound in history.”

“My work has always been Euro-centric,” he explains. “I have spent time in the Italian byzantine capital, Ravenna on the Adriatic coast. There I completed a course on traditional mosaic methods. I’m a lover of detail, so to go back to the source was critical. Ravenna is a World Heritage-listed place for its amazing

mosaics. When you see the ancient mosaic work, the detail and workmanship – it’s incredible considering the available material and tools.”

Another level of expertise when working with mosaics is to understand the installation process. Harrower makes a whole mosaic in his studio, which is the essence of the Ravenna technique. This enables Harrower to work in a studio rather than in-situ. According to Harrower this has a number of advantages; namely it can take months, even years to complete large works, and working in a studio gives the work stability and protection from the elements.

The major project that Harrower is currently working on was commissioned for St Rita’s College in Clayfield Queensland. The mosaic is comprised of 200,000 individual pieces and he has been working on it since October 2009 and expects to complete it in October this year. It’s not so surprising, when the six-figure sum for the work is revealed, that you realise it can take a year from full design to the installation of the mosaic.

“I’m probably best known for my piece Lounge Around for Brisbane City Council, installed in La Trobe in Brisbane,” Harrower said. “It’s a life-size three-seater lounge that I put together in Brisbane which took six months to complete. You need a certain personality to go the distance… nothing comes together quickly in this art form.”

To Harrower public art is about creating a piece of work that will stimulate, inspire and leave a sense of memory.

“I like to challenge society by creating memorable beauty,” he says. “How often do we stop and appreciate something really beautiful? Mosaics are a dying art form that take real time to complete. It’s good to be reminded to slow down and I think the Lounge Around piece in Brisbane does that.”

Harrower is looking forward to art students from St Rita’s College coming to spend time with him in his studio.

“The students will be coming to view the project and to learn the ‘ins ands outs’ of how to do a site specific mosaic,” Harrower said. “This will be what I like to call a program of cultural enrichment for the students. It will impart the importance and value of the signature art piece for the school. I’m really looking forward to their visit, and passing on what I can to the students.”

Harrower points out that if he has any advice for the students, it’s that he is adamant about the need to operate whatever it is you choose to do as a business.

“We are in a world where we need to sell aspects of who we are and what we do. The main thing I would like to say to young people that may be considering a life of an artist; manage your career as you would manage your best piece of work!”

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