Mosaics bring life to many public spaces, particularly ones devoted to transit. Many of the world’s most iconic train and subway stations are virtual kaleidoscopes of color and pattern; there are even tours that take you to some of the most beautiful examples here in New York. So it’s only fitting that New York-based designer, letterer and Young Guns 12 winner Nicholas Misani is using this artform as inspiration for his latest project — Fauxsaics, extremely detailed digital representations of the tiled floors of many a destination.
We had a chance to catch up with Nick to learn more about this project.
How did the idea for this particular project come about?
The old typographic mosaics that grace stations, hotel entryways, and old storefronts in Europe (and beyond) have always been fascinating to me, but it wasn’t until after I started working for ADC Hall of Fame laureate Louise Fili that I began to truly appreciate them.
Louise is a master of historical typography and she’s been creating digital mosaics for years, so I cannot stress enough how influential she was in the genesis of this project. While working on her two latest sign books (>Graphique de la Rue> and Gràfica de les Rambles), I the pleasure of looking at photographs of gorgeous mosaics every day. I spent many hours digitally restoring these mosaics to prepare them for inclusion in the books and often had to recreate missing or obscured areas. Over the years, a technique organically emerged from this task and applying it to a completely original piece felt incredibly natural. Louise has told me on several occasions that I’m good at creating mosaics because I’m Italian — Italians have been master mosaicists for thousands of years — but I know it’s because she’s an excellent teacher.
I do also want to mention another person who was incredibly motivating and supportive at the beginning stages of this process: my friend Lauren Hom. Recently, Lauren taught a class on passion projects, where she encouraged a great deal of introspection and lateral thinking. As I was trying to think of a medium for my project, it dawned on me that mosaics are the natural intersection of three of my strongest interests: lettering, decorative arts, and interior design.
This is far, far more than clicking the ‘mosaic’ filter in Photoshop. Tell us about the process you went through to create one of these.
Funny you should mention it, I was briefly tempted to create some quick lettering, hit it with that mosaic Photoshop filter and post it to Instagram as an April Fool’s prank, but it just couldn’t stomach it!
I use Illustrator to plan my design and prepare it for the grouting phase. This is where I establish the tile size and shape as well as the different tiling patterns I plan on using. The “grouting” happens by hand, with the aid of my iPad Pro—though my very first fauxsaic used only pen and ink. Afterwards, every tile is individually colored in Photoshop. Considering each fauxsaic has between 6,000 and 10,000 tiles, this phase takes quite a while. I stay in Photoshop and finish the piece by adding one or two textures and some subtle lighting. Metallic effects take quite a bit longer, but the process is essentially the same. The last phase involves selecting a some shoes that complement the fauxsaic, photographing them with my humble iPhone, and Photoshopping them in place. I love this last stage because it sort of transforms the mosaic into a space, giving it a sense of scale and place.
What was the biggest challenge in getting your mosaics to look authentic?
So many! It starts at the individual tile level: they each have to be created with a sensitivity to the methodology used to cut tiles in real life. Smooth curved lines are difficult to create when cutting stone with a tile nipper, so most tiles tend to have squared off sides even if they are on a curved line. The colors of the tiles need to be subtly varied and the lighting over the entire piece needs to look natural and not overdone. In addition, the flow and pattern of the tiles must be consistent with classical technique for the illusion to work. The biggest challenge, however, is probably resisting the temptation of overdoing it in photoshop by adding unnecessary effects.
How did you decide which cities to represent? Have to traveled to these locales to soak in the vibe, the color palettes, or is it strictly from your imagination? What cities are next on the menu?
Most of the fauxsaics I’ve posted are created to announce an upcoming trip, but as the series grew, I was running out of destinations, so I started making mosaics inspired by places I’d visited in the last year or two. I definitely draw on the vibe of the city when planning a fauxsaic. My San Diego piece, for example, is very bright and bold with a cactus flower pattern in the background, while my Boston mosaic is much more traditional, historical looking, and uses a classic black and white color palette.
Next in line is La Jolla, CA — which I’ll be visiting in a couple weeks — followed by Milan, my hometown. After my Milan piece, which will be my 10th fauxsaic, I’m planning on focusing, in large part, on collaborations with other letterers, illustrators, and pattern designers to create fauxsaics of their hometowns.
What has been some of the feedback you have received so far?
The response I’ve gotten from the design community has been overwhelming and has definitely encouraged me to push this illustration series further. Aside from how surreal it is to see my work featured on design blogs and accounts I admire so much, I’m floored by the quantity of other fauxsaics I see popping up online. The fact that this project has inspired people to go through the process of hand drawing thousands of tiles to create their own fauxsaic is immensely flattering.
Now that you’ve done these incredible pieces, how tempted are you to try your hand at the real thing?
Extremely tempted! I’ve spent many nights going down various mosaic rabbit holes: from DIY videos of people tiling their backsplash to art history articles exploring Roman technique and how it differs from Greek or modern methodologies. I love the physicality of the process and the permanence of the outcome; and I’m so familiar with the different obscure tiling patterns at this point that I’m dying to just jump in and do it for real. That said, I’m intimidated by how laborious, costly, and time-intensive they are. My fauxsaics take between 12 and 24 hours to create, but that’s nothing compared to real mosaics.
I would love to make my illustrations a little more experiential, though, and I’m thinking of ways in which I can evolve this project and bring it to the real world without having to buy bags of grout. I’d love to try and create a custom typographic/mosaic floor installation for a conference or event and potentially printing it on floor vinyl. All I need is one very brave client!
Tags: Nick Misani