The craft

The real art in pebble mosaic paving lies in the design, which is always in accordance with the area to be paved, its construction and function. The pebble mosaic courtyards of Chios are well known for their grandeur, the quality of their pebbles and their designs. Until 1960 it was customary for churchyards, as well as the courtyards of family mansions and civic buildings to be laid with mosaics made of pebbles gathered on local beaches. That is why this craft is so widespread among the Greek islands.

The designs of pebble mosaic paving are by no means mere decorative motifs. Far from it. Each and every one has its own logic, meaning and philosophy. A detailed plan is made for every single design and the colours must be natural. There are two different ways to work decorative pebble mosaic paving. They are the direct method and the inverse method. A master of the craft using the direct method will paint the design in full colour onto a five-centimetre-thick layer of rough mortar in situ and then push pebbles into place on the actual design according to colour. When this is done he will fill in the background. Pebbles are chosen on the basis of how closely their natural colouring matches that of the design. They are never dyed.

A master of the craft using the inverse method works in a totally different way. He makes a seven-centimetre-deep frame on a wooden board to act as a mould and flat base for his work. Pebbles are placed in the bottom of this mould according to the desired design. With the design clearly in his mind, he fills the whole of the prepared area with pebbles making sure that there are no gaps between them and that they fit together tightly. When every pebble has been placed to create both background and motif, the mould is filled with mortar so that the whole thing forms a solid flagstone. When this is done and the mortar has dried, the underside of the flagstone is just like that of any other flagstone used in paving. This means that the mosaic is flat and strong and will provide a good firm surface for people to walk on. The craftsman then turns the slab over and washes the excess mortar off the pebbles to reveal the design. The work is ready!

If the design is a fairly small one, say no larger than sixty centimetres, the work can be accomplished in one single slab. Anything larger will have to be divided in sections to make it possible for the craftsman to transport them and manoeuvre them into position on the floor. The lines where two sections meet are called seams and should be as inconspicuous as possible. They should follow the lines of the design and not detract from it in any way.

I choose to use the inverse method. It allows me to work in my own workshop at my own pace without the threat of adverse weather conditions that are part and parcel of working on the actual site. Even designs covering large areas are made in sections in my workshop and are then laid in their home like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

Snapshot of the construction of a pebble mosaic

...the collection of pebbles on the beach