Bancroft Garden Mosaic Mural

Steve, Trevor and I did something super cool on Saturday. We joined in a community build workshop to create a mosaic mural for the Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek. The completed mural, designed by artist Donna Billick, will consist of two parts, each 20 feet long and 4 feet high. Billick's paintings of the murals were on display, along with some of the plants we'd be creating in clay. 

The first step was selecting what specific item from the mosaic we wanted to make. The designs were sketched out on 20' x 4' sheets of paper; once we decided what we wanted to make, volunteers carefully cut out the pattern. 

Our family decided to work together to make the large cactus in the middle of this photo. It had to be cut into four pieces so that it could fit in the kiln. 

The next step was getting clay.

Once we got our clay, we had to roll it to 3/4" thick. It was important to make sure it was wide enough for the pattern. 

Then we traced around the pattern. Here Trevor is working on the base of the cactus. 

Before going any further, we scratched the location number of our piece into the back side of the clay. It's important that the people who will be installing the mural can figure out how it all fits together! We flipped them right side up and used a variety of tools to add texture to our pieces. Steve is adding ribs to the top of the cactus. 

There were a lot of people participating. We arrived early in the morning, and people just kept coming. It's great to see so much interest in a community project like this!

After our cactus parts were sculpted, they had to sit in the sun for ten minutes or so. We took the opportunity to stroll through the adjacent park. We came back and added white slip to the pieces. Once the slip had dried completely, it was ready for underglaze. We looked up our cactus in a reference binder to try to choose as accurate glaze colors as possible. We started with a dusty green.

We added some gray shadows and lime highlights, being careful to make all four pieces as similar as possible.

Our last step was using the back of our paintbrushes to add a zillion tiny white dots on each rib of the cactus to mimic its spines. Here I am with the middle of the cactus, ready to go dry in the sun.

We had so much fun working together! 

I couldn't resist getting a quick picture of our cactus, loosely pieced together. 

These pieces, along with all the others, will be fired and glazed with a clear coat. Then sometime next spring or summer, they will be installed on the soon-to-be-built Visitor and Education Center at the Ruth Bancroft Garden. It's going to be really hard to wait, but so exciting when we can finally see it completed! Stay tuned!


  1. How awesome! LOVING the end result!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Very cool and so great that you did it as a family!

  3. Wow! How awesome it must be to contribute to a community build! LOVE that you participated as a family! :)


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