Lori and I recently had the pleasure to sit down with Gina Dominguez who owns Snapshot Mosaics in Montclair Village, Oakland.

Gina Dominguez in her tile mosaic shop. 

Janelle: How did you get started in mosaics?

Gina: I've always done art on the side, even when I was growing up, ever since I was very young. Art was a big passion for me. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school--that along with math, believe it or not. For some reason I think they go together.

Gina: I completed high school, went off to college, but didn't study art because I thought that I couldn't make a living as an artist. My junior year I went to Barcelona and I was completely inspired by Antoni Gaudí, as you can imagine, and the nontraditional mosaics that he included in a lot of his architecture.

I also traveled throughout other parts of Europe and was inspired by the classic mosaics, and the art in general is fabulous. I came back home and finished my degree, worked for the university in Study Abroad in San Diego and then in Santa Barbara. I had the travel bug as well because of my junior year experience.

I decided to quit my job at the age of 25 because I had no marriage, mortgage, or kids at the time. Then I traveled down to South America and I was there for about 4 months. There were tons of mosaics and tilework down there as well. I enjoyed myself, got immersed in the culture, and when I came back I just decided that if I was going to try art, this was the time. 

Gina's shop, Snapshot Mosaics

I decided tile mosaics was my medium of choice for a few reasons, I think. I felt it was very accessible, very tactile. You could do small projects or you can do really large installations. So, I started teaching myself. I am primarily self-taught in mosaics. When I started--that was 16 years ago--it wasn't what it is now. There weren't a lot of workshops and there weren't these wonderful color books in mosaics. 

So, I went to the library and I took tile setting classes because primarily mosaics is the same as tile setting in the how-to. Then it's just your imagination; you can do with it what you will. So here I am. I didn't really have that roadmap to opening up a mosaic shop--I was just interested in mosaics initially.

Lori: So what medium do you prefer? Glass or ceramic tile?

Gina: Now I'm working mostly in stained glass. I like to incorporate copper, other metals, and maybe some other elements in there, but my base mostly is glass. The first five years I did all ceramic and natural stone, and then I started teaching at the local adult school. I sort of fell into that job, which is funny how this evolved. Some of the students were asking about glass and I said, "I don't know, but I'll find out!" I just started playing and experimenting with it.

I just love it for the color, for the weight because it is so much lighter than ceramic tile. Also, you can cut it a lot smaller and have more accurate cuts. If you want to get a lot of detail in a design, you can do that a little bit easier on a smaller scale than you can with ceramic tile.

Lori: Your stuff is so great. As soon as I walked in to your shop, I thought: "I want to do this!"

Gina: It should come with a warning sign: "Highly additive!" The people who come in here for the classes, and really love it, are the ones I'm going to be seeing over and over again.

A beautiful 9.5" x 15.5" wall hanging Gina created using copper, glass, abalone, and buttons

Janelle: Do the people who take your classes have an artistic background?

Gina: Not necessarily. I think people are oftentimes looking for an artistic outlet. They might be missing that in their jobs or in their lives. Or, they are newly retired and are looking for something new to do. A lot of people come in and say, "I'm not creative," but really, it's not true. We know what we like, we know which colors we like. 

Mosaics don't have to be complicated--a very simple design can look very good. A collection of colors put together in a random pattern can look awesome. 

Once people start getting a little bit of confidence, they see the people around them and get more ideas. I have seen people evolve artistically in amazing ways. I have students who have been with me for 7 or 8 years starting from the adult school and moving over here with me, and they are incredible.

It's great and I love it. I love it for them and I love it for me, because it's great for me to see the confidence that mosaics can give to people and how it can enhance their lives.

Lori: What projects do they start on and what do they evolve to, the people who have been with you for a few years?

Gina: In the introduction class we start with some basic projects. These include things like stepping stones, flower pots, candle holders, trivets, and wall hangings. Sometimes people bring in their own projects like tables or trays or things like that. 

The evolution might not be in the size of the project. It is often the skill or the quality of design and what they're thinking about. 

For example, I have one student who started with stepping stones and has done a few different types of designs. He did a dog on one which was made out of ceramic tile. So, he learned how to use that medium. He has been coming back and he has graduated into glass. He has since done another dog, which was more of a portrait of his dog. So he learned how tile versus glass works, and also how the shapes that you cut the tile can really influence what the look is. 

We talked about cutting the glass so that it looked a little more like fur compared to triangles. Just visualizing that, figuring out how to fill space, what colors to use... those sorts of things.

Some projects created by Snapshot Mosaics workshop participants

Lori: Do they start in glass or ceramic, or they can start where they want to start?

Gina: Wherever they want to. In the intro class my idea is that they are going to get experience with different materials, whether it's stained glass, vitreous glass, ceramic tile, pottery or whatever they are interested in. Oftentimes they may have an idea of what they would like to do, like a birdbath or table. They know what they have been wanting to do, and they may or may not know the materials.

So, I really encourage people, at least in the first class, to experiment with different materials--if they want to and if they don't, that's ok too--and not to look at their first piece as their end-all masterpiece.

Lori: That is a real tendency for people to do, like I do!

Gina: I do too! I really try to get people to not focus on the detail, but on just learning about cutting, about placing, about shapes, about adhesives--there are different adhesives depending on whether it is indoor or outdoor, or glass on glass. So my idea with the intro class is that they learn the basics.

A bathroom mosaic project by Gina  

Lori: What projects do you work on personally? I saw on your website that you did a HGTV project.

Gina: We did! It was very exciting. They called me in October last year. They were doing a house in Berkeley and they wanted to know if I would be interested in working on a mosaic that they were planning for this house. Of course I said "yes!" It was a great experience. it was really fun. The production team was awesome. 

Janelle: What kind of project was it?

Gina: The mosaics flanked both sides of the front door. Since it was a Craftsman style home it also had columns. We inset mosaics on the columns. I loved the project and it was a really fun experience.

Lori: What other projects do you do?

Gina: I do custom installations, private and public. I have a piece at the Chabot Space and Science Center which was my first permanent installation for the city. There are also some sidewalk inset mosaics in the Dimond Business District in Oakland that now Mayor Jean Quan commissioned while she was Councilwoman for that district. It just happened that she became the Mayor, was elected, and then we did the unveiling of the project. We had been working on it for a year, so at the time we had no idea that she would be the new Mayor. It just all worked out. 

Gina's sidewalk installation in the Dimond District of Oakland

I did a couple of bathroom installations this past year. That's fun as well, doing those permanent installations. I am working on a kitchen back splash right now; we're in the design process.

Janelle: Gina, you are an inspiration, and thank you for meeting with us!

Snapshot Mosaics
6206 La Salle Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611