“Hi Dionne. Just wanted to let you know I was 74 this month one of the most beautiful cards from a friend was one of yours bought in New Beacon bookshop.”

This was the message I received from the lovely Scilla Alvarado in my DMs one November morning. From there we got chatting via text back and forth which led to a candid invitation to visit her workshop. Well I got so excited I booked a date almost immediately, which was a bit out of character for me, but I felt the connection and made it happen.

A couple of weeks later I jumped in my car and headed down to London. It took me about an hour and a half to arrive in Upper Clapton where I was met by a sweet lady with bright red hair. No way was she 74, I thought!

Scilla was as I expected, warm, chatty and full of life. As she led me up two flights of steps to her workshop, I felt eager with anticipation. We arrived at the main door and it was here I then asked her if this was her home or her studio – to which she replied – “Both”. At this stage I was expecting to see an industrial space full of mosaics and looking like, well, how a workshop would look. Instead, what lay before me was a feast for my eyes!

As Scilla opened the wide door, the first thing I saw to my right hanging on the entrance wall was a beautiful African wooden shutter carving. I stopped to take a photo and then followed the sounds of her voice into what I can only describe as my dream space.

I walked into a bright and very large loft style apartment with white shiny tiled floors, a long kitchen area and stairs to my left. My eyes were darting everywhere as artwork, sculptures and colour were begging me to give them some attention. However there was plenty of time for that as I made my bee line to the workshop space which was situated at the far end of the room. I was in awe. I just imagined myself having something similar to work and live in. The workspace was situated on a raised area with 3 work benches containing a mixture of student artwork and Scilla’s mosaic designs. It was fantastic to see her work up close and personal. The intricacy, colour, texture and fabulous things she put in her work was so inspiring. As I looked up I scanned around and saw a large circular mosaic, a line of Guatemalan masks and a mezzanine floor with a glass partition where I glimpsed more gorgeousness! Just wow!

I walked around looking and touching everything as Scilla educated me on her background and some of the stories behind her mosaics. She told me her father was a German Jewish refugee and her mother was from an English, Welsh and Indian heritage. What a wonderful mix of culture and history right there. She went on to explain how she lived in between London and Egypt for 24 years and after a very traumatic time experiencing a marriage breakup, three deaths and redundancy she turned to therapy to help her through this challenging period. It was at this time she took up mosaics to help with her healing and connection back to self again.

Fascinated by her story I continued to ask questions about some of her pieces and certain artefacts around the room. Scilla has an extremely organic mosaic style using found and unusual objects such as fossil, shells, rusty items and old earrings mixed with traditional vitreous glass, smalti and more. I was also fascinated by her earlier Islamic work and the detailed symmetry and geometric patterns she had created. It was clear to me that each piece was not just a mosaic put together without thought, but rather an invitation to delve deeper into her story of a complicated and sometimes emotional past. I would describe Scilla’s work as a beautiful tapestry of tile and tales except these tales were lived and very real experiences.

Scilla invited me upstairs to see one of her very first mosaics. The mezzanine level was just as incredible as downstairs with interesting and lovely pieces all around. Definitely my style! We walked over to see her Tree of Life mosaic hanging on the far wall, by the way I had to walk over a glass panelled floor to get there which I found a bit uncomfortable. Clearly I have trust issues. LOL! Anyway, the mosaic was about 100cm x 60cm and is the one featured in this blog. It was so fascinating and so intricate with all sorts of things from beads, fossils, scarab beetles, metal work and teeny weeny bits of silver embedded throughout. Just a beautiful piece of work and framed with an Antique looking ornate frame.  Incredible!

Listen, I could go on and on about Scilla’s wonderful home, the connection I felt with her and how we chatted and got deep into each other’s lives but I would probably be here until next week, so, I will sign off for now and politely direct you to Scilla’s Instagram page @scillaalvaradomosaics to see more of her work. If you are interested in doing classes with Scilla, please email her at scillaalvaradomosaics@gmail.com.

And this is how one comment on an Instagram post led to a wonderful meeting and afternoon spent with mixed media mosaic artist Scilla Alvarado.

Until next time my friends!