Along the way, he encountered an influential professor who challenged him to express himself through the use of lines and color.
Mandell applied what he learned to mosaic art, and has become an artist in demand.
From a small studio in Bala Cynwyd, Mandell creates panels and three-dimensional pieces. Some are born of his own ideas. Others are commissioned pieces.
He works mainly from ceramic tile and shards of broken glass. He shapes each fragment as the subject matter dictates.
Mandell begins with a sketch that guides him in making a precise drawing. If he's working on a commissioned piece, this will be shown to the client for consultation and, if need be, fine-tuning.
Once the image satisfies all concerned, Mandell sets about rendering the subject matter in tile or glass.
He did a portrait of most-famous graduate Kobe Bryant for Lower Merion High School in just a couple of weeks. Larger, multi-scene pieces like one he's developing for Bryn Mawr Hospital can take months.
The size of his studio limits him to a single-panel size of ten by six feet.
Anything larger would have to be made in parts and assembled on-site. He has works at Citizens Bank Park, the National Constitution Center, the Barnes Foundation and at houses of worship from coast to coast.
He's always on the lookout for new subject matter. One day, he hopes to use his technique to document the changing look of Philadelphia neighborhoods.
If you'd like to see more of his work, the easiest way is to visit his website, where you'll find slideshows based on many themes.
It's at Jonathan Mandell, where you may also contact him to commission work. He also teaches classes about mosaic at Drexel University and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.