Quirky Ltd.

ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS MOSAIC CLASS - NOTES

Hi! If you've been to one of my workshops, I hope these notes jog your memory. If you've never been to a mosaic workshop before, why not try one soon! Either way, I hope you find the information you're looking for right here, and if you can't, e-mail me through our contact page and I'll help you out.

SAFETY AROUND MOSAICS

Making a mosaic involves sharp edges and some nasty chemicals. Use safety goggles while nipping tiles, wear a dust mask to mix grout, do your glueing in a ventilated area. If you're setting up a mosaic area at home, make it free of children, pets, food and drink. Glass shards in the eye or foot or coffee are not healthy.

MOSAIC BASICS

You need FOUR things to make a mosaic:

  1. A BASE: non-flexible, non-porous. Rocks, concrete, glass, brick, ceramic tile, cement board, wood WITH CAUTION (well-sealed with undercoat and kept inside) - furniture, MDF, marine ply, sealed terracotta, polystyrene spheres/fishing floats.
  2. TESSERAE: pieces of something to form a design.
  3. ADHESIVE: to glue the tesserae to the base.
  4. GROUT: to fill the gaps between tesserae.

TESSERAE: - ANATOMY:

Tesserae are small pieces glued to make a larger design. There's a HUGE variety of things you can use as mosaic tesserae.
Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile is one of the cheapest, easiest-to-find materials. You can also find small ceramic shapes - circles, hearts, tiny squares, flowers, fish.

Double-fired/floor/frost-proof tiles are waterproof for using outside, but harder to cut.

Single-fired/wall tiles are porous, easy to cut, but not a safe bet outside in frosty areas. You can use a - ahem! - spit test to find which is which!

Vitreous glass
Vitreous glass tiles are usually 20mm or 25 mm square, a reasonable price and come in a wide colour range. Vitreous glass tiles can also come with a metallic or iridised finish.
Stained Glass
Stained glass can be cut into regular or irregular shapes. Paint the back of translucent tiles with undercoat or a water-soluble paint if you don't want the base and glue to show through them.
Glass Gems
Glass gems add texture, and can be cut in half and used on edge as a border, or paint the pupil of an eye on the back with Vivid marker for fish/lizard/bird eyes. Undercoat the back of transparent glass gems to stop the base or glue showing. It makes a huge difference to the quality of the colour.
Glass beads
(plastic ones can react to the glue)
Sea glass:
Glass which has been tumbled to make it smooth. The frosted surface does tend to 'grab' the grout and look grubby. As an alternative to grouting, paint your base white and using a clear-drying glue, place the pieces of glass touching each other, and don't use a grout.
Paua Shell

The polished pieces look great on a mosaic, but the colour fades quickly and the pitted surface also grabs grout. Sometimes the thin/curvy nature of the shell makes grouting difficult.

It sometimes looks better to glue paua to the surface AFTER you've finished and grouted your artwork. We're working on getting mosaic-sized paua and mother-of-pearl tiles with a resin coating.

Mirror:
Mirror is easy to cut up and adds a different dimension to artwork. Beware - the cut edges are the sharpest I've come across. Try making an entire mosaic in mirror shapes! Tumbled mirror has a lovely frosted surface with smooth edges.
Smalti:
Yummy yummy Smalti! This is the material used on the early European cathedral mosaics. It's made from molten glass, poured out into huge cookie-shaped sheets and cut by hand. The colour range is unbelievable, the way smalti plays with light is beautiful. EXPENSIVE! ... but something to aspire to using.
Pebbles and slate:
Check out Maggy Howarth's fantastic book on Pebble Mosaics (new edition). There are slightly different techniques for grouting pebble mosaics, to avoid staining the pebble surfaces.
Cinca:
Cinca is an unglazed porcelain tile from Portugal (or cheaper versions from China). Easy-peasy to cut, earth colours - chocolate browns, moss greens, honey, beige, greys - made in squares or hexagons. The matte surface make them great for backgrounds.
Millefiori:
Millefiori are one of the beautiful expensive playthings. Patterns made from bundles of glass cane, then heated and drawn into a fine cylinder and sliced. Beautifully detailed. They usually come in flower, star or bullseye patterns. Use the bullseyes for pukeko/fish/lizard eyes.
Gold-leaf tile:
The expensive stuff is sandwiched between two sheets of glass and fired, then cut into squares. You can also leaf onto the back of a sheet of glass and seal it with something like clear nail-polish, then cut into squares. Test your glue first. I used a kind of PVA glue with these, as my normal glues tarnish the gold. Mind you, the tarnished effect looks interesting too!
Clear glass:
Use your imagination! I've seen clear glass mosaicked over photos, chocolate wrappers, sheet music, lace doileys. Use a clear glue, like Selleys All Clear Universal (The Warehouse, around $16.95 for a cartridge)
Moretti rods/filatti:
These are the coloured glass canes used by glass blowers. They can be cut into small pieces with dual-wheeled mosaic glass nippers.
Broken windscreen glass:
If you can get safety glass, you'll find it breaks into cubes without horribly sharp edges. If you're fortunate you can get quite large pieces still holding together, with all the fracture lines showing. Use it with a clear glue over coloured painted bases, leaf skeletons, pictures, on opaque or glass bases. I love the way the fracture lines play with light.
Crockery:
broken plates and mugs are a cheap way to make mosaics. Also called Memory Ware, Shard Art and Pique Assiette/Picassiette. Rounded pieces may need to be cut smaller to sit flatter on a flat surface.
Fused glass gems:
befriend a glass artist today!

TESSERAE: - DISSECTION:

Offset mosaic side nippers:
Hold these low down in the indented part of the handles. If you are right-handed, hold them in your right hand with the 'teeth' pointing to the left. To cut tile, overlap the edge of the tile by only 3 or 4 mm and squeeze. You'll make it harder work if you have the entire surface of the nipper on the tile. Use these for ceramic tile. They will also cut vitreous glass tiles, but tend to shatter the glass sometimes.
Dual-wheeled mosaic glass nippers:
Hold these the same way as the offset nippers, but place the two wheels in the centre of where you want the cut to go. You CAN get a curved cut by leaning the tool one way or the other, but it's an imprecise art! Use these on anything glass - vitreous glass, stained glass, mirror, smalti, glass gems, gold-leaf tiles. We have an illustrated article on using wheeled cutters
Glass cutters:
there are a variety of tools designed to score and clamp down on glass to cut it, ranging from hand-held tools to large tile-cutting machines.
Ye Goode Olde Hammer:
There's still an art to bashing things with a hammer! Place ceramic tiles glazed-side down, to minimise shattering the coloured side. Cushion with a pile of newspaper and fold an OLD towel around the pieces to stop bits flying. Hit them with the edge of the face of the hammer, rather than the flat, to minimise the amount of shattering. This is the easiest way to get the harder frost-proof tiles down to a good size to use the nippers.

You can always throw things at concrete. Very unpredictable, but VERY satisfying! Take a broom.

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT DESIGN:

Opus:
The pattern in which you lay the tile is the OPUS - an Opus Regulatum is a gridwork pattern of squares and looks quite formal. An Opus Tesselatum is a brickwork pattern. Opus Vermiculatum follows the outline of your mosaic and helps to 'anchor' the focal point. Opus Palladianum is crazy-paved and looks best if you a) use more triangular-shaped pieces (squares just don't work so well!) and b) keep the gaps between tiles a consistent size. Opus Circumnactum is the interlocking fan-shaped patterns you see on many of the classic mosaics.
Colour:
Anything you know about colour theory is helpful - contrast, harmonising colours, etc.
Texture:
It is perfectly ok to mix materials with different thicknesses. Just remember to leave an adequate gap for grout between them so that the grout can slope down to the thinner pieces and not drown them! This kind of texture can really make a mosaic catch the light and sparkle. Some items demand a flat surface though, such as table-tops, stepping stones and pot trivets.
Simplify:
Mosaic lends itself to simple outlines. There are certainly some VERY beautiful VERY detailed mosaic artworks around, but simple is good. Even chunky and lopsided mosaics have a lot of charm!
Grout Lines:

The places where you DON'T put tiles are just as important as where you do. Take a pukeko mosaic for instance. If you tile the body and the wing in the same blue tile, with the same gaps, you won't see where the wing sits against the body. If you leave a wider groutline around the wing, the grout itself will form a solid line.

You can also use different opus to show things - maybe use a palladianum (crazy paving) for the body and a vermiculatum (outline) for the wing.

GLUEING:

I very rarely use tile adhesives. I use construction adhesive for most mosaic work. My preference is Fuller's Max-Bond in a cartridge - cheap, waterproof and reliable. ($5.95 from Placemakers). Liquid Nails is similar (but I find the odour icky). I use Selley's All-Clear Universal (not Water Barrier) for all clear work - glass/translucent. ($16.95, The Warehouse). I use a kind of PVA glue for applying the gold-leafed glass tiles, when I don't want them to tarnish

Woodworking glues and hot glue guns are totally unsuitable and will lead to cracked and disintegrating maosaics.

To apply glue, I squeeze some into a small disposable container and use an ice-block stick to either spread it onto the base, or to butter the back of each tile.

You know you've used enough glue when you have covered the whole back of the tile, and when you press it firmly into place, a bead of glue runs all around all the edges. You may need more glue on uneven surfaces, such as rocks.

The right gap between tiles depends on your preference, but the more consistent you are, the neater it will look. I usually work with matchstick-width gaps. In general, the smaller the pieces, the smaller the gap, so that the tile colour dominates over the grout colour. 1 mm is a minimum for fine work. 10 mm is the absolute maximum if you're using a sanded grout and very large tesserae.

GROUTING:

You can buy sanded or unsanded grout and latex grout, in a powdered form. Sanded grout handles bigger gaps (up to 10 mm) without cracking. Unsanded grout is finer and only for work with 2-3 mm gaps.

If you want to colour your grout, don't add paint to the grout. I know it's suggested often, but it takes a lot of paint, and you'll only get a light pastel shade. The paint will interfere with the integrity of the grout. Instead, grout with white grout and let the work dry, then mix acrylic, ceramic or silk paints with water until they are a milky consistency, and dab that over the grout and then buff off the tiles. You'll get a more vivid colour. You can also buy a wide variety of ready-coloured grout powder.

Before you start, clean all the dried glue from the surface of your work. I use an ice-block stick to scrape it off.

If your mosaic does not have background tiling - such as on a rock, use masking tape around the edges to leave a gap of about 5 mm. The grout edging will cover any design lines or glue along the edge.

If you've used any ceramic tile, run your work under a tap before you mix the grout. The porous tiles will soak up the water, and not steal it from the grout, which will dry it out too fast. Grout needs to cure slowly in order to be strong. Never put it in front of a heater or in the sun to dry faster.

Use a small amount of water (only 20 or 30 ml for a small project) in a disposable container and mix a heaped spoonful of grout one spoonful at a time, making sure it's smooth and lump-free, until it reaches peanut-butter consistency. Leave the grout to slake (start its chemical reaction) for 10 minutes before applying it.

You can use a spatula to apply the grout, but I prefer to use disposable gloves. Rub the grout into the gaps from the middle of the mosaic to the edges.

I don't use a damp sponge to clean off the excess as I find it sucks too much grout out of the groutlines. I use a dry toothbrush to brush excess grout from the surfaces, then as the grout starts drying (ie, no longer smears over the tiles) I use a dry plastic potscrubber to polish it up.

The final step is a soft polishing cloth. When the grout is hard, if there is a hazy cloud over the tiles, I use vinegar on a soft cloth to shine the tiles.

Voila!

Any problems, contact me.
 
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