How to make mosaics – a Beginner’s Guide

There is a chinese proverb that goes like this:

I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand

Someone left a comment asking how to begin making a mosaic which then prompted me to decide to write a quick guide of what to do, where to go etc… I’m not going to tell you how to make a mosaic with step-by-step instructions. A simple google search can do this for you. What this post aims to do is to give you a quick overview and let you know the resources available for you to get started. At the end of the day, most mosaicists are self-taught, myself included. I started simply by going to the bookstore and happening on a mosaic book that I took one look at and thought: I can do that! After that, it was inspiration taken from my surroundings and the internet. That’s it! It took about a year and a half before I realised that there is a load of information out there on mosaics and that the worldwide mosaic community is in fact very, very small! So this is what I have found and what I think everyone who wants to start making mosaics ought to do!

Making a mosaic is really a 4 step procedure. You have your design step, then the tiling step (gluing down your tesserae), grouting and finally sealing.

Begin with finding inspiration. For me it was by accident, and finding a book on mosaics at the bookstore. There are many books at your local library, most of which give you step-by-step instructions. Read it, be inspired, find something you like and that you think you can do. I wouldn’t say: don’t start with a mural! However, a mural is a little more complex since it’s on such a larger scale. Might be nice to start with something smaller and feeling the satisfaction of finishing a piece before the frustration sets in ;) Kids’ illustrations are in fact a great choice for mosaics. Look in your childrens’ colouring books. The simpler, the better. You don’t want to start with a picture that has too much detail.

You need to then decide what you want to mosaic. Is it going to be an interior piece, or an exterior piece? This will largely determine the substrates chosen, aswell as the adhesives you choose.

For an interior piece, mdf or plywood are OK to mosaic on as long as it won’t be hung in a room that is very humid (like the bathroom!). However both these surfaces need to be sealed otherwise you will have problems later on in grouting. The surface will wick all the moisture out of the grout, which can cause problems like the grout cracking etc… Adhesives to choose can be as varied as using the traditional cement-based adhesive also known as “thinset”, or a strong PVA like Weldbond. Some people even use silicone, though this is more common for glass on glass projects and even liquid nails. I suppose you can ask yourself, how long do you want your piece to last, can you spend hours on a piece, or do you have spits and spats of time here and there?

More consideration needs to be given to an exterior piece since it is outside in the harsh elements! Your choice of glues, in my opinion, is much more limited as it needs to have the ability to withstand being outside. If you are working on a piece that will be fully immersed in water, then this also needs to be considered. I say avoid wood all together. There is too much movement in woods these days, since they are sold so green. But some people use marine ply and are happy to do so. Again, the choice is yours. I have used mdf that I sealed with a special sealant that apparently lets it stay intact outdoors. It’s been a couple years and so far so good, but we’ll see…

I could write about the choices of adhesive but they are just so vast, and it’s not what this post is really about. Find one that is not only suitable to your project, but one that you like using!

The next step is choosing your tile and laying it down. How are you going to cut it? Do you want to just smash tile with a hammer, or do you want to cut the shapes out? In either case, think safety first and cover up your eyes (and your kids too if they are hanging around!). Look into tile nippers for cutting your tile, wheeled glass cutters if you are using glass and a glass cutter too. If you are serious about mosaics then having some basic tools are invaluable. That said, a simple hammer will do the trick for smashing tiles.

Have loads of fun gluing the tile! After drawing your design out onto the surface, start laying the tile down in the foreground. Generally speaking the background is filled in last. Well, that’s common sense really!!! :) After you have finished gluing all your tesserae, you need to let it dry atleast 24 hours.

Once dried, you can then proceed to grout your piece. Grouting will bring the whole piece together.  Just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for this. Grouting is easy once you get the knack of it, but beware it can be messy! I’d also advise to use gloves. It is a cement based product and will dry your hands right out! It is important to let the grout dry out of the sun. Don’t ever try to speed the process up. It needs time to do it’s thing. A couple tips: always let the grout slake. That is, after you have mixed the grout up to a toothpaste consistency, let it sit for around 5 minutes (read instructions) before stirring again and applying. It’s an important step that alot of people skip. Also, if you care about your plumbing never, ever clean off your grout bucket down the sink! It’ll be an expensive and painful exercise… Keep in mind too that your grout has a limited working time. You need to make sure you set aside plenty of time to grout and polish your piece. Finally,white is not a neutral tone when it comes to grouting. I would never use white grout on a mosaic. I’m yet to see a piece that has been grouted white where I actually like it. It can always look better in a grey or vanilla, if you’re looking neutral.

3 days after having grouted, seal your projects with a grout sealer. Seal them even if you are leaving them inside. Sealing is good. Sealing is your friend.

That’s it in a nutshell! So get crackin’! Each step goes into much more involved and detailed steps so I highly recommend joining some online mosaic communities. There is a ton of information in their files and if there isn’t, then ask. Mosaic Addicts and Mosaic Artists Org are both yahoo groups. It’s easy to join and start participating in the online forums. Another more obvious place to look is for classes in your local community. There is usually always someone out there teaching mosaic.

I’m a big believer in learning through doing… Hope this helps some of you get started!

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29 Comments

Filed under Art, Artists, Australia, Canberra, Female, Inspiration, Kim Grant, Mosaic, My projects, Round the World, Technique, Uncategorized, Works in Progress

29 responses to “How to make mosaics – a Beginner’s Guide

  1. Rexie

    I’m new to mosaics and just completed a piece that I’m pretty proud of. I love reading your blog, you articles/advice are so helpful!

  2. Hi Kim,
    I’m about to get started on my first outdoor floor mosaic near our patio. I want to mosaic a 5×1 section of ground between two existing concrete pads. Right now, the space is just dirt. How do I prepare the dirt surface so I can mosaic on top of it? Love your blog! And if you don’t know about this place already, you should–it’s long been my mosaic inspiration and I’m so excited to finally go for it: http://www.thegiantshouse.co.nz/default.asp?page=garden
    Thanks!!

  3. Frances

    So I am about to start my mosaic art piece but I guess I need to know what kind of surface is best like a piece of wood or like a stepping cement stepping stone? Please help

  4. Megan

    Fuck sake what help is that.

    • Kim

      charming aren’t you Megan Cuddeford. Clearly you’re one of those parasites who thinks you deserve to have your hand held. Are you capable of doing anything on your own? Fuck off if you don’t like what you see here.

      • Lili

        I appreciate this article I mainly have to applaud you on your response to Megan. This article was helpful in giving an overview of the steps involved in doing a Mosaic which let me know whether or not in will suit my lifestyle. Thanks again.

  5. Hi Kim,

    Thank you for all your advice :-)
    I’m about to embark on my first mosaic and it will be a mural outside. Over ambitious, haha, maybe, but I’m going for it! :-)
    Can I just draw my picture straight onto the wall and then stick the tiles on the wall and grout and all that? Or do I need to find another surface to work on and then attach that surface to the wall? As I see you mentioned that we shouldn’t let the grout dry in the sun, and of course if it’s outside then one doesn’t really have a choice with that.

    Thank you so much, look forward to hearing from you.

    Kind regards
    Shona

  6. Teagan

    This was extremely helpful and I just wanted to say thank you : D I am now having a great time doing my mosaic!

  7. This valuable blog post, “How to make mosaics – a Beginners Guide | Kim Grant Mosaics
    - Mania & Mischief” illustrates the fact that u
    actually understand precisely what u r writing about!

    I really fully am in agreement. Thanks ,Lucia

  8. can u help me make a mosaic plz

  9. Grant

    Hi

    I know this may sound like a silly question, but has anyone ever tried to make a mosaic using mosaics?

    So for exmaple, i have seen sites, where people have uploaded photos of their dog, and then a tool/person then takes all those individual photos and aligns them, so that all those photos combined into a mosaic, look like another picture (maybe a picture of the dog).

    I thought that was quite cool, but I wondered whether you could take that one step further, and make 100 mozaics of your dog, and then those 100 mosaics and turn them into another larger mozaic of your dog.

    So when you look at the individual tiles of the larger mozaic, each tile is a mozaic in itself, made to look like a photot of your dog, and then when you look closer at each of those tiles, you can see the individual dog photos that make up that mosaic tile.

    Kind of like those russain dolls, you see the big doll, open it up and there is a smalelr doll, open it up and and even smaller doll. I wonder how small the smallest photo would need to be, to still have a clear image, and how large the final mosaic needs to be, and whether having a mosaic made of mosaics, ends up distorting the final mozaic so much that you can not make out what it is representing.

    I would love to know if anyone has tried that.

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  12. David Hamill

    Hi Kim, I am a Primary School art teacher looking to start an outdoor ceramic mural project with my students and our community. I have never done one before, and in searching the internet, I found your wonderful blog. Thank you! Of course I have a million questions, but I’ll ask just one. Do I have to use outdoor ceramic (“frost proof”) tile? We live in the northeast (US), where it can be quite cold. Since we practically have no budget, I was hoping to ask our local home improvement stores to donate tiles and supplies. I would then break up the pieces for my students to use. But if I need special tiles, or have to purchase mosaic tiles, I’m afraid I won’t be able to get this project off the ground. Any and all advice would be greatly appreciated. If you have the time, I would appreciate the favor of a reply. Meanwhile, I’ll keep scouring the Internet for answers… Thanks again!

    Regards,
    David

    • Kim

      Hi David,
      The short answer is yes, however I’m wondering exactly how cold you get. If you experience a freeze/thaw cycle then yeah you really do need a hard bodied tile. Also, look at the site. If it is covered you may be able to get away with using a softer tile, but I generally don’t recommend it for any mosaic outside regardless of the climate… If you can check out Crystal Thomas’ Beginner’s guide to mosaics: http://crystalthomasmosaics.com/artwork/2317350_Beginner_s_Guide_to_Mosaic_Art.html
      or your local library for some good mosaic books.
      Good luck!

  13. Cindy La NinFa

    My husband is soon to retire and we are moving to NC and the mountains and rivers have given me a new found take on my life, plus I would love to do something that I would enjoy doing with all the natural elements that surround us up there. You have given great insight on how to start. Right now I’m in St. Augustine,FL and their are some really great artist here who do mosaics. Again Thanks for your page ….. cindy

  14. Anthony

    Hi, thank you for the article.where can I learn or take classes to make mosaic in Baltimore or Maryland?
    Thank you
    Anthony

    • Kim

      HI Anthony,
      Check out Maryland Mosaics. I’m not sure exactly where they’re located, but they have a fantastic shop and classes with artists coming in from all over the US… Hope that helps!

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  16. Chinyere

    Thank you for your article. I just moved to a new and much slow paced city and I always wanted to try mosaic tiling. Now I need to find a class and some material.

  17. lorette

    Thanks for your simple but needed advise.
    I am about to embark on making a pot.
    I still have trouble cutting pieces to a particular shape,but as you say practice is the key.
    Lorette

  18. Jackie dagnall

    Hi Kim ,
    really helpful advice ,thank you . I am going to a mosaic class tomorrow ,to learn how to create designs with tesserae ,something I have long wanted to do . Best wishes ,Jackie .

  19. I am a student who goes to Hartlepool Sixth Form college and would like to ask you a few questions about your practise. This would help me alot as I found your step by step very helpful and would like to ask you a few other questions about how you became interested in making these as well as what your inspiration is.

    Hope to hear back from you

    Jason Ingram

    (please contact me on hotmail if possible as this is the only unstant message provider as well as MSN which I used)

  20. That’s really lovely! I’ve emailed you personally – I’d love to read your paper, if you feel like you want to share it :)

  21. Lindsey

    your article helped me write a paper on what I want to do with my life, I related life to a mosaic :)

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