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 ๐ 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!!! ๐ 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.ย 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!