Mosaic Art Untitled Valri Castleman

How To Price Mosaic Art

Pricing art is difficult because it is subjective, and pricing mosaic artwork is even more problematic due to the extra labor required to make it, but there is a structured way to determine a hard number, even if the buyer is a friend or relative.

Recently artist Valri Castleman emailed my a photo of her untitled mosaic shown above and asked for my advice on how to price it for a family member. Normally I am not drawn to mosaics made from triangular pieces, but I like Valri’s mosaic and think it is worth sharing for several reason. For starters, there is some sophisticated “figure-ground-reversal” going on that reminds me of Picasso and the Cubists. There is also some interesting use of grout lines to outline figures. Lastly, the mosaic is a good case study for how to price your art for sale to a friend.

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Interpreting Artwork In A Different Medium

Interpreting a work of art in a different medium is a matter of capturing the essence of the original without being an exact copy, although most people would prefer to see a copy that had no departures than something that was unrecognizable. With that in mind, the first step in creating an interpretation of an existing work is to identify what features are most important about it, what things define it in essence. It depends on the work of art. It isn’t always a particular detail or figure. It isn’t always the colors.

A Case Study

Cypress Bayou Painting by Joe Moorman

Cypress Bayou Painting by Joe Moorman

Cypress Bayou quilt by Jackie Iglehart

Cypress Bayou quilt panel by Jackie Iglehart. Click the the image to see a larger version.

Recently, artist Jackie Iglehart created a quilt panel interpretation of my painting “Cypress Bayou” and won this year’s quilting challenge at the Valley Forge Homestead Quilters Guild in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. I was blown away by the results. Jackie’s quilt panel captures the look and feel of my painting to an extent that I doubted was possible in that medium.

Notice how intensely similar the two works are in spite of the different proportions and the fact that no lines or details are copied slavishly. Notice the differences in the size and placement of the sun and the absence of the john boat in Jackie’s quilt. Notice how the trees in Jackie’s quilt are of different proportion, yet the works are virtually identical in essence. The take away lesson is that you can go a long way toward creating likeness merely by using the same colors and the same general composition. But that isn’t always the case.

Key Details and Motifs

For some works of art, there is no choice but to render certain details more or less the way they were rendered in the original. For instance, think of all the parodies you have seen of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling detail where Adam’s hand and God’s hand reach out to touch and transfer the spark of life. Adam and God can be replaced with celebrities or politicians in modern clothing in front of modern backgrounds, but as long as the hands reaching toward each other and the bodies and faces are arranged like the original, the work is recognizable.

In the Same Style

In other images, there may not be a specific set of details or figures that need to be rendered closely as long as the composition as a whole is in keeping with the original. I have seen interpretations and parodies of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” where the landscape and stars were completely rearranged or substituted with city skylines, but the look and feel of the work was that of the original because the artist used the same colors and the same type of brush strokes as Van Gogh did (like tiles arranged in concentric andamento).

Color Accuracy

One of the most effective ways of keeping true to your model is to keep the colors accurate. That is how Impressionistic paintings look “realistic” in spite of being rendered loosely. If the painter gets the colors right, the brain can do the rest and interpret the image as being “soft focus” or slightly blurry yet still distinctly recognizable.

Mosaic As A Special Case

Mosaic is frequently used to create interpretations of paintings and photographs, but the short cut of using identical colors isn’t usually available.  A particular manufacturer’s product line only comes in in so many distinct colors, and even mixing and matching between brands will usually leave you wanting several key colors.

In this situation, the artist has to decide between using a premium line of smalti (and still coping with some missing colors) or making simplifications and other modifications to the original design. I prefer the later because it is a more advanced artistic exercise that teaches the artist something about style. To me, rendering lines and colors slavishly might be more efficient at producing results that people would describe as professional, it is still paint-by-numbers when it comes down to it. Art in its highest function is about taking risks and learning something.

The next time you go to a museum that includes ancient Roman mosaics, count how few colors are used to render elaborate compositions and notice how much charm is added by the simplifications the artists had to use to render certain details. Mosaic is an exercise in using a limited color palette and is better off as a medium because of it.

The Artist

Jackie Iglehart 1st Place

Jackie Iglehart with her 1st Place Blue Ribbon quilt. Jackie owns a Silver Forest Quilts, which provides longarm quilting services for clients who have either created their own quilt tops or inherited or purchased vintage quilt tops.

In addition to producing her own quilts, Jackie is what is known as a longarm quilter.  Her clients at Silver Forest Quilts bring in quilt tops they have made or vintage quilts they have inherited or purchased, and Jackie quilts or reworks the quilting. Jackie says that it is a wonderful business to be in because each quilt is unique and has its own story, and she gets to see a lot of original artwork.

How To Add Texture To Mosaic Art

Mosaic artwork can include rough textural elements that would be impractical in architectural tiling such as a shower wall, which needs to be smooth for cleaning and safety. Note that smooth does not mean flat. You can have textural elements in an architectural surface, but they need to be rounded and not jagged. (Cheese-grater walls in the shower or even your hallway would be problematic.)


For the past few months or more, I have been meaning to create a mosaic which uses cut pieces of tile mounted on their side so that I could demonstrate how a “hand-cut” smalti look and feel could be created with ordinary molded mosaic tile, which is significantly cheaper than smalti. But work and other art projects kept getting in the way, until finally one day out of the blue artist Dee Ruff emails me some pictures of her work, and they illustrate exactly what I had in mind!

We Are Stardust Mosaic Side View

“We Are Stardust” Mosaic Side View by Artist Dee Ruff shows the beautiful texture and hand-cleaved look that can be had from ordinary molded tile.

We Are Stardust Mosaic

“We Are Stardust Mosaic” by Artist Dee Ruff includes a “portal” (glass panel painted on the reverse side).

Mixed Media and Texture

"In the Garden" Mosaic

“In the Garden” Mosaic by Dee Ruff features ceramic figures by Atlanta-based artist Martha Coursey.

"Nature" Mosaic by Dee Ruff

“Nature” Mosaic by Dee Ruff includes a stained glass inset that matches the “color wash” gradient of the tile.

Dee’s “In the Garden” mosaic really caught my eye because I have always been drawn to mixed-media mosaics and mosaics where the work lines of the background interact with figurative elements in the foreground. This mosaic has both. Plus as a subtle color wash gradient in the background. Plus a hand-cleaved texture made from molded recycled glass tile that was cut and mounted on edge. (It was almost as if this mosaic were made to order for me. Imagine my surprise when Dee emailed it to me.)

Dee says “in the Garden” is one of her favorite pieces. Note that the flowers are made from ceramic figures by Atlanta-based artist Martha Coursey, who does amazing work. I like how the smooth glazed ceramic pieces contrast with the rough cleaved texture of the sky.

Backers, Substrates, and Mounting

Dee makes her panels from recycled expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam)  covered in alkali-resistant fiberglass mesh and multiple coats of thinset mortar colored with concrete dye. The “hollow” core makes the substrates lightweight, and the skin of thinset and mesh makes them strong and tough (impact resistant). Dee says that she builds the mounting hardware directly into the skin so that it is anchored by layers of thinset reinforced by fiberglass mesh.

Dee uses the Wedi brand of hardware, but brass picture hanging rings sold by building material stores should work, provided you use the heavier gauges. Note that no mounting hardware will be strong enough if you hang them on a nail in drywall, which is weak and fails easily. Nails or screws for mosaics and paintings of any size should go through the drywall and into the stud inside the wall (use a stud finder) or in the crown molding at the top of the wall with a hooked rod hanging down.

Note the safest and most robust mounting system is probably the French cleat. See Natalija’s Instructions for French Cleat Mounting.

More Of Dee Ruff’s Art

Dee Ruff currently has work available at the The Mosaic Love Gallery in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Dee’s website is Black Cat Mosaics, and she has some interesting multimedia mosaics and collaborations online there.



Lisa Jones Patio Mosaic

Patio Mosaic Alternatives

Patios are excellent locations for mosaics, but the patio floor itself is not as good a surface for a mosaic as a surrounding wall or brick planter would be. The main reason is simple: metal patio furniture will crack and crush glass tile, and glass is the preferred material because it is frost proof, economical, and comes in many colors. Also, the floor of the patio is not as visible as a nearby vertical surface is likely to be, especially when furniture, grills, and the usual patio accessories are present.

Recently artist Lisa Jones emailed me some photos of her patio mosaic, and I was taken with it in spite of my preference for designs that use free-form placement of pieces of tile instead of gridded patterns of whole tile.

Lisa Jones Patio Mosaic right side

Lisa Jones Patio Mosaic right side continues with the garden theme and flower and bee motifs.

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"Element" mosaic art

How to Hang Mosaic Art with French Cleat Wall Mounts

Small mosaic plaques can be mounted on a wall with a the same type of hangers and wires used for paintings provided the nail on which it hangs is mounted in a stud inside the wall, and even then redundant wires and fasteners are recommended. However, larger mosaics need more robust mounting hardware. The “french cleat” is a type of wall mounting that can be used to securely affix heavy mirrors, cabinets or artwork to a wall. In addition to its strength, the french cleat also allows mosaic art to be mounted flush against the wall and makes leveling it easy.

If you built a frame on the back of your mosaic as described in this tutorial, then french cleat molding is a good hanging option.

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Mosaic Interpretation of Picasso Painting

Brian Kyle’s mosaic interpretation of Picasso’s painting “Man With Ice Cream Cone” is a refreshing departure from the cute themes that seem to dominate contemporary mosaic artwork. Brian calls his mosaic “The Lecher” and says that some people are creeped out by it. I say that makes it real Art (with a capital A) in the sense of being worth thinking and talking about.

Picasso Mosaic Interpretation

Mosaic Interpretation of Picasso’s “Man With Ice-Cream Cone” by Brian Kyle. Notice how the working lines of the black background all converge on the ice cream to make it a focal point.

Improving Picasso?

Brian’s mosaic is also noteworthy because it has some interesting elements that actually build on what Picasso was doing, which is no small trick. (Successfully improving or extending a master’s work is a fairly significant accomplishment any day of the week.) Notice how the working lines of the black background all converge on the ice cream to make it a focal point. I think Picasso would have approved and possibly even been jealous of how Brian used the lines of the background to focus even more attention on the cartoonish black tongue licking the white ice cream.

Glass Beads For Texture and Depth

Another thing that makes Brian’s mosaic worth looking at is that the artist successfully used glass beads with ordinary flat glass tile to give the surface texture and depth.

Glass Beads in The Lecher Mosaic

Glass Beads in “The Lecher” Mosaic give the surface a texture that begs to be touched.

Work In Progress

Brian also sent us a good photograph of the mosaic in progress, which shows the classic direct method of drawing the pattern on the backer and mosaicing directly on that surface.

Picasso Mosaic In Progress

Work In Progress photo of “The Lecher” Mosaic shows the pattern drawn directly on the backer.


How to Build Up Areas and Fill Holes in Mosaic Backers

For dry indoor mosaics, areas can be built up to support thinner tile next to thicker tile by mixing sand or sawdust to Weldbond adhesive to create a heavy paste. You can also fill holes in mosaic backers using this method. Sand is best for minimizing the contraction that happens as the glue dries, but sawdust can be used when weight is an issue.

For outdoor and wet mosaics, thinset mortar can be mixed with clean pea gravel to make a concrete. The pea gravel must be washed clean and dried to avoid contaminating the mortar, and we recommend screening the pea gravel and using only small pieces. Note that you cannot use sand because too much sand will overwhelm the mortar and make it crumbly.

Case Study: Stained Glass Mosaic Coffee Table

Stained Glass Mosaic Coffee Table

Stained Glass Mosaic Coffee Table by artist Holly LaBarre.

Recently our customer Holly LaBarre emailed us asking how to build up areas between wooden slats of a mosaic coffee table she was making. The design concept for the coffee table was to make it look like it was made from pallet wood or wooden planks and put stained glass mosaic between the planks. The problem was that the planks are significantly thicker than the stained glass, but Holly wanted the stained glass to flush with the planks so that the coffee table had a flat surface.

The solution was to put a piece of 1/2-inch plywood on the underside of the table top and then build up the area to be mosaiced using a paste of Weldbond and sand.

Mosaic backer built up

Mosaic backer built up. This photo shows one trough with an initial filling of paste. The other two troughs are still empty and show the plywood backer underneath the table top.

The catch is how to build up the area to the right height so that when the stained glass is applied, it isn’t too high or low. To figure this out, Holly made a simple gauge from a straight edged piece of wood that rests on the surrounding planks and has a small piece of stained glass glued to its bottom edge.

simple gauge made from straight-edged board

A simple gauge made from a straight-edged board and a piece of stained glass glued to the bottom shows how high the area needs to be built up. This photo shows that more paste needs to be added, probably 1/2 inch more.


Matching Grout to a Room’s Color Scheme?

Choosing a grout color is more of a situation where you want to avoid making a mistake that causes the tile to look wrong than it is an opportunity to tie in the room’s color scheme by selecting some optimal color.

A Case Study

matching grout colors

Should you match grout color to a room’s color scheme? Not necessarily. Making sure the grout color works with the tile colors is much more important.

Recently a customer emailed us the photo above and asked for advice on how to match the grout color to the room’s color scheme, which includes rich gunstock brown cabinets and paint that is pale green or taupe and a black counter top. The mosaic backsplash itself is made from long gray and black tile in varying lengths.

Choosing By A Process of Elimination

Grout colors should always contrast tile colors enough so that each tile is visually distinct. If you were to use a gray grout on this mosaic, the gray tiles wouldn’t stand out as individual tiles. If you used black grout, you would would have the same problem with the black tiles. Since the mosaic is a gray and black color element, a white grout of some shade makes sense. A pure white grout is likely to be too bright, and so an off-white grout that is more or less the same color as the exposed backer between the tiles would be a safe choice.

Too Clever for Your Own Good?

What if you still thought that you needed to tie in the grout color to the room’s color scheme? Then you might consider using some sort of terracotta or brown grout in either a light or dark shade. The problem with that approach is that there are many different hues of gray, and not all of these will look good with a particular brown, even if that brown is optimal for the room.

If you are bent on using some sort of brown or other color for a black-white-gray backsplash such as this, then make sure you take some of the tile with you to the building material store and actually hold the tile up to the grout swatch. That way you can see if the hues look odd together. Avoiding that mistake is much more important than trying to match the other colors in the room.

How You Know This Is Good Advice

Notice how the counter top is black, and the stove and microwave oven are black and silver in color. They don’t have any brown or taupe color elements, but they are perfectly at home in the room’s color scheme. Similarly, the mosaic backspash is a black-white-gray color element that needs nothing extra to tie it in.



Mosaic Jewels, Gold, and Silver

The following picture of 24kt Gold Leaf Mosaic Glass Tiles mixed with Faceted Glass Jewels is the best evidence I can point to for our renewed commitment to finding exciting new products for use in mosaic artwork:

Mosaic Gold 24 kt with Faceted Glass Jewels

Mosaic Gold 24 kt with Faceted Glass Jewels could be used to make wonderful mosaic art in a medieval or Byzantine style.

Ancient Treasures

This stuff is pure treasure. It is hard to look at it without thinking of old kings and dragons and pirates and chests and treasures hidden in the earth. The look and feel is that of a jewel-encrusted relic like a Byzantine crown or a medieval book cover or an icon looted by Vikings.

I can’t wait to see the great pictures of customer art that are sure to come in!

Architecture Quality

Colored Glass Mirror Tile Architectural Quality

Our new Colored Glass Mirror Tile is architectural quality and amazingly beautiful. It sparkles a lot more than ordinary glass because it has real silver on the bottoms.

Our new Colored Glass Mirror Tile is architectural quality because it is colored glass (for non metallic colors), and it has silver bonded onto the bottom of the glass. The manufactured certifies these for indoor use in mosaics not subjected to chlorine or sulfur. You can cut these into small pieces because the silver does NOT fall off when nipped by a Mosaic Glass Cutter.

What’s Wrong With Competitor’s Mirror Tile

The metal plates on the bottoms of the cheap crafting mirror tiles sold by our competitors falls off the glass when you cut them. There is another type of cheap colored mirror tile on the market, the type cut by hand from colored mirror stock, but they are no better. The thin silver on the back of these is the same as ordinary mirror stock, and so those products require special mirror adhesive to avoid oxidation, and the glass is probably clear with a thin layer of plastic color.

Good Old Blue and Gold

Gold Leaf Mosaic Glass with Blue Porcelain Tile

Gold Leaf 24 kt Mosaic Glass with Blue Glazed Porcelain Tile are a strong combination that could be used for designs without anything else being added.

This blue and gold color scheme is the cover of a 1970’s Book of Mormon and the blue and gold of my high school mascot all in one. I want to use these to do some mosaic-encrusted mosaic chairs or cabinets that blends traditional pique assiette (china dinnerware mosaic) with veins of gold and other gold elements.

The Emotional Significance of These Beautiful Things

I was not able to focus on my mosaic supply business for about two years because I had several family members pass away in rapid succession. Of course I kept the business operating, but I could barely keep up with the day-to-day tasks of my employees because all my time was taken up by estate issues. I had no time to find and add new products or even pay attention to what was was going on with my competitors and their products.

When I finally got my head back above water, I started looking around the Internet at online mosaic retailers, and was angered by what I saw. I felt like unscrupulous people had been kicking me while I was down:

Competitor’s Cheapo Crap

To the west, I saw that I had a competitor selling cheap clear glass that is colored with thin coatings that scratch easily and age quickly and terribly. Would I have to introduce a cheapo product line of my own just to stay competitive? The angriest emails I received in over 13 years of business came from people who used poorly-made tiles like that, and so I couldn’t even consider selling them as a budget or cut-rate product. (No coincidence that this is the competitor that now sells their brand at Mallfart.)

Rape o’ the Sea Tile

To the east, I saw that I had another competitor selling natural mother-of-pearl tiles produced in Asia, where the sea is not harvested but instead is strip mined in the most unsustainable way possible, nothing less than environmental rape. Why would anyone with even the least amount of social or environmental awareness use that in their art?

That competitor is also selling powdered metal-oxide paint pigments for tinting grout, which is one of the last things I would want to sell to the general public or send in the mail as far as the potential for health hazards and lawsuits from improper handling. I was so shocked by what all the cheap questionable products and what they might do to our share of the market, that I even considered selling these powdered pigments for a while before coming to my senses.

But here is the worst of it:

Pretending to Be Mosaic Art Supply

Not content to ruin their own business reputations, these and other competitors had started taking out paid advertisements in Google that used “Mosaic art supply” in the headline of their ads. This was obviously a deliberate attempt to create confusion between brands and fool unwary shoppers into thinking they were at the right website. If these ads weren’t an attempt at deception, they would have used a more searched for phrase like “mosaic tile” or perhaps their own business name.

Delayed by Website Work

My competitors’ unethical practices made the need to find new and exciting products more urgent than it already was, but when I finally found time to focus on Mosaic Art Supply, I learned that the work most urgently needed was to rebuild the website in a new type of software that was mobile-ready. The rebuild was a large project that would take at least 6 months of intense work, but it was absolutely necessary to avoid losing rank in the coming Google updates. Our content and product names were way out of date too, and so it would require rewriting at the same time.

Even if I wanted to throw a lot of money I didn’t have at the problem, no web developer could write the content that I could, not after 13 years of consulting on hundreds of public mosaic art projects and answering a gazillion customer emails about projects and products and what confuses them on the website. Either I would have to talk with the developers so much that I might as well do it myself, or leave them alone and then be furious at how wrong their “expert” decisions were. I couldn’t get out of the website work even if I wanted to burn money. Yuck.

Finally Fighting Back

The website update delayed me in finding new products for a few months, and then there were the two months required for the goods to be delivered by sea freight, but when the first wave of new products arrived, I knew I was finally fighting back. The knock-out looks and the quality of the products I had found make me feel confident, downright righteous even!

Tell Gog and Magog that my house is set against them…


Creating Visual Interest In Mosaics

Contrast is a good way to create visual interest in your mosaic, and when contrast comes in the form of highlights and shadows, it also creates verisimilitude (the appearance of being real). Highlights and shadows can be as simple as shading the edges of a figure and leaving the center lighter so that the figure looks rounded instead of flat. Or you can be more ambitious and model the folds of fabric and clothing using contrasting regions of light and dark tile.

Highlights On Garment Folds

Artist Claudia Benavente’s mosaics are a great example of making images more “real” and visually interesting using highlights on folds of garments and hair. The gold background of the nativity scene below was made using our silver leaf imitation gold mosaic glass.

Mosaic after the facade of Siena Cathedral

Mosaic after the facade of Siena Cathedral by artist Claudia Benavente is rich with visual interest that was created by modeling garment folds as regions of lighter and darker colors. These colors can be shades of similar hues (Mary’s robes) or different colors entirely (Joseph’s robes).

Texture From Mottled Colors

Notice how the stone blocks in the above mosaic are not made from one gray color or even two grays. Instead, the artist uses perhaps six or seven different colors so that the blocks have texture. Think about how much more interesting these blocks are with their mottled colors than if they were made from one color.

Hair and Vegetation

Caramel Colored Horse Mosaic

Caramel Colored Horse Mosaic by artist Claudia Benavente. You can feel the wind in the horse’s tousled mane thanks to the contrasting colors used in the different strands. The use of color in the horse’s body gives it life and motion.

Hair and vegetation are also opportunities to breath life into your work. Instead of making monochromatic shapes or silhouettes to represent these elements, show the internal details.

Light and Dark / Warm and Cool

Red Horse Mosaic

Red Horse Mosaic by artist Claudia Benavente uses two different methods of creating contrast: light and dark colors and warm and cool colors.

In my opinion, the Guggenheim museum owns several billion dollars in abstract paintings that aren’t nearly as interesting as the background of this mosaic. Just look at it, and you want to touch it and feel the texture created by the mottling of warm colors with light and dark colors. Notice how the cool blues and indigos of the horse’s nose and eyes contrast with the fiery red background. Notice how this mosaic looks more intensely red with the other colors mixed in than it would have if it were solid red. Contrast is the key to many aspects of visual art, including color intensity.