Epoxy Grout vs. Archival Quality Materials

Epoxy grout is preferred for pools because it is more resistant to pool chemicals and staining, but it shouldn’t be used on art object or plaques that might be around for decades or centuries as heirlooms.

Epoxy is a resin of long carbon compounds. Long carbon molecules are prone to breaking overtime because they contain stored chemical energy. They are vulnerable to things like oxygen radicals and UV radiation.

On the other hand, traditional grouts and mortars are made from kiln-fired sand and limestone and clay, which are all basic mineral substances with little stored chemical energy, all materials that last for geologic ages.

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Bas-relief Mosaic Sign

Bas-Relief Plaques and Mosaic Stones

Artist Sandra Arkin’s bas-relief mosaic sign “Art Can’t Hurt You” makes me laugh.

Anyone who has ever made a glass mosaic with tiny details has anointed their work multiple times with blood. Am I right, or am I right?

Sandra says doesn’t draw or make representations of physical objects in her heart usually, but she is pretty adept at making patterns with her printer when she does want an actual image.

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Kat Hammer Mosaic Sunflowers light vs dark grout

Grout Color and Variegated Mosaic Backgrounds

I have examples throughout this blog illustrating why darker grouts work much better for mosaic artwork than light colored grouts do. I also have examples of using complex color fields of related hues and explanations why they provide more visual interest than monochromatic color fields.

I repeat these two points so often because they are easy ways to make your mosaics look much better.

Artist Kat Hammer recently started making mosaics, and her first two mosaics of sunflowers are great examples of both points. Actually, her second mosaic of sunflowers is a great teaching example of when NOT to use a complex color field for the background and when a simple monochromatic background is preferred.

That last detail is very important, and I haven’t talked enough about it.

First I need to point out how darn good a darker grout looks:

Kat Hammer Mosaic Sunflowers dark grout
Kat Hammer Mosaic Sunflowers dark grout
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Mosaic Watering Can, ungrouted, composite view

Best Grout Gap For Mosaic Artwork

The best grout gap for mosaic artwork depends on whether or not the mosaic will be outdoors or in a potentially wet location such as a backsplash.

When Do You Need A Grout Gap?

If the mosaic might get wet or exposed to humid air, you can’t have the tiles touch each other. You need a gap for the grout to fit into to seal out moisture.

Tiles that touch can never touch close enough to seal out moisture.

If the mosaic is a small indoor icon or plaque, you don’t have to worry about sealing out moisture, and so you can fit the tiles tightly together and skip grouting.

TIP: You might want to grout anyway to fill in any small incidental gaps left by imperfectly shaped tesserae, especially if your mosaic is a “dry” tabletop or architectural surface. (If those surfaces are in the kitchen or bathroom, you should consider them “wet” and use a grout gap.)

Smaller Gaps Preferred

Smaller gaps are preferred because they make grouting easier, and they minimize the color impact of grouting.

A grout gap only needs to be large enough to ensure that grout can fill the gap all the way to the bottom and not just a smear across the top and hide a void underneath.

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Mr Pinchapotamus Tile Holding Tool with adjustable depth setting

Your New Best Friend Mr. Pinchapotamus

Mr. Pinchapotamus is your new best friend. He holds small glass tile while you cut them with a Mosaic Glass Cutter so that your fingertips aren’t near the blades. He can also hold the tile more firmly in place than your fingertips, and so Mr. Pinchapotamus also improves the precision of your cuts.

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Abstract Mosaic-Covered River Stones by Barbara Stutts

Abstract Mosaics As “Quilt” Elements

Artist Barbara Stutts recently emailed me some photos of her abstract mosaic stepping stones and mosaic-covered river stones, and they resonated with me for several reasons.

Barbara says she is relatively new to mosaic, but her abstract mosaics are worth sharing because they are well executed and serve as good teaching examples.

In this case, one of the lessons needing a teaching example is what beautiful art you can make without drawing or rending an image in any way.

Abstract Mosaic Plaque p1 by Barbara Stutts
Abstract Mosaic Stepping Stone p1 by Barbara Stutts

Mosaic stepping stones such as these can be made directly on concrete stepping stones using thinset mortar, and you can purchase both products at a local building material store.

If you need something lighter and thinner for a mosaic that will be mounted vertically on an outdoor wall, you could use a large porcelain floor tile in either 12 inch or 18 inch size as the backer.

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Cleaved-Glass Mosaics by Joe Moorman, composite 10/14/2021

Importance and Limitations of Small Mosaics

Making a series of smaller works instead of one large work is the best way to improve your art.

The reason is obvious: instead of investing all your time in executing the larger image, which might already be flawed or compromised long before it is completed, you get several opportunities to get it right.

In addition to getting several more chances, you also have the benefit of looking at your previous attempt and seeing what you did wrong and would like to try differently on the next work.

That is why most of the teachers and artists who recommend “a series of smalls” also recommend that the smalls be the same composition or at least variations on the same composition or theme.

Even if your small works are different compositions, you still spend a higher percentage of your studio time making and evaluating decisions (actively learning) compared to making one large work, where the decisions are made once and most of the time is spent on execution.

This shift of focus from execution to decision making via “a series of smalls” is critical in learning the medium of mosaic because mosaic takes so much more time and effort than painting or drawing, especially when the work is large. Tiles and mortar are heavy.

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Halloween Mosaic Coasters

Halloween Mosaic Coaster Kit

Ivana and Natalija have made some Halloween-themed mosaic coasters, and Natalija even put together a Halloween Mosaic Coaster Kit. The kit comes with the tile and materials needed, but it doesn’t come with a pattern.

As always, we encourage people to make their own designs, but we do have instructions for copying images to make a mosaic pattern.

Here is how you can make a mosaic pattern from any image by tracing.

Here are instructions for how to enlarge a mosaic pattern or drawing using only a ruler.

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Mosaic Tile Studio Display Jars group photo with 8mm Morjo glass

Out of Site, Out of Mind

I have always transferred my glass tile from the plastic factory bags used for shipment and into glass jars or plastic tubs. I do that for several reasons:

Rigid containers like recycled jars and plastic yogurt containers make it easier to rinse out the glass dust and slivers formed by cutting. Torn plastic bags drip water and don’t dry easily.

Glass jars and open-top tubs also make it easier to see the true color of the tiles, which is difficult when viewed through scratched and dirty plastic.

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Mosaic with original Tanjiro from the Japanese manga series Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba by Koyoharu Gotouge.

Mosaic vs Mixed-Media Artwork

The Four Seasons mosaic by Marc Chagall in Chicago was originally installed outdoors in the 1970s but has since had a glass canopy installed over the top to protect it from the elements.

Part of the reason for the canopy is Chicago’s harsh freezing weather, which is hard on all mosaics, but another reason for the canopy is that Chagall painted additional details on top of the tile in places where his artist’s eye saw that that something more was needed.

Everything (except being boring) might be legal in visual art, but in mosaic, not so much. When you are making something to withstand the elements or to function as an architectural surface, you really have no choice but to use best practices and standard methods and materials. Otherwise, the artwork won’t last.

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