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.

Gaudi Mosaic Bench Freeze Damage

A few years ago, Karen J created a mosaic bench in her backyard using mining debris (large stones), cement, and chicken wire to form the base, which is similar the methods we recommend in our instructions for creating bases for outdoor mosaic sculptures. Karen modeled her bench after those made by the great mosaic architect Gaudi in Park Guell in sunny Barcelona, and she used brightly colored ceramic tile just as Gaudi had used. The problem is that Karen’s backyard is in Colorado, and so her mosaic experienced many long and hard freezes that a mosaic in Barcelona would never see.

Mosaic Bench after Antoni Gaudi

Mosaic Bench after Antoni Gaudi shows the ravages of freeze damage. Colorado winters are quite severe, but any temperature below freezing can crack and flake ceramic tile.

Ceramic Tile Is Vulnerable To Freeze Damage

Glass mosaic tile is non-porous, and so water cannot seep in and freeze and crack it, and so glass is preferred for outdoor use, as is porcelain tile for the same reason. On the other hand, ceramic tile tile is very porous and soft, and so water can penetrate it (through tiny cracks in the glazing). Once this water freezes and expands, it cracks the ceramic tile and often causes the face of the tile to flake off.

Mosaic Bench Detail showing freeze damage

Mosaic Bench Detail showing freeze damage. Note that the empty sockets in the blue tile are NOT where tile has popped off. Instead, it is where the faces of the tiles have flaked off due to water freezing and expanding in tiny cracks and pores.

In the photo above, you can see how some colors were more resistant to freeze damage than others. This difference was not due to the color but to the variety of the tile: some brands of ceramic are harder and less porous than others. Also, some brands have thicker glazes, and that can also affect how permeable the tile is to water.

Preventing Freeze Damage

You can minimize freeze damage by sealing your finished mosaic with multiple applications of a tile and grout sealer from your local building material store. Avoid ordering sealers online during winter months because water-based silicone sealers ruin if they freeze during shipment. You should also clean and reseal the mosaic each fall. Small mosaics such as mosaic stepping stones can be brought inside for the winter.

Mosaic Bench Second Detail showing freeze damage.

Mosaic Bench Second Detail showing freeze damage. Imagine how bright the orange and yellow sun was before Freeze Meister blasted it and flaked off the color!

Doraemon Japanese Manga Mosaic Installation Video

Rolando Jose made a mosaic of his favorite cartoon character Doraemon using broken pieces of glazed ceramic tile obtained locally in Panama and our black 12mm recycled glass tile for outlining. Rolando Jose made a video of creating and installing the mosaic and used Doraemon’s theme song for the soundtrack. Doraemon is a Japanese manga character.

The Birth of (Rolando Jose’s) Doraemon

This mosaic seems to have been what I call a “passion project” for Dr. Rolando Jose Rodríguez De León, who is a media and communications professor specializing in animation at the University of Panama. Like many passion projects, Rolando Jose’s results are impressive in spite of the lack of experience.

Passion Projects

“Passion project” is a term I use to describe one of these art projects where people have spent years or most of their lives thinking that one day they would finally make a mosaic mural or a sew a quilt or do some other big project in a medium of art they have never done before. Usually what happens is one day they can’t put it off any longer, and suddenly they have started the project. For this reason, there usually isn’t a lot of preliminary research beyond finding basic tools and methods, but any lack of knowledge is more than compensated by the artist’s willingness to figure things out as they go along and experiment as needed.

Many times these new mosaic artists work without knowing all the basics or the most efficient ways of doing things, but they don’t fret if things take much more time and effort than what they had originally anticipated, and they often work around difficulties and setbacks that would discourage a more experienced artist. Their passion for what they are doing bears them up and keeps them happily moving forward.

I love it when people email me pictures of their passion projects. It reaffirms my faith in the mosaic supply business and humanity in general!

Humidity Warps Plywood

Rolando Jose mounted his mosaic on a sheet of marine plywood so that it could be taken with them if they move. Hardiboard and concrete backer board are preferred outdoors and in wet locations. Humidity makes plywood warp and delaminate.  If you do use plywood outdoors, use marine plywood and paint the back side and edges with three coats of exterior paint (oil-based preferred). Don’t paint or seal the face of the plywood with anything except the same type glue you will be using because you want the tile attached directly to the backer. The finished grouted mosaic should be sealed with a tile and grout sealer from the building material store.

Mosaic Doraemon in progress

Mosaic Doraemon in progress

Should You Use Fiberglass Mesh?

Fiberglass mesh is used to lay up mosaic designs as sheets of tile in advance of the final installation. If you are mounting the mosaic on a panel or table top, then you can skip the mesh and glue the tiles directly on the panel or table top. To do that, you first need to transfer the pattern directly to the surface, and that isn’t difficult. I wrote instructions for enlarging and transferring mosaic patterns using only a ruler.

Mosaic Doraemon Outline

Mosaic Doraemon being outlined using 1/2-inch black glass mosaic tiles.

Rolando Jose laid his mosaic up on fiberglass mesh. To so this, he first taped his pattern to the work surface and covered it with clear plastic so that the mesh would not get glued to the pattern. Then it was just a process of outlining the image by gluing black tiles along the lines of his pattern and filing in the monochromatic color fields.

The Right Tools for the Job

The artist adds doraemon's blue tiles.

The artist adding Doraemon’s blue tiles to the mesh using Weldbond Adhesive. Notice the sheet of cardboard used as an improvised cutting tray. We use shallow plastic dishpans for cutting trays. You can repurpose many common household items for use in the art studio, but specialty tools like tile nippers and marble files are indispensable.

Grouting A Large Mosaic

We sell convenience-sized tubs of dry sanded grout for use in small indoor art projects. If you think you need more than one of these 2-pound containers, then you should be buying your grout at your local building material store. For large mosaics murals, you need to buy the 60-pound bags of grout. You can buy it much cheaper in these large bags, and you also save on shipping.

If your mural is large enough to require more than one large bag of grout, you should also consider buying a mixing paddle, the kind that fits in an electric drill. Even with a powered mixing paddle, it is still a lot of physical work to mix up that much grout.

Artist Grouting Mosaic Doraemon

The Artist Grouting Mosaic Doraemon. Note the white haze that will be buffed off following the application of the grout. Make sure you press the grout down into the gaps and work it in thoroughly to ensure that no voids or bubbles are left at the bottom of the gaps.

 

Photorealistic Mosaic Landscape

Yosemite Mosaic Landscape

Yosemite Mosaic landscape by Jim Price.

Yosemite Mosaic landscape by Jim Price.

Limitations of the Grid and Tile as Pixels

Jim Price’s Yosemite Mosaic is an excellent example of how photorealistic mosaic art does NOT have to be rendered in a uniform grid of pixels.

For an example of a gridded mosaic where tiles are used as pixel, look at the impressive black and white mosaic another artist Mark made of his grandson peering through a telescope. Note the contrast of styles between these two mosaics!

While the tile-as-pixel mode of working is very effective and straightforward for beginners, it limits the artist stylistically because tiles in a grid do not vary in shape and direction, and you can’t do things like arrange tiles in concentric rows around figures to suggest motion. You also can’t use different sizes and shapes to suggest the texture of surfaces. All you have is a grid, and the process of laying tile is all a matter of putting the right color in the right cell.

Alternatives to Grid Designs

You have more opportunity for stylistic flourishes if you work in a mode similar to stained glass artwork and used pieces with irregular shapes based on the figures being rendered, which usually means larger pieces  –but not necessarily. Artist Lorna Ball’s stained glass mosaics are good examples of using small pieces to create realistic textures (bird plumage, tree bark).

I really admire the mosaic Jim Price made of Yosemite because it is photorealistic yet not pixelated, nor does it go to the opposite extreme and render in large pieces like commonly seen in stained glass artwork. Instead, the image is rendered in small tesserae (tiles), and the tile is used in rows that follow the lines of the figure being rendered. Rectangular tile is placed in staggered rows like the classic “subway tiling,” but it is not one uniform set of rows. Instead, different areas and different figures have their own set of rows at a different orientation from those row sets in adjacent areas. To see what I mean, look at where the tops of the cliffs (vertical rows thrusting upward) meets the sky (horizontal rows).

Every element of the composition works well with adjacent areas and objects and contrasting andamento (direction of rows) helps define areas as separate elements. It is clear Jim thought about the row schemes for different elements very carefully and spent a lot of time executing it.

Artists Comments

I wanted to do something big: (24” x 44”). This mosaic took me 20 months to complete, working approx. 3 hours a day using 3/8” tiles. I estimated 13,000 cut pieces. One of my toughest challenges was picking the tile colors. I learned to make do when I could not find all the exact colors I wanted. Grout was also challenging, picking the correct colors – it’s amazing how important grout is and how it affects the overall look of the piece. I used 2 grout colors, grey for the sky/mountains and a medium brown for the rest.

Let the Background Be Background

Note that Jim does not make contour lines around the clouds but instead renders the entire sky (clouds and all) using one system of rows of rectangular tiles that define the clouds impressionistically. This is just what the sky needs. The alternative would have been to render the clouds and the surrounds sky with flourishes of different sets of curved rows, but that would have given the clouds too much visual interest and made them look more like elements in the foreground.

Wheat Field with Crows

Jim Price made this mosaic master copy after Van Gogh’s painting of the same name, and I think it is good example of the emotion and energy that stylized artwork is capable of and why many people value that type of art over straight realism.

Nearly all of Van Gogh paintings beg to be copied as mosaics because the paintings themselves are already mosaics of heavy brushstrokes that make expert use andamento to convey a sense of motion. Everything dances in a Van Gogh painting, even in his still life paintings, but “Wheat Field with Crows” was a particularly good choice for interpretation.

Wheat Field With Crows mosaic after Van Gogh by Jim Price.

Wheat Field With Crows mosaic after Van Gogh by Jim Price.

Jim made his Wheat Field With Crows using Italian stained glass and says he has the cuts to prove it. I believe him.

Working With Stained Glass and Alternatives

Stained glass can form razor-sharp edges and slivers when it is cut, some colors more than others because the metal oxide pigments alter the physical properties of the glass. Molded glass tiles such as vitreous and the sintered recycled glass variety are a lot less sharp when they break and don’t produce as many daggers and needles, and so they are better choices when working with children, especially since you can choose to work with whole uncut tile or mostly uncut.

If you do work with stained glass, it is important to remember that nothing else will prick your fingers faster or more often, especially the tiny crumbs and slivers of stained glass that hide on work surfaces. That’s why you keep a vacuum handy and periodically clean off your work area.

Italian Versus American Glass

Our stained glass is all American made. I haven’t noticed much difference between American made and the limited number of sheets of Italian glass I have used as far as cutting it and handling it. As far as looks, I have seen sheets made in both countries that were too exquisite to cut up, but it seems like the Italian manufacturers try to make most every sheet swirled to that level of perfection. It seems like a lot of extra money for not much return if you are cutting the glass up small for mosaic art.

The Artist

Jim Price lives in Souhern California. He has been a graphic artist for 53 years and tried every medium of art before realizing that mosaic was his true love. Contact the artist directly:

Jim Price
Jimprice888@gmail.com
805-584-6272

 

Mosaic Baptismal Font

Artist Sondra Jonson recently completed a mosaic baptismal font for St. James Catholic Church using our gold glass mosaic and metallic glass tile and vitreous glass tile, and it turned out really well. Religious architecture is supposed to be instructive and inspiring, and so Sondra used a spiral galaxy motif for the bottom of the font and a night sky with stars for the insides of the walls to convey the cosmic significance of the sacrament of baptism.

Mosaic Baptismal Font

Mosaic Baptismal Font at St James Catholic Church uses a spiral galaxy motif for the bottom and a field of stars for the insides of the walls.

Laying Up The Mosaic Design

Sondra laid up the mosaic design using mosaic mounting tape, which is recommended instead of fiberglass mesh for outdoor and wet mosaics because glue is used to attach tile to mesh, and glue is vulnerable to moisture. If you use mosaic mounting tape to pick your design up by the faces of the tiles, then you can press the tile directly into the thinset mortar. If you would like to know more, I wrote some instructions for laying up mosaic designs on contact paper and then picking it up with mosaic mounting tape.

Mosaic design divided into sections

Mosaic design divided into sections for ease of handling. Note the use of cardboard “trays” to lift the sheets without bending. The clear mosaic mounting tape is on the front of the tiles.

Square Sheets?

Whether you use mesh or mounting tape, you need to minimize the amount of bending and flexing because that can make tiles pop off the sheets. You can use cardboard or plywood panels to lift and transport the sheets. Note that Sondra’s sheets aren’t square for the simple reason that radial sections made more sense than squares because the area to be covered was hexagonal.

 

Mosaic Font Bottom Detail

Mosaic Font Bottom Detail shows how the design was laid up in one piece before being cut into manageable sheets.

Write Down The Names Of Your Tiles!

We recommend that artists save their invoice and glue a small piece of tile next to each product listed on the invoice. That way, you know what you used and where you bought it and when. The date of purchase is as important as the color name and supplier because tile varies by batch, and manufacturers revise their products all the time. Sondra wisely made a sample board for the materials used in the baptismal font in case it ever needs to be repaired or a future client wants to use some of the same materials,

Mosaic Palette Sample Board

Mosaic Palette Sample Board for the baptismal font project.

I cannot imagine installing a large public art project without documenting what materials and sources you used. Even if a product is discontinued or revised, which does happen, you or your client will still have the name and the brand and samples for a photo if you make a board like this on for the project. That is a better starting point for finding a replacement from a different supplier than blurry detail shots cropped from photos of the project, which is what people email us all too often.

Mosaic Installation

This mosaic was installed using thinset mortar, which is recommended for all mosaics in pools and fountains and other wet locations. I wrote some instructions for using thinset mortar for detailed mosaic artwork if you need to know more for your project.

Mosaic Baptismal Font wall detail

Mosaic Baptismal Font wall detail being installed with thinset mortar.

The Artist Surveys Work In Progress

Artist Sondra Johnson mosaic in progress

Artist Sondra Johnson working on the mosaic design for the bottom of the baptismal font.

Black and White Photorealistic Mosaic Art

Black and White Telescope Mosaic

Black and White Telescope Mosaic. Mark’s grandson gazes at the stars.

Stylized or Photorealistic?

Mosaic is usually used to make stylized images, meaning images that are simplified in certain ways, and that is done because the constraints of working with tile that only comes in certain colors and can only be cut so small forces the artist to simplify the details. Think about how ancient Roman mosaic faces and figures are outlined like cartoons and how scenes are composed of 6 to 8 colors, and you will know what I mean. I strongly prefer this type of art because it is a dialog between the symbolic and visual aspects of the artist’s mind, and it produces a lot of quirky and interesting details that would never be possible in mere realism.

BUT, it is important to remember that you can use mosaic to render images in a naturalistic or photorealistic way even if you can’t find tile in all the colors you think you need. First, you can use two colors in place of one. For example, if the teal color you think you need is not available, use small pieces of blue and green tile positioned closely together and rely on the eye blending the two colors together.

Another means of working photorealistically is to make a monochomatic mosaic or a black and white mosaic, such as Mark did using our 8mm recycled glass mosaic tile when he made the mosaic of his grandson peering through a telescope.

Note that Mark’s mosaic doesn’t use concentric rows of tiles to convey a sense of motion such as seen in the andamento of most stylized mosaics. Rather, the tiles are treated as pixels in a grid, which is how most though not all photorealistic mosaics are made. The alternative to gridded pixels is to use large irregularly-shaped pieces in a mode similar to stained glass artwork.

Patterns For Mosaics Made From Photos

I didn’t ask Mark how he made the pattern for his mosaic, but I know how I would do it:

I would take the photograph I wanted to use and convert it to a black and white image using Photoshop or another photo-editing software package.

Then I would enlarge it to the actual size I needed and print it out in sections, and then tape these together on my work table.

Then I would would cover this pattern with clear contact paper, WITH THE STICKY SIDE STICKING UP.

Then it just a matter of positioning tiles over the pattern and filling in the design.

The only question is: Do I put the tile right side up or upside down?

Upside-Down Tile

If the mosaic is relatively small. I can spread adhesive on the backer and then press the backer onto the mosaic. In that case, I would want to position the tile upside down.  Of course, this reverses the mosaic design from left to right as if in a mirror. Complete instructions for working in this way are given in my blog article Using Contact Paper To Transfer A Mosaic Design.

TIP: If you don’t want the above method to reverse your design from left to right, then reverse your pattern from left to right in the photo-editing software that you use to make the pattern.

Right-Side-Up Tile

If I would like to work with my tile right side up so that the mosaic is not reversed, then I can use clear mounting tape or opaque mounting paper to pick the mosaic off the contact paper and then press it onto an adhesive-covered backer. This method is commonly used for laying up large mosaics such as murals. Instructions for this method are given in my blog article Mounting A Mosaic On Clear Adhesive Film.

To Grout Or Not To Grout?

Grouting can totally change the look and feel of a mosaic, and so this question can be critical for photorealistic work depending on the colors and grout gap used. You can minimize the visual impact of grout by making sure that your grout gap isn’t too large. For most mosaic tile, the recommended grout gap is 1/16 inch, but for 8mm and 10mm tiles, use a grout gap of 1/32 inch.

For dry indoor mosaic, you can mount the tiles so closely together that they touch and simply not grout the finished mosaic.

You should also test grout colors before you apply them to the mosaic. The “test” can be as simple as taking some of your tile to the building material store and holding them next to different color swatches in the grout aisle.

For his mosaic, Mark did exactly what I recommend: he glued some of his tile to a scrap piece of plywood and grouted them with different grout colors to see what they looked like in situ.

Grout Test

The visual impact of grout color on a mosaic can be evaluated by gluing some tile on a scrap piece of backer and grouting it.

If that seems like a lot of extra work, the simple truth is that it isn’t. An experiment like that can be done in 15 minutes of gluing one night and 15 minutes of grouting the next, and what is that compared to the amount of time spent on the mosaic itself? Before you dump concrete on something you spent a month creating, make sure you are using the right color concrete.