Monthly Archives: December 2015

Blue and White China Print Porcelain Tiles

We just added three different types of glazed porcelain tile for use as accents in mixed media mosaic art projects, and the most exciting of these are the blue and white floral china patterns.

“Blue and Whites”

Porcelain Tiles Blue and White China Print

Porcelain Tiles Blue and White China Print are made to look like pieces cut

“Blue and whites” are what I always called the china shards that I would find when walking fields and creeks. More so than the other things that I found (pipe stems, bottle necks, glass marbles, china doll parts), these blue and whites made me think of making mosaics, but I’ve noticed that over the years since I started making mosaics, I haven’t used these as often as I would have expected. I think it was because no matter how many I found, I never found enough that I didn’t think of each one as a unique treasure that needed to be the centerpiece of some work of art and not just one of many tiles.

But that’s only part of the reason why I found myself using fewer blue and whites than I would have thought. What really put them out of reach for me is that I couldn’t stomach the amount of waste that is created when old china is cut up for mosaic tile. Most of what you get from some plates is waste. And then there is the issue of the plate breaking in ways that splits the pattern up and the problem with many pieces not being flat.

These glazed porcelain tiles with floral china patterns are the perfect solution: None of the waste of cutting your own, a perfect glossy glaze. a great floral print.

I see these being used as borders around mosaic images and mosaic mirrors. The ones with mottled glazes could be used for that as well.

Mottled Glazes

Porcelain Tiles Mottled Glazes

Porcelain tiles with mottled glazes have subtle variegated colors with golden yellow mixed with antique hues of red, blue, and cream.

I think the 1-inch porcelain tiles with mottled glazes are going to be popular as well because they have subtle antique colors in blotchy patterns that you just don’t get in glass tile other than stained glass. Unlike stained glass, the variegated colors of these are done on a smaller scale so that each 1-inch tile has an interesting pattern.

How To Transfer Mosaic Patterns Quickly By Tracing

This article explains how to use a charcoal pencil (or graphite pencil) to color the back side of a paper pattern and then trace over the pattern firmly to transfer it to a plywood mosaic backer board.

I have written a separate article explaining why tracing borrowed images is better than drawing for making patterns for small mosaics  -even when the purpose is to create original artwork.

If your backer is much larger than your pattern, you can enlarge the pattern by transferring it to the backer using the grid method of pattern transfer instead of the method I explain here.

Example Using 6×6 Inch Backer

In this example, I use the 6×6-Inch Plywood Mosaic Backer Board we sell at our online store and a detail cropped from Franz Marc’s fauvist painting “The Large Red Horses.”

Large Red Horses painting Franz Marc

Large Red Horses fauvist painting by Franz Marc includes a prancing horse that is rich with curves that suggest motion.

Step 1. Find And Make Your Pattern

I used Photoshop to crop and size the image and convert it to a black and white, but you can also use photocopies from books and your own drawings as starting points. Read more about this process in my article How To Make Mosaic Patterns Without Drawing.

Note that the image was sized so that it was 6×6 inches and printed out on regular printer paper.

The Purpose Of The Pattern

For small mosaic icons and tabletops, you can work directly on the surface. Simply draw or transfer your pattern onto the backer. This pattern should look something like the black line drawing from a coloring book, just a map showing the outlines of different colored areas, possibly subdivided to show shading. (Shading and variation in these different color regions can be worked out when you start placing the tile, and so your pattern can be as simple as a cartoon outline.)

Mosaic pattern Photoshop

Photoshop was used to crop out a detail of the painting and convert it to a black and white image that emphasizes outlines. I also added a border to mark the 6-inch x 6-inch space to make it easy to line up the paper on the backer board. The outlines of the black and white image are what we will transfer to the wood mosaic backer.

Step 2. Fold The Pattern Around The Backer Board

Fold the paper pattern around the backer board so that the image of your figure is centered on the board. Having a border drawn the same size as the backer board helps you line it up.

Fold Pattern Around Backer Board

Fold your mosaic pattern around the backer board so that the image is centered. Note that my pattern should have centered the horse better in the square so that the tail isn’t so close to the edge. If the pattern transfers as shown, it will be difficult to render that part in tile, and i will need to make the tail slightly thinner so that I can put some background around it because tile can only be cut so thin.

Step 3. Unfold The Pattern And Remove Board

Unfold The Pattern And Remove Board

Unfold the mosaic pattern and remove the backer board. The folding was only done to get the paper creased at the edges of the pattern.

Step 4. Rub Outlines Of Pattern With Charcoal Or Pencil

Rub Outlines Of Pattern With Charcoal

Rub the outlines of the figure with a charcoal pencil (preferred) or a regular graphite pencil. Note that we are rubbing the BACK of the pattern not the front. Color every line that will need to be transferred.


Step 5. Refold The Pattern Around The Board And Tape

Refold The Pattern Around The Board

Refold the mosaic pattern around the backer board and tape it in place, preferably with some easy to remove painter’s tape. The creases in the prefolded paper made it easy to line the pattern up without smearing the charcoal all over the wood. Note that the tape goes on the VARNISHED side of the wood. The charcoal pattern will be transferred to the UNVARNISHED side.

Step 6. Trace The Pattern Firmly

Mosaic pattern traced

Trace the outlines of the figure firmly with a ballpoint pen or a pencil that is more dull than sharp. You want to press firmly so that the charcoal on the back of the paper pattern is transferred to the wood, but you don’t want to rip the paper. Avoid getting the paper humid or wet for this reason. Make sure you trace all the lines (curves) you would like to see on your backer.

Step 7. Remove The Paper And Fill In Missing Lines

Mosaic Pattern Missing Lines

When you remove the paper pattern, you will notice small places where the lines (curves) of the design didn’t get transferred for whatever reason, usually because you forgot to trace there or sometimes because you didn’t put charcoal in those places. You can fix those by drawing the missing lines. It is easy to do even if you have little confidence in your ability to draw because the existing lines give you a frame of reference.

Step 8.  Make The Lines Permanent With A Marker

Make Pattern Permanent With Marker

Make the lines of your transferred patterns permanent using a fine-tip marker such as the Sharpie brand. If you don’t do this step, then your hands and glue will quickly rub off the pattern.

Ready For Indoor Use

Mosaic pattern ready for work

The Mosaic pattern is transferred ready for tiling. This is a dry indoor mosaic, and so the tile can be attached with Weldbond Adhesive. For outdoor and wet mosaics. a concrete stepping stone or piece of flagstone could be used for a backer and the tiles mounted with thinset mortar.

Variations On This Method

There are a couple of parts of this method that could have been done through alternative means:

  1. Instead of folding the paper pattern around the backer, it could have been cut to the size of the backer and taped on that way.
  2. Instead for rubbing charcoal or graphite pencil on the back of the pattern, carbon tracing paper could have been used.

How To Make Mosaic Patterns Without Drawing

You can and should spend more time “drawing” with tile than drawing with a pencil when most of the details in the mosaic are about the size the smallest piece of tile that can be cut.

If the smallest details of your design are larger than multiple tiles, then you should draw a detailed pattern, but most mosaic plaques are small enough so that nearly all lines are affected by limitations in how small the tile can be cut, and drawing patterns for these can be counterproductive and cloud judgment.

Improvise Loosely On A Photo Or Image Used As A “Pattern”

HERE’S WHY NOT TO DRAW FOR SMALLS: Every element in your drawing will need to be a multiple of tiles wide or a fraction wide. Until you understand those multiples and fractions in practical terms of what you can cut and what looks good, your drawings can lead you to make bad design decisions and artificially cause you more stress than is necessary without teaching you more about rendering in tile. How To Transfer A Pattern From A Digital Image.

Mosaic Coaster Heart

Mosaic Coaster with Heart Design  was made using a photo of an ox’s heart downloaded from Google Images as the pattern. Is there any doubt as to whether or not this mosaic is an original interpretation? Would anyone try to argue that it is a copy of the photo?

This Method Can Be Used To Make Original Art

What is the alternative to drawing if the beginner is only interested in making original art?

Answer: Select a model from a large number of images (such as hundreds or thousands looked up online or your own photos), and then render loosely with tile on top of that image making simplifications as needed.

This rendering process (“drawing with tile”) can teach you things about the image that the pencil is unaware of. It is a much more taxing interpretation than drawing, and it has its own vocabulary.

Here are the steps for making a pattern quickly from a photo or image,. The details follow. And an explanation about why this method works better than drawing studies of that image.

Make a “Pattern” From A Photo or Image Instead of Drawing It

  1. View a large pool of images, such as can be had in Google images, your own photos, books, and encyclopedias.
  2. Select an image with strong lines and iconic shapes.
  3. Modify the image as desired. Combine multiple figures if desired.
  4. Convert that image into a black and white image. (Photoshop or photocopier or tracing or sketching.)
  5. Resize the image to the size of the mosaic backer.
  6. Transfer the pattern to the backer.
  7. Render LOOSELY on this pattern making simplifications as needed.

I have written a separate article about How To Transfer Mosaic Patterns,

Resize Digitally or Using The Grid Method

Mosaic patterns can be resized digitally, but I have written some instructions for resizing a mosaic pattern using a grid while you copy it onto your backer board.

Combine and Modify Images

You can combine figures from different photos by drawing or tracing them and then cutting them out and gluing them together in collages, or you can do it digitally in Photoshop or other image editors. I prefer the digital method because you can resize the different figures as needed before combining them in a scene.

Making Black and White Copies of Photos

Photoshop is also useful for converting images to black and white without making the images too dark. Use Photoshop’s Adjust Sharpness tool and Adjust Brightness/Contrast before using Photoshop’s Convert To Black And White so that the black and white image is created has maximum contrast. That will help make the image be more outlines than dark shapes, and we need distinct outlines to transfer the pattern onto the backer.

An Example Mosaic Pattern

Here is what a mosaic pattern might look like when derived from a color photograph:

Mosaic pattern Photoshop

Photoshop was used to crop out a detail of Franz Marc’s fauvist painting “The Large Red Horses” and convert it to a black and white image that emphasizes outlines. The outlines and curves are what you want to transfer to your mosaic backer.

In Defence of Drawing

Drawing a pattern by hand or by using the grid transfer method is a great exercise because it enables you to become familiar with the lines and see the image in your mind. Drawing also is an opportunity to interpret what you are seeing and make original art. In fact, for someone like me, the drawing becomes an end unto itself and almost immediately has more detail than can be rendered in the size of tile I will be using.

Drawings As Maps To Nowhere

Overdrawing the details is just part of the problem. The more time spent drawing a pattern, the more likely the artist is to try to hold to it religiously rather than improvising more freely with the tile when needed. This makes the actual mosaic work more tedious than it needs to be, and it can result in awkward results when you attempt a detail in a way that doesn’t take into account the work lines of the tile or what shapes are being used or some other aspect of the tile.

Staying true to carefully rendered patterns can have you scraping off gluey tiles and redrawing the detail in a way that matches the flow of the tile –or pulling tiles off your mesh, mounting tape, or tile paper. I call this mistake “Following the pattern into a detail that can’t be rendered,” and it can happen even when you work indirectly and lay the mosaic up in advance.

Of course, this doesn’t happen often on large mosaics where the tiles are tiny compared to the details being rendered, but for small mosaic plaques and icons, the resolution issue affects nearly every single tile.

How Patterns Should Be Used For Small Mosaic Images

Don’t be a slave to your pattern. Don’t let your pattern interfere with the tiling process and the rendering that happens there. The easiest way to do that is to not become emotionally invested in your pattern, and many artists cannot do this very well with their own drawings. Avoid the issue by using a photo or borrowed image as a starting point. Draw with tile, not a pencil.

Ethical Considerations?

The “Mosaic Coaster with Heart Design” shown above was made using a photo of an ox’s heart downloaded from Google Images as the pattern. Is there any doubt as to whether or not this mosaic is an original interpretation? Would anyone try to argue that it is a copy of the photo?

Look at the width of different features in terms of tile count. Most everything is one or two tiles wide. How would drawing the photograph help a novice make those design decisions? Wouldn’t a novice be better off improvising on a copy the photo itself? Wouldn’t anyone attempting to draw a meaningful pattern need an experienced eye for how the tile can be cut and arranged?

Choosing Mosaic Colors Based On Contrast

Recently artist Jill Miller emailed me wanting some advice about choosing colors for a mosaic table top she was making, and the design she was a chickadee bird with holly leaves and berries. From her photos and a description of the colors she wanted to use for the border of the round table top, it was obvious that she wanted to use muted colors instead of intense colors. I was happy to help. I thought her project was a great example for how to choose colors for backgrounds and making sure there was adequate contrast between the different elements.

Chickadee Mosaic Table Top

Chickadee design for mosaic table top with some candidates for background color. Note how the faint moss green selected for the holly leaf does not adequately contrast the underside of the bird. Notice how the same can be said of the muted brown tile directly under the bird. The orange tiles do contrast the bird, but it is problematic to have a background color that is more intense than the colors of the figure in the foreground. Also, cool colors are usually used for backgrounds because cool colors recede while warm colors come forward visually.

Whether muted colors or intense colors are used, it is still important for there to be contrast in the colors that define different elements, else the elements don’t stand out from one another.

TIP: You don’t have to glue tiles down to see if they are the right color. You don’t even have to position them carefully. Just spread them roughly where they should go, take a break, and then look at the mosaic later. The loose tiles will either contrast the image enough to make the figure stand out, or they won’t. Your fresh unbiased eyes won’t lie to you. Don’t try to rationalize a color that doesn’t work based on some design you have in mind. Listen to your art. Look at it and really see it.

Color Study Version 1

Mosaic Color Study Version 1

Mosaic Color Study Version 1 with intense green vitreous used for holly leaf. The problem with the vitreous green isn’t that the color is too intense but that it is grainy while the other colored tiles are glassy. Also, the green is a little more intense than the color scheme Jill had in mind.

Each work of art is just one version of many potential variations that could have been made with the same design. While it is not critical that you stay true to your original vision, it is important that you don’t have competing versions trying to exist in the same composition. The most important thing to stay true to is the design that is taking shape and making sure that color choices are internally consistent.

Color Study Version 2


Mosaic Color Study Version 2

Mosaic Color Study Version 2 with moss green for holly leaf. This more intense moss green still isn’t intense enough to adequately contrast the bird. Also, the color choices for the Chickadee are true to life, while this color green for a holly leaf is not. Again, colors don’t have to be true to life, but they do need to be internally consistent. A work of visual art can be a world unto itself, but it does need its own internal logic.

Color Study Version 3

Mosaic Color Study Version 3

Mosaic Color Study Version 3 with mint green for holly leaf. “Ah, said Goldilocks, this third bed is just right…” Notice how this mint green teal color has enough intensity to contrast the colors in the Chickadee yet still keeps with the artist’s vision of muted colors. I like it. The muted colors remind me of an Audubon print, and what could be more appropriate for a picture of a bird?

Wrong Color? All Is Not Lost.

Most beginners are so eager to begin work that they start gluing down tiles before they are sure they have the right color. Usually they don’t notice that they don’t really like the color until they have spent an hour or so mounting tiles in glue. If that happens, all is not lost. Put on some work gloves and safety glasses  and scrape up the tiles with a screw driver. Soak them in water to remove glue residue. If the glue has already hardened for several days, you may break some tiles while scraping them up. If so, use a vacuum to pick up sharp slivers. Moistening the tiles for 30 minutes with a cotton swab dipped in water can help soften glue, but it can also increase the risk of creating gouges and delaminations in plywood backers.

Color Wheels and Complementary (Contrasting) Colors

Color wheels are an artist’s tool for choosing complimentary colors, which are pairs of color “opposites” that provide maximum contrast to each other: red and green, orange and blue, yellow and purple. Those are the main pairs of opposites, but the hues in between also have opposites. For example: blue-green and red-orange. Color wheel charts position all of these opposites directly across the wheel from each other, which makes it easy to see what the optimal contrast would be for any given hue.

You can see some color wheels by searching Google for “color wheel” or “complimentary colors.” Some are more in depth than others. I like the ones that also show different options for value, which is the relative lightness or darkness of the color.

Intense Colors and Contrast

Contrasting colors are important because they make images stand out. Look at these great bird mosaics made by Phil Lamie’s elementary school students, Notice how these mosaic take full advantage of contrast between intense blues and warm oranges. Notice how the cool blues are usually in the background and the warm colors are in the figures in the foreground. In the case of the blue bird, notice how the blue in the bird in the foreground is more intense than the blue of the sky in the background. Value and intensity can be used to make foreground images stand out from backgrounds, as the blue bird mosaic demonstrates. All of these bird mosaics are visually striking because they follow basic rules of using color.



Mosaic Pizza Oven

Mosaic Fireplace and Oven Surrounds: The Basics

A couple of years ago, I wrote a page explaining how glass, ceramic, and stone tiles can be used for mosaic fireplace surrounds and how the tiles should be mounted with thinset mortar or white PVA (polyvinyl acetate) adhesives such as Weldbond. But we are talking about the SURROUNDS, not inside the firebox. For inside the firebox, your need to use refractory materials (brick or stone) that can resist combustion temperatures. For the hearth, the issue is not temperature resistance so much as impact resistance: It doesn’t make sense to use glass tiles that are easily cracked by a metal poker or small tiles that are easily knocked loose. Stylistic concerns should never outweigh performance and durability, else the work won’t look good for long.

Mosaic Pizza Oven

Mosaic Pizza Oven by artist Kristina Young with octopus tentacle motif. Seafood and sea life and undersea scenes were common themes of Roman mosaic.

Problems with a Mosaic Pizza Oven

Recently, artist Kristina Young emailed me concerning a problem she was having with a mosaic she installed on the outer surface of an Italian pizza oven. The problem was that the mosaic was cracking over the door of the oven, and that caused me some concern because that should not happen with traditional fireplaces and pizza ovens constructed with brick or stone, and I have been telling people for years that there was no reason why they could not put mosaics on these surfaces in spite of the heat. Had I overlooked some basic technical principle and made recommendations that could ruin hundreds of people’s projects? The engineer in me became completely paranoid, and I could not wait for Kristina to email me back with answers to my initial questions.

Spoiler Alert: The good news is that the cracking is reparable and that the cracking is by the iron frame of the oven door, not the masonry elements of the oven itself, which means that there is no reason to expect similar problems with traditional fireplaces and ovens that are made from all stone or brick or concrete.

The Case of the Cracking Mosaic

cracking mosaic detail

Detail shot showing crack in brand new mosaic covering the exterior of masonry pizza oven. The location of this crack is significant: It started  right above the iron frame of the oven door.

When Kristina first contacted me, she was concerned that the cracking might have been caused by heating the oven not long after the mosaic was completed. That is a potential issue because thinset mortar takes time to harden, and like concrete, it hardens by bonding moisture not by drying out. (Concrete, mortars, grouts, and other portland cement products will be soft and crumbly if they are dried out by heat or dried air. They need to incorporate the water mixed into them, not have it removed artificially.)

Humidify, Don’t Heat

I don’t think that the oven was heated prematurely or that premature heating caused the cracking. The crack is location specific, and if the mortar was artificially dried out before it could harden, then the problem would be seen all over the mosaic in the form of cracks and missing tiles. That being said, I would avoid heating fireplaces and ovens for several days after a mosaic has been applied to them and grouted. The usual practice is to run humidifiers near a new mosaic to protect them from AC or central heat –not build a fire under them!

Thermal Expansion

Except for the notable exception of ice, most materials expand when they are heated. (Water expands when it freezes, and that is why ice floats: it is less dense than the water beneath it.) The problem with thermal expansion is that materials expand at different rates, and metals like iron expand more rapidly than stone, brick, and concrete. Kristina had already told me that the crack started on the front of the oven just over the door, and so as soon as she sent me a picture of the oven showing that the door had an iron frame, it was obvious to me why the crack had started there: The glass and mortar mosaic expands at roughly the same rate as the brick and concrete oven underneath it, but the iron door frame and the other iron structural elements expand even faster. They push the mosaic up like a shell on the outside of the oven, and when the oven and frame cool back down and contract, the crack appears.

The Right Repair Materials

An “expansion joint” spontaneously forming in the middle of your mosaic might have most people panicking and thinking of repairing the crack with a flexible material such as caulk. Caulk is problematic because it will not age well. It will yellow and shrink and crack. It will look more and more like the synthetic material that it is, a material that looks out of place on tile, a material which does not age.

Grout could be used to fill the crack. After all, grout is the concrete product that is used to grout gaps between tiles in the first place. However, thinset mortar is a better choice because it is harder and tougher and more adhering than grout,, and it can tolerate slight displacement (movement) while grout cannot. In fact, it would have been best if the entire mosaic had been “grouted” with thinset. I suspect that heating and cooling the oven in cycles over time may cause other cracks to appear or reappear, and these should have thinset rubbed into them as needed. Hopefully any new cracks or reappearing cracks will be smaller, but in any case, thinset is better equipped to withstand the stresses of expanding and contracting than grout.

Mosaic crack repaired with thinset mortar

Mosaic crack being repaired with thinset mortar. The mortar is spread on and worked into the cracks and wiped off just like grout. Thinset is superior to grout because it is harder and tougher and can tolerate slight movement.

Aesthetics and Authenticity

Think of high-end restaurants in reclaimed urban warehouse spaces: the exposed beams, the plaster chipped away in places to reveal the stone walls underneath, the different architectural elements like fire doors and hoists deliberately left in place to call attention to the space’s past industrial use.

To me, one of the more interesting things you can see in the mosaics of Mexico and the Mediterranean basin are the repairs that have been made to these over the years following earthquakes and other damage. I’m not thinking of the repairs that were made in modern times by archaeologists or professional conservators sparing no expense to make the mosaic look as if the damage had never occurred. I’m thinking of repairs made in the distant past by inexpert hands or by people with limited access to materials. I’m thinking of repairs like mortar-filled voids and replacement tiles of not-quite-the-right color and how you can sometimes see a series of these inexact repairs apparently made at different times in response to different injuries. To me, these inexact repairs more than anything else give me a sense of how ancient the mosaics are and how much history they have witnessed, endured even: earthquakes, fires, wars with slings and arrows, wars with bullets and bombs.

A large part of the ethos of mosaic art is it being an enduring relic of the past. If I were wanting to design a mosaic to look like an old relic, I might consider deliberately including mortar-filled voids and cracks to simulate past damage or maybe re-mosaicing some of these regions with coarser tile. With that in mind, is a crack appearing in a new mosaic in an Italian or Mexican restaurant a problem or a windfall? I’m thinking not. I’m thinking of the kid who deliberately scuffs up his new baseball glove so that it doesn’t look the unused glove of a rookie.




Real 24kt Gold Mosaic Glass For Art

We now sell 24kt gold mosaic glass, and it really is gold and not the brass alloy imitation products that some competitors are rather shamefully selling as gold. We also sell the imitation gold brass foil glass. but we have it correctly labeled and appropriately priced.


Real 24 kt Gold Mosaic Glass

Real 24 kt Gold Mosaic Glass

The real 24 kt gold glass is molded tiles and have the bevels on the sides like vitreous glass tile, while the imitation brass foil tiles are hand cut and have flat sides. The real gold mosaic is superior to most of what I see on the market because the our gold leaf is fused into the FACES of the glass instead of being laminated on the bottom of a piece of glass. Our gold is inside the glass, but is close to the top surface and makes the tiles look AMAZING!

Mini 3/8-Inch Gold Mosaic

We also have these in the 3/8-inch MINI size. They look like little jewels, maybe earrings missing their studs!

Gold Mosaic Glass 10mm Wavy

Gold Mosaic Glass 10mm Wavy is real 24 kt gold fused into the surface of the glass.

Smooth Gold Mosaic Available Too

We have smooth gold glass in addition to wavy tiles. and we have them in both 3/8-inch and 3/4-inch sizes.

Gold Mosaic Glass 20mm Smooth

Gold Mosaic Glass 20mm Smooth is real 24 kt gold fused into the surface of the glass.

An Economical Alternative

We carry the Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass at competitive prices, but unlike some of our competitors, we sell them as what the really are and do not try to pass them off as counterfeits. They are a great material in their own right.

Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass 20mm Wavy

Imitation Gold Mosaic Glass 20mm Wavy is brass leaf fused under glass.