Historically, mosaic icons were made with traditional materials like smalti, marble, and gold leaf glass. Those traditional mosaic materials might be preferred if you are trying to make a reproduction that looks historically accurate, but they are more expensive and more difficult to work with.
Do You Need Smalti?
If you have any latitude in choosing your materials, remember that it is possible to make striking and realistic images using ordinary vitreous glass mosaic tile, which is both affordable and easy to work with.
Vitreous is the same thickness as the gold leaf glass we sell, and so you could still incorporate gold in your icon if you decided to nix the smalti and stone. In fact, it would be easier to use our gold leaf glass with vitreous than with the thicker smalti and stone.
You can make mosaic street numbers and signs using a grid, but mosaics made from irregular shapes of non-gridded tesserae are more interesting, especially if you use concentric andamento for the background surrounding the figures.
Sara Sommers emailed us some pictures of her mosaic street number plaque, and it is made from cut pieces of tile in strongly contrasting colors. It is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of making a piece with large mosaic letters or numerals.
For starters, Sara uses strong color contrast between her numerals and background, which is critical for making eye-catching art. She also uses multiple related colors and variegated patterns instead of solid monochromatic color fields. Continue reading
Mosaic is a great medium for beginners because it is accessible for people who don’t have much confidence in their ability to draw. Images can be rendered merely by arranging tile by trial and error until you like what you see.
Of course it helps to have a simple outline or pattern of the image you want to create, but you can easily create mosaic patterns without drawing, and you can easily transfer the pattern by tracing. You can also enlarge a pattern using only a ruler and pencil to draw grids.
Artist Debbie Watson emailed me some photos of her work and described herself as a newbie, saying that she has only been doing mosaic “since about February,” but it is fair to say that she has spent some time looking at mosaic art and thinking about what she would like to make.
Debbie’s mosaics have interesting elements and personality in spite of being relatively simple designs, and that is no small thing. Continue reading
Natalija decided to test some materials and methods by putting our street number on the loading dock of the warehouse. Her method was to lay 3/4-inch vitreous tile in a mounting grid, but she put them in upside down and laid a sheet of fiberglass mesh on them and used one drop of silicone adhesive on each tile to attach the mesh. My method would be to lay the tiles in the grid right side up and pick up the design with mosaic mounting tape. Continue reading
Artist Jill Gatwood uses the following method to make water-resistant foam-core mosaic backers for exterior mosaics, such as the Pet Memorial Name Plaques she does for clients who need something that is lighter weight and easier to ship than stone or solid concrete. The method wraps the foam in three or four successive layers of fiberglass mesh and thinset mortar, and that coating is pretty tough, tougher than stone. (The combination of polymer-modified cement and fiberglass can withstand blows that would easily crack granite of the same thickness.) Continue reading
For people wanting to make a portrait of their furry friend, I wrote an article on pet memorial mosaics using April Costigan’s work as illustrations of what is possible in terms of capturing likeness. The problem is that for many people, the task of rendering a realistic portrait of their pet is beyond their current skill level.
Fortunately, it is possible to make a pet memorial mosaic without the pet’s portrait and still make it personalized and specific to that pet. For example, instead of attempting an image of your pet, consider spelling their name in mosaic and making the surrounding area significant in terms of colors and found objects. More on that later.
Artist Jill Gatwood emailed us some pictures of some pet memorial name plaques that she has made, and they are good examples of the visual interest that can be created in the background with patterns of contrasting colors. I wanted to show these off because I think people who aren’t confident in their ability to draw will be inspired to make their own versions. Continue reading
Artist Jill Gatwood has emailed me her procedure for using GE Silicone II to mount mosaic tile to steel mailboxes, and it is outlined below.
Jill’s instructions have convinced me that there are enough mosaic applications for silicone adhesive that we should sell it. Note that we still recommend thinset mortar or Weldbond for mosaics on architectural surfaces such as backsplashes, but for projects such as mosaic mailboxes or glass-on-glass mosaics, silicone adhesive is preferred.
Jill’s steel mailbox instructions are fairly complete and include recommendations for purchasing the right type of mailbox for the project and modifying it as needed.
Steel Mailbox Instructions
1. Selecting The Mailbox
Jill says that a steel mailbox from the big box home improvement stores or a hardware store will work but you have to check it and make sure the metal is strong and doesn’t flex. (In practical terms, this means you should buy the mid-grade or premium model and not the one made for the bottom of the market.)
Jill recommends getting one that has ribs to strengthen the frame if you need an XL size mailbox. Continue reading
“Amateur” artist Tobin recently completed his Four Elements garden mosaic, and it is amazing for several reasons, the least of which is the fact that it was created over a span of six years with the artist getting up at 5 am to spend 45 minutes on it before leaving for his day job in corporate project management.
Here’s what I find impressive about Tobin’s mosaic:
Mosaic Swallowtail Butterfly. Note the uniformity of the grout gap in the background, which is as impressive as the detail in the butterfly.
- Each figure is well executed with a level of detail and precision that is remarkable. An experienced artist following a digitally generated pattern couldn’t do much better if at all. Continue reading
Artist Jen Vollmer recently completed a shower mosaic which features fish and flowing water executed in the same colors as the surrounding mosaic tiling. Jen says that in retrospect, she wishes she would have used a darker grey grout and blue/green glass tiles instead of the light blue, which would have increased the contrast.
I’m partial to intense colors and strong contrast, and those are required for an image to be eye-catching, but what struck me about Jen’s mosaic was that it is subtle in a professional way, integrated with the existing tile work and intentionally calculated to not stand out too strongly.
It was almost as if a client had commissioned the work and said, “Make the design figurative and naturalistic and have its own flowing andamento, but make it also integrate visually with the grids of tile that it runs through, and do that as seamlessly as possible.” Continue reading
It’s EXTREMELY important to allow yourself to do creative projects on impulse without overthinking it. The reason is simple: research tends to kill the creative urge, at least for most people. Research can become an end in itself and go on to long and kill enthusiasm or the window of opportunity is lost.
Research can also give you problematic information and expectations for several reasons:
- Advice isn’t one-size-fits-all, especially artistic advice.
- People forget that the examples they are looking at were made by masters or that the advice was written for professional results of a particular criteria that isn’t relevant.
- Corruption of the original vision. Usually creative ideas evolve and grow by incorporation, but sometimes new inputs can overwhelm and kill the dreamlike essence of the original inspiration. Sometimes too many ideas and possibilities occur to the artist, who is then unable to choose one and focus on it.
Instead of naively charging in like a kid playing and learning through play, adults tend to want to reduce the process to executing a known procedure as much as possible. That really isn’t art, at least not in the experiential sense for the artist.
All that being said, it’s also important to not waste expensive materials and to not produce something that falls apart quickly because you didn’t take the time to look up a few basics. Continue reading