The pattern for a mosaic is sometimes referred to as a cartoon because it is just an outline with no attempt at shading or color. The purpose of the cartoon is merely to map out the major work lines and color fields, and so the cartoon is relatively simple, even for photorealistic work. The texture and color mottling and finer details come from the tile.
Simplified Yet Exact
The cartoon is not required to have all the lines needed to create an image, but what lines it does have should be exact. For example, you shouldn’t try to draw all the flecks of color in the iris of an eye, but you should have that iris drawn exactly where it goes.
When producing photorealistic mosaic portraits, artists rely on a photograph and refer to it continually as they work to get finer transitions of color right. The cartoon drawn on the mosaic backer allows the artist to get completely immersed in the finer details of the model and still make sure everything ends up in the correct place.
But I Can’t Draw!
You do NOT have to be able to draw to make sophisticated patterns for mosaics.
Scan your photograph into the computer and use a program such as Photoshop (or one of the many freeware drawing programs) to trace line over the image. Do this tracing as a separate layer and then delete the layer with the photograph. With minimal effort, you will have produced an exact pattern. This can be done in 5 to 10 minutes.
TIP: If you aren’t familiar with software like Photoshop, remember that most teenagers and twenty-somethings are. There isn’t any reason to struggle or get frustrated.
If you are only using the photograph as a rough starting point and you want to deviate from it, you should read my article How to Make Mosaic Patterns Without Drawing.
I have an article about using carbon transfer paper under a printout of a photograph to Transfer Mosaic Patterns Quickly by Tracing.
If you want to avoid the computer, and you are comfortable using a ruler to a create a grid over the image, you could follow the instructions in my article How to Enlarge a Mosaic Pattern or Drawing Using Only a Ruler. This article includes a specific example with illustrations.
Here is our general page for finding, transferring, and enlarging patterns.
Artist Donna Van Hooser
Artist Donna Van Hooser is obviously as skilled a teacher as she is an artist, which is saying quite a bit. You can see this for yourself if you compare her students’ work at her Facebook page for Sundog Mosaics with her own work at her Instagram page for Sundog Mosaics.
Donna says she draws the “maps” (cartoon patterns) for her students prior to the class and then she has them compare the map to the photo that was used to create it, and they discuss what is important in the photo and where to use artistic license to make the image a better mosaic.
That last point is very important. Never be a slave to the model and always remember that landscape painters routinely move things around to make better compositions.
Pet Memorial Mosaics
Based on what I see, anyone who needs a pet portrait or a memorial mosaic should contact Donna, no matter if you want to commission her to make it or make it yourself in a class with her supervision.
Keep in mind that outdoor mosaics should be mounted on concrete or stone or foam-core tile backer board instead of wood. You can lay up a mosaic over a paper pattern and then pick it up with Mounting Tape using this method. Then the mosaic could be mounted to the appropriate backer using thinset mortar.