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.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 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.Work In Progress photo of “The Lecher” Mosaic shows the pattern drawn directly on the backer.
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 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 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 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.
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 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. 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. Imagine how bright the orange and yellow sun was before Freeze Meister blasted it and flaked off the color!
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 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 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 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.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.
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.
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 Southern 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:
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.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.
Fredrik Tigerstrom (“T29ART” on Instagram) has made some impressive mosaic portraits of rock icons David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer, and Tom Waits. These mosaics are worth sharing for several reasons, and not merely because they are faithful renderings of famous people. Yes, these mosaics are “accurate” in terms of capturing individual likeness, and that is an accomplishment most any artist would be proud of, but what makes them noteworthy is that the artist was able to achieve this verisimilitude in spite of using arbitrary colors (not flesh tones) and using whole uncut tiles in a rigid grid pattern. Also, the total number of tiles in each mosaic is relatively low (29 x 29)! To fully appreciate how successful these mosaics are, look at them at a distance or at low resolution.David Bowie Aladdin Sane Mosaic David Bowie Aladdin Sane Mosaic Portrait by Fredrik Tigerstrom is shown uninstalled and still in the black plastic mounting grid used to lay up the design.
A mosaic design laid up in a plastic mounting grid can be picked up using mounting paper or mounting tape (or clear packing tape if you are on a budget). All of these portraits were made with 10mm (3/8 inch) glass mosaic tile.Joe Strummer Mosaic Joe Strummer Mosaic Portrait was made without a grout gap, but note the white shining through from the backer which illustrates an important point: Tiles cannot be placed so closely that no gap exists. That is why you should leave a usable gap that can be grouted if you need to seal out water. Yes, this mosaic could be grouted to eliminate the white backer from shining through, but the places where the tiles touch will not seal out water because grout can’t fit between them.
The gridded patterns used in Fredrik’s mosaics are the exact opposite of the flowing contours I like to use in my artwork, but they are successful, and there is plenty of visual interest. The gridded patterns are also very hip because they resemble the pixels of digital images, and this calls attention to the fact that these are contemporary interpretations of an ancient medium.Bruce Springsteen Mosaic Bruce Springsteen Mosaic is still in the mounting grid used to lay out the design, and you can see the mounting tape or contact paper that Fredrik is using to pick up the design and mount it.
Note how the black plastic grid lines between the tiles make the colors more vibrant. That is why we recommend medium gray and black grouts instead of white and lighter colors. If you do make a dry indoor mosaic and use a light color grout and are unhappy with it, you can rub artists acrylic paint on the mosaic, which will stick to the porous grout and wipe off the glass tile. Using acrylic paint, you can go from white grout, which makes colors look bleached out, to a dark umber or black, which makes colors look more rich.Tom Waits Mosaic Tom Waits Mosaic Flesh Tones Required?
The mosaics above are successful in spite of not using skin tones, but most portraiture is rendered using natural colors. For that reason, we get many emails from people asking which tile is our best light pink or coffee color for making skin tones, depending on which ethnicity they are trying to portray. My answer usually vexes people because it is not the simple one-color solution they were expecting.
Even if you are trying to work as photorealistically as possible, you don’t need (or want) one color that best approximates a particular person’s skin tone or even their ethnicity in general. The reason you want multiple colors is that uniform color fields are boring, and you want to vary the color to create visual interest and to render light and shadow. The best example we have of this on our website is Harjeet Singh Sandhu’s work at the bottom of our mosaic portraits page. Harjeet’s portraits on that page really are worth studying if you are planning to make a mosaic portrait yourself and have concerns about color accuracy.
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 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 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
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.
In my article Stained Glass Mosaic Art, I explained how stained glass can be cut up into small pieces and used like conventional tesserae or cut larger and used to define entire elements as is done in a stained glass window. In the window mode of working, one single piece of variegated glass is used to render an element, say a tree trunk for example, and whatever shading or detail is provided by the swirls or bands in the glass. Contrast that with conventional mosaic mode, where the shading or detail is built from different pieces of glass, and together they render the tree trunk.
The objection to working in the conventional mosaic mode is that most artists don’t want to lose all the visual interest of the swirls of color by cutting them up. Canadian artist Lorna Ball demonstrates that it is possible to use stained glass cut up into small tiles and not lose the visual interest provided by the variegated colors of the glass.Grey Owl mosaic by Artist Lorna Ball demonstrates that mosaic is a fine art where individual style can be expressed as fully as in painting.
Note the bark on the trees in the mosaic below. Sure, a single piece of swirled glass could be used for the trunks, but could any swirling no matter how beautiful capture the texture and dimension of the bark facets as well as Ball’s separate slivers of different colors do?Up Through The Trees mosaic by Lorna Ball captures the essence of looking up from the forest floor. You can almost hear the birds up above in the canopy.
Lorna’s work also demonstrates an important point about using stained glass cut up into small tile: just because the tile is cut up small, it doesn’t have to be cut up into similar shapes and sizes. Notice in the mosaic below how the black tiles in the branches of the trees are completely different in shape and proportion from the white tiles in the tree trunks and from the yellow tiles that render the leaves:Autumn Trees mosaic by Lorna Ball makes successful use of different shaped tesserae.
The slender black tiles used for tree branches might make you wonder if the conventional mosaic style and the conventional stained glass style can be hybridized, and the answer is a qualified yes. For example, the above scene would have looked odd if the leaves of the canopy and forest floor were rendered in their tiny tiles and the tree trunks were replaced with single pieces of swirled glass. There has to be stylistic integrity throughout the composition, or the odd element will stick out like a sore thumb. The styles are simply too different. Look at the following mosaic by Natalija Moss as a reminder of how different these two stylistic modes are:The Major mosaic by Natalija Moss.
What if the blue strips of the background were rendered in smaller blue tiles in a conventional mosaic manner? Could the face still be composed from large pieces? No, the background would have more visual detail than the figure in the foreground, which is the exact opposite of what is needed to make the figure stand out from the background.
Artist Lyn Richards sent me some pictures of the mosaic bird bath she made this past summer, and it is worth showing off. The floral design and the colors used in the mosaic were inspired by Van Gogh’s painting “Irises.”Mosaic bird bath by artist Lyn Richards makes good use of contrasting colors and a Van-Gogh-inspired floral design that help integrate the bird bath with its surroundings. Note the use of an ordinary concrete stepping stone as a footing/base to keep the mosaic work separated from the soil. This is recommended because the acids in decaying organic matter slowly rot stone, concrete and grout. Material List for a Mosaic Birdbath Concrete Base
To make a mosaic bird bath such as this, you could use a ready-made concrete bird bath from a lawn and garden center, or you could make an original concrete sculpture if you are looking for something with a less conventional shape. Lyn used a ready-made concrete bird bath that came in two sections: a base column and a bowl.Thinset Mortar and Tools
Thinset mortar should be used instead of adhesive for attaching the tile. A complete list of tools and materials for mixing thinset and for applying it is given in my instructions for using thinset mortar with glass tile. (Note the instructions were written for doing extremely detailed work, so I might make thinset seem much more difficult to use than it really is.) I have also written a page for how to keep your hands clean when using thinset.Glass Mosaic Tile
Glass mosaic tile in non-porous and so water can’t get inside it and freeze and crack it all to pieces. This makes glass superior to stone and ceramic tile when used outdoors. You can use any of the glass we sell. Lyn’s mosaic was made from different brands of 3/4 inch vitreous glass tile, metallic glass tile. iridescent glass, and stained glass.
To find out how much tile you need, you can divide your shape into component surfaces and use our mosaic tile estimator. What do I mean by component surfaces? For estimation purposes, Lyn’s bath can be thought of as cylinder topped by a disk. The surface area of the cylinder is A = D*Pi*H, where D is the diameter, and Pi is 3.14, and H is the height. The surface area of the disk is A = Pi/4*D*D. Note that this time D is the diameter of the bowl and not the pedestal base. Remember to multiply the surface area of the disk by a factor of 2 because there is a top and a bottom.
As always, remember to inflate your estimate by 5 to 10% to account for cutting scrap and to provide a cushion for error in your estimates. I have always found that it is much better to have tile left over than it is to not have enough. Suppliers sell out from time to time, and the next manufacturer batch might not match what you already have, or at least match exactly. Also, leftover tile serves as inspiration and material for future projects.Finding and Transferring Patterns
Lyn used Van Gogh’s painting “Irises” for her pattern. She drew the outline of the shapes (blades and petals) onto the concrete using a pencil, and then she went over that drawing with a black Sharpie marker when she was sure she had her lines correct. This is recommended: Don’t use the marker until I work out my lines by trial and error using a pencil. If your pencil drawing gets to be a mess and you need to start over, you can “erase” it by wet sanding it and wiping it off with a rag.To create a sense of depth and shading, Lyn used multiple shades and hues of green for the leaves of the irises instead of one color. Choice of Colors and Visual Interest
Note how Lyn used multiple shades and hues of green to make the blades of the iris leaves instead of using just one type of green. This creates shade and depth and visual interest and makes all the difference in the world. Monochromatic color fields are boring, and they take just as long to tile as a more interesting mix of colors. Note the solitary pea green blade of new growth and how it stands out from the other leaves, which are a mix of darker and bluer greens. Similarly, the petals of the irises are made from multiple cyan blues and ultramarine blues instead of one color, and this makes them more lifelike and more visually appealing.Andamento and Visual Interest
The background of a mosaic is an opportunity to add visual interest to the scene and should never be “bricked” up like the tiled wall of a shower. Andamento is the visual flow of a mosaic created by arranging the tile in rows, and it can make the background of your mosaic as visually interesting as the figures in the foreground.Lyn’s strong use of andamento creates a sense of motion in the background. When used to its full potential, andamento can make the background as interesting as any figure in the foreground, as demonstrated here.
Observe how Lyn used multiple related hues for the background instead of one color. Also note there is not a single whole tile mixed in with all these cut pieces. Why not? A uniform square would stick out like a sore thumb among all the irregular pieces.Cutting and Attaching the Tiles
Thinset is concrete that hardens over time. I can usually get three hours out of a batch, and I often work in sections, usually completing about 1 or 2 square feet per session, depending on how detailed my work is. Lyn found it useful to have her tile cut up in advance of a session, but you can always make incidental cuts as needed while you are attaching tile. Again, my thinset instructions explain the details of how to handle and use the mortar to attach tiles. Tip: partially crushed liquor boxes make great cradles for holding heavy pieces of stone and concrete while you tile them.Removing Sharp Edges
A marble file or a rubbing stone can by used before the tile is mounted to remove any sharp edges. After the tile is mounted, it is a little more difficult to remove sharp edges, but gently rubbing the surface of your mosaic with a rubbing stone can help a lot.Grouting
Before grouting, you should clean off any excess thinset from the face of the tiles. Scraping this off will also make any loose tiles fall off so that you can reattach them before grouting. You should wait a day or two before grouting to let the thinset harden. Black grout is best for making your colors stand out. Lyn used a combination of black, gray, and brown grouts, and she blended these to get the exact color she wanted. A few days after your grout hardens, you should buff all the grout haze off and seal the finished mosaic with multiple applications of a silicone-based tile and grout sealer, such as available at any building material store.Lyn Richard’s mosaic bird bath at home in her garden.