Four Elements Garden Mosaic

“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
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.
Four Elements Path Mosaic
Tobin and Eve’s Four Elements Path Mosaic
  • The composition as a whole is spectacular in the literal sense of the word. The mosaic is large too:  The circle is six feet in diameter and the side panels are two feet in width.
  • The individual scenes for each element (water, earth, wind, and fire) are are conceptually different instead of being variations of the same design. This makes a statement: Each element is unique
  • The mosaic is outdoors and integrated with the landscape.

That last one is particularly impressive, considering that the composition was executed by a first-time mosaic artist over a long period of time and that the design was worked out organically as he went along. Yet the results are on par with that of a professional artist.

Mosaic Snake
Mosaic Snake

Tobin got help from his wife Eve with sketching the cartoons and working out the color flow of the compositions, and he said that his patient execution made them a good team. I agree.

Mosaic Turtle Red-Eared Slider
Mosaic Turtle Red-Eared Slider

I also agree with Tobin’s observation that the slow extended pace of design and execution made this project much different than it would have been if produced in intense 8-hour sessions.

Mosaic Muse with Flute and Bird
Mosaic Muse with Flute and Bird

Outdoor Mosaic Methods

I originally wrote an article about Tobin’s improvised method and how he laid up things on mesh after originally transferring to tape. That is an extra step that isn’t necessary.

I mount directly from mosaic mounting tape into thinset mortar.

I avoid gluing mesh underneath tiles for outdoor mosaics and wet mosaics because the glue is water soluble and a potential weak point. The mosaic is more durable if the bottom of the tile is completely covered with mortar, at least in theory. (If you keep your glue to a minimum and don’t cover the whole bottom of the tile, then it isn’t likely to make much difference.)

TIP: If you thoroughly seal your finished grouted mosaic with a tile and grout sealer from the building material store, you can greatly increase a mosaic’s durability no matter how it was laid up.

Tobin and I both put contact paper over our patterns with the sticky side up and arrange our tile on that.

Here is my method for putting contact paper on top of a pattern with sticky side up. Then I pick the arranged tile up with mosaic mounting tape (or packing tape if I am out) and press them into mortar.

Mosaic Oriole on Sunflower
Mosaic Oriole on Sunflower

Tobin preferred to lay up his figures on mesh and then arrange them in a collage to work out the larger compositions in different areas of the mosaic. You can do the same thing with figures laid up under mosaic mounting tape because the tape is clear. I love that Tobin improvised his own method originally and just got to work and that he used collage to figure out compositions. That is how I work.

Mosaic Swallowtail Caterpillar
Mosaic Swallowtail Caterpillar







7 responses to “Four Elements Garden Mosaic”

  1. Ali Avatar

    Tobin did a beautiful job. I know it was a lot of work, but it was worth it in the end.

  2. Alette Avatar

    This is such an amazing project! He (and his wife) are wonderful artists. It was helpful to hear about the method he used to create such a large-scale project. I have read several of your posts and was wondering if you could make it a habit to describe what material is used. I am a new mosaic artist and can’t tell from the pictures what type of tile is used in the various projects. I have only used stained glass in my projects. This looks like it is cut from larger irregular pieces but I thought you couldn’t walk on stained glass. So I can’t tell what material is used in this project. Or is it ceramic tile? Pardon my ignorance! I really appreciate your website. Thanks!

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Alette,

      Thanks for reminding me! I had intended to include a section in the article explaining how this very detailed mosaic was made from “ordinary” vitreous glass tile, which is much underrated by novices who think they need smalti or stained glass or some other premium material in order to make anything sophisticated. A quick glance at Tobin’s mosaic or any of the fine art mosaics and murals made from vitreous proves that isn’t the case. Note that Tobin made the vitreous look like pieces of smalti merely by cutting the tiles in half. Mixing different brands of vitreous can expand the color palette available for your project. You can also use different types of glass tile in a project to expand the color palette even further.

      1. Alette Avatar

        Thank you for your speedy response. That really expands the number of colors possible. I was struggling with too few colors and now a whole new world has opened up. I can’t wait to try the vitreous tiles. Thank you so much!

  3. clairedivas Avatar

    Amazing artwork with mosaics, well-described.

  4. Sara Mayo Avatar
    Sara Mayo

    This is absolutely breathtaking! I am doing research for a public art proposal and am loving this website. I have a question about the tiles used…some of them look longer than 3/4″ vitreous glass tiles snipped in half into rectangles. Do vitreous glass tiles come larger than 3/4″, or did Tobin use something else for the background areas? Thank you.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      I believe it all 3/4-inch vitreous glass tile.

      I strongly recommend you make a small mosaic with the materials you are considering before deciding what materials and methods you will use on the public art project. It saves a lot of time and frustration and grief.

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