Mosaic Bird Bath

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lyn Richard’s mosaic bird bath at home in her garden.

21 thoughts on “Mosaic Bird Bath

  1. Cris DeHart

    Hi …getting ready to grout my bird bath. What is the best way to “buff” the grout residue off? And when sealing, aren’t you supposed to keep the sealant on the grout and not the glass? Another piece I did showed the excess sealant on the glass and it was quite difficult to clean off. Thanks for your help!

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      Hi Cris,

      We always remove the haze by buffing with wet rags and then dry rags. We seal with Tile and Grout Sealers that are invisible pore seals that wipe on (over everything) and then wipe off.

      It sounds like you aren’t buffing and rubbing enough in both steps.

      I hope this helps,

      Reply
      1. Cris DeHart

        I have Miracle Grout Sealer which I believe is the invisable pore sealer you describe. It says wipe off excess after 3-5 minutes. Should I use a wet rag first then a dry rag? And again for a second coat?

        Reply
        1. Joe Moorman Post author

          Hi Cris,
          I use a dry rag for wiping off excess tile and grout sealer. I don’t want to add moisture because the sealer cures by drying out.
          Thanks

          Reply
  2. KAREN R ATKINS

    Where did you purchase your plain bird bath components? I am having difficulty finding anything plain.

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      Hi Karen,

      If you can find a place that carries cement yard sculptures, you should have several styles to choose from. Search Google for “concrete lawn sculptures” + plus the names of nearby larger towns.

      I hope this helps!

      Reply
  3. Cindy

    Can I mosaic on a ceramic bird bath without issue?? I would be using all glass tiles, etc.
    Ceramic bird baths are much cheaper than concrete.
    Should or do I need to “rough up” the surface before applying tiles?
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      Hi Cindy,
      I think you could do so with no problem because the vulnerable ceramic will be totally encased. Roughing it up is problematic because glazes sometimes contain heavy metals. You could wet-sand it using a piece of coarse-grit sanding belt from a belt sander replacement belt. Those last forever and don’t fall apart like sandpaper and can be used wet. You might not need to scuff it as all. You could test by cementing on a tile with thinset and seeing how well it sticks by scraping it off after 3+ days. If you do wet-sand, do it on a disposable drop cloth where you can contain and dispose of the dust.
      I hope this helps!

      Reply
  4. Marie Drouet

    I love this birdbath. Thank you for sharing this post. I have two question:

    Is there a need or benefit to sealing the cement prior to using the thinset mortar to adhere the tiles? Since this is a birdbath (thus constantly wet) and the cement is so porous, isn’t there greater need to seal the cement? What if the base is terracotta? Is sealing necessary?

    What about painting the cement or terracotta first, before applying tiles? I may want to do this to give a different color-backing under glass tiles, or I may only tile the top bowl, leaving the pillar a complimentary color. What paint can be used (oil, acrylic, other?). Is primer needed? Are there additional steps needed to be sure the tiles adhere properly? Thank you, and great post.

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      Hi Marie,
      Thanks! Sealants and paints on the base would only interfere with the thinset mortar getting a good bond and should be avoided.

      Reply
  5. Sue Rose

    Joe, I just spent a lot of time creating a birdbath that is a shrine for my lost loves, including my son who died at the age of 8. I was stupidly following what must have been an inexperienced mosaicist’s post by using tub and tile adhesive for the tesserae and prized possessions I included in the piece.

    Now that I’m ready to seal the birdbath, I’ve found out I should have used thinset. Can I continue, using a sealer anyway? I will be destroyed if this piece falls apart, as it is more than art to me.

    I bought Thompson’s WaterSeal multisurface waterproofer, because I need to be careful with costs. I checked your blog to see if the sealer would work and found out that my adhesive may not work!
    Help?

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      Hi Sue,

      I am so sorry to hear that. Is the mosaic grouted? If so, what type of grout? Please let me know the brand of tub and tile adhesive. The mosaic might be OK depending on what you used.

      Thanks,

      Reply
  6. Kym

    Is this bird bath considered safe for birds, if filled with water? I want to do something similar, but am concerned about toxicity.

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      Hi Kym,
      Concrete and glass are safe for holding water. People sometimes put pennies in bird baths so that the copper kills the algae, but that is toxic for birds.
      To avoid creating a nursery for mosquito larva, the water in a bird bath should be changed daily.

      Reply
  7. Bobbie Ingersoll

    How much would a mosaic bird bath like the one picture above with the blue Irises cost?
    Am looking at bird baths for a birthday gift for my daughter.

    Reply
  8. Jody Choate

    I am brand new to this and am wondering why it’s necessary to use thinset as opposed to an appropriate adhesive for outdoors? I recently watched a video about doing concrete mosaic stepping stones, and they used adhesive. Is thinset better because this is a birdbath?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Joe Moorman Post author

      There is a massive amount of craft instructions online that are incorrect or not concerned with durability. Many people are merely showing you how they improvised something and their methods don’t take best practices into account.

      I am an engineer with a masters degree, and I have worked in a materials testing lab. I recommend materials and methods with archival properties.

      Thinset mortar is probably safer for the birds, and so that is another reason to stick to the pro methods instead of improvising.

      Reply
  9. Lori

    Is there any benefit to sealing the birdbath top with marine epoxy after it is all finished? That would protect the birds from any sharp edges and there would be no question that it had a water tight seal.

    Thanks so much for the detailed information you have already provided.

    Reply

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