Mosaic Coasters by Joe Moorman, progress photo 2022-05

Small Mosaics Update

I have been making some small mosaics on our bamboo mosaic coaster backers, and I wanted to share a photo of the collection so far and talk about some more advantages of working in a series of smalls.

Each of these coasters will be a “tile” that is used in a large sculpture that is in the form of a framed altarpiece with a small door at the center. An altarpiece is a backdrop for an altar or sacred relic. The wall in which the door is set is tiled with these coasters and makes up most of the area of the flat altarpiece.

I’m thinking I will use the sculpture as a removable cover for my generically-tiled fireplace. Then I could make a little art shrine in front of that, nothing elaborate, mostly found-object curios for my cats to knock over.

The whole assembly will be called the Doorway of Curiosity. It will be fun to hear what little kids ask about it. I’ll put the dinosaur bones and gold ore in front of it.


Back to the advantages of a series of smalls.

Many Are Called

“Many are called, but few are chosen.”

Not all of these mosaics will make the cut and end up on my sculpture, and that is a very good thing.

Being able to take a risk and try something different without being committed to using the results is very liberating.

I will use most of these coasters as tiles for my sculpture, the vast majority in fact, but I can tell right now that the cat mosaic won’t be used. It doesn’t have the right mood. The cat looks sad and scared. That’s not the right feel for a doorway of curiosity.

If you design a larger project built from small studies, you put yourself in the position of being able to use only the best of what you make for the actual project.

Art Versus Real Life

My mind never designs just one version of anything. My mind spends a lot of time detailing alternative versions even though they won’t be the version I actually make.

I think this problem is shared by a lot of visual artists and creative makers.

Small works help me with that overwhelming feeling of having more ideas than time. For me, that feeling can strike pretty hard if I am working on a larger project that keeps getting interrupted by real life.

We all have periods when life stuff gets out of hand and studio time is limited.

How do you keep working on your art during the busier periods in your life?

The beauty of working in a series of smalls is that they can be completed in shorter studio sessions, sessions that might be frustratingly inadequate for a larger work.

Over the past twelve months, I rewired my house and worked on a ton of ecology projects and did a lot of maintenance that I had put off over the pandemic.

Choosing this series of small mosaics as the art project for this busy period was the right thing for me.

When I was younger, I noticed that busy periods resulted in more frustration with my art because I would suddenly find myself binging on a project that had exploded out of my mind.

Those passion projects that explode out of nowhere like that usually aren’t small or practical. It’s better to conceive of projects that can accommodate time limitations, and a series of smalls does that.

Mosaic Coasters by Joe Moorman with the artist's toes
Mosaic Coasters by Joe Moorman with the artist’s toes and the spot where I spilled stuff last week.

Photographing Your Artwork

It’s fairly easy to make catalog-worthy photos of your artwork, even with a smartphone, which is how I made these photos (Samsung Galaxy 8).

Take at least one photo with the camera pointed directly at the artwork. Don’t photograph two-dimensional artwork from an angle so that it is foreshortened in some way.

Don’t photograph your artwork indoors under yellow artificial light.

Here’s how you do it.

  • Photograph your artwork outside, but not in direct or saturated sunlight. Late afternoons and overcast days are good.
  • Lay your artwork flat on the ground and photograph it straight down. Use a stepladder if needed.
  • Make sure that there is a straight gap of background showing all the way around the artwork. If the gaps run at an angle to the edge of the artwork, then the camera isn’t being held perfectly perpendicular to the artwork.







12 responses to “Small Mosaics Update”

  1. Maggie Donson Avatar
    Maggie Donson

    I like this idea very much! I have been wanting to do a mosaic for the wall outside my front door and I’ve been putting it off because of the size I want! Doing it in small tiles and joining them up sounds like the perfect answer. I will eagerly await your follow up stages…

  2. Maggie Donson Avatar
    Maggie Donson

    Would these tiles be OK on the outside wall of a house? It would be under cover in Florida?

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      NO. Wood cannot be used outdoors as a mosaic backer. Buy some 4 inch tiles and use those as backers.

  3. Sharon Tepe Avatar
    Sharon Tepe

    I like the idea of small pieces. I had to pack up my studio, because we are trying to find a house and move. The studio, a converted bedroom, needs to be converted back. I still need to do something. So small works like this I might be able to do in a tight space, such as a storage room.

  4. Hannah Gelman Avatar
    Hannah Gelman

    Love your smalls!
    Have you ever tried doing a big project in steps as a series of subassemblies that can then be fitted together (sort of like how jigsaw puzzle pieces make one large picture, but not necessarily interlocking)? Will this work? I am thinking this might be the way I can finally start the large project that has seemed too intimidating in the past.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Hannah,

      The answer is yes. Every mosaic mural of an size is laid up on mesh or tape cut into 1 square foot sections, and those have to mesh seamlessly with the gap between sheets the same width as the grout gap. If you don’t need that level of integration, you have even more latitude.

  5. Priscilla Perkins Avatar

    These examples are so helpful! As a college teacher, I don’t have the time to work on mosaics during the school year, so I save my ideas for the summer. Even then, I “work small” on 8″x8″ plywood boards that I buy as scrap from woodworkers. I agree that “working small” is liberating! [Some of my mosaic work is on instagram, where I post as thimble_rigger.]

  6. L Avatar

    I want to see the final fireplace cover! Thanks for the idea of smalls. I tend to do two or three biggers at a time – slowly…

  7. ron dieckman Avatar
    ron dieckman

    I am remodeling my bathroom and am making my own base boards and back splashes on 4×4 ceramic tiles. The base boards are a Greek copy. Back splashes are my own design as well as a design around the mirror. Not as creative as what you’re doing but I’m still enjoying it.

  8. Nyssa Thomassen Avatar
    Nyssa Thomassen

    I know it says that these are for coasters, but can they actually be used as coasters once I’ve done a mosaic on them? Do I need to glaze the grout (I work exclusively with glass tiles) or can it be left as-is for use with beverages?

    1. Natalija Moss Avatar
      Natalija Moss

      The main concerns with glass tile on a wood coaster is making sure the wood doesn’t swell from getting wet too often, and making sure the glass isn’t damaged by heavy mugs.

      When mosaicing a coaster, PVA glue such as Weldbond (or whichever brand you get locally) can be applied in a layer around the whole coaster and its sides and allowed to dry before applying tiles. Weldbond isn’t water-tight, but it is water-resistant and should provide some protection against minor drips and spills or condensation. You can also use a tile and grout sealer on the grout after the grout has fully cured for a bit of extra added protection. Just don’t put these in a dish-washer!

      As for the glass, unless it’s completely decorative, try to make sure the pieces you use aren’t too small where the rim of a mug might chip them when it is placed on the coaster. It also may help to use more recycled glass than vitreous glass or stained glass because the recycled glass is more durable and less likely to crack or shatter.

  9. Patti Linnett Avatar

    When my mosaic partner and I are between major projects, we keep our creative juices flowing by doing smalls. One year, our smalls were 12″x12″, each of us working towards a chosen theme. We called it our “Twelve 12x12s in 12 (months).”

    Currently, we are creating 6″x6″ smalls, with the constraint of using mirror and a particular blue tile we chose, along with any other materials. We’ll end up with 24 smalls that we’ll incorporate into one piece.

    It’s fun way to keep producing mosaics as well as to keep experimenting with design and materials.

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