Grey Owl mosaic

Stained Glass as Mosaic Tile: A Question of Styles

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
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 art
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 art
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 art
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.






12 responses to “Stained Glass as Mosaic Tile: A Question of Styles”

  1. Victoria Seeber Avatar
    Victoria Seeber

    I have just completed my first mosaic. I purchased several books written by mosaic artists. Read many online help tutorials and spent a fair amount of money on supplies, and did much research before starting out. Still after all that I found very little helpful information on how to professionally finish the edges of a mosaic. One artist said that she uses thinset to coat the edges. Hmmm really? what a mess I had on my hands because the crumbled edges of the wonderboard that I used (suggested by several mosaic artists) was all crumbled and falling out of the board. Yuuck just cutting it almost made me quit. I finally poured weldbond glue in all the edges to seal it. Now what? I finally finished my mosaic which came out OK for the first one but no proper edges. Any detailed suggestions for edges ( except for plywood ) would be helpful. Pictures too. Thanks Victoria

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar


      How edges are finished depends on where a mosaic is installed and how large it is. I have used thinset mortar to harden the edges of small mosaic plaques made on concrete backer board, but you need to thoroughly wet the backer board first so that it doesn’t suck all the moisture out of the mortar as it is curing and make it crumbly. My preference for small plaques is to avoid concrete backer board and use a flat piece of flagstone as the base.

      I have used wooden molding of various profiles glued together to make frames around the edges of mosaics. A mitre saw is needed to cut the ends at 45 degrees.

      If you email me a picture, I can make a specific recommendation.


  2. Cynthia Miller Avatar
    Cynthia Miller

    I am at a loss on inspiration for creating a mosaic wall hanging for a bedroom in orange, red, and apple green colors using stained glass. I am in complete agreement with you — the patterns I see are so childish, boring and uninspiring. Unfortunately, I still need some type of pattern as I have been only doing this for a few months. I’m pretty good at this medium for a beginner — I have lots of help in our local studio. But please, where can I find something interesting for a pattern???

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman


      The best source of patterns is to make your own from online digital images for photos and for art in other mediums. That way you won’t be limited to cliche craft patterns. Google Images and Pinterest are great places to look, and you can search art by theme, subject matter, and style.

      Using a digital image for pattern is as easy as using a pattern you buy. I wrote another article about how to enlarge digital images when you transfer them to a larger surface.

      This article contains a short procedure for turning digital images into black and white line drawings and then using them for mosaic patterns.

      You can also tack clear contact paper over your drawing, arrange the tiles on the sticky contact paper, and then pick up the tiles using mosaic mounting tape (clear) or mounting paper (opaque) following these illustrated instructions: Using Contact Paper To Transfer A Mosaic Design.

      If your surface is small, you can use clear contact paper to arrange upside-down tile on top of a drawing or photo and then press the glue-covered surface onto the back of the mosaic design.

      I hope this helps!

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. Jennifer McVey Avatar
    Jennifer McVey

    Is it possible to used stained glass to create a design on a floor? If so, can you point me in the right direction for help? I have an indoor porch that is covered in ugly, green outdoor carpet them my mother never did anything with. I want to redo the room. Thank you.

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Jennifer,

      Stained glass is particularly vulnerable to damage by impact. It also tends to form sharper edges when cut or broken. I would not use it for flooring.


  5. Shanie Matthews Avatar
    Shanie Matthews


    Do you have any advice for using stained glass for mosaic on shower walls?

    Thank you,

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      Hi Shanie,
      You would definitely want to use a Diamond-Grit File on the edges to make sure no sharp edges became exposed if the grout erodes. You would also want to be gentle grouting because sand in the grout can scratch stained glass.

  6. Edward J Metz Avatar
    Edward J Metz

    I saw your response about flooring and stained glass. What about using it for a small table top?

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar
      Joe Moorman

      It’s used in table tops all the time, and you can use a diamond-grit file to smooth any problematic edges, but the best way to minimize exposure of shard edges is to use a minimal grout gap.

  7. Maryann Doiron Avatar
    Maryann Doiron

    Here’s a suggestion for the person looking for a way to finish the edges of mosaic pieces. I made a large, round table and finished the piece with flexible wood molding. Various widths and designs are available. It becomes flexible when heated. I bought mine on Etsy

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