Why break up ceramic figurines to use the pieces in mosaic artwork when you can use the whole figurine? Artist Laurie Gilson emailed me some photos of her recent work, and they are great examples of how you can use ceramic figurines in your mosaics and still use standard elements such as tile arranged in rows. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
We have an exciting new type of tile that fills a void in our product offering and not just because it is glazed ceramic. The glazes on these tiles are mottled with random splashes of different colors that makes them absolutely beautiful.
Yes, we have great colors in glass mosaic tile, but except for the stained glass, all of the glass products are solid colors, and that means there isn’t much visual interest when they are used in monochromatic color fields.
These new mottled glazed ceramic tiles on the other hand can be used to cover areas without being monotonous. In fact, they are a great way to add visual interest to your mosaic project, especially when multiple patterns are mixed and matched. I foresee these being used as borders on mosaic mirrors and picture frames and in mixed-media mosaic art. I am eager to receive pictures of your projects made with these.
Snap Apart By Hand
These tiles don’t come as individual tiles. Instead, they come as one piece, a sheet that is embossed with lines so that it can be snapped apart by hand to yield individual tiles of irregular shape. We snap these by laying a ruler under the sheet along one of the lines and pressing down on both sides with a gloved hand. Sometimes the sheet doesn’t break quite as desired, and a little scrap is created. BUT, even if a piece doesn’t break as intended, the pieces could still be trimmed with a tile nipper and used.
A Little Thicker Than Glass
Most of our glass tile is 4mm (1/8 inch) thick, and these ceramic tiles are a little thicker, about 3/16 inch.
People often email me asking where to get 4-inch glazed ceramic tile in a range of colors to break up with a hammer for making a mosaic. The simple answer is nowhere. Colorful bathroom tile has gone the way of the dodo, at least for now. (I explain why in the last section of this post.)
The good news is that it is possible to get a similar experience making a mosaic from colorful glass tile, and there are several reasons glass tile is superior to glazed ceramic, especially if your mosaic will be outdoors.
Why You Want Glass Tile Instead Of Ceramic
Yes, you may be inspired by the idea of breaking scrap tile with a hammer and making a fun piece of art from ordinary easy-to-find materials, but the idea doesn’t jive with reality in at least two ways: First, colorful ceramic tile isn’t a commonly available material any more; it’s rare not ordinary. Second, breaking tile with a hammer creates a large amount a scrap, and the pieces you produce tend to be jagged or cracked or oddly shaped. How ecologically sound or fulfilling is it to create all that waste?
But here is the real reason glass tile is clearly a better choice: Glass is impervious to moisture and therefore frost proof. If you use ceramic tile outdoors, moisture penetrates into the tile and then freezes and cracks off the glazing. It seems counter intuitive, but glass is MUCH more durable than glazed ceramic tile when used outdoors, at least when it comes to freezing temperatures. (Of course, If you have access to hard porcelain tile with solid color throughout, then that is a different story, but porcelain tile is as hard to find these days as the softer varieties of glazed ceramic tile.)
Random Shapes Of Glass Tile
The most valid reason people have for wanting to use 4-inch glazed ceramic tile for their mosaic is that it is big enough to produce large randomly shaped pieces when broken up. Mosaic tile is 1 inch or less according to the generally accepted industry definition of “mosaic,” so it can’t produce big pieces. But stained glass and stained glass cuttings can easily be cut into large random shapes using a mosaic glass cutter. The selection of colors is broader than that of ceramic tile (even back in the 1970s when brightly colored ceramic tile was commonly available), and the colors are more complex and vibrant.
If you are willing to work in smaller pieces, then mosaic tile can be used, and it can be cut into irregular triangles and irregular trapezoids as easily as rectangles, so you can get more “random” shapes in your mosaic
This mosaic was made with 3/4″ vitreous glass tile cut up with a mosaic glass cutter, and it could have been made with irregularly shaped pieces as easily as rectangular pieces cut from the same type of tile:
Why No CERAMIC Tiles In Bright Colors?
People don’t tile their bathrooms with bright yellows and oranges the way they did in the 1970s, and once people stopped using bright colors in ceramic tile, the factories stopped making them. Now the factories all churn out the same endless variations on beige and gray, and I’m not exaggerating by much.
A year ago, I finally attended the world’s largest trade show for floor coverings, and it was absolutely monotonous: hundreds and hundreds of manufacturer booths all displaying stuff that was hard to tell apart, all beiges and grays, and each booth with banners and flyers claiming to be on the cutting edge of interior design. It was comic self-parody, and it was easy to get lost on the floor of the trade show because it all looked the same.
Recently someone emailed me about how to estimate how many plates would be needed for a medium-sized mosaic of several square feet.
Each type of plate is different in terms of how many useable tiles it will produce due to how round/flat the plate is and how well it cuts. The only way I have found to estimate how many of a particular type of plate I will need is to cut up one of the plates and see how much useable material I get from that one plate. Make sure you look at the pieces critically and not count anything that is too jagged, small or weirdly shaped. Arrange the useable pieces into a rough square, and measure the dimensions. For example, if you get 8 inches x 8 inches, then you know that each plate produces about 64 square inches of tile. Divide that number by 144 to get the square footage produced, which in this example would be 0.44 square feet.
Some types of ceramic dinnerware can be cut with a regular tile nipper, but many types are extremely hard and should be cut with a compound tile nipper, which has compound lever mechanism to multiply the force of your hand.
You can use a hammer to break the plates up into large pieces, but avoid using the hammer to make the individual tile pieces because it tends to crush and splinter the material, and you end up wasting too much of the plate as scrap, especially if there are patterns on the plate you are trying to cut out. A compound nipper is well worth the investment if you are trying to cut out pieces from china with patterns like blue willow or floral prints, and you may want to consider getting a powered tile saw from the building material store if you want to carefully saw them out without losing too much as scrap.
Here are a few more tips about using dinnerware to make mosaic tile:
If you do use a hammer to make the initial breaks, then wrap the dish in an old towel. That will keep shards from flying and help contain the grit and slivers produced by the breaks.
A ceramic and marble file is very useful for smoothing the razor edges of cut dinnerware. Keep in mind that some types of dinnerware are made from some of the hardest ceramic materials known to science, and the broken edges exposed by cutting can be sharper than any knife. Depending on the type of dinnerware you are cutting, something like a marble file may be required before the pieces are useable and safe.
For years, I didn’t own a marble file. Instead, I used a piece of sandstone flagstone and merely rubbed the pieces on that as I cut them. Always remember that you are free to use improvised tools and methods to save time and money and stress!