Tag: color scheme
Many artists like to choose background colors after the central figures have been tiled.
It is best to tile from the middle and work toward the edges to avoid awkward spacing between at key focal points, but you should not leave the color choices for the background as a complete afterthought.
Nor should you have firm color requirement for the background and tile the central figures without placing that color next to them just to see if they work.
Avoid “painting yourself into a corner” by doing a lot of cutting and mounting without thinking ahead.
“Thinking ahead” can be as simple as placing a single tile next to what you are tiling now to see if it has adequate contrast.
Artist RJ Spurr recently completed two mosaic tables for his home, and I wanted to share them because the level of craft work is excellent, and the designs are integrated with the color schemes of rooms where they were installed.
The great thing about dry indoor mosaics is that you can use wood as a base, and that means you can put mosaics on wooden tables. Thrift shops, yard sales, and unfinished furniture stores are great sources for tables, but you can also breath new life into old tables you already have on hand.
You can make mosaic street numbers and signs using a grid, but mosaics made from irregular shapes of non-gridded tesserae are more interesting, especially if you use concentric andamento for the background surrounding the figures.
Sara Sommers emailed us some pictures of her mosaic street number plaque, and it is made from cut pieces of tile in strongly contrasting colors. It is definitely worth checking out if you are thinking of making a piece with large mosaic letters or numerals.Contrasting Colors
For starters, Sara uses strong color contrast between her numerals and background, which is critical for making eye-catching art. She also uses multiple related colors and variegated patterns instead of solid monochromatic color fields.
If you search Google Images for “kitchen backsplash mosaics,” you can see some good work, but you will also see way too many photos of beige and gray tile work that really doesn’t help too much in the way of inspiration, especially if you are wanting to make an original figurative mosaic or use colors other than the monotonous earth tones that dominate the coverings industry.
Artist Heather Speers emailed me some photos of her recent kitchen backsplash mosaic, and it is a solid example of how figurative mosaics rendered in brighter colors can work for this location.
Mosaicists sometimes mix in artist acrylic paint to create custom colors from white grout, but you can also use acrylic paint to “stain” grout after it has hardened (for dry indoor mosaics).
Like the process of staining wood, “staining” grout with paint is a process of wiping on and wiping off. The paint sticks to the rough grout but wipes off the glass tile.
You can increase visual interest in your mosaic by using variegated colors (multiple colors in patches or streaks) instead of monochromatic fields of only one color. This technique is particularly effective if your design is relatively simple and made from outlined areas of color like a coloring book or cartoon.
Choosing a grout color is more of a situation where you want to avoid making a mistake that causes the tile to look wrong than it is an opportunity to tie in the room’s color scheme by selecting some optimal color.A Case Study
Should you match grout color to a room’s color scheme? Not necessarily. Making sure the grout color works with the tile colors is much more important.
Recently a customer emailed us the photo above and asked for advice on how to match the grout color to the room’s color scheme, which includes rich gunstock brown cabinets and paint that is pale green or taupe and a black counter top. The mosaic backsplash itself is made from long gray and black tile in varying lengths.Choosing By A Process of Elimination
Grout colors should always contrast tile colors enough so that each tile is visually distinct. If you were to use a gray grout on this mosaic, the gray tiles wouldn’t stand out as individual tiles. If you used black grout, you would would have the same problem with the black tiles. Since the mosaic is a gray and black color element, a white grout of some shade makes sense. A pure white grout is likely to be too bright, and so an off-white grout that is more or less the same color as the exposed backer between the tiles would be a safe choice.Too Clever for Your Own Good?
What if you still thought that you needed to tie in the grout color to the room’s color scheme? Then you might consider using some sort of terracotta or brown grout in either a light or dark shade. The problem with that approach is that there are many different hues of gray, and not all of these will look good with a particular brown, even if that brown is optimal for the room.
If you are bent on using some sort of brown or other color for a black-white-gray backsplash such as this, then make sure you take some of the tile with you to the building material store and actually hold the tile up to the grout swatch. That way you can see if the hues look odd together. Avoiding that mistake is much more important than trying to match the other colors in the room.How You Know This Is Good Advice
Notice how the counter top is black, and the stove and microwave oven are black and silver in color. They don’t have any brown or taupe color elements, but they are perfectly at home in the room’s color scheme. Similarly, the mosaic backspash is a black-white-gray color element that needs nothing extra to tie it in.
The following picture of 24kt Gold Leaf Mosaic Glass Tiles mixed with Faceted Glass Jewels is the best evidence I can point to for our renewed commitment to finding exciting new products for use in mosaic artwork:
This stuff is pure treasure. It is hard to look at it without thinking of old kings and dragons and pirates and chests and treasures hidden in the earth. The look and feel is that of a jewel-encrusted relic like a Byzantine crown or a medieval book cover or an icon looted by Vikings.
I can’t wait to see the great pictures of customer art that are sure to come in!Architecture Quality
Our new Colored Glass Mirror Tile is architectural quality and amazingly beautiful. It sparkles a lot more than ordinary glass because it has real silver on the bottoms.
Our new Colored Glass Mirror Tile is architectural quality because it is colored glass (for non metallic colors), and it has silver bonded onto the bottom of the glass. The manufactured certifies these for indoor use in mosaics not subjected to chlorine or sulfur. You can cut these into small pieces because the silver does NOT fall off when nipped by a Mosaic Glass Cutter.What’s Wrong With Competitor’s Mirror Tile
The metal plates on the bottoms of the cheap crafting mirror tiles sold by our competitors falls off the glass when you cut them. There is another type of cheap colored mirror tile on the market, the type cut by hand from colored mirror stock, but they are no better. The thin silver on the back of these is the same as ordinary mirror stock, and so those products require special mirror adhesive to avoid oxidation, and the glass is probably clear with a thin layer of plastic color.Good Old Blue and Gold
This blue and gold color scheme is the cover of a 1970’s Book of Mormon and the blue and gold of my high school mascot all in one. I want to use these to do some mosaic-encrusted mosaic chairs or cabinets that blends traditional pique assiette (china dinnerware mosaic) with veins of gold and other gold elements.The Emotional Significance of These Beautiful Things
I was not able to focus on my mosaic supply business for about two years because I had several family members pass away in rapid succession. Of course I kept the business operating, but I could barely keep up with the day-to-day tasks of my employees because all my time was taken up by estate issues. I had no time to find and add new products or even pay attention to what was was going on with my competitors and their products.
When I finally got my head back above water, I started looking around the Internet at online mosaic retailers, and was angered by what I saw. I felt like unscrupulous people had been kicking me while I was down:Competitor’s Cheapo Crap
To the west, I saw that I had a competitor selling cheap clear glass that is colored with thin coatings that scratch easily and age quickly and terribly. Would I have to introduce a cheapo product line of my own just to stay competitive? The angriest emails I received in over 13 years of business came from people who used poorly-made tiles like that, and so I couldn’t even consider selling them as a budget or cut-rate product. (No coincidence that this is the competitor that now sells their brand at Mallfart.)Rape o’ the Sea Tile
To the east, I saw that I had another competitor selling natural mother-of-pearl tiles produced in Asia, where the sea is not harvested but instead is strip mined in the most unsustainable way possible, nothing less than environmental rape. Why would anyone with even the least amount of social or environmental awareness use that in their art?
That competitor is also selling powdered metal-oxide paint pigments for tinting grout, which is one of the last things I would want to sell to the general public or send in the mail as far as the potential for health hazards and lawsuits from improper handling. I was so shocked by what all the cheap questionable products and what they might do to our share of the market, that I even considered selling these powdered pigments for a while before coming to my senses.
But here is the worst of it:Pretending to Be Mosaic Art Supply
Not content to ruin their own business reputations, these and other competitors had started taking out paid advertisements in Google that used “Mosaic art supply” in the headline of their ads. This was obviously a deliberate attempt to create confusion between brands and fool unwary shoppers into thinking they were at the right website. If these ads weren’t an attempt at deception, they would have used a more searched for phrase like “mosaic tile” or perhaps their own business name.Delayed by Website Work
My competitors’ unethical practices made the need to find new and exciting products more urgent than it already was, but when I finally found time to focus on Mosaic Art Supply, I learned that the work most urgently needed was to rebuild the website in a new type of software that was mobile-ready. The rebuild was a large project that would take at least 6 months of intense work, but it was absolutely necessary to avoid losing rank in the coming Google updates. Our content and product names were way out of date too, and so it would require rewriting at the same time.
Even if I wanted to throw a lot of money I didn’t have at the problem, no web developer could write the content that I could, not after 13 years of consulting on hundreds of public mosaic art projects and answering a gazillion customer emails about projects and products and what confuses them on the website. Either I would have to talk with the developers so much that I might as well do it myself, or leave them alone and then be furious at how wrong their “expert” decisions were. I couldn’t get out of the website work even if I wanted to burn money. Yuck.Finally Fighting Back
The website update delayed me in finding new products for a few months, and then there were the two months required for the goods to be delivered by sea freight, but when the first wave of new products arrived, I knew I was finally fighting back. The knock-out looks and the quality of the products I had found make me feel confident, downright righteous even!
Tell Gog and Magog that my house is set against them…
Recently artist Jill Miller emailed me wanting some advice about choosing colors for a mosaic table top she was making, and the design she was a chickadee bird with holly leaves and berries. From her photos and a description of the colors she wanted to use for the border of the round table top, it was obvious that she wanted to use muted colors instead of intense colors. I was happy to help. I thought her project was a great example for how to choose colors for backgrounds and making sure there was adequate contrast between the different elements.
Chickadee design for mosaic table top with some candidates for background color. Note how the faint moss green selected for the holly leaf does not adequately contrast the underside of the bird. Notice how the same can be said of the muted brown tile directly under the bird. The orange tiles do contrast the bird, but it is problematic to have a background color that is more intense than the colors of the figure in the foreground. Also, cool colors are usually used for backgrounds because cool colors recede while warm colors come forward visually.
Whether muted colors or intense colors are used, it is still important for there to be contrast in the colors that define different elements, else the elements don’t stand out from one another.
TIP: You don’t have to glue tiles down to see if they are the right color. You don’t even have to position them carefully. Just spread them roughly where they should go, take a break, and then look at the mosaic later. The loose tiles will either contrast the image enough to make the figure stand out, or they won’t. Your fresh unbiased eyes won’t lie to you. Don’t try to rationalize a color that doesn’t work based on some design you have in mind. Listen to your art. Look at it and really see it.Color Study Version 1
Mosaic Color Study Version 1 with intense green vitreous used for holly leaf. The problem with the vitreous green isn’t that the color is too intense but that it is grainy while the other colored tiles are glassy. Also, the green is a little more intense than the color scheme Jill had in mind.
Each work of art is just one version of many potential variations that could have been made with the same design. While it is not critical that you stay true to your original vision, it is important that you don’t have competing versions trying to exist in the same composition. The most important thing to stay true to is the design that is taking shape and making sure that color choices are internally consistent.Color Study Version 2
Mosaic Color Study Version 2 with moss green for holly leaf. This more intense moss green still isn’t intense enough to adequately contrast the bird. Also, the color choices for the Chickadee are true to life, while this color green for a holly leaf is not. Again, colors don’t have to be true to life, but they do need to be internally consistent. A work of visual art can be a world unto itself, but it does need its own internal logic.Color Study Version 3
Mosaic Color Study Version 3 with mint green for holly leaf. “Ah, said Goldilocks, this third bed is just right…” Notice how this mint green teal color has enough intensity to contrast the colors in the Chickadee yet still keeps with the artist’s vision of muted colors. I like it. The muted colors remind me of an Audubon print, and what could be more appropriate for a picture of a bird?Wrong Color? All Is Not Lost.
Most beginners are so eager to begin work that they start gluing down tiles before they are sure they have the right color. Usually they don’t notice that they don’t really like the color until they have spent an hour or so mounting tiles in glue. If that happens, all is not lost. Put on some work gloves and safety glasses and scrape up the tiles with a screw driver. Soak them in water to remove glue residue. If the glue has already hardened for several days, you may break some tiles while scraping them up. If so, use a vacuum to pick up sharp slivers. Moistening the tiles for 30 minutes with a cotton swab dipped in water can help soften glue, but it can also increase the risk of creating gouges and delaminations in plywood backers.Color Wheels and Complementary (Contrasting) Colors
Color wheels are an artist’s tool for choosing complimentary colors, which are pairs of color “opposites” that provide maximum contrast to each other: red and green, orange and blue, yellow and purple. Those are the main pairs of opposites, but the hues in between also have opposites. For example: blue-green and red-orange. Color wheel charts position all of these opposites directly across the wheel from each other, which makes it easy to see what the optimal contrast would be for any given hue.
You can see some color wheels by searching Google for “color wheel” or “complimentary colors.” Some are more in depth than others. I like the ones that also show different options for value, which is the relative lightness or darkness of the color.Intense Colors and Contrast
Contrasting colors are important because they make images stand out. Look at these great bird mosaics made by Phil Lamie’s elementary school students, Notice how these mosaic take full advantage of contrast between intense blues and warm oranges. Notice how the cool blues are usually in the background and the warm colors are in the figures in the foreground. In the case of the blue bird, notice how the blue in the bird in the foreground is more intense than the blue of the sky in the background. Value and intensity can be used to make foreground images stand out from backgrounds, as the blue bird mosaic demonstrates. All of these bird mosaics are visually striking because they follow basic rules of using color.
Color family assortments of 12mm recycled glass mosaic tile are now available. The 12mm Elementile brand of tile is some of our most affordable tile. It also cuts into extremely small pieces with minimal glass dust, shards or scrap.
This is the same tile that I wrote about for use in micromosaic art because the homogeneous microstructure of the material allows it to be cut into extremely small pieces without a lot of random breaks or scrap. What that means in practical terms is that you could buy a single bag of Assorted 12mm Elementile and have all the tile you need to make a small-yet-highly-detailed mosaic on a 4″ x 4″ piece of plywood or coaster and still have tile left over!
The background in a work of mosaic art serves two purposes:contrast the colors of the figures in the foreground. suggest motion by arranging the tile in contours around figures.
The first point is obvious, but the second is often overlooked even though it can make the difference between a great mosaic and a mediocre mosaic. The background isn’t supposed to be just empty space to be filled as quickly as possible with a grid of tile similar to how bathrooms are tiled. Consider Van Gogh’s Starry Night and how motion is conveyed in the directionality of the brush strokes:
A friend recently emailed me a photo of a mosaic in progress and asked me for advice. Specifically, he wanted to know what type of tile and what color would best work for the background of a mosaic of a bass (fish) he had made from the 12mm C3 Recycled Glass Tile. The project was interesting because he wanted to make the background from a different type of tile than he had used for the fish, and there were other color constraints: the bass would be swallowing a large blue glass cabochon gem, and there would be green water grasses at the bottom.
These constraints made the project a good teaching example for the simple reason that many artists work this way, especially naive artists and artists who work in a more exploratory way (as I do). Instead of copying an existing design verbatim, these artists will create the central figure or figures first, and then select a background color and additional figures based on how well they work with the central figure already in place. This mode of designing by trial and error is a natural consequence of working with limited color palettes. (Tile colors can’t be custom blended to any hue or shade like paint, so you have to select a background colors from what is available.) The trial-and-error mode also comes naturally when you are trying to incorporate specific found objects into a mosaic, such as the blue cabochon gem that my friend wanted to use in his.
The image above was included in the original email requesting my advice. My fresh unbiased eyes could immediately see that the green metallic tiles would not fully contrast the colors in the bass. I could also see that even the blue metallic would not work because the golden sparkle of the copper aventurine dust gives the blue glass an overall greenish cast.
In fact, using blue tile of any type would be problematic if the blue cabochon gem is used. So I presented two alternatives:Use light pink or orange colors for the water, such as might be seen in late afternoon. Replace the blue cabochon with an orange cabochon.
The first alternative appealed to me for two reasons. First, warm colors such as light pink or orange are more appealing in general. (Basic biopsychology: the brain likes warm colors.) Second, art with non-obvious color choices is usually more interesting. (If the sky ain’t always blue, why do we always have to color it blue without first questioning the instinct to do so?)
An esoteric digression: This second point touches more sophisticated questions about visual art: Does an object have an intrinsic hue, or are the colors (plural) it reflects at a given instant a function of the color of the light shining on it at that particular instant? The answer is obvious to our eyes but not to our memories. Our memories tend to be more verbal than visual, and we remember things in a more archetypical mode: monochromatic “green trees” and “blue skies” and not the myriad of hues that they are in real life.Following Design Fundamentals Won’t Do You Wrong
My friend decided to replace the blue gem with a golden yellow one and use blue tile for the water. These conservative design decisions work because they follow fundamental principles: The blue tiles contrast the greens of the fish and water grasses and the yellow of the cabochon.
Of course my friend could have tried light oranges or light pinks for the water, but that would have involved more risk and more trial and error than would have been advisable on an early project such as this. I will write an additional blog post about how this particular mosaic could have been improved, but I will also write about the problems of artistic advice and how advice in general doesn’t work well in a one-size-fits-all mode.
The primary reason for grouting tiled surfaces is to prevent water from penetrating behind the tile and weakening the adhesive or the backer and the structure beneath the backer. In mosaic artwork, the grout also has a visual function, and that is to contrast (not match) the tile colors. If the grout color does not sufficiently contrast the tile colors, than all the tiles blend together visually, and much of the “mosaic effect” is lost.Grout Color Should Contrast Not Match
There are some novices who doubt my advice about contrasting grout color and even try to match their grout color to the tile colors. These are the people who later email me in a complete panic. They usually use the words “completely ruined” to describe what grouting did to their once beautiful mosaic, and from the pictures they send, I’m inclined to agree with them. (Note that these mosaics can be saved, but it requires either scraping the grout out with a grout removal tool or painting the grout with acrylic paint or some other ad hoc solution.)A Medium Gray Grout
Since experience has shown time and again that the best grout color is one that contrasts tile color, the question becomes which grout color best contrasts ALL the different colors used in the mosaic. For MOST combinations of tile colors, the best contrast is usually provided by a medium to dark gray, with darker being the better guess if in doubt. Always keep in mind that the color of the grout will be significantly lighter when fully cured compared to how it looks when wet.A Notable Exception: Lighter Blues
There are a few notable exceptions to the rule of gray grout being best. The most obvious exception is when you are using gray tile (duh), but the one that usually catches people by surprise is when tiles of lighter blue colors are used. Unfortunately, these are just the shades of blue that are popular for water and sky elements, so this is a significant exception. In this situation, a warm light brown or sand colored grout might be a good choice for contrasting the blue tile, but what if there are light brown tile used elsewhere in the mosaic? Is there a good standby color of grout for this situation? The answer is no, but there is a quick solution.Go Look At Grout Colors With Your Tile
Building material stores such as Home Depot and Lowes usually carry about 30 or more colors of grout, and they have color swatches on the shelves and/or packaging so that you can pick out grout similar to how you pick out paint, only with much more limited options. The trick or tip is to not to try to do this from memory without the benefit of having your tile with you. Take one or two tile of each color used in the mosaic with you to the store and hold them up against the color swatches. I have even gone into the store with small mosaics, just as I have taken in parts of plumbing I was trying to match or replace. Don’t be self conscious about it. The people who work there are accustomed to seeing professionals at work, and you will be quite unobtrusive compared to the building contractors dealing with emergencies. At least you won’t be covered in dirt and holding a toilet seat or something like that.Some “Advanced” Tips
From the many emails and pictures I have received in the past 12+ years, I can state with some confidence that novices tend to regret choosing grout colors as an attempt to add another color to the mosaic. Matching grout color to tile color tends to be even more disastrous.
If you already have your figures rendered in tile using a relatively small grout gap, and you like how those figures look, then your main objective while grouting should be to not mess up the visual art that was already working, especially if you are a novice at mosaic.
Of course, even a novice can take a few of each color tile and create an abstract experiment on a scrap piece of plywood and try a novel grout color on it.
The monochromatic nature of medium gray grout makes it contrast colors intrinsically, in the same way that back and white contrast colors intrinsically. All three are balanced in hue. The keep-it-simple and less-is-more principles really come into play when you decide to second guess some shade of medium to dark gray when grouting figurative mosaic artwork.
On the other hand, there are all those earth tones to play with…
Just remember to experiment on a piece of scrap before trying it out on a mosaic where 90% of the work was spent cutting and mounting the tile.