Tag Archives: elementile

Doraemon Japanese Manga Mosaic Installation Video

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 Projects

“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.

Mosaic Doraemon in progress

Mosaic Doraemon in progress

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.

Mosaic Doraemon Outline

Mosaic Doraemon being outlined using 1/2-inch black glass mosaic tiles.

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

The artist adds doraemon's blue tiles.

The artist adding Doraemon’s blue tiles to the mesh using Weldbond Adhesive. Notice the sheet of cardboard used as an improvised cutting tray. We use shallow plastic dishpans for cutting trays. You can repurpose many common household items for use in the art studio, but specialty tools like tile nippers and marble files are indispensable.

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.

Artist Grouting Mosaic Doraemon

The Artist Grouting Mosaic Doraemon. Note the white haze that will be buffed off following the application of the grout. Make sure you press the grout down into the gaps and work it in thoroughly to ensure that no voids or bubbles are left at the bottom of the gaps.

 

Black and White Photorealistic Mosaic Art

Black and White Telescope Mosaic

Black and White Telescope Mosaic. Mark’s grandson gazes at the stars.

Stylized or Photorealistic?

Mosaic is usually used to make stylized images, meaning images that are simplified in certain ways, and that is done because the constraints of working with tile that only comes in certain colors and can only be cut so small forces the artist to simplify the details. Think about how ancient Roman mosaic faces and figures are outlined like cartoons and how scenes are composed of 6 to 8 colors, and you will know what I mean. I strongly prefer this type of art because it is a dialog between the symbolic and visual aspects of the artist’s mind, and it produces a lot of quirky and interesting details that would never be possible in mere realism.

BUT, it is important to remember that you can use mosaic to render images in a naturalistic or photorealistic way even if you can’t find tile in all the colors you think you need. First, you can use two colors in place of one. For example, if the teal color you think you need is not available, use small pieces of blue and green tile positioned closely together and rely on the eye blending the two colors together.

Another means of working photorealistically is to make a monochomatic mosaic or a black and white mosaic, such as Mark did using our 8mm recycled glass mosaic tile when he made the mosaic of his grandson peering through a telescope.

Note that Mark’s mosaic doesn’t use concentric rows of tiles to convey a sense of motion such as seen in the andamento of most stylized mosaics. Rather, the tiles are treated as pixels in a grid, which is how most though not all photorealistic mosaics are made. The alternative to gridded pixels is to use large irregularly-shaped pieces in a mode similar to stained glass artwork.

Patterns For Mosaics Made From Photos

I didn’t ask Mark how he made the pattern for his mosaic, but I know how I would do it:

I would take the photograph I wanted to use and convert it to a black and white image using Photoshop or another photo-editing software package.

Then I would enlarge it to the actual size I needed and print it out in sections, and then tape these together on my work table.

Then I would would cover this pattern with clear contact paper, WITH THE STICKY SIDE STICKING UP.

Then it just a matter of positioning tiles over the pattern and filling in the design.

The only question is: Do I put the tile right side up or upside down?

Upside-Down Tile

If the mosaic is relatively small. I can spread adhesive on the backer and then press the backer onto the mosaic. In that case, I would want to position the tile upside down.  Of course, this reverses the mosaic design from left to right as if in a mirror. Complete instructions for working in this way are given in my blog article Using Contact Paper To Transfer A Mosaic Design.

TIP: If you don’t want the above method to reverse your design from left to right, then reverse your pattern from left to right in the photo-editing software that you use to make the pattern.

Right-Side-Up Tile

If I would like to work with my tile right side up so that the mosaic is not reversed, then I can use clear mounting tape or opaque mounting paper to pick the mosaic off the contact paper and then press it onto an adhesive-covered backer. This method is commonly used for laying up large mosaics such as murals. Instructions for this method are given in my blog article Mounting A Mosaic On Clear Adhesive Film.

To Grout Or Not To Grout?

Grouting can totally change the look and feel of a mosaic, and so this question can be critical for photorealistic work depending on the colors and grout gap used. You can minimize the visual impact of grout by making sure that your grout gap isn’t too large. For most mosaic tile, the recommended grout gap is 1/16 inch, but for 8mm and 10mm tiles, use a grout gap of 1/32 inch.

For dry indoor mosaic, you can mount the tiles so closely together that they touch and simply not grout the finished mosaic.

You should also test grout colors before you apply them to the mosaic. The “test” can be as simple as taking some of your tile to the building material store and holding them next to different color swatches in the grout aisle.

For his mosaic, Mark did exactly what I recommend: he glued some of his tile to a scrap piece of plywood and grouted them with different grout colors to see what they looked like in situ.

Grout Test

The visual impact of grout color on a mosaic can be evaluated by gluing some tile on a scrap piece of backer and grouting it.

If that seems like a lot of extra work, the simple truth is that it isn’t. An experiment like that can be done in 15 minutes of gluing one night and 15 minutes of grouting the next, and what is that compared to the amount of time spent on the mosaic itself? Before you dump concrete on something you spent a month creating, make sure you are using the right color concrete.

 

 

Using Contact Paper to Transfer A Mosaic Design

Choice of Pattern

This method for transferring a mosaic design with contact paper works whether you are improvising on a quickly sketched cartoon or carefully following a detailed pattern for each piece of tile.

This method reverses the mosaic from left to right in a mirror effect because the tile is laid upside down onto the sticky pattern and then a backer board spread with glue is placed on top of the upside down tiles. If you have NUMBERS or LETTERS in your pattern, remember to reverse them in your pattern by turning the pattern over and tracing it from the other side in marker and using that as your pattern.

Mosaic Versus Pattern

The ungrouted mosaic beside the pattern that was used to lay it up. The sketch was from memories of an ancient Roman mosaic I saw in a book years ago with legs more like that of a scarab and antennae more like that of a moth. To me, these features made the Roman bee look more like the archetype of all insects than the familiar fat honey bee and called attention to the fact that honey comes from insects.

The pattern above was a quick sketch and not followed rigorously. Instead, I improvised details based on how I could cut the tile.

The Free Mosaic Patterns available at our tile and supplies store are drawn in terms of pieces that can be cut from 1/2-inch recycled glass tile and show each piece in the mosaic.

Tape Contact Paper Over Pattern

Contact Paper Taped Over Mosaic Pattern

The first step is to tape the pattern down on a work surface. Then the contact paper is taped over the pattern, but it is taped UPSIDE DOWN with the sticky side up. Cut the contact paper 1 inch larger than the border of the pattern.

Make sure you tape the contact paper UPSIDE DOWN. The purpose of the contact paper is to keep the tile from moving around as you lay out the design.

Clear packing tape can be substituted for contact paper, but you may want to pat the tape with your hands several tiles to make it less sticky.

Lay Tile UPSIDE DOWN on the Sticky Pattern

The pattern is sticky because it has a piece of upside down contact paper taped over it. Lay pieces of tile face down onto the pattern so that the textured backsides are facing up. Later we will coat the backer in glue and lay it on these upside down tile.

Lay Tile Upside Down

Lay tile upside down on the sticky contact paper so that the embossed texture of the backsides is facing up.

Work from the Center of Pattern

Tile on pattern for mosaic bee

Tile pieces (called tesserae by mosaicists) on the pattern for a mosaic bee. Also shown are the essential tools: Mosaic Glass Cutter and dental picks and tweezers.

Begin cutting and laying tile near the center of your mosaic and work outward to avoid having to squeeze a piece between tiles that have already been laid, which can be frustrating and require more trimming.

Trim Less, Waste Less

Trimming tile to shave off just a little bit off is MUCH more difficult than cutting a piece into two parts . Trimming is difficult because tile will often crumble at the edge and not break as predictably or as cleanly as it would if you were cutting off a more substantial piece. That is why you want to avoid trimming as much as possible by doing the following:

  • Cut a few alternate pieces and use the best instead of trimming.
  • Remove small amounts by rubbing the piece on a marble file instead of trying to cut it off.
  • Work from the center of the mosaic to avoid the need to trim.
  • Tolerate less exact pieces and the grout gap these pieces create.
Tile pieces tesserae

Tile pieces (tesserae) cut into standard shapes (rectangles, trapezoids, triangles, irregular polygons) so that the artist can pick the best piece instead of trying to trim a piece to size.

Change Tile Color If Needed

Mosaic bee in progress

Mosaic bee in progress with the previous butterscotch color replaced with a more intense yellow.

The contact paper holds tile in place while you arrange the tile, which allows you to fit pieces more closely and even replace a color if it doesn’t look right.  A dental pick is useful for pulling up tile, but take care not to snag the contact paper or pattern. I dull my dental pick on concrete to prevent this.

Do Not Tile Beyond Borders

Bee Mosaic Tiling Complete

Bee Mosaic Tiling Complete. Do not tile past the outlined border.

Do not lay tile beyond the outline of the border so that the mosaic fits on the backer. Make sure each tile is within the border by a hair or touches the border but does not extend beyond. If you have a few pieces that do, the finished mosaic can be filed with a marble file, but it is better to file or cut the pieces before gluing.

Seal Backer With PVA Glue

Seal Backer PVA glue

Seal backer with a white PVA glue. Weldbond Adhesive is spread on the 6×6-inch plywood mosaic backer with an artist’s palette knife.

Plywood backers should be sealed with the same white PVA (polyvinyl acetate) adhesive that will be used to attach the tiles. This sealing coat should be applied and allowed to dry completely before proceeding.

We wouldn’t need to do this pre-sealing if we were gluing each tile individually with a generous blob, but we are going to glue on all the tiles at once in a layer spread thin, and we want to make sure that the second coat of glue that actually attaches the tile isn’t all sucked up by the plywood in places where it happens to be spread thinnest.

Spread Backer with 2nd Coat of Glue

Glue on Mosaic Backer

Glue on Mosaic Backer. After the sealing coat has completely dried, a second layer is spread.

How thick should you apply the glue? Place a few test tiles and pull them up and look at them. Make sure the glue wets the bottom of the tile completely. The glue has to be that deep, but don’t over do it. Try to spread it thinly enough so that the glue doesn’t come up too high between tiles placed closely together.

Place Glue-Covered Backer on Mosaic

Glue backer on mosaic

Glue-covered backer is carefully centered and lowered onto the mosaic.

Center the backer on the mosaic before it is lowered down because it is difficult to move the backer from side to side without moving the tile. If you do need to push the backer to center it, hold a straight edge on the opposite side to keep the tile from moving.

Untape Contact Paper and Flip Mosaic

Mosaic flipped upright

Mosaic flipped upright.

The contact paper is untaped from the work surface, and the mosaic is flipped upright so that the face of the mosaic is visible. Notice the occasional place where glue squeezed between the tile. This can be removed with a dental pick once the glue is thoroughly dry.

Remove Contact Paper

Contact paper removed from the bee mosaic.

Contact paper removed from the bee mosaic.

Allow the glue to dry before peeling off the contact paper. Also avoid cleaning the faces of the tiles or handing the mosaic until the glue under the tile is dry. If you bump one tile and it moves, other tiles are also moved, and they move again when you try to fix things. Tiles start sticking to the drying glue on you fingertips and pulling free from the backer. Don’t risk this. One touch can spiral into disaster.

Removing Glue Residue

After the glue dries and you remove the contact paper, you will notice places where the PVA glue got squeezed up between the tiles and filled the grout gap. There will probably be places where the glue smeared onto the faces of the tiles. The glue is clear when fully dry, but if it is misted with water, it will turn white and be more visible and softer and easier to remove.

Glue residue bee mosaic

Glue residue on bee mosaic can be turned white by misting with water.

We use a wide plastic pan with a wet terry washcloth spread on the bottom. We lay the mosaic face down on the wet cloth and allow the glue to turn white. We rub the mosaic on the cloth with a gentle even pressure making sure that not water squeezes out of the washcloth and between the tile. The washcloth should be thoroughly wet but rung out so that it does not drip or squeeze out water when pressed.

Of course, I am talking about a washcloth that has been retired and no longer rubbed on people’s faces. Glass slivers can nest in knitted fabrics and outlast the washer and dryer.

Keep an eye on the glue that is holding the tile to the board  (by looking at the side of the mosaic and in gaps and make sure that the glue there does NOT get wet and start whitening. Stop working and dry the mosaic and leave it to dry if you see that happening. 

Removing glue residue from bee mosaic

Removing glue residue from Roman bee mosaic using a wet terry washcloth.

If a few tiles pop free, they can be reglued after the mosaic is cleaned up. A dental pick is used to clean glue residue from between the tiles. Take care not to pry with the dental pick because you can crack and splinter the glass tile very easily by prying with small tools.

Mosaic Ready For Grouting

Roman Bee Mosaic ready to be grouted

Roman Bee Mosaic ready to be grouted

Van Gogh Self-Portrait Mosaic

Recently Doug Harris of Elementile sent me some photos of a mosaic rendering of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 self-portrait, and it is definitely worth seeing. I think some of the best examples of how to use adamento in mosaic to convey a sense of motion are actually demonstrated in Van Gogh’s painting, and this self-portrait was a natural choice for mosaic interpretation. I have a photo of the painting at the end of this article.

van-gogh-mosaic-artist

Mosaic interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s Self Portrait oil painting. The mosaic was done by Doug Harris and family of Elementile, with most work being done by his daughter Carly.

Note how more than one hue of blue are used in the same field of color: Phthalo blues (cyans) and ultramarine blues (French blues) in multiple shades are combined in differing proportions to render both the clothing and the background. Notice how well the reddish and yellowish browns of the beard work together to create the image of a Dutchman’s red hair and how well these colors contrast the blues.

Color Contrasts And Color Mood

Van Gogh’s original oil painting on which this mosaic is based made use of more complex and subtle color fields (after all, he was working in oil paint not glass tile), but I think Carly’s choice to use more blues and more intense blues was a stroke of genius. The blues make a more striking contrast with the beard than the colors of the original painting, and the emphasis on blue is so in keeping with Van Gogh’s work as a whole and his mood and how we think of the artist. I am thinking of both the lonely genius who painted “Starry Night” and the painting itself.

van-gogh-mosaic-detail

Detail from mosaic interpretations of Van Gogh’s Self Portrait captures the artist’s wounded stare. I like the use of blue in the hair to heighten contrast.

Art Happens

The last picture Doug Harris sent me was of the work in progress, and it is my favorite because to me it says a lot about how art happens, at least for most people, including many of the great masters.

Whenever I see advertisements for art retreats and classes in places like Big Sur and Sienna, I am enticed by the idea of going to these picturesque places, but I am also perplexed by the idea of having studio sessions there. I don’t think I could spend any length of time focusing on art while I was in a place of such natural beauty unless I had at least several weeks there. Instead, I would be hiking and exploring with what little time I had available, and I would probably be too busy even to take photos. Keep in mind that someone like me has to check out the local geology, the creeks, the fossils, the artifacts, the indigenous plant life, signs of old home sites, signs of how the land has changed over the years, etc.

Not only that, my mind is already overflowing with creative ideas that I don’t have enough time to pursue. Do people really have to go to some place with over-the-top natural beauty to be inspired to create? For me, it is sometimes difficult to walk outside and check the mail and not spend the rest of the day thinking about landscape painting, especially if there are low rolling gray clouds and yellow leaves shivering in the tops of the poplars.

I like Doug’s photo of such great art being made in a crowded busy warehouse because that is where and how most of my art was made in the past decade or so, and before that it was usually on the floor or dining room table of where ever I was living, even in tiny apartments and hotels during business travel. Some people have to create. It is a need, and they will pursue it where ever and how ever they have to. No trips to Sienna or Rome are required.

van-gogh-mosaic-ip

Van Gogh Self-Portrait mosaic in progress -on a low table, in what appears to be a warehouse hallway serving as an office/storeroom. When I first saw this photo, I thought that the mosaic was actually resting on the floor itself, a situation which seemed all too familiar from some my own projects.

Best Mosaic Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

To my knowledge, Vincent Van Gogh never made a mosaic, but I think many of his paintings offer great examples of how to use andamento in mosaic to create a sense of motion and add more visual interest to the artwork. Notice how Van Gogh uses flowing brushstrokes of different colors to build the folds of fabric in the artist’s clothing and how this same technique makes the background dance.

van-gogh-self-portrait

Van Gogh’s original self-portrait oil painting from 1889 on which Doug and Carly’s mosaic was based.

Mosaic Christmas Tree Ornaments

Please email us pictures of your Christmas tree ornaments made from our mosaic ornament bases. I would really like to receive a picture of one made to look like a globe of the Earth. I think a globe ornament would look spectacular, especially in mosaic, but I haven’t had the time to make one myself due to all my other art projects.

Remember to order your mosaic ornament bases early because we often get large orders from groups that completely exhaust our supply of hard polystyrene spheres.

mosaic ornaments

Mosaic Christmans tree ornaments made by artist Natalija Moss using our ornament bases.

Each ornament base is only 29 square inches (or 0.2 square feet) of surface area, so it doesn’t take too much tile to cover one. Just one bag of the 12mm Elementile Recycled Glass Mosaic Tile is more than enough to make an ornament. Depending on how you cut and space the tile, you only need between 100 and 125 tiles to cover one ornament, and each bag of 12mm Elementile contains about 185 tiles.

New Recycled Glass Mosaic Tile Assortments

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.

recycled glass mosaic tile 12mm

Recycled glass mosaic tile by Elementile is now available in 12mm color assortments. It is our easiest tile to use, and it is some of our most affordable tile.

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!

Micromosaic

Micromosaic is merely mosaic which is made from small to extremely small pieces of tile. Note that there isn’t a formal definition of how small the pieces need to be in order for a mosaic to be classified as micromosaic, but some of the better Roman examples are small mosaic insets in brooches and rings (with a level of detail best described as ridiculous), so be careful throwing the term around lightly.

elementile-12mm for micro mosaic

The new 12mm Elementile brand of enamel glass tile is our recommended material for micromosaic for obvious reasons: all of these pieces were cut from one tile, and no scrap or dust was created in the process. Amazing.

Glass is the material of choice for true micromosaic. Of course other types of material could be used in theory, but for all practical purposes, only glass can be cut so small and still produce stable tesserae resistant to crumbling or fracturing. (When stone and most ceramic materials are cut very  small using compression tools such as nippers, they tend to produce pieces that are easily broken by handling.)

Arranging a micromosaic design isn’t too difficult provided you use a pair of tweezers and have reasonably steady hands, but what has always made this medium prohibitively difficult in my opinion was the amount of labor required to produce the tesserae. Even with glass, most of the pieces produced by nipping would be useless slivers or dust. It didn’t matter what I tried (smalti, stained glass, vitreous, etc), it was always the same. The only thing I produced was frustration and a pile of splinters and bleeding fingers.

Then I discovered “pate de verre” or “enamel glass.” This type of glass is made by fusing glass powder with metal oxide pigments at temperatures lower than what is normally used for most types of glass, which are formed by a more complete melting of larger grains of material at a higher temperature. For this reason, enamel glass is sometimes called “warm glass.”

In terms of how well the glass cuts, the lower temperature of fusing isn’t what makes enamel glass  different; the powdered state of the starting ingredients is, and the difference is profound. Enamel glass cuts cleanly and predictably without a lot of random breaks and shards because the microstructure of the material is very homogeneous (similar throughout). Unlike stained glass, there aren’t any cold seams and random swirls of heterogeneous (dissimilar) materials that cause the glass to fracture in unintended ways. Instead, enamel glass can be cut into tiny pieces with little waste and almost no glass dust.

That is why we are now selling the 12mm Elementile brand glass tile and recommending it as our material of choice for micromosaic art. It gets even better: The 12mm Elementile is our most affordable tile, our most complete color palette, and it is made from recycled glass! What’s not to love?

elementile-12mm cut small

For highly detailed mosaic art, there is nothing better than enamel glass such as our 12mm Elementile, which is made from recycled glass and has wonderful colors.