This method for altering a mosaic can be used before grouting, or grout can first be removed by scraping it out with a grout removal tool or screwdriver.Why Remove Tiles?
Even experienced artists modify their designs as they work on them, and beginners can’t help but use a trial and error approach. After all. it’s hard to plan exactly what you will do when you are just learning a new medium.
With drawing and painting, revision is easy, but what about mosaic? How do you remove and replace tiles after the glue is dry?Prancing Horse Mosaic Before Versus After shows the changes made by prying up and replacing tiles. The purpose of the change was to make the head more horse shaped. I think the mosaic could be further improved by making the mane and tail from the same umber tile used in the hooves and outlines. How To Remove Tiles SELECTIVELY From A Mosaic
The following method assumes the tile is attached to a plywood backer using a white PVA glue such as Weldbond. You could use the same techniques on an outdoor mosaic made with thinset mortar, but it would be very difficult if the mortar has cured for more than a few days. Mostly this method is used while you are working and see obvious mistakes, and the glue or mortar is not very hard.Soften The Glue If Needed
OPTIONAL: If needed, apply a few drops of water around the tiles in question to soften the glue. If the surrounding tiles get wet and unexpectedly come up or look like they might, you can pull them up and reglue them too.
Cotton swabs are useful for applying drops of water to precise locations. Dry cotton swabs are useful for soaking up excess water and containing the spread.Use A Metal Tool To Pry
VERY IMPORTANT: Use a ruler as a fulcrum to lean the metal tool on when you pry. If you lean the tool on the surrounding tile, you can split or crack the tile VERY EASILY without applying much pressure at all.Prying Up Mosaic Tile can very easily crack surrounding tile if you lean your tool on surrounding tile as a fulcrum. Instead, hold a ruler firmly in place and lean your prying tool on that. Scrape Off Broken Pieces
If the tile breaks into pieces, and some pieces are still glued down, you can scrape that off, but take care because the tool can slip, and then you can jam your hand into the razor sharp pieces before you are aware what is happening. Wear leather work gloves to avoid skinning your knuckles or cutting your fingertips open on broken tile.Repairing Holes In Backers
If you gouge a hole in the backer while scraping or prying, it can be repaired with Weldbond glue or glue mixed with sawdust if the hole is deep. If a layer of plywood gets snagged and sticks up like a flap of loose skin, squirt glue under it and apply a heavy weight on that precise location to hold it down until the glue is dry.Safety
Wear safety glasses with side shields RELIGIOUSLY when doing this work. Prying tile with a metal tool can shoot tiny splinters right at your face. Wear leather work gloves when scraping in case your tool slips.Mosaic Art In Progress. Sometimes you don’t see your art objectively until you start working on another mosaic. Thus, it is better to wait instead of grouting a mosaic right away.
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.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.
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 on the sticky contact paper so that the embossed texture of the backsides is facing up. Work from the Center of Pattern 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) 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 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. 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 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. 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-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.
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.
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 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 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
This article explains how to use a charcoal pencil (or graphite pencil) to color the back side of a paper pattern and then trace over the pattern firmly to transfer it to a plywood mosaic backer board.
I have written a separate article explaining why tracing borrowed images is better than drawing for making patterns for small mosaics -even when the purpose is to create original artwork.
If your backer is much larger than your pattern, you can enlarge the pattern by transferring it to the backer using the grid method of pattern transfer instead of the method I explain here.Example Using 6×6 Inch Backer
In this example, I use the 6×6-Inch Plywood Mosaic Backer Board we sell at our online store and a detail cropped from Franz Marc’s fauvist painting “The Large Red Horses.”Large Red Horses fauvist painting by Franz Marc includes a prancing horse that is rich with curves that suggest motion. Step 1. Find And Make Your Pattern
I used Photoshop to crop and size the image and convert it to a black and white, but you can also use photocopies from books and your own drawings as starting points. Read more about this process in my article How To Make Mosaic Patterns Without Drawing.
Note that the image was sized so that it was 6×6 inches and printed out on regular printer paper.The Purpose Of The Pattern
For small mosaic icons and tabletops, you can work directly on the surface. Simply draw or transfer your pattern onto the backer. This pattern should look something like the black line drawing from a coloring book, just a map showing the outlines of different colored areas, possibly subdivided to show shading. (Shading and variation in these different color regions can be worked out when you start placing the tile, and so your pattern can be as simple as a cartoon outline.)Photoshop was used to crop out a detail of the painting and convert it to a black and white image that emphasizes outlines. I also added a border to mark the 6-inch x 6-inch space to make it easy to line up the paper on the backer board. The outlines of the black and white image are what we will transfer to the wood mosaic backer. Step 2. Fold The Pattern Around The Backer Board
Fold the paper pattern around the backer board so that the image of your figure is centered on the board. Having a border drawn the same size as the backer board helps you line it up.Fold your mosaic pattern around the backer board so that the image is centered. Note that my pattern should have centered the horse better in the square so that the tail isn’t so close to the edge. If the pattern transfers as shown, it will be difficult to render that part in tile, and i will need to make the tail slightly thinner so that I can put some background around it because tile can only be cut so thin. Step 3. Unfold The Pattern And Remove Board Unfold the mosaic pattern and remove the backer board. The folding was only done to get the paper creased at the edges of the pattern. Step 4. Rub Outlines Of Pattern With Charcoal Or Pencil Rub the outlines of the figure with a charcoal pencil (preferred) or a regular graphite pencil. Note that we are rubbing the BACK of the pattern not the front. Color every line that will need to be transferred.
*** FOR MOSAIC PATTERNS THAT SHOW EVERY TILE AND HAVE LOTS OF LINES, YOU MAY FIND IT EASIER TO USE CARBON PAPER INSTEAD OF RUBBING THE BACK OF THE PATTERN WITH CHARCOAL. ***Step 5. Refold The Pattern Around The Board And Tape Refold the mosaic pattern around the backer board and tape it in place, preferably with some easy to remove painter’s tape. The creases in the prefolded paper made it easy to line the pattern up without smearing the charcoal all over the wood. Note that the tape goes on the VARNISHED side of the wood. The charcoal pattern will be transferred to the UNVARNISHED side. Step 6. Trace The Pattern Firmly Trace the outlines of the figure firmly with a ballpoint pen or a pencil that is more dull than sharp. You want to press firmly so that the charcoal on the back of the paper pattern is transferred to the wood, but you don’t want to rip the paper. Avoid getting the paper humid or wet for this reason. Make sure you trace all the lines (curves) you would like to see on your backer. Step 7. Remove The Paper And Fill In Missing Lines When you remove the paper pattern, you will notice small places where the lines (curves) of the design didn’t get transferred for whatever reason, usually because you forgot to trace there or sometimes because you didn’t put charcoal in those places. You can fix those by drawing the missing lines. It is easy to do even if you have little confidence in your ability to draw because the existing lines give you a frame of reference. Step 8. Make The Lines Permanent With A Marker Make the lines of your transferred patterns permanent using a fine-tip marker such as the Sharpie brand. If you don’t do this step, then your hands and glue will quickly rub off the pattern. Ready For Indoor Use The Mosaic pattern is transferred ready for tiling. This is a dry indoor mosaic, and so the tile can be attached with Weldbond Adhesive. For outdoor and wet mosaics. a concrete stepping stone or piece of flagstone could be used for a backer and the tiles mounted with thinset mortar. Variations On This Method
There are a couple of parts of this method that could have been done through alternative means:Instead of folding the paper pattern around the backer, it could have been cut to the size of the backer and taped on that way. Instead for rubbing charcoal or graphite pencil on the back of the pattern, carbon tracing paper could have been used.
You can and should spend more time “drawing” with tile than drawing with a pencil when most of the details in the mosaic are about the size the smallest piece of tile that can be cut.
If the smallest details of your design are larger than multiple tiles, then you should draw a detailed pattern, but most mosaic plaques are small enough so that nearly all lines are affected by limitations in how small the tile can be cut, and drawing patterns for these can be counterproductive and cloud judgment.Improvise Loosely On A Photo Or Image Used As A “Pattern”
HERE’S WHY NOT TO DRAW FOR SMALLS: Every element in your drawing will need to be a multiple of tiles wide or a fraction wide. Until you understand those multiples and fractions in practical terms of what you can cut and what looks good, your drawings can lead you to make bad design decisions and artificially cause you more stress than is necessary without teaching you more about rendering in tile. How To Transfer A Pattern From A Digital Image.Mosaic Coaster with Heart Design was made using a photo of an ox’s heart downloaded from Google Images as the pattern. Is there any doubt as to whether or not this mosaic is an original interpretation? Would anyone try to argue that it is a copy of the photo? This Method Can Be Used To Make Original Art
What is the alternative to drawing if the beginner is only interested in making original art?
Answer: Select a model from a large number of images (such as hundreds or thousands looked up online or your own photos), and then render loosely with tile on top of that image making simplifications as needed.
This rendering process (“drawing with tile”) can teach you things about the image that the pencil is unaware of. It is a much more taxing interpretation than drawing, and it has its own vocabulary.
Here are the steps for making a pattern quickly from a photo or image,. The details follow. And an explanation about why this method works better than drawing studies of that image.Make a “Pattern” From A Photo or Image Instead of Drawing It View a large pool of images, such as can be had in Google images, your own photos, books, and encyclopedias. Select an image with strong lines and iconic shapes. Modify the image as desired. Combine multiple figures if desired. Convert that image into a black and white image. (Photoshop or photocopier or tracing or sketching.) Resize the image to the size of the mosaic backer. Transfer the pattern to the backer. Render LOOSELY on this pattern making simplifications as needed.
I have written a separate article about How To Transfer Mosaic Patterns,Resize Digitally or Using The Grid Method
Mosaic patterns can be resized digitally, but I have written some instructions for resizing a mosaic pattern using a grid while you copy it onto your backer board.Combine and Modify Images
You can combine figures from different photos by drawing or tracing them and then cutting them out and gluing them together in collages, or you can do it digitally in Photoshop or other image editors. I prefer the digital method because you can resize the different figures as needed before combining them in a scene.Making Black and White Copies of Photos
Photoshop is also useful for converting images to black and white without making the images too dark. Use Photoshop’s Adjust Sharpness tool and Adjust Brightness/Contrast before using Photoshop’s Convert To Black And White so that the black and white image is created has maximum contrast. That will help make the image be more outlines than dark shapes, and we need distinct outlines to transfer the pattern onto the backer.An Example Mosaic Pattern
Here is what a mosaic pattern might look like when derived from a color photograph:Photoshop was used to crop out a detail of Franz Marc’s fauvist painting “The Large Red Horses” and convert it to a black and white image that emphasizes outlines. The outlines and curves are what you want to transfer to your mosaic backer. In Defence of Drawing
Drawing a pattern by hand or by using the grid transfer method is a great exercise because it enables you to become familiar with the lines and see the image in your mind. Drawing also is an opportunity to interpret what you are seeing and make original art. In fact, for someone like me, the drawing becomes an end unto itself and almost immediately has more detail than can be rendered in the size of tile I will be using.Drawings As Maps To Nowhere
Overdrawing the details is just part of the problem. The more time spent drawing a pattern, the more likely the artist is to try to hold to it religiously rather than improvising more freely with the tile when needed. This makes the actual mosaic work more tedious than it needs to be, and it can result in awkward results when you attempt a detail in a way that doesn’t take into account the work lines of the tile or what shapes are being used or some other aspect of the tile.
Staying true to carefully rendered patterns can have you scraping off gluey tiles and redrawing the detail in a way that matches the flow of the tile –or pulling tiles off your mesh, mounting tape, or tile paper. I call this mistake “Following the pattern into a detail that can’t be rendered,” and it can happen even when you work indirectly and lay the mosaic up in advance.
Of course, this doesn’t happen often on large mosaics where the tiles are tiny compared to the details being rendered, but for small mosaic plaques and icons, the resolution issue affects nearly every single tile.How Patterns Should Be Used For Small Mosaic Images
Don’t be a slave to your pattern. Don’t let your pattern interfere with the tiling process and the rendering that happens there. The easiest way to do that is to not become emotionally invested in your pattern, and many artists cannot do this very well with their own drawings. Avoid the issue by using a photo or borrowed image as a starting point. Draw with tile, not a pencil.Ethical Considerations?
The “Mosaic Coaster with Heart Design” shown above was made using a photo of an ox’s heart downloaded from Google Images as the pattern. Is there any doubt as to whether or not this mosaic is an original interpretation? Would anyone try to argue that it is a copy of the photo?
Look at the width of different features in terms of tile count. Most everything is one or two tiles wide. How would drawing the photograph help a novice make those design decisions? Wouldn’t a novice be better off improvising on a copy the photo itself? Wouldn’t anyone attempting to draw a meaningful pattern need an experienced eye for how the tile can be cut and arranged?