Tag Archives: tile removal

Removing Glass Tile To Change A Mosaic

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?

Horse Mosaic Before Versus After

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

Use a small screw driver or studio spatula to pry the tile up or lift it up with a dental pick.

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

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.


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

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.

Choosing Mosaic Colors Based On Contrast

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 Mosaic Table Top

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

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

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

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.



How To Cut Marble Small

Recently a customer emailed me asking how to cut a piece of marble mosaic tile into very small pieces. He reported that he could easily cut the marble tile into thirds by making straight cuts, but when he attempted smaller pieces or diagonal cuts, the marble would crumble or break into jagged pieces

The customer verified that he had the correct tool for cutting extremely hard tile, which is a compound nipper, but the problem is in the stone (and the technique to a certain extent) and not the tool. This article explains how to make cuts that take into account natural breaking points in the stone and how to use a marble file to file down extra small pieces instead of cutting.

Homogeneous And Thinly Layered Stone Types Cut Better

Whether or not a piece of stone tile can be easily cut into small pieces depends on the type of stone. Some varieties can be cut into thin sections while other varieties are likely to crumble or break irregularly when cut to any size. This is due to the internal structure of the stone. If a stone is homogeneous or composed of many thin layers, then it probably can be cut into thin pieces without breaking randomly. But other types of stone have veins and globs and swirls, and these types are likely to break along these natural internal structures instead of the intended line between the blades.

Note that some types of stone have natural swirls of color that do NOT act as natural fault planes, so you can’t always assume a stone will be difficult to cut reliably merely from variegated color.

Take Veins, Globs, Swirls And Layers into Account

With practice and experience, you can learn to look at the veins, globs, swirls and layers in the stone and make your cuts in places where the stone is likely to break naturally. Just as an experienced carpenter knows to avoid diving fasteners into knots in wood, an experienced mosaicist knows to make cuts along natural boundaries. Even then, there are still some varieties of stone where scrap has to be generated to get small pieces by cutting. However, there is a way to make small pieces from difficult stone types

File Instead Of Cutting

For problematic varieties of stone, you can use the fine side of a marble file to file a piece down to size instead of cutting it. Of course, you may need to make an initial cut with a tile nipper to get the stone to a manageable starting point before using the file. In fact, you may discover a lot of useful starting pieces in the “useless scrap” created by previous cuts.

Once you get accustomed to using a marble file, you may start to think of rough cuts as just an initial step followed by shaping with a marble file. For really small pieces, you can completely alter the shape of the tesserae with just a few strokes because all of the abrasion is focused on such a small surface area. You should hold the file still and rub the stone on the motionless file for greater control.

Tip: Wear gloves for this task because it is difficult to slide the tiny pieces up and down the file without scratching up your fingertips. If gloves make your hands too clumsy, then use a shop rag over your fingertip instead. As always, use mist from a spray bottle to control dust and wear a dust mask if needed.

Of course, this isn’t a scalable solution, meaning you wouldn’t want to have to do this for very many tesserae, but it is useful for making a limited number of small pieces for fine details in a mosaic mainly made from larger pieces.

Plan Mosaic Designs Starting At The Smallest Detail

Sometimes the best way to deal with a problem is prevention. It doesn’t make sense to start with a mosaic pattern that has details smaller than the smallest piece of tile you can cut, but many novices make this error, which often results in a key focal point of the mosaic being more crudely executed than the background. Instead of assuming that you can always just cut the tile smaller to make the smallest detail of a mosaic, do the exact opposite: Before you begin executing the mosaic, take the smallest detail of your design and try cutting and arranging a few tiles to make that detail. If the tile is too difficult to cut that small, or if it is too tedious to arrange properly, then consider making the mosaic larger (or simplifying the smaller details of the design).

The size of a mosaic (or a painting) is ultimately determined by the size of the smallest detail that can be rendered. The principle seems obvious in hindsight, but in practice it catches many people by surprise. Why? Because they can visualize the smallest detail easily but do not realize that their powers of execution are much more limited.

Take the stress out of your mosaic project by playing with tile before you begin. Cut a little bit of it up and play around making patterns, and then decide how detailed your design should be and how large it should be. If your total area is already fixed (due to the size of an existing surface to be tiled), then try cropping or simplifying your design.