The Importance of Durability in Mosaic Art

In my previous post, I wrote about improvisation being a critical skill for visual artists working in multiple mediums. I regularly get emails from people using methods that are not technically sound: using hot glue guns to mount mosaic tile, using grout as mortar to attach tiles, etc., and so I think I need to say a little bit about improvising in ways that are technically sound versus just trying things blindly.

Improvisation Requires More Knowledge Not Less

Improvisation is best done with knowledge of fundamentals and how things should be done for durability sake. Improvisation is not stumbling in the dark or willfully ignoring design principles or shop practices. To deviate from the beaten path, you have to know more not less. Otherwise your artwork is likely to be physically defective in some unexpected and undesirable ways.

Ignorance Is Ugly (Often Literally)

When I see a piece of art that is poorly made and not very durable, all I can think about is how quickly that piece will end up in the landfill and how much fossil fuel and mined minerals were used to manufacturer the materials the artist consumed.

As an artist, you are free to use paint and glue and concrete in novel ways, but if you ignore basic usage instructions and fundamental design principles, then your artwork probably won’t age very well.

Poorly executed craft work is a manifestation of ignorance, and ignorance is never attractive. Where durability is concerned, naivety just isn’t the same as the naivety that make children’s artwork so wonderful. There is nothing liberating or instructive in seeing yet one more piece of poorly made junk in an age dominated by poorly made junk.

The Art of Impermanence

There is quite a lot of wonderful art that is made to be temporary, and its impermanence is actually part of its beauty and significance and wow factor, for want of a better phrase. Who hasn’t seen a photo-realistic masterpiece chalked on a sidewalk and not been stuck in an emotional way by the fact that it will all be gone in the next rain? The fact that it will be gone so soon makes us ponder that piece of art in ways that would have never occurred to us if it were just another painting on canvas.

A Sad Persistent Reproach

The example of a masterpiece chalked on a sidewalk is significantly different from a mosaic missing tiles and chunks of adhesive. The sidewalk painting washes dramatically and cleanly away. A poorly executed mosaic is a sad persistent reproach that just won’t go away. It has to be scraped or chiseled off as penance for the artist’s disregard for doing things in the right way.

Remember, what makes crumbling architecture so beautiful was that it was built to endure as long as possible not to be disposable.

If you want to make Tibetan butter sculptures to watch them melt in the sun as a meditation on the impermanence of everything, then use butter, not materials that were manufactured to be durable. I would say this for esthetic reasons alone, but there is also the moral reason, especially when the materials in question (cement, glass tile, etc.) require so many resources to be manufactured.








6 responses to “The Importance of Durability in Mosaic Art”

  1. Kathy Poole Avatar
    Kathy Poole

    Hi Joe,
    I have been working with leaded glass projects for years but have never done anything with mosaics. I want to do a custom 3 ft. x 3 ft. mosaic for behind my stove and would like to know what I should make it/mount it on? I thought of gluing it to a mesh backing, but wonder if I should be considering a firm backer. Please advise. I am also looking for 1/2″ glass tiles…should I consider buying 12″ x 12″ wall tiles and removing them? Or do you know where I can buy them loose?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar


      I’m not sure I understand some of your questions. We sell loose tile of various small sizes. Did you look at our online store? The mesh and the clear mounting taper and the mounting paper are your best options for laying up mosaic designs. We sell all three in our mosaic tools category. All three have usage instructions in the product descriptions.

      I hope this helps!

  2. Gwen Hardage-Vergeer Avatar
    Gwen Hardage-Vergeer

    In this article you address an issue that is very important, especially from the ecological perspective. As a mother of six children, I have watched a dismaying number of craft projects dumped into the recycle and garbage bins and have wondered about this issue before, though I’ve never seen an article on it. I’m going to bring this to the attention of my children’s teachers; thanks for putting it so succinctly.

    On to a question: I am about to do my first mosaic project, an address sign for my workplace. I would like to make it durable and could use any advice you have as to the correct materials to use. So far I have a piece of plywood (sanded so the tiles will stick well), glass and ceramic tile bits, and “Mosaic Mercantile” grout and adhesive. I plan to hang it on a fence out of doors. I do not know how to protect it from the elements.

    Thank you for your article and your thoughts. –Gwen

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar

      Thanks for the kind words. Plywood cannot be used as a backer for wet and outdoor mosaics because wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity. I wrote this blog article on mosaic backers and this one for outdoor mosaic signs. I hope this helps,

  3. Teresa Avatar

    I want to make a mirror for inside using glass gems & mosaic tiles. Can I hot glue them instead of using mosaic grout & adhesives? Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Teresa

    1. Joe Moorman Avatar

      Hot glue is very unreliable for mosaic. The glass tends to pop loose over time due to thermal expansion and contraction. A white PVA adhesive such as Weldbond is much more reliable.

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