Larger mosaics on mesh.
Part II of a 2-part post on making mosaics on mesh.
Let me cast your minds back to February, 2014 when I wrote a step-by-step tutorial post on how to make a mosaic on mesh. Back then I was full of the joys of mesh and two years later I am still bursting with enthusiasm about the method. I love its versatility, and lightness and the way it solves the problem of making mosaics for faraway destinations, hard to reach places or awkward surfaces. It has all the advantages of the reverse paper method without the disadvantages of working in reverse.
The original blog post laid out the method for making a small mosaic and now its time to think about larger mosaics on mesh. Over the months a few people (to whom I am eternally grateful) have written comments in response to the post and it’s clear that people are interested in the method but that the first post doesn’t go far enough – so this post about larger mosaics on mesh is for all those mosaic makers out there who are ready to take off and tackle bigger, more ambitious projects.
Let me start by defining what I mean by larger mosaics on mesh. When the time comes to install your mosaic, you want to be sure to have easy to handle pieces that are not too unweildy. The process of fixing a mosaic on mesh into position is pretty much the same as the process involved in tiling a bathroom. As a rough guide, I aim for pieces which are not much larger than the size of a lap top screen although they might be longer and thinner. There are plenty of exceptions to this and it really all depends on the space that the mosaic will fill and access to it. The fish mosaic above was made for a bathroom wall with no awkward corners or other impediments to installation so it could be made in larger, longer pieces which can still be held easily by one person and put into position.
Eight easy steps to making larger mosaics on mesh.
The first thing to think about when you make larger mosaics on mesh is where you are going to make the breaks in your design. Depending on the size of the mosaic you will either be making it in one piece and cutting it for transportation and installation (as was the case with this black and white birds mosaic below) or, if the mosaic is very large and your studio space is not (as was the case with the fishy splashback), then you will make the mosaic in pieces which will then be joined together on site. Once the mosaic is installed the break lines will be invisible as they will be an intrinsic part of the grouted interstices.
As far as possible divide up the mosaic in accordance with its design. In other words, try not to cut across the ‘grain’ of the mosaic. The resulting mosaic panels will inevitably be different sizes and odd shapes but regular-sized pieces are not what you are aiming for. Given that the tesserae are flowing horizontally in this Unswept Floor mosaic, the left to right cut was easy. In order to divide the mosaic up further I also needed to cut it from top to bottom so I tried to keep to the outer line of the fish and the glasses so that the breaks follow the same lines as the andamento.
The mosaic I will use to illustrate the tutorial is a splash back with a fish theme which I recently made for a kitchen in Washington, DC. The main requirement was that the splashback should include an ocotopus based on the 3,500 year old Minoan vase (below) which is displayed in the Athens Archeological Museum.The mosaic measured 3.8 metres by .5 metres and was made in 25 pieces. This tutorial assumes that the mosaic you are making is larger than your working area and therefore needs to be cut into pieces before you begin work.
First design your mosaic and make a template to the correct size. Then decide where the breaks will be and mark them onto your template. Make sure they are clearly visible as you will need them as guidelines once you’ve laid the cling film and mesh over the design (see Making a Mosaic on Mesh, Part I: http://helenmilesmosaics.org/mosaic-tutorials/making-a-mosaic-on-mesh/).
Cut the template into workable sizes. You will probably be able to work on at least two panels at once.
If I am working on two adjoining panels which are small enough not to require pre-cutting, I used to leave marginally wider interstices between the tesserae along the marked break lines. These become invisible after you install the mosaic. However, this is not necessary as long as you have a reasonable gap between the tesserae and I no longer bother.
When you move onto the next panel, it’s helpful to lay the completed one alongside it in order to check that you maintain the flow of the andamento. I mark the direction of the flow on the new template and check it as I work.
When you’re finished the mosaic it’s time to cut it into smaller pieces according to your needs.
Dont forget to peel off the underlay of cling film when you remove the panels from their backing board.
You are then ready to lay out the completed mosaic and check how it looks.
In some instances, the break lines didn’t merge into the flow of the andamento and remained visible. Another great advantage of the mesh method is that individual tesserae can be easily removed and put back in place so I ‘sewed’ adjoining panels together (see below) so that the joins wouldn’t draw the eye.
If your mosaic has lots of panels be sure to number them and make a plan of the order the mosaic will be laid when it is reassembled on site.
Your mosaic is now ready to stack and transport to its new home.
In case you missed the links above, here’s how you get to Part I of this post:
And here is a post about how to install mosaics on mesh:
I wish you every success with your mosaic on mesh and would love to hear how you get on with the method so please send me your views, photos and comments as it would be great to do a follow up post showing readers’ work. 🙂
Thank you. For a begin beginner I’m just doing small projects but with enthusiasm and learning is much needed.
🙂 Thank you too!
Thank you so much for this Helen. I found it very helpful!
When you say “cut the template into workable sizes” in step 2. You mean divide up the sections that you will will in first? Not to actually cut the sections correct? The cutting doesn’t happen until after you attach the pieces correct? What do you use to cut along the break lines?
Hi Jennifer. Yes, ideally the cutting happens after the pieces are attached and I use a Stanley Knife (Exacto knife in America) to cut through the mesh. However, this was a very long mosaic and I didn’t have the space in the studio to make it all in one piece so had to decide where to divide up the template before I started in order to have ‘workable sizes’ that fitted the space I had available. This is why it was important to ‘sew’ the pieces together – see Step Six. I hope this helps!
Hello Helen from the Sunshine Coast in Australia. I have a tricky area on my kitchen floor where my husband has removed a few short walls that house the fridge and pantry. And hallway behind. There is now an odd ‘E’ shape where there are no tiles on the floor, over a 2m x 900mm area. I’ve tried to source replacement tiles to fill the E but had no luck…so looking at a mosaic. The existing floor tile is 330x330mm square and 5mm thick.
My beginner questions are – how would I bring the mosaic up to the same height as the existing floor? Some of the existing tiles have been cut, do you think I should try and remove the irregular shaped tiles so all are the uniform 330×330?
Any other advice you can give this beginner would me much appreciated
Hello! I will be attempting my first larger piece.
I am doing a 5ftx3ft backsplash in my laundry room.
I like the idea of using mesh. But I was wondering, can I use mesh for the mandalas I am tiling, affix to the wall. Then do freehand tile pieces to fill in the untiled spaces, then grout?
The mandalas will be more intricate, filling in not so much. The total shape of the backsplash won’t be square, as it starts uNader a cabinet, then higher over the sink. So if I was to use mesh for the whole backsplash, I’m afraid it won’t fit nicely.
Hi Lori. Yes indeed, what you propose is one of the many advantages of using mesh. Needless to say the thickness of the tiles used in the mandalas need to be the same as that of the tiles in between the mandalas. Other than that, you are good to go. I did exactly what you are proposing for a bird bath which is on the home page of this site. I made the fiddly fish on mesh, cut them out and then stuck them onto the surface of the concrete basin and applied the other tiles directly around them. Your splash back will look great. Please send pics!
Hello, Jane – that sounds like quite a project! In order to bring the mosaic up to the height of the existing floor you need to lay a substrate – a bed of cement – to which the mosaic will be fixed. Unless you are an expert at laying a smooth bed I would highly recommend getting someone skilled in to do the job as it requires practice and expertise to get it right. The irregular shaped tiles could be part of the ‘design’ for the mosaic but I think it would be hard to incorporate them into your plan as they would be fiddly to work around so I would recommend removing them and perhaps using parts of them in the mosaic in order to blend the mosaic and existing floor together. I hope that helps. Helen.
Hi there Helen. I am converting a van and I am wanting to have a light weight floor that is mosaic, so I like this mesh option. My only concern/uncertainty is about sealing the mosaic so there are NO GAPS. This would mean cleaning is easier and I do not have to worry about what COULD happen if I have gaps. Could I use grout?
Hi Olivia, that sounds like an interesting project. Yes, absolutely you would grout the completed mosaic once it is installed. All mosaics, except ones using the tile adhesive method which is covered in different blog posts, are grouted and do not have any gaps. Hope that helps, Helen
This mesh method may be the method I need so that I can safely work with a primary school this Autumn. The school had a competition to design a mosaic and it’s a delightful rainbow with “Welcome to [our]…. school” following the contour of the rainbow. I’ve scrounged some marineply, but it would be much better if the mosaic could be installed directly onto an outside wall.
One question – what sort of glue do you use, please, to affix the tessarae to the mesh?
Hello Monica. Actually, based on very little information, I suspect your marine ply idea would work better. If you use mesh you still need to prepare the wall – clean it, mortar it to create a smooth surface, and score it for grip. Also, the wall needs to be completely free of damp etc. The advantage of marine ply is that it will be stand proud of the wall but of course you need to be sure that the edges are sealed and protected from rainfall. The glue I use is called Titebond and is available from the Mosaic Workshop in London: https://www.mosaicworkshop.com/shop/titebond-2-237ml.html#fndtn-product_info. I hope that helps, Helen.
I am planning on doing a mosaic for our balcony wall. My husband has concerns about future removal of the mosaic if we move. I will be doing it on the mosaic mesh. Can the mosaic be removed in the future without major damage to the wall? I also would be concerned about not destroying the mosaic upon removal.
Hi Suzan – I’m afraid you wont be able to move the mosaic if you use the mesh method. Think of it like tiling – you cant really remove tiles easily without damaging them and often leaving gouges in the walls too. Is it a big balcony? I would recommend using Wediboard (if you’re in the States) or Jackoboard if you are in the UK. You could cut the board into panels which would be easily removable if you move location. I hope that helps! Helen
Like Suzan, I am planning an outdoor mosaic on Wediboard (I’m in AZ, USA). I had been puzzling over how to best do this, as I’m going to be putting up 7 different pieces, 2’x2′ each for five, and 2’x3′ for two. I just discovered your post yesterday, about the mesh method, without grouting, and I’m very excited about doing that. I’m planning to do the full 2’x2′, then thinset it onto the Wediboard which has been prepared to hang (i.e., framed sealed and prepped for hanging on our stucco wall).
For Suzan’s benefit: I have had a very difficult time sourcing Wediboard. The manufacturer would only ship if the boards were cut too small for my needs, and the shipping fees were outrageous. The online mosaic shops don’t seem to carry even small wedi boards now. I recently discovered that Home Depot now carries an underlayment kit with five boards 2’x4′. Thank you Helen!
Hi Patricia. Yes, that sounds like a good idea. I would say, though, that I do grout my mosaics on mesh. However, I agree that if you push the meshed piece into the thinset then the thinset will come up between the tiles and naturally ‘grout’ the finished piece. One extra word of warning – do please be careful not to use too much glue as if it squeezes out from under your tesserae it would prevent the thinset from getting inbetween the tiles. Good luck with your project!
My wife and I are trying to produce an outdoor mosaic that measures .75m x 2.1m. We have little experience at this point. Do you think its possible to use the face up mesh technique and then slide the whole thing off a piece of plywood onto a flat and level bed of thinset which will be applied over a concrete sub slab?
Ed and Andi
Hi Ed and Andi – oooh, that sounds like an interesting project! I do think your plan is technically possible but think it would be much easier to cut up the mosaic. If you want to make it as a single piece, then cut it after completion along the natural ‘fault’ lines of the design. With a sharp Stanley knife or scalpel, cutting the mesh is very simple and means that you will have manageable sized pieces that can be picked up and carefully placed on the bed of thin set without any fear of the mosaic bunching or snagging in the process. Trust me! 🙂
Thanks a lot for this tutorial.
I have in mind a mosaic 1.50 m by 1.20m to replace something on an outside wall. This wall is a cement wall with plaster currently. Could you tell me please what is the best support for the mosaic in this context (I’m in Auckland so it’s quite humid)?
Thanks a lot
Hi Maud, thanks for you enquiry. It’s a little difficult to say without seeing the wall but it sounds like you might be able to make the mosaic on mesh and then apply it directly to the wall with outdoor grade tile adhesive. The surface of the wall obviously has to be reasonably smooth and very stable, preferably with a wider brick at the top (sorry the name for this has completely escaped me) so that water doesn’t get behind the mosaic and eventually loosen it. Does that make sense? Good luck with your project, Helen
We exchanged messages a couple of months ago. We have successfully installed 27 steeping stones for our mosaic sun clock and are back to the large rectangular mosaic, which we are planning on installing face up on mesh. Our challenge now is dealing with tiles of varying thickness. Is there an “easy” way to shim up individual small pieces to match the predominate thickness or should we look for tile of the same thickness.
Thanks! Ed and Andi
Hi Ed and Andi. That’s a tricky one. Have you already started? If you have tiles of very different thickness and you want to use them then I would recommend creating your own substrate out of mesh and tile adhesive/thinset and then applying the tiles to the substrate again with tile adhesive/thinset. You will end up with a textured surface which wouldn’t be suitable if people are going to be brushing against it but might work if its reasonably high up on a wall. I wrote about creating your own substrate in this post https://helenmilesmosaics.org/mosaic-projects/how-to-make-a-mosaic/ and there is another one about the tiles adhesive method here: https://helenmilesmosaics.org/blog/tile-adhesive-method/. If this approach isn’t an option for any reason then, yes, I would recommend looking for tiles of the same thickness and carrying on with the standard mesh method. Hope that helps! Helen
Dear helen, so glad i found your mesh method. But what is mesh? Is it a material used on walls in bathrooms to lay tile on? Where to buy it? I have a large iron pipe that I found on my property. It’s about 6-8 inches in diameter and about 4 feet tall. It’s rusty and rough. I installed it in my garden and topped it with a bird feeder. I want do a mosaic vine climbing it. Mesh would work so i can assemble the design in my barn. Also have another ceramic pipe, red clay colored about 8 in. Wide and 3feet tall. It may be possible to just adhere the mosaic tiles directly on that one? I love your ceramic pieces, they’re elegant ? Thank you so much for your advice.
Hello Betty. It’s fibre glass mesh you need which is a kind of mesh which is alkaline resistant and won’t corrode over time. You should be able to find it at any mosaic supplier. First of all, yes the mesh method would work for your large iron pipe. I haven’t worked on metal so be careful to make sure that you prepare it properly to receive the mesh (ie the rust will need sanding off) and be sure to use a glue that is appropriate for outdoors. As for the ceramic pipe, yes, you can work on it directly. It would still need to be sealed with a coat of a 50:50 PVA/water mixture but then you’re good to go. I hope that helps!
I really like your articles and videos – so helpful, thank you.
I have quite a big mosaic on mesh in the planning phase (1m x 70 cm) and I have a question about splitting the mosaic up into sections – which I need to do as my work table is quite small.
The article above says to mark and cut the paper template after drawing the design. And create the mosaic in sections.
But it only mentions cutting the mesh toward the end – after sticking on all the mosaic tiles.
That won’t really help me as my space is small. I didn’t really want the whole mesh on the table at one time. So is it feasible to cut both the mesh and the paper template prior to attaching the mosaic tiles? And then reassemble the pieces as the go onto the wall. Or is idea that fraught with problems.
Thanks so much for the advice. Jo
Hi Jo. Thanks for your question which is a great one. The answer is, yes, you can cut the mesh before you start work. I have done it for mosaics larger than my desk perfectly successfully. Obviously each section needs to be laid out separately and carefully so that the cling film under the mesh covers the whole board and I extend the mesh beyond the cut section and then remove the excess when it comes to install. I hope that makes sense! Good luck with your project. Helen
Thank you Helen – for such a swift and helpful reply!
I’ll crack on with it as you describe .
Best wishes, Jo
I have finally finished making the mosaic I wrote to you about earlier in the year (above).
It’s in five pieces on mesh.
Now I want to get it up on the wall and grouted.
I’ve run scared from fixing it directly to the wall – so am going to use Wedi Board or marine ply- and fix that to the wall – so that I can take it with me if we move.
What should I do to the wediboard before applying tile adhesive – do I need to seal it somehow?
My experiment with sticking a smaller mosaic on mesh to wediboard this week wasn’t easy – the board didn’t seem to want to accept the adhesive – it was difficult to spread. Did I miss a step? Or was the adhesive too dry maybe?
Or is marine ply easier?
Thank you very much for any advice.
I sent you a reply by email but I thought it might be handy for other people to post the reply publicly too so here it is: Hi Jo,
Thank you for your enquiry and it’s good to hear that the mosaic is complete and ready for installation. Is it going outside? Will it be entirely exposed to the elements or covered? That has a bearing on which material to use as your backing board. In general terms, however, the answer to your questions are:
1. If it is going outside and is marine ply the board needs to be sealed and the back painted with three coats of boat paint. Here’s how to seal it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOIcUI4UmM8
2. If if is Wediboard you can apply a ‘scratch coat’ to the board before you fix the mosaic to it. To do this you apply a thin layer of tile adhesive to the board, working it in so that it provides a rough surface for the second layer to fix to. Obviously, you then wait for the scratch coat to dry before the fixing stage. You also use the tile adhesive to cover the exposed edges of the foam board. Personally, I don’t apply a scratch coat but I haven’t had any difficulties with adhesion.
I am creating an exterior mosaic on a concrete surface. 6feet by 2 feet. I have to work away from site then transport. it is a public area should i use mesh rather than cement board? Also should i use thinset to attach? finally what would be a good professional edging tile as it is a seat?
I would recommend mesh over cement board because it will go directly onto the wall, rather than being screwed in place. Also, it sounds as if you already have a smooth prepared surface to apply the mosaic to, so there is no need to use cement board to create a smooth surface. However, do please make sure that there is a coping stone at the top of the wall – a little projection to stop water getting in behind the mosaic. Yes, I would use thinset to attach to the wall – check the manufacturers instructions to make sure it is suitable for the weather conditions/place that it will be installed. As for edging, it depends what tiles you are using. If you are using the mesh method, all the tiles would have to be the same height so you would have to use the same tiles for the edging. Of course the edges are the most vulnerable part of the mosaic so they need special care. I have never made a seat so cant recommend a particular approach but I’m sure you will find plenty of examples online and can pick up some ideas that way. Good luck with the project.
I’m so glad I found your sight. I am planning on making a 4’H x 1’W square pillar for outside with a birdbath on top using the mesh method. I am using cement board for the pillar.
Would I be best to use thin set to adhere the mesh sections to the pillar and could I use Weldbond 8-50420 Universal Adhesive for exterior application?
Then, do I need to seal the whole piece once completed?
Hi Renae. That sounds like a great project and yes, you would use thin set to attach the mesh sections to the pillar. I am afraid I dont use Weldbond products so I can’t comment on its suitability but if you read the manufacturer’s specifications carefully and also ask the place where you are buying it from just to double check then I am sure you will be fine. Sealing the piece depends on what materials you are using – tiles like Winckelmans and Cinca don’t need to be sealed but anything porous does.