direct method mosaics

Set in stone: a bespoke mosaic for a family wedding.

Thomas and Lucy's wedding mosaic

Mosaic inspiration: trying out ideas

The thing about mosaics – maybe the thing about life – is that the way things start out is not often the way they finish. Great seeming ideas morph into other entirely different ideas. Plans alter. Decisions get shelved and new ways forward reveal themselves. So it was with this mosaic which I made for my nephew, Thomas, on the occasion of his marriage to his girlfriend, Lucy. [An aside: that beautiful shawl was made by my mother.]

Thomas and Lucy leaving the church
Thomas and Lucy leaving the church

I wanted to make something which was entirely personal, a bespoke mosaic, which would fit them and only them. To set their lives together in stone, to seal their happiness and their future with glue and grout and wax. The original thought was to make a personal version of the Madaba map in Jordan, which is on my list of top ten favourite mosaics. I would put in streets and houses which had relevance to the couple but knowing that this was an ambitious plan and had the potential to be a disaster, I sat down to make a scaled down version based on a village in Scotland. Continue reading

So many pieces, so much time: a mosaic explained.

The mosaic making process: pre-grouting

How many tesserae does it take?

There we all were sitting around a day or two before the wedding chatting about this and that. We might have been doing our toes at that particular juncture or pouring out another bottle of wine as we happily anticipated the Scottish-Palestinian wedding on a Greek island. When the subject of presents came up I went to get the wedding mosaic and the company (bless them) made suitably appreciative comments. Then the conversation drifted to other things and the mosaic sat there amongst us, until one friend, leaning back in his chair, said: ‘Two thousand five hundred.’


‘Two thousand five hundred pieces in the mosaic.’


A simple enough comment, but it took me aback. What a lot! I’d never thought of the mosaic making process in terms of numbers. I know making mosaics is slow work and I sit there hour after hour, day after day, often feeling that I haven’t progressed at all, but two thousand five hundred. Golly. Continue reading

The Story of C. and her Un-Swept Floor Mosaic

Inspiration for the Un-swept Floor Mosaic

For a long time I have been wanting to make my own version of the famous ancient un-swept floor mosaic motif. It’s a wonderfully whimsical design of the debris from a Roman feast strewn carelessly over a dining room floor. Animal bones, fruit peel, shells and nuts are among the things that have dropped from the banqueters fingers and remain there still, fixed in stone. My version would use both the remains of these long forgotten feasts and items from a modern life to tell a story.


Continue reading

Making a mosaic on mesh – step by step


making a mosaic on mesh
My Unswept Floor mosaic. Photo and mosaic: Helen Miles Mosaics

How to make a direct method mosaic on mesh, Part I

Truth be told, I am going through a bit of a mesh phase. I cant seem to get enough of it. Making a mesh on mesh is just so darn simple, convenient, versatile and all-round handy. The finished work is easily lifted from its base, doesn’t weigh much and is a total synch to transport. The ‘unswept floor’ mosaic I am working on above is just the latest in a string of mesh mosaics I have made in my new found enthusiasm for the method.

Here’s one that’s finished. See what I mean about it’s light weight, ready-to-go-ness? Continue reading

Making a Mosaic Trivet, Part IV: Grouting mosaics

DSCN4804Making a mosaic trivet, Part IV: Grouting and finishing.

Now it’s time to get down and get dirty. Roll those sleeves up, tie on your pinny and get out the rubber gloves – the moment has come  to grout your mosaic.

NB: If you use porous stone as your mosaic material, then you need to apply a layer of varnish on the finished work BEFORE grouting to protect the stone and stop it ending up with a horrid grey film.

You’d be surprised how many people are not sure what grouting mosaics means, so just in case one of those people is you: grouting is when you fill in the gaps between the mosaic tiles to strengthen and protect the work. It also has the effect of bringing the piece together as a co-ordinated whole. It’s the most common method of finishing off a mosaic – but not the only one. Continue reading

Choose a theme word.

Theme word for 2014.

There is a blogger out there in Canada who suggests that we should choose a theme word to represent the year ahead. I love the idea. A word, rather than a list of resolutions, seems like a much better way of doing things. Concentrates the mind, easy to remember, makes you distil everything down to the essentials. My theme word for 2014 is going to be FOCUS (with Freedom, that handy little internet tool which allows you to disable the internet, being a little, subsidiary extra word without which ‘focus’ would be a good deal trickier.)

So, on Day One (that is, Day One of the boys being back at school) of my year of Focus, I managed a few hours of mosaicking, and here is the result:


A hoopoe bird commission for a client who runs a supper club here in Athens, called Lucy.


On making a wedding mosaic


I once had a stroke of inspiration. Once. A dear friend offered to teach my son classical civilisation GCSE out of the pure goodness of her heart and refused to accept money. I knew that I could have put a gun to her head, and she wouldn’t have changed her mind so making her a mosaic as a small token of my immense thanks was my only option. So one day I sat down at my desk and within half an hour the drawing was ready. Things don’t usually work that way for me. I sweat and toil. I scrunch things up, fiddle about, flick through endless books without looking at what I’m seeing, surf the net for ideas, draw things and rub them out, getting increasingly exasperated until, after many trials and too many errors to count, I finally end up with something I can tolerate. But not this time.

Byzantine Museum, Thessaloniki, Greece. Mosaic fixing, finishing and ideas.

It was to be a mosaic inspired by the fresco (top) of Flora, goddess of flowers and spring, from the ancient Roman villa of Ariadne. It’s one of her favourite things and I discovered it through her. I took the flowering plant, its lightness and fragility, which is very similar to a plant in the park where my friend and I walk, and came up with a sketch which I actually liked first time round. It would have been an understated mosaic that made best use (or so I hoped) of the stone’s muted colour range, particularly the whites and light greys, but then my friend announced that she was going to get married.

Low Ham Roman Mosaic

Well, it seems to me that you really cant get married without a wedding mosaic and unless I was going to make two mosaics, which might have been a little excessive, the fresco/park mosaic wasn’t right for this occasion. A mosaic of a couple snogging in the woods wasn’t quite the thing either, so back to my desk I went with my drawings and rubbings out and book flicking. I wanted something which was for them, which was about marriage and their life together, that was joyful but not excessively coochy-coo-ish. It was a hard one and here it is:


Here’s why:

  • Leaf-hearts on border (see mosaic above from the Byzantine Museum, Thessaloniki):  a very common motif in ancient Greek designs. This is Greece, they are Greek, hearts are for love. That was easy.
  • Pomegranates on border: pomegranates symbolise prosperity and marriage, among other things. They also symbolise death, but that’s fine too. Birth, marriage, death = stages of life.
  • Birds: I had to get the park in there somewhere and birds are free to fly away.
  • The plant. It’s one of those life things – the plant grows, life grows, you grow. You get the idea. DSCN5319
  • The birds are standing on shared, solid ground. Solid. Shared. That’s marriage.
  • There are few black speckles in the background. They are they because I like them for design purposes but I also like the symbolism of them in a wedding mosaic – those black spots that life, and marriage, inevitably contain.

And here is the wedding mosaic in the making:

But now I have to work out how to say thank you, really, really thank you, for all her help with the GCSE…..

Making a floor mosaic – from start to finish.


It’s finished!

Forty six hours, umpteen cups of tea and non-stop Radio Four later. Ask me anything about international affairs or Scottish independence or the weather in the home counties, the price of coal, how cancer cells behave, Esther Rantzen’s singing voice, Francois Metterrand’s thoughts on Thatcher, the latest survey about British women’s sex lives…Go on. Anything!

Even about how to make a floor mosaic. Here is how it happened:

Making a floor mosaic – the planning.

The idea was to make a 90cm by 90cm mosaic insert for a floor in a traditional stone house in the Peloponnese, Greece, which would be reminiscent of this mosaic from Crete. The direct method on mesh would be used:

Original peacocks from Crete.

There are lots of lovely mosaics out there of birds and peacocks:

peacock with flowers

So I sat down and looked at all sorts of photographs of ancient peacock-y type designs and thought about the floor and its size and the colours and started coming up with ideas:

Coming up with various designs.

The future floor owner liked this one but there was still some tweaking to do – he wanted stripy wings and the tail design to be like the original:

This was the one that was chosen, but it still needed a few extra tweaking - stipes on wings and closer to original on tail.


 Making a floor mosaic – the process

And here is the long suffering dog who was dragged out for cold, dark walks at 6am when he should have been curled up in bed so that I’d have the days free for mosaicking. As you can see, he isn’t very impressed:





Making a Mosaic Trivet, Part III.

From this:

From this....

…to this: this


Cutting, laying and fixing the mosaic

Now its time to get down to business and start cutting your tiles, laying the mosaic and sticking the tesserae in place.

Tools for making a mosaic trivet:

You will need:

  • Tile nippers
  • Tweezers (optional)
  • PVA glue

Mosaic tools - tweezers and nippers

The tile nippers are easy to find at most hardware suppliers – make sure they have the spring bit in the middle. They will cost around 12 pounds and there are plenty of suppliers in the UK who will send them mail order. Try:

Some mosaic makers can live without tweezers, but I cant. I bought these tweezers years ago from a Byzantine arts supplier in Thessaloniki, Greece, which isn’t going to help you much here, but I would go the extra mile and try and find ones with that little bendy bit at the end.  In my view they are essential for allowing you to place small and fiddly tesserae with ease and accuracy.

The glue you can get anywhere. I use this big tub of the stuff which says that it sticks almost anything you care to imagine from ceramic to glass and it’s never let me down.

Direct method glue

Cutting method:

Making a Mosaic Trivet, Part III. How to cut a tile.

Cut the individual tesserae by holding the tile firmly between finger and thumb in one hand and the nippers in the other.

Place the edge of the nippers over the edge of the tile, no more than about three millimetres in and then give the nippers a firm squeeze.

If you place the nippers too far over the tile, then cutting will be much harder, if not impossible.

This is how NOT to do it:

Making a mosaic trivet: Part III
The nippers are too far into the middle of the tile – they should be on the edge.

To work!

1. Transfer or copy the mosaic design onto your board and then lay down the outline tesserae. The way you glue the tesserae depends on personal preference. Either a) put a largish blob of glue into a shallow receptacle, like a jar lid, and then dip each tesserae into the glue before laying it, or b) apply a line of glue to the board and press the tesserae into the glue in batches. I use method ‘a’.

Stick down the outline of the mosaic first.

2. Once the glue sets, you’ve had it, so it’s best to do the awkward filling-in bits at this stage too. The white triangle background piece in the photo can be fitted in neatly when the outline tesserae are still moveable and the same with the brown tesserae on the wings.

Also do fiddly filling-in bits now before the glue sets.

3. Next, fill in the main design,  again doing fiddly bits of the background if necessary as you work, as in the gap between the bird’s legs in this photo.

Fill in the main design.

4. Start doing the outline around your main design in the colour you have chosen for your background.

Making a mosaic trivet: in photos

5. Complete the outline around the main design features. I always like to ‘pepper’ my background colour with a slightly different tone to add interest.

Do a line of the background tesserae around the main design.

6. Then lay down a line of tesserae around the edge of the board to act as a ‘frame’ making sure that the natural straight edge of the tiles matches the edge of the board. Once you’ve done that, you can start filling in the background.

Mosaic the border all around the board and then fill in the background.

7. Continue until you have finished filling in the background area. The mosaic is now ready for grouting and finishing.

The mosaic part complete - before grouting.

Coming soon! Making a Mosaic Trivet: Part IV. Grouting and finishing the mosaic.