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 →
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.
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:
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’.
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.
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.
4. Start doing the outline around your main design in the colour you have chosen for your background.
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.
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.
7. Continue until you have finished filling in the background area. The mosaic is now ready for grouting and finishing.
Coming soon! Making a Mosaic Trivet: Part IV. Grouting and finishing the mosaic.
This is Part II of my four part series on making a mosaic trivet – Part I explained how to prepare your base, the marine plywood board, and so now’s the time to choose your materials and mosaic designs. This is where the fun starts.
Materials will influence your design and visa versa so you need to be thinking about both at the same time. In this instance, however, you are going to be making a direct method mosaic trivet which needs to be flat to put pots on, so there are only three choices of materials (pictured above):
Within these three choices, however, the range of colours is enormous and the effects they create are entirely different so limited choices doesn’t mean limited results. Take a look at the work of mosaicists who are established in the field and tend to prefer certain materials. Martin Cheek, for example, does amazing things in glass:
Tessa Hunkin has just completed the wonderful Hackney mosaic using ceramic (this is just a detail):
When you start thinking about choosing mosaic designs, you need to bear in mind that the process of mosaic making comes with certain constraints. Given that the piece will, by its very nature, have a fractured effect, designs work best which are:
Different components of the design need to be clearly delineated from each other if you want the image to be instantly ‘readable’, although there are also abstract options too – look at this work by Sonia King:
And don’t forget that patterns make wonderful mosaic designs:
The best thing I can recommend at this stage, is to allow yourself a free-internet rein and surf about looking at different mosaics using different materials until you get a feel for what you would like to do. Here I am going to stop everything and hold up a huge placard saying ‘OPEN A PINTEREST ACCOUNT NOW!’ It’s incredibly useful for getting ideas and keeping hold of them for a later day and also for general dabbling about.
Basically, its like using Google images except that you have an account so when you find something you like and want to keep, then you pin it on one of your boards which can be organised into any subject/theme you like. Other people can then ‘follow’ your boards or you can follow them so that if they are busy pinning images of all the sorts of things that you are interested in, then you wont miss their pins. To make things even better, you can create secret boards so the whole world doesn’t have to know about your particular weird obsessions. I have a secret board called Kitchens because one day, when I’m grown up, I am going to have a real kitchen but its sort of sad that I am sitting here fantasizing about work surfaces and cupboard space so I keep it to myself on my secret board.
My Pinterest account has boards entitled things like: Ancient Mosaics, Byzantine Mosaics, Pebble Mosaics, Mosaic Inspiration and so on but obviously you can choose to categorise your boards however you like.
More inspiration: look around you
If you feel like you want to do your own thing, then look around you – the natural world is full of inspiration:
And there are plenty of designs which can be taken from other contexts and adapted to mosaic – take this Korean wrapping cloth from the British Museum:
Coming soon: Making a mosaic trivet – get sticking!
Now you know what to expect when making a mosaic trivet, I will show you how to go about it step by step. This part is all about preparing the board which is an irksome but essential stage. This is a beginner’s project – anyone can do it. It’s suitable for children, adults, OAPs and extra terrestrials. It really is so easy there is no real reason not to get started NOW!
This is what you’ll need:
Mosaic trivet: materials.
A marine plywood board
Sandpaper (medium grade)
Water soluble white craft glue
Clean jam jar
Wood primer and paint in a colour of your choice.
Direct method: making a mosaic trivet. Preparing the board.
1. Get a piece of marine plywood in the size you require. MDF would do for this project but I’m a great believer in marine plywood as its strong and water resistant so that it can be used for exterior mosaics. I know you are unlikely to be using your trivet in the great outdoors but I always feel that its a good idea to use the best quality materials with mosaics even when not strictly necessary, simply because you are making something that you hope will last and become a bit of a family heirloom. Don’t get wood that’s too thin – it will warp. Mine are 12mm thick. It’s not too expensive either; I bought six pieces of wood 25cm x 25cm, a larger piece of 45cm x 40cm and a few offcuts thrown in for free from my local wood merchant and it cost E13 over here in sunny Greece. Seemed like a bargain to me.
2. Prepare the board. This is important as it protects the wood from the moisture in the grout and helps the tesserae stick to the board. First, use sandpaper to rub the side of the board you will be mosaicking. Not too rough, just a gentle scrub to buff it up and get those ragged edges off. Then, get some water-soluble white craft glue and make a 50:50 mixture with water in a jam jar. Stir it well otherwise you’ll get lumps. Using a normal paint brush (the kind you use for painting the house, 3cm wide or so) treat the same side of the board with a coat of the mixture and leave to dry.
Tip: Put a mark (an ‘F’ for ‘Front’, for example) on the side of the board you’ll be mosaicking. It’s just an extra reminder in case you have to move the board and cant tell which side you’ve sealed.
3. When it’s dry, take a Stanley knife and score the board all over in crisscross fashion to help the tesserae stick to the wood.
3. Paint the board with one coat of wood primer and then give it at least one other coat of paint. I hate this part. I just want to get on and make the mosaic and the last thing I want to do is fiddle around with paint but I have discovered to my cost that doing it now saves so much hassle in the long run that I force myself to buckle down. The painted side of the board might get the odd bit of grout on it in the final stages but it easily wipes off whereas woe betide you if you get paint on the tesserae…Now go wash your brush in white spirit ready for next time.
Another tip: paint the edges first, otherwise you’ll get covered in paint when you pick the board up to paint the sides.
Here are my boards all painted up. In case you are wondering, I stand them on something so that when the paint dries they don’t stick to the table underneath. And in case you are wondering again, I hate the preparation stage so much that I tend to do it in batches so once it’s done, it’s done:
Making a mosaic trivet: an easy project in photos.
In case you’re wondering, a trivet is a pot stand. Its not a word I use much but Americans seem to be comfortable with it for reasons of their own just like they like to say ‘suspenders’ when they mean things to hold your trousers up, but let’s not start on that one. It’s a thing for putting hot pans on so that you don’t mark the surfaces. My aunt, who is American and lives in Connecticut, has asked me to make one for a dining room table and although I have never made one before, I am happy to oblige. Ever keen to get new blog followers, I have been reading up about social media recently and it seems that I ought to be posting short videos on Youtube so I think I might even do a mosaic trivet making video some time soon so keep your eyes and ears peeled…. But first I need a new hair do or a brown paper bag.
Meanwhile, here’s a project: making a mosaic trivet using the direct method (which means sticking the tesserae directly on the board). Simple, straightforward, no fuss and a useful thing to have in any house.
You can see the whole project below in photos so you can get an idea of what’s involved. Later posts will give detailed instructions for making a mosaic trivet in four parts:
Part I: Preparing the board.
Part II: Designing the mosaic and choosing the materials.
Part III: Making the mosaic
Part IV: Grouting and finishing the trivet.
(formerly Athens, Greece)
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Helen Miles Mosaics
I learnt how to make mosaics with Greek masters of the craft in Thessaloniki and Athens who taught using traditional methods with a focus on Byzantine iconography. Later, I become fixated with Roman designs and now my aim is to preserve the simplicity and directness of early mosaics while creating pieces which suit our modern lives.
New blog post on contemporary mosaic innovators. 1. Samantha Holmes ‘Unspoken’ 2. CaCO3, Movement No 12 3. Detail from Rachel Sager’s Ruins Project 4. Dugald MacInnes, Xenolith. http://helenmilesmosaics.org/contemporary-mosaics/mosaic-innovators/
Mosaics by Felice Nittolo, Raffaella Ceccsarossi and Pascale Beauchamp feature in my latest blog post about contemporary mosaics: http://helenmilesmosaics.org/contemporary-mosaics/contemporary-mosaics/