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How to make a mosaic ‘virus’

How to make a mosaic ‘virus’


The British Association for Modern Mosaic has started a new series called ‘Prompts from the Pros‘ to coincide with the period of Covid 19 lock down. The idea is to inspire and challenge mosaic artists and to use the time to go a little off piste, exploring different creative directions.


The first prompt is to make your own mosaic ‘virus’.  No one will have failed to notice the curious beauty of the virus which is causing such devastation. The hyper-magnified version –  a soft ball symmetrically dotted with red barbs, like a deadly pin cushion – is now instantly recognisable.  It swirls behind the heads of newsreaders, appears in glossy format in the front of weekly magazines and haunts our waking hours.

Making mosaics, as even novices to the art will tell you, is fully absorbing. You become lost to the process of choosing and placing.  But the horror of the pandemic permeates into every pore of life, including the simple meditative pleasure of making.

It seemed logical and even necessary to me to incorporate what was happening into my working process rather than to embark on a fruitless attempt to block it out or suppress it. The virus’s horrible exoticism becomes a source of inspiration in itself. My idea was to make one mosaic virus a day for the course of the pandemic and install them in public spaces. That ambition was thwarted once full lock down was announced and the studio became off limits.

However, I hope others will like the idea and use it as a chance to delve into long-forgotten tesserae ‘stashes’, experiment with colour and texture, or to simply play with the potential of mosaic materials. If you are isolated at home with children, it could also be a good project to try out with them.

As a practising mosaic artist you will probably have most of the materials already. Otherwise they are easily sourced on line.

How to Make a Mosaic ‘Virus’: Materials

  • Old apron or shirt to protect your clothes

  • Plastic sheet
  • Mixing tub (old soup or yoghurt pot/ice cream tub etc is fine)
  • BAL Max Flex Fibre Tile Adhesive
  • Black Mortar Tone
  • Spoon or mixing implement
  • Mosaic mesh
  • Spreading implement (an old loyalty card will do)
  • An adhesive spreader or an old table knife
  • Miscellaneous mosaic materials
  • Ordinary kitchen scissors
  • Sharpie pen

How to Make a Mosaic Virus: Preparing the Substrate

  • Put on your apron, lay out the plastic sheet and cut two pieces of mesh to slightly larger than the size of your ‘virus’.
  • In the pre-Covid days I would recommend you put on a disposable face mask before mixing the tile adhesive. However, given that this is unlikely to be an option, please mix outside.

  • Mix roughly 4-5 heaped tablespoons of tile adhesive in your mixing tub with your mixing implement by following the instructions on the packet. You are aiming for a thickish paste, like peanut butter.
  • Add the Black Mortar Tone if you are using. The more you add the blacker the tile adhesive will be!
  • Put one of the mesh pieces onto the plastic sheet. Spread a thin layer of adhesive over the mesh with your spreading tool/loyalty card and then lay the second mesh piece over it and spread a second thin layer. The adhesive will push through onto the plastic sheet (that’s fine) and bits of the mesh will still be visible (that’s also fine).
  • If you have the space, it’s a good idea to make lots of these DIY substrates in one go.
  • Wait for the adhesive to dry completely – preferably 24 hours – and peel the mesh away from the plastic sheet.
  • You will now have a flexible light weight substrate ready for mosaicking.

How to Make a Mosaic Virus: Designing


While your substrate is drying decide what tesserae you are going to use and work out a rough idea of how you plan to lay them.

Working with tile adhesive means that once you have laid a piece it is hard to make changes so it’s a good idea to think ahead.

Lay out your ideas on a board or table.

Ways to approach the project include:

  • Play with mixing or contrasting colours or textures
  • Perhaps choose a favourite tessera as the centre and work out from there. If you want it to stand out, use flatter or less interesting tesserae around it so they don’t distract the eye away.
  • Graduate tones working from dark to light or visa versa, mixing unusual materials.
  • Choose a single colour and see how many different materials and textures you can find within or near that colour band.


How to Make a Mosaic Virus: The Process

  • Mix a second batch of tile adhesive as before.

  • Spread a thick layer onto the pre-prepared mesh base using the adhesive spreader or old table knife. You want your tesserae to be embedded up to 2/3 their depth, so vary the thickness of the layer accordingly.
  • Don’t spread too much at once – roughly the size of a mug base should be enough to start with.
  • Press your tesserae into the adhesive.
  • Spread more adhesive as needed, working outwards from the centre and turning the substrate as you go so you build up your design evenly.
  • Once completed, leave to dry – again preferably for 24 hours.
  • When it is dry, cut off the excess substrate (right).

How to Make a Mosaic Virus: Installing

  • Find a clean, flat, dry surface where you would like to install your virus – a garden wall, bathroom, or the side of a garage.
  • Prepare another batch of tile adhesive as above.
  • Hold the mosaic up to the surface where you plan to install it and draw around it with your Sharpie pen so you are left with the outline of the mosaic on the wall.
  • Spread the tile adhesive onto the wall/surface filling the outline you have just drawn. The adhesive should be reasonably thick so that it can hold the weight of the mosaic.
  • Press the mosaic into the adhesive and continue to hold it in place for a few minutes so that you are sure it is stuck. Use excess adhesive to fill the gap around the edge of the mosaic so that it is neatly embedded all the way around.


For more on how to make a mosaic using the tile adhesive method:

COMING SOON: Graffiti mosaics and why I make them. 







  1. Patty Lilja

    Hi Helen. I’m so glad I stumbled upon your mosaics, which lead me to this website. I love making mosaics and Eager to learn. I’m recently retired and Have more time to make things. I was looking at your class that takes place in Greece, but couldn’t find the link to register. I’m not 100% sure I can at this time but wanted to look into it. Thank you so much.

  2. Joan Guerin

    Hi Helen,
    So glad to have found your blog! I would love to “spread the virus love” here in the states 🙂 Is there an alternative to the BAL Max flex fiber adhesive that would be available here?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Joan. I am so pleased to hear that you are planning to spread the viruses over on your side of the pond! Yes, tile adhesive is called thin set in the States and it’s used for the same thing – namely fixing tiles to walls. You can get it from any hardware shop either in powder form or as a pre-mixed paste. If you want to install your viruses outdoors then check the packet to make sure its suitable for outdoors. There will be one that is. Looking forward to seeing your creations!

  3. Jane

    Thanks! (Sent here by Rachel Davies) I started doing mosaics just this year, glass on wood, which I really liked. I then tried broken pottery which was not working for me! Using mesh as a substrate grabbed me and I have done two so far, not quite viruses but fun and got me to branch out a bit into materials other than glass.

  4. Thank you for the information. I’m pivoting back to mosaicking. My assemblage interest was sideswiped when I acquired a scroll saw. Self taught, l would like to make my own tesserae. Do you know if thin set is usable and long term durable with wood. Or painted wood, or metal or plastic? Thank you in advance.

    1. Good question! I wouldnt use it with wood, not because the thinset isn’t durable but because the wood is porous and expands and contracts and therefore the thinset will crack. You wouldn’t have that problem with metal or plastic but there is nothing for the thinset to grip onto with either of those materials so it would come away from the surface fairly quickly. Wediboard or cement board are your best bets.

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