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Making Mosaics

by Maria Rodrigues Bernardes

The classic art of making mosaics is a highly-rewarding and pleasant activity. Fitting small pieces together and watching them be transformed into colorful and charming figures does take some time but it is without doubt fun and worthwhile. In addition to being therapeutic, making mosaics is a great change of pace and can certainly be a unique way to spend your free time. Also, it teaches us very important life qualities such as patience, persistence, concentration and flexibility. Give it a go, use your imagination and besides developing a very interesting hobby you can decorate your whole house, give very personalized gifts and even make some extra cash!

The first thing to remember when starting this hobby is that there are several techniques, approaches and resources that you can delve into. From paper to glass to seashells, you can use different kinds of materials, tools and accessories. I will demonstrate in this article the technique that I consider the easiest and most basic. You can start here, but eventually you will find that by experimenting, many other methods can be useful.

The Beginning - What mosaic to make, and a gathering of tools:

The very first step to making your mosaic is simple, and it involves making a decision on what piece you want to decorate. You then have to gather the necessary tools. Your new work of art can be made on just about anything: A stool, tray, box, key holder, picture frame, mirror . . . just use your imagination! Next, get a pencil and make the drawing you want to work on (see photo #1). Remember the more detailed the drawing, the harder it will be to make the mosaic, so it might be a good idea to start with something simple, like a big flower or a heart.

Basic tools necessary:

• The piece you want to decorate, e.g. a wooden box or a picture frame.

• A tile nipper

• Tiles of different colors, according to your taste

• Protection goggles

• Latex gloves

• White craft glue (Poly Vinyl Acetate Glue)

• A bag of grout, the color of your choice (it’s a cement-like material used to fill in the gaps between the tiles)

• Acrylic Paint (best for wood)

• Two paintbrushes (size depends on the size of your piece)

• A little bowl to prepare the grout

• A spatula to spread the grout

• A soft cloth

Most of these tools can be found at your local arts and crafts or large hardware store.

Preparing your tiles

Now it’s time to break the tiles. Some people like to hit them with a hammer at first and then use the nipper to cut them into smaller pieces. It’s a good idea to wrap the tiles with a rag when using the hammer so they don’t shatter off in all directions. I usually just cut them with the nipper from the beginning, but in either case it is extremely important to wear protection goggles and keep your eyes safe. (See photo #2)

Next you should break the tiles into a lot of small pieces of different shapes and sizes. After a little experience I realized that cutting the tiles into irregular shapes has a totally different effect compared to tiles cut into uniform shapes. When you begin your project, you should decide whether you want to cut the pieces into more uniform shapes and sizes (squares or rectangles) or into more random, irregular pieces. If you make the choice to cut the pieces into regular shapes and sizes remember that it will take some practice, since it is not easy to control the nipper at first. In order to see the difference, try to make a work in which the pieces are very irregular and another one where they are all rectangular and have a similar size. You will see that this second work will look neater, while the first one will look more chaotic and abstract.

Filling up your drawing with tiles

Now that you have prepared the tiles into smaller pieces, it’s time to start filling up your drawing with colors by sticking the tiles on the piece you have chosen to decorate. It’s a good idea to start from the smaller details of the drawing and leave the background to be filled in the end. On my particular mosaic, I will start from the middle and the petals of the flower. Always keep in mind that making a mosaic is like making a jigsaw puzzle, you have to find the best spot for each piece. Sometimes you might have to shape a piece in order to fit in a specific spot.

The best adhesive for most cases is white craft glue. You can either pick up each piece of tile with a pair of tweezers and dip it into the glue before you place it in the appropriate spot or you can use a paintbrush to spread the glue on the tiles more gently. Another option is to spread some glue on a small localized area of the work itself and stick a few pieces of tile at once. With experience, you will eventually realize that the distance you leave from one piece of tile to another makes an important difference on the final appearance of your work. (See photo #3)

Spreading the Grout

Once you have filled up the whole surface of your piece with the tiles, it’s time to use the grout. However, you should wait for a few hours before you do it to make sure the glue is completely dry. (See photo #4)

The color of the grout will have a huge effect on the work and change its appearance completely. In order to better understand this, cut a little piece of paper of any color and then place it in front of different color backgrounds. You will see that your piece of paper will seem to change color depending on the contrast it makes with the background. Therefore, think carefully when choosing the grout for your work and remember that its color needs to match the pieces. In my particular mosaic, I chose to use blue because I thought it would make a beautiful contrast with the yellow petals.

Prepare the grout according to the instructions on the package and spread it over the surface thoroughly, making sure it goes into all the gaps. You can use a spatula or your fingers, in which case you should wear rubber gloves. I usually use a knife to fine-tune the grout on the edges properly. Remove the excess with a spatula, wait a few minutes and clean the tiles with a moist sponge, a soft cloth or an old toothbrush. Just be careful not to remove the grout between the tile pieces, since it will take some hours before it hardens up. At this point your mosaic is basically ready. (See photos # 5 and 6)

Additional tweaking - painting your work

Since I chose to make a wooden box, I still have to paint it. Some people like to do this step first, but I feel better painting my work at the end, because it can sometimes be difficult to use the grout without making a big mess. Just get a small paintbrush and paint the piece the color you want, taking care not to touch the area of the tiles. Let it dry for some hours and your box is ready! (See photo # 7)

Hot tips

• Avoid accidents by wearing protection goggles whenever you break the tiles with a hammer or the tile nipper. Pieces of tile might fly into your eyes and cause serious injury.

• Use rubber gloves so you can protect your hands from the contact with the grout.

• Always follow manufacturer’s instructions, and read the information about the materials you use (grout, paints, etc) and find out how they can be harmful or how you can avoid problems.

• Never take food or drinks into your working area. Ingesting paint or other kinds of material by accident is fairly easy to do, so it’s best to avoid taking a chance.