Mosaics - The Basics

Mosaics - The Basics

There are a number of methods of creating mosaics, and being a self-taught artist I’m still learning with each mosaic I make and hope that continues. I have found my preferred basic methods though and the following are things that work for me in the mosaics I’ve made using glass tiles and ceramic shapes.


My Tool Kit

  • Wheeled Nippers
  • Safety glasses
  • Safety gloves
  • Glue Syringe (optional, and best for PVA based adhesives i.e. Weldbond)
  • Weldbond (indoor mosaics)
  • Prep Multihesive (indoor and outdoor mosaics)
  • Grout
  • Thinset or Ceramacrete (optional - I use this for outdoor mosaics on Marmox. More on this in another post…)

I work with stained glass and mirror glass as well, so my tool kit includes:-

  • Glass scorer
  • Running Pliers
  • Grozing Pliers (optional)
  • Metal ruler
  • Hand held diamond sanding block
  • Grinder (optional)


Deciding What Substrate to Use

Your choice of substrate (base) is dependent first and foremost as to whether your mosaic is intended for indoors or outdoors. You want a substrate that is going to give your creations the longest lifespan possible, so this is an important step to get right.

Substrates that are suitable for indoors only include MDF and Marine Ply. MDF will not last out in the rain, and even for indoors, my personal preference is Marine Ply, although it does get heavy with larger mosaics!

Both indoor and outdoor mosaics can be made on substrates such as Marmox, Cement Sheeting, Glass, prepared Mirror, prepared inflexible Plastic, Acrylic,Slate, Cement, to name a few. You want to choose a base that isn’t going to flex and can withstand weather conditions and isn’t going to absorb water.


Deciding Which Adhesive to Use

My favoured adhesive for indoor mosaics is Weldbond. It dries clear so can be used with transparent tiles and glass*. I use it in a syringe which saves a lot of mess and wastage as you can control how much you dispense from the syringe. I work with a lot of small pieces so this is very handy! It can also be used diluted to seal your porous base, and as a wash to seal your mosaic after grouting.

*TIP: When using any transparent tiles or glass, spread adhesives evenly to all edges. Even though the glue dries clear you can still sometimes see it like a dark stain behind the glass.

Prep Multihesive is recommended for outdoor projects as it will not dissolve when exposed to water, but with its superior bonding, can be used on both porous and non-porous surfaces. As with Weldbond, it can be diluted and used to seal surfaces before mosaicking and after grouting. Prep Multihesive can also be used in your cement mix as a bonding agent.

Silicone is another adhesive that is popular with mosaic artists, also suitable for outdoors. Most silicones is quite acidic so not suitable for use with mirror glass, however there is a one made by Selley’s that is specially made for use with mirror and glass.

Thinset (or equivalent alternative) is a cement based product used to adhere mosaics to cement, stone, Marmox board or cement sheeting. It can be used using the direct method (attaching tiles directly to the surface) or the indirect method (attaching tiles to mosaic mesh before attaching mesh to the surface). It can also be used to raise tiles to create an even surface when using tiles of varying heights.


Choosing Your Tiles

Once you’ve decided on your design, choosing your tiles is the next step, and one I really enjoy. The things you need to consider are:-

  • Height of tiles - does your mosaic require a flat surface, e.g. drink coasters, table tops etc? If so, be sure to check these details in the product descriptions. Alternatively you can use thinset to raise thinner tiles.
  • Size of tiles – how many tiles roughly will you need? This will depend on the size of the tiles so something to make note of when selecting or shopping. If you’re shopping for tiles, as I precautionary measure, I order a pack more than you estimate you’ll need. There’s nothing worse than running out then finding your supplier is out of stock! Leftovers can always be used in another project.
  • Are the tiles suitable for your intended use? It’s always a good idea to read the full description when shopping to learn whether the tiles you’re contemplating are recommended for indoors/outdoors. Tiles that are not recommended for outdoor use are usually tiles (or glass) that will tarnish in the weather or fade in the sun – e.g. glitter tiles, foil tiles, some mirror glass (not our Regalia glass) and usually any tiles where the glass is clear with the colour coming from the backing. If you have tiles at home and aren’t sure, cut one in half. If the glass is clear when you look through the side of the tile, it’s best not to save them for another project.

Something else to consider is whether you require a flat tile or not – will those tiles you like so much be suitable with their domed or rounded surface?

  • Colour palette – I love working and experimenting with colour, but even contrasting colours need to work together in the overall mosaic. Generally I just go with what I like after testing various colour combinations no real science behind it! That’s a little difficult when buying online so if you’re ever stuck have a look online for ‘colour palette generator’ and a number of them will come up. The following one is simple to use whilst giving a good range of colour combinations from your base colour - Alternatively, study a colour chart, which admittedly I did when starting out as I was afraid of using colour.

 Another thing to consider is whether you’re after a matte, gloss or iridised finish on your tiles. These varying finishes will alter the shine factor of your mosaic, with iridised tiles giving a rainbow like effect in the light – not to everyone’s taste although I do have some ‘convertee’ customers!

  • Tile texture - some vitreous tiles have a pitted surface which adds texture to your mosaic, although some don’t like them as they do require more effort during clean-up to clean off all the grout. The same with rippled tiles, but if you’ve got the patience, well worth the effort in the end.

TIP: Even using smooth tiles you can create texture in your mosaic by using tiles of differing heights. Before grouting it’s a good idea to take a photograph of your piece, with close ups where there is a lot of detail, so nothing gets lost under the grout.


Preparing your base

It’s important to prepare your base properly before you begin gluing down your tiles to prevent it from disintegrating over time because of moisture absorption, or so your tiles don’t fall off. It also gives your adhesive a better surface to stick to.

Hard plastic substrates such as PVC pipe or Mannequins for example, require sanding to roughen the surface so the tiles will adhere properly.

Porous bases such as MDF, Marine Ply or Terracotta for example, require sealing. Do this at least 24 hours prior to gluing. With indoor surfaces this can be done with your Weldbond or Prep Multihesive, or even your household PVA craft glue, watered down to a 50:50 mix with water. Apply two coats to all sides. Terracotta can alternatively be sealed with non-toxic sealants such as Leni All Purpose Sealer or Bondall Pot and Ornament Sealer to name a couple.

Marmox board only requires the cut edges to be sealed, however does need the hanging fittings installed before laying your tiles. Edges are sealed with mosaic mesh and thinset (more on this in an upcoming post).

TIP: Always remember to decide how you’ll hang your mosaic before you begin so you can attach hanging fittings first if required.


Starting the best part!

Ok, well maybe not quite yet…your design (or if you’re like me, the skeleton of your design) needs to be drawn onto your base. I do this in pencil where I can so I can remove any unwanted lines – particularly handy if your design changes or, if like me, drawing isn’t your forte and it takes a few goes to get it right! When I’ve had to make specific shapes I’ve used a couple of methods that only require everyday household items.

To create perfect circles I’ve used various sized mixing bowls, mugs and glasses from the kitchen. I turn them upside down, trace around rim and voila!

For other shapes I don’t feel confident drawing freehand, I’ve found a picture I can copy. I’ve then traced the shape, cut it out, then traced around the template directly onto my base.

Now we can start the fun part - laying tiles!

If my mosaic is to have a border, I start with that to frame my work area. Then I’ll do the main feature/s of the mosaic leaving the background until last. It’s a personal choice then whether you work from the middle out to the border, or inwards from the border. I usually prefer to work from the middle outwards myself, but it does depend on the design I’m working on.

It’s recommended that your tiles are placed about 2mm apart so you don’t have large areas of plain grout and try to keep your spacing even throughout your mosaic.

TIP: When I was first starting out I found blu-tac to be a fabulously useful part of my toolbox. It does make the process more time consuming but it allowed me to attach tiles so I could then stand the mosaic on my cabinet and look at it from a different angle. If I wasn’t happy with the spacing, pattern or colour combinations I could then easily change them before gluing the tiles down.



Choosing Your Grout Colour

Your choice of grout colour can change the look of your mosaic dramatically and at worst ruin it, so it’s important to get this right. There are many different coloured grouts and grout pigments out there which can make this decision difficult at times but I usually like to keep it simple.

A good rule of thumb is that you want your tiles to remain the highlight of your mosaic, not the grout, so use a contrasting colour. If the grout colour blends with your tile colour they’ll be lost, which can be good if that’s the look you’re after for a background for example, but generally not want you want after all your hard work.

Medium to dark grey grout is a great go-to as it will highlight most colours well with the exceptions of lighter blues and of course grey. Lighter, earthy colours such as cinnamon or corrnsilk usually work well with those exceptions. 

White grout is another versatile colour to have. It’s best used with lighter coloured mosaics as it will fight for the limelight when used with darker coloured tiles. If you like colouring your grout, white is an essential to add your pigment to.

Black happens to be my personal favourite for the majority of my mosaics. I love the contrast it gives with bright colours and it also allows me to subdue areas I wish to in my abstract pieces.

REMEMBER: Your grout will dry a few shades lighter.

TIP: Add dark blue pigment to black grout to intensify the black.


Grouting Your Mosaic

This part gets messy – I love it! You need a flat, stable surface to work on. I have an old folded sheet that I lay either on the dining table/workbench, or most commonly on the floor, that I grout on.

Mix your grout with water, a little bit at a time, until your grout is like smooth peanut butter. Let it sit for a few minutes then give another mix before you start grouting.

I use my fingers to spread the grout and push it into all the gaps, but this has resulted in many a cut finger. You might prefer to use a grout spreader! These can be purchased, or made yourself by cutting a rectangle shape out of an old ice-cream container or similar. Make sure you carefully work the grout right down into all the gaps. This not only fills the gaps properly, it pushes out any air bubbles you might have in your grout which is what you want.

I often spread grout over the sides of the base for the final seal unless I’m going to paint them.

Once you’re satisfied, take a break and let your mosaic sit. I allow my smaller mosaic to sit for about 45 minutes to an hour and the larger ones half an hour. You want the grout to have begun to dry but still be malleable enough to clean up and detail properly – especially if you need to uncover hidden tiles. It takes me hours to do this on my larger mosaics, so I like to gently get started a bit sooner than I normally would.

There are a couple of different ways to clean the grout off to reveal your beautiful mosaic. Some like to use a damp sponge, others a dry cloth. What works for me is using dry kitchen towel to wipe of all the excess grout first. I then go over the mosaic with my little hooked pick tool and uncover hidden tiles and tiles partially hidden next to tiles that are higher. Where I’ve used mini gems, I use an old toothbrush to make them more prominent as they are ¾ covered in grout. After I’ve detailed I give a wipe over with a damp (not wet) sponge to smooth the grout surface and remove any stubborn dried grout on tile surfaces. I have a microfibre cloth that I then use to give a good buff. An old soft t-shirt works well too.


Sealing Your Mosaic

It’s important to seal your mosaic to protect your base from moisture which will contribute to its long life.

You can use the same glue/water mix you used to seal your base to seal indoor mosaics. Apply two coats, making sure to wipe off tiles before the glue dries. Outdoor mosaics need to be sealed with a waterproof sealant. Make sure to use non-toxic products with bee and bird baths.


To Finish

24 hours later I use a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water to remove any grout haze, then buff again with my cloth.

I then paint the backing with acrylic paint before attaching my weight appropriate d-ring hanging fittings and wire.

**Remember some bases need hanging fittings to be attached prior to starting.

Creation complete! Sit back and admire!


© Meisha Mosaics


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