Mosaic Tips 

  • Start simple.
  • Make a small mosaic plaque before you mosaic a wall or floor. That way you can work out your materials and methods before the big job.
  • How can you draw a design? Simple drawings like those in a coloring book work best. The color and the details come when you add the tile and glass. I always sketch something on paper and then come home and draw a simple cartoon on my plywood or concrete board using a magic marker.
  • My first rule of grouts is to choose a contrasting color. If you use white grout with white tile or grey grout with grey tiles, then the tiles don’t stand out from the grout, and most of the detail of your design will be lost.
  • My personal second rule of grouts is that DARKER GROUTS ALMOST ALWAYS LOOK BETTER. I have almost always been disappointed when using plain white grout. White grout makes a nice mosaic look like a summer camp project! Try an off-white or light beige if you think you need a light color. Also remember that grouts are much darker while they are wet and get lighter as they cure.
  • Don’t know anything about glues, grouts or tiling? Your local hardware store or handyman is a mosaic expert even though they’ve never made one. (You might not know anyone who has made a mosaic, but you probably know someone who has tiled a bathroom or kitchen. The technical skills are very similar.)
  • Use a wheeled glass cutter to cut glass and smalti. Use a tile nipper to cut ceramic tiles, china and other dishes.
  • Always wear safety glasses when cutting tile or glass or mixing grout. (Grout is mildly caustic and has sand and grit in it.) Making a mosaic can be fun but you should always be careful.
  • Grout mosaics outside. It’s a messy process. Look at books on home improvement for basic techniques of grouting if you’re not sure. Keep grout damp as it cures and do not allow it to dry out rapidly, otherwise it will crumble. Remember, the grout is binding water internally in a chemical process as it cure. It is NOT drying.
    Keep mosaic tiles and supplies out of reach of children. Use caution when handling the broken glass and ceramics.
  • Spend a little more time on your mosaic. Don’t rush and don’t think about what you want to make next. It can make a world of difference in your satisfaction.
  • Avoid plywood as a backer unless you can seal the edges and bottom. Wood materials absorb water over time and warp, and then grout and tiles pop off. You might not be trying to recreate a timeless Roman mosaic that will endure for centuries, but at least make something that will last 2 or 3 years. Use plywood at least 1/2″ thick inside and concrete or concrete board outside. Always use concrete or concrete board as the base of any mosaic that will be walked on. Concrete board can be purchased from building material stores. A common brand name is Wonderboard. For my indoor mosaics, I laminate 1/4″ Wonderboard to 3/8″ plywood.
  • The best all-around glue for making mosaics is Weldbond. It is a water-based adhesive that looks and handles just like plain white glue, yet it cures stronger than many of the smelly solvent-based glues. The manufacturer’s brochure calls it “the most versatile, non-toxic, non-flammable adhesive on the North American market.” I agree. It bonds to hundreds of different materials and is very water-resistant once it dries. It cleans up easy with soap and water.
  • If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to pry some of the tiles off if you don’t like what you see. (Wear goggles or safety glasses with side shields.)
  • I always wait for a week or two before I grout a piece. That way I have a chance to change things before they are literally set in concrete.
  • Simple and crude can also be noble. It’s ok if your art has blemishes and mistakes. That’s what makes it interesting and keeps it from looking like it was made on an assembly line. Don’t try to make it a perfect reproduction of anything, and you’ll probably be much happier with the time spent and the results.

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