Good things to know before you start….You need FOUR things to make a mosaic:

  1. A BASE: non-flexible, non-porous. Rocks, concrete, glass, brick, ceramic tile, cement board, wood WITH CAUTION (well-sealed with undercoat and kept inside) – furniture, MDF, marine ply, sealed terracotta, polystyrene spheres/fishing floats.
  2. TESSERAE: pieces of something to form a design.
  3. ADHESIVE: to glue the tesserae to the base.
  4. GROUT: to fill the gaps between tesserae.

Mosaic design

The same design can be made in mosaic in many different ways. Traditionally, this is called the ANDAMENTO.
These styles have very different feels and involve differing degrees of skill to execute. The main differences between them are the degree of flow involved in the ‘courses’ of tessarae. Adjectives used to describe andamento may include swirly, wavy, choppy, chunky, scattered, smooth, graceful, strong. The choice of opera in a mosaic will to a degree determine its andamento. Therefore the way you ‘lay’ the tiles will affect the final mood of your mosaic piece.The pattern in which you lay the tile is the OPUS – an Opus Regulatum is a gridwork pattern of squares and looks quite formal. An Opus Tesselatum is a brickwork pattern. Opus Vermiculatum follows the outline of your mosaic and helps to ‘anchor’ the focal point. Opus Palladianum is crazy-paved and looks best if you a) use more triangular-shaped pieces (squares just don’t work so well!) and b) keep the gaps between tiles a consistent size. Opus Circumnactum is the interlocking fan-shaped patterns you see on many of the classic mosaics.

Colour: Anything you know about colour theory is helpful – contrast, harmonising colours, etc.

Texture: It is perfectly ok to mix materials with different thicknesses. Just remember to leave an adequate gap for grout between them so that the grout can slope down to the thinner pieces and not drown them! This kind of texture can really make a mosaic catch the light and sparkle. Some items demand a flat surface though, such as table-tops, stepping stones and pot trivets.

Simplify: Mosaic lends itself to simple outlines. There are certainly some VERY beautiful VERY detailed mosaic artworks around, but simple is good. Even chunky and lopsided mosaics have a lot of charm!

Grout Lines: The places where you DON’T put tiles are just as important as where you do.

How to apply tiles and mosaic pieces

  • Direct method – pieces of tile, etc, are glued directly onto a base. Preliminary drawings are usually made beforehand on the area to be decorated. An advantage of this method is that the resulting mosaic is progressively visable allowing for quick tile adjustments.
  • Indirect method – a way of making a mosaic upside-down, then flipping it over so that the surface is perfectly flat. Best for table-tops, trays etc.
  • Mesh method (Double reverse/Ravenna method) – glueing tiles onto a fibreglass netting to be adhered in one piece onto larger surfaces, ie. walls, floors.
  • More Mosaic Instructions and Guides

What MATERIALS to use

Small tiles for mosaic are called TESSARAE (sounds like ‘tesari’)
Most commonly used tiles and manafactured in many colours. Red/Yellow/Orange are generally more expensive (because of rare colour). Easily cut with circular WHEEL NIPPERS (triangles/squares/rectangles) and shaped with TILE NIPPERS. Available in 10mm/20mm squares. Take care to check which size you buy. Sold in mesh (plastic nylon) sheets (easy to store) or on paper sheets (easier to remove)

Cut with TILE NIPPERS (NOT wheel nippers) nibble to make shapes (triangles, squares etc). Available in many earth tones (and other colours), similar to Roman marble colours. Available in 10mm/20mm squares. Take care to check which size you buy. Generally sold on paper sheets (easy to remove)

CERAMIC HOUSE TILES:  bathroom/kitchen tiles
Break up with HAMMER first then shape with TILE NIPPERS (NOT wheel nippers). Available in many colours, textures, patterns from Tile shops: ( B and Q, Homebase. Topps Tiles). Available in large squares/rectangles. 4mm thickness is best. Great  for ‘Crazy Paving’  style (Gaudi’s mosaics in Spain).

SMALTI  : Made in VENICE, Italy/Mexico
Opaque, made in glass ovens, catch the light beautifully. Over 2,000 colours available in all colours! Expensive – something to inspire to. Apply with cement adhesive (mortar). Don’t use Grout.

Other /Mixed media
Pebbles/Shells/Sea glass/Beads/Glass Gems/Milleofiori – anything that you can stick on a flat surface!
Broken China plates etc, Mirror
Stained Glass : use special glass cutters (see tools) for cutting.

Useful tips on using Wheeled Nippers! (thanks to http://www.quirky.co.nz)

2 thoughts on “FAQs

    1. Hi Vivienne
      Best to start with a mid grey if your mosaic is quite colourful (ie has lots of different tones). This will harmonise the whole mosaic together, and the interices (spaces where grout is) will not stand out, letting the coloured tiles dominate. However, if you want to create a specific effect, it’s good to use either a darker tone (brings out the high contrast colours such as red/cobalt blue/orange/yellow), or a lighter tone which shows off the fractured effect of the mosaic pieces. Hope that helps!

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