How to Mosaic Just About Anything

Despite its intricate appearance, it's relatively easy to learn how to mosaic and just about any surface can be turned into a mosaic of your making. You don't need to be an artist or an expert crafter to turn everyday objects into your own designs, just a few supplies and the right tools. Once you get started, you might even find that every surface you see turns into a canvas for you to transform.

Choosing a Project
Nearly any surface will take to mosaics, so the first step is choosing what kind of surface you want to work with, the shape that interests you and how you intend to use the finished piece (those you make for outdoor use require a few extra steps to protect the mosaic from sun and rain).

The shape of your object will drive your design and the size tiles you use (smaller tiles for small surfaces; large tiles for big surfaces). Beginners will do better with objects that have straight edges, like picture frames, mirrors or square stepping stones. Doing mosaic on curved objects, like café tables, requires a bit more skill when it comes to cutting glass and tile so you have pieces small enough to fill in the design around the edges.

What's your surface made of? Glass, cement and terracotta pottery are the most common surfaces and easy for beginners to work with. Wood, ceramics and metal can also take mosaic. You'll need to have this mind before you go shopping for supplies and tools.

Mosaic Art Supplies

Tiles. Commonly referred to as tessarae, they can be made from glass or ceramic. You can purchase tile and tile remnants from a store that specializes in tile or create your own by breaking ceramic plates, glasses and mirrors you already have at home (yard and estate sales often yield good finds). You can also order tiles online, in bags or as part of kits. Color options are endless, so whether you're working from someone else's pattern design or creating your own, you should find what you need easily.

Adhesive. The type of adhesive you'll use depends on the type of tile you're working with, the surface of the object that will take the mosaic and whether your finished piece will be kept indoors or out. There's an adhesive for every combination of these variables, so take the time to read the manufacturer's usage and application guidelines.

Grout. This is the material that fills in the spaces between the tiles in mosaic designs. It comes in fine grain for narrow spaces and coarse grain for larger space. Depending on the tiles you're working with, you may want to look for colored grout that complements your design.

Paper. Use this to sketch your design or arrange loose tiles to get a sense for how your ideas will look in the final application. Take digital photos of your patterns to refer to if you get lost or sketch the final design once you've determined the desired placement of the tiles.

Sealants. For projects that will remain outdoors-stepping stones, birdbaths, etc.-purchase a sealant to preserve and protect the mosaic from the elements.

Mosaic Tools
Simple projects and designs require little more than pre-cut tile and adhesive. More complicated and custom designs involve the use of special tile nippers to cut and shape tile. Although you can purchase other mosaic tools at craft stores or online, nine times out of ten, you will already have most of the tools that you need in your garage.

Tile nippers. These tools are designed to cut tile into smaller pieces. Look for spring-loaded handles and quality cutting edges (tungsten-carbide is best). Tile nippers work with glass, ceramic and china.

Glass nippers. Similar to tile nippers, but use wheels rather than cutting edges to shape glass tiles and mirror.

Hammer. Used to break larger tiles and/or to create tiles from china, glass, mirrors and other household items you want to use in your design.

Spreaders and sponges. Sometimes called trowels, you'll need one for your adhesive and another for your grout. Plastic knives, spatulas and painter's palette knives also work well. Use sponges to wipe away excess grout.

Containers. Use these to store your tiles and keep them organized to make design application easier. You'll also need containers to mix cement and grout, if you'll be using these in your design.

Finally, you'll want a good pair of safety goggles and work gloves to protect your eyes and hands when you're cutting tile as well as a respirator mask to keep you from inhaling dust when mixing cement adhesives and grout. It's a good idea to wear latex or other thin rubber gloves to keep adhesive off your skin.

Making Your Mosaic

Step 1
Thoroughly clean and dry the surface of your object as well as your tiles. Wash and dry large tiles before breaking or cutting them into smaller pieces. Items like shells and stones need to be soaked and allowed to dry for several days before being used.

Step 2
Cut your tiles. Practice on extra pieces of tile until you're comfortable with the technique so you don't use up the tile intended for your project and wind up with an incomplete design. Wear safety goggles and gloves to protect eyes and hands. If you're breaking up household objects, wrap them inside an old towel to contain the broken pieces.

Step 3
Mix or otherwise prepare your adhesive, taking care to follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly. Apply the adhesive to your surface. Aim to use enough adhesive to get the tile to stick, but not so much that it oozes above the surface of the tile when you press it into place. Allow to dry completely for one to three days.

Step 4
Apply grout to the spaces between your tiles using a trowel or spreader. You want the grout to fill the space so it's even with the height of your tiles. Allow the grout to set slightly before you wipe away any excess. If specks of grout dry on your tiles, use a non-scratch nylon sponge to remove them.

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