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Mosaic How-To: supplies and how to prepare
for a basic project

Mosaic art is a fun and creative way to decorate around the home. Here are some tips and tricks for beginners.

Creating mosaics is fun and ideas for using your finished art pieces are endless. Mosaic can decorate tabletops, wall art, deck art, planters, and just about anything that will hold a few shards of glass and grout. You do not have to be an accomplished artist to create beautiful mosaics.

Easy projects for beginners include small tabletops and decorative plant pots. Stepping stones are another fun project.

You can find relatively inexpensive supplies at your local home improvement store.

For the mosaic ceramic shards, you have several options. For indoor-type projects, you can visit a discount store and purchase a few colored plates. Garage sales are another avenue for low-priced china. You can also use marbles and interesting buttons. Outdoor art or tables are subjected to the elements so you should select bathroom tiles in different shades. Tile shops often carry leftovers from larger jobs and may sell a few pieces at a reduced price.

If your finished product is to be a detailed design, you may want to visit a hobby center and look at the more expensive tesserae tiles. They are small squares of various colors and can be opaque or translucent. These would be better suited to picture frames and smaller projects that should not have sharp edges. Shop around on the Internet and compare prices.

Supply List (you won't need all of these for every project - it will depend on how you are creating the mosaic and where it will be placed)

-Safety glasses and dust mask
-Thick gloves for handling shards.
-Rubber gloves (grout and adhesive blister skin and will eat through latex gloves)
-Household glue (for small, indoor projects and for gluing onto mesh netting or directly onto a curved base)
-Mesh or landscape netting
-Wax paper (to lay between sketch and mesh)
-Hammer for breaking tiles
-Tile nippers for shaping broken tiles. Purchase inexpensive nippers at home improvement stores.
-Plastic grocery bags for breaking tiles. Double them up and plan to use several if you are breaking more than a few tiles or plates.
-Trowel for spreading grout
-Sandpaper or emery board for smoothing edges. A Dremel works best, especially after the tiles are laid and the grout has hardened.
-Old bowls and buckets for mixing grout and for water to wash surface.
-Old sponge for cleaning grout from surface of tiles.
-A base. The "base" is the main object to which you are applying the tiles, such as a frame, a table, a planter, etc.
-Adhesive. Purchased at home improvement stores and slathered in a thin layer onto the base. The tiles are embedded into the adhesive, allowed to set, and then grout is pushed into the spaces between tiles.
-Grout. Several colors are available. Grout is either "sanded" or "non-sanded." Sanded should always be used when the spaces between mosaic pieces are larger than 1/8" wide. Use non-sanded when spaces are consistently 1/8 inch or less. Non-sanded will work best if you are using tesserae tiles. Because spacing is hard to control with unevenly-cut ceramic pieces, sanded grout is usually recommended.

Mosaic art is created in different ways. You will find which process is easiest for you by experimenting with the different methods.

If you are using plates or tiles, first place them in plastic grocery bags. Break up the objects with a hammer. You may have to hammer several times to get small enough pieces. Use thick gloves to handle the shards.

Direct Method
Apply tiles directly to the base. This works best if you are creating a random pattern. Squeeze out a small pool of household glue on a piece of wax paper, dab the bottom of the tile into the glue and position it on the base. You can use a marker to make a rough sketch on your base. For instance, if you are decorating a pot, you could draw leaves and petals, then add the cut pieces with glue on the back to fit within the lines.

Allow the glue to set, usually a day or two, before adding grout.

Apply grout with a trowel. You can also use a rubber-gloved finger to squeeze the grout in between each tile space. Make sure to press the grout firmly into the spaces. Air pockets under the grout may eventually cause the tiles to come loose.

For the direct method, you can also create a sample layout with the tiles at the side of your base and transfer each piece as you add glue. This is not a precise method and you may end up with leftover pieces.

Indirect Method
If you are creating a surface that needs to be very flat or are making stepping stones, you may want to try the indirect method.

You will need extra supplies:
Soluble glue or spray adhesive
A box or form made of wood to contain the cement
Heavy Kraft paper or waxed butcher paper
A box or form to hold poured concrete.

Sketch out your pattern in reverse on Kraft paper. Spray the face of the tiles with soluble glue and press onto the paper. Allow to dry. Line the form or box with plastic or coat with petroleum jelly.

Indirect Method-Version 1
Mix the concrete and pour into the form. Flip the Kraft paper over and press the bottom sides of the tiles into the wet cement. You can use a level to check for accuracy or use your hand to feel for an even surface. It does not have to be perfect.

Indirect Method-Version 2
Place the Kraft paper with glued tiles inside the form. The tiles will still be facing bottom sides up. Pour a thin layer of the wet cement on top of the tiles and press in. Make sure you fill the gaps. Then top off the form with the remaining cement. Allow to set for twenty-four hours and then flip the form over. Remove the box and plastic liner. Spray the top of the Kraft paper with water to release the glue.

The method we use and recommend:

Draw a pattern with bold outlines on a piece of paper.

Place the pattern face up on a flat work surface. Place a layer of wax paper or plastic wrap on top. Next, cut mesh or landscape netting to fit the project and lay this on top. Make sure you can still see the art underneath.

Cut and lay your tiles or shards on the netting, without using glue. Once all your tiles are in place you can begin the gluing process. Pick up each tile, dip it in glue and return it to its place on the mesh.

Let the glue set for a few hours. Flip the piece over and remove the wax paper or plastic wrap. Return to original position. You are now ready to embed the art onto the base with cement adhesive.

You probably have several ideas already for a beautiful mosaic piece. Practice on a small table or pot, first, and you will soon be ready to create mosaics as gifts for family and friends.

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