I’ve been inspired by mosaics for some time now. Mosaics can be whimsical, or serious. I consider mosaics classical. And, as historic mosaics from ancient cultures show us: mosaics can be durable.
This weekend, my 5-year-old niece and I ventured out to an mosaic making art workshop. Together, we created a mirror butterfly mosaic. It was really my niece’s art project and she did most of the work. It came out good, don’t think?
It was remarkably easy., You just have to know how and what materials to collect beforehand. I thought to create a beginners tutorial based on the mosaic experience, so that you can make something like this (or better) too.
3 Easy Steps in Making a Mosaic Tile or Mosaic Mirror Project
STEP 1. Designing Butterfly Mosaic Mirror
Create patterns, a focal point and an overall image.
Designing in playful ways:
You can use the mosaic design tool below, or simply get a handful of mosaic pieces (called ‘tesserae’ in official mosaic-making lingo) and start playing with them. We just started to play with mosaic pieces, and that’s a very satisfying way. We obviously stuck to a color scheme, which would suit my daughter’s bedroom.
If you want some order, rather than pure random: find some traditional patterns at google, or better still use the Photoshop filter that makes mosaics out of any image.
Designing a specific image
If you want to make a really exact artwork, you can or you can use a photo or other images as a base. Simply draw or photocopy and re-size the image to the right scale and place tiles on top to match this base design.
Mosaic pieces can be made from a variety of materials. The official durable mosaic pieces are made of ceramic, glass, or marble tiles and smalti (the official name for the tiny, bright-colored mosaic pieces).
However, as least as much fun is to be had with pebbles, rocks, shells, little mirror tiles, beads, broken china, buttons, paper, and whatever you can dream up. I’m going to post an article about a mirror made with credit cards soon….
Ensure the mosaic pieces and the grout color you are using are suitable for its future conditions. Consider heat/light/moisture exposure (sun, water from rain, pond or steam) and usage (being walked on, or hung up).
You can use a range of bases as well. We used a simple wooden butterfly shape that can be bought in any craft shop. Of course, you can make your own butterfly drawing on plywood, and then saw out the shape. For outdoor tiles, I recommend a cement base instead.
STEP 2. Creating the permanent mosaic
This can be done in a direct and an indirect way. In the direct method, the mosaic pieces are glued straight onto your base. You can put the glue either on the pieces or on the base, covering area by area. You grout the artwork when your glue has dried. This direct mosaic method is faster and easier, perfect for mosaic novices and generally for doing small mosaic projects, so that’s what I’ve used here. It’s also better to use when the thickness of your mosaic pieces vary, and when the front and the back of the pieces differ because the direct method allows you to see the overview of what you’re creating at all times.
For projects whereby you need an even surfaced end-result, use the indirect method (see footnote below)
STEP 3. Grouting your mosaic
Once your mosaic is glued on completely and the glue is dry everywhere, it’s time to put the grout on. Grout is really a powder, which when mixed with water, becomes a paste. Smooth this paste evenly over your artwork and you may use your (gloved) fingers to fill all the spaces between the mosaic pieces. Then, you can use an old credit card, or better: a small squeegee to smooth over. Have a rag handy for clean up and nitpicking.
Let it dry, and you’re done!
Footnote on Color
To get good at the color co-location, I suggest you get inspired (and educated) by some impressionist artwork. After all, color co-location is exactly what these masters were masters at. There is of course, no substitute for trial and error and to first hand determine the effects of a large red block with a small pink versus a small red with a large pink.
When choosing on a color scheme, consult your color wheel. What works well are complementary colors which are opposite each other on the color wheel, or go with a nice family of colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.
Be very mindful of the color of the grout you’ll be choosing, as this will have a major impact on your overall design. Black, white, gray, beige and brown are standard grout colors. Choose the color of grout that best-blends in with your artwork design. (Again, you can use the before mentioned Photoshop filter to make the best selection With that filter, you can even check the effects of different grout widths).
It is possible to colorize your grout by applying a coloring powder. However you’ll find that the actual color of the grout will be shades different from your initial selection after your grout has dried. You have to ensure that your grout batch is large enough for your entire mosaic as there will be color variances between batches, and this would degrade the look of your artwork. So, in the beginning, stick to neutral grey, white or black.
And there you have it: How to Make a Simple Butterfly Mosaic.
Footnote on Indirect Mosaic Methods
In the indirect method, you create the mosaic back to front. It is fairly easy when you work with glass or other materials of which the front & back are the same, and so are different between mosaic pieces. However, it can be ‘impossibly hard’ when all pieces have the same backing.
I consider this technique only suitable for the very organised and more advanced mosaic artisan. This method is often used for larger scale work, for artwork made off-location and for floor mosaics.