Mosaic Frame

My lovely 10 year old daughter (chef) and I (sous chef) made this mosaic frame which required a great deal of perseverance, lots of good music, and loads of optimism because at times it felt like we’d never reach the end! We completed our frame in small increments over four months, and felt quite proud considering we’re pretty much self-taught and managed to avoid any disasters. Of course the best part is we now have a proper home for Susie Faber’s print of the lovely Miss Flanagan.

This project is ideally suited to older children like tweens and up, but it does depend on the individual’s ability and comfort level. While my 10 year old daughter may seem a bit young to be cutting tiles, she was comfortable doing it and was always supervised by an adult. The occasional shard of glass did sometimes cause cuts, but this rarely happened because we were careful. Adapting this project for younger children is easily done by simply using uncut tiles. They can participate in colour selection, gluing, and depending on their age, even the grouting, and of course providing a wonderful drawing to put in the frame.

Have a look at my sidebar and click on My Flicker where I have a set of photos entitled Gaudi. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish Catalan architect known for his very unique designs, including Parc Guell, a garden complex filled with beautifully crafted examples of mosaics. Being able to see his work in Barcelona definitely inspired me to explore working with mosaics, and making this frame was a great place to start.

Materials

  • unfinished flat wooden frame
  • Weldbond Adhesive
  • safety glasses
  • old bowl and mixing tool eg. spoon, for mixing grout
  • pair of latex gloves
  • masking or painters tape
  • mosaic tiles
  • small, flat paintbrush to apply adhesive
  • dual wheeled nippers
  • cardboard box eg. shoe box
  • grout
  • sponge and bowl for water
  • cotton cloth (old T-shirt cut into smaller pieces works well)

Instructions

I used traditional tesserae tiles (Venetian glass) which are available in an assortment of colours. These 2 cm squares are flat on one side, with ridges on the other. In Toronto, I found them at Olympia Tiles. Another great place is Mosaic Beach studio which will be closing its retail store, but continuing to sell supplies online.

There are two types of tools you can use to cut tiles. For this project, you only need the dual wheeled nippers, which should not be confused with tile nippers. Tile nippers are used to nibble bits from the edges of tiles to create curved shapes, and cannot easily cut larger sections.

Finally, frames in unfinished wood can be found in art supply and craft store like Deserres, where I purchased mine, or Michaels.

1. Your first step is to decide on the colours you will be using. Taking your frame with you to the store will help you figure out how much to buy by lying a few tiles on it. Always buy additional ones. When cutting, you don’t always achieve the shape you want on the first try, and practicing is also a good idea. If you’re not sure what colours to use, consider what you might be framing, as well as the colour of the mat board or the colour of the room where it will be hanging.

2. Cutting tiles involves holding a tile with the index finger and thumb of one hand, then positioning your tile cutter and applying pressure to cut with the other hand. It will sometimes take several cuts to obtain the shape you require, and control over the shape will come with practice. You can prepare some randomly cut tiles, but most will have to be custom cut to fit the space you have in mind. It’s a bit like making a puzzle.

As you can see from the photos below, we began by cutting and placing triangular shapes along the entire inside and outside edges of the frame. We only glued the tiles once an entire edge was cut and in place. It is essential that you wear safety glasses since bits of glass do go flying. I was given some great advice to hold the tile inside a shoe box while cutting, so most of it would fall inside. I also covered my work area with a plastic sheet. But despite these precautions, glass will go flying so choose a place to work where this is not a problem.

3. The easiest way to apply adhesive is to use an inexpensive flat brush. Pour some in a container, dip your brush in, and apply to the side of your tile with ridges. Small spaces should be left between your tiles. This is where the grout will be going. Don’t worry about getting adhesive on the good side. It will wash off later on. I was advised to use Weldbond Adhesive since white glue may not hold the tiles well when applying the grout. If a tile has dried and you need to remove it for whatever reason, you can carefully pry it off with something like a palette knife or paint scraper.

4. Once you have finished gluing tiles along your edges, you’ll need to fill in the spaces. We worked in small sections about 2 inches at a time, cutting and fitting pieces in, before gluing tiles in place. Slowly but surely you will get there, and this is where the music helps.

5. When all the tiles have been glued and have been allowed to dry for at least 24 hours, you can begin grouting. I took my frame to a mosaic store to have a look at examples of grout to see which would work with the colours I used. When in doubt, a light, silvery grey works with all colours because it is neutral. This frame is 15″ x 18″ with a 2″ width to place tiles on. I used 1 1/2 cups of dry, sanded tile grout which was more than enough.

6. You need to line the edges of the frame, both inside and outside, with masking or painters tape. This will protect the wood from the grout. Once in place, prepare the grout by putting it in an old bowl and adding very small amounts of water at a time, while mixing together. The grout should be the consistency of peanut butter, so not too wet. With a glove on your hand, scoop up small amounts of grout and apply to the tiles. Press it well into the spaces between the tiles, and remove any excess. Some corners of the tiles will be raised more than others and can cut, so be careful. Also, make sure you fill in the edges/borders well. When grout has been applied to the entire frame, and all the excess has been removed, allow it to sit for about 10-15 minutes, allowing it to partially set. Then use a damp sponge, the type you wash dishes with, and wipe gently over the tiles to clean them. Be careful not to press into the spaces where you can accidentally remove the grout. Keep rinsing your sponge in a bowl of water to clean it, making sure you squeeze out all the excess water, and continue until the tiles look clean. Carefully remove the tape and clean up the edges with the sponge. If you leave the tape longer, it can pull out some of the dried grout. Do not pour any excess grout or water with grout down your sink. It is a fine cement-based product that solidifies, and must be disposed of outside.

7. Allow to dry for at least 24 hours. Use old cotton strips to give the tiles a final polishing. An old t-shirt will be perfect. You can add a tiny bit of water if necessary. Use a toothpick or wooden skewer to gently remove grout which gets stuck in the tiles’ minor imperfections, like holes and lines. Finally, you can choose to leave the exposed wood on the sides unfinished, varnished, or with acrylic paint applied.

Interesting books about mosaics:

Mosaics
By Kaffe Fassett & Candace Bahouth

Making Mosaics: Designs,Techniques & Projects
By Leslie Dierks

The Encyclopedia of Mosaic Techniques
By Emma Biggs

Mosaic Zoo
By Barbara Benson Keith

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