Remember the arcade video game Space Invaders? It was released in the late 70’s, and become incredibly popular in the 80’s. The purpose of the game is to defeat attacking aliens with a canon, and it’s these aliens that inspired French street artist, Invader, to make mosaics of the characters and place them in urban settings around the world. These little aliens are very simple to reproduce, and perfect for children to try their hand at working with mosaics tiles.
- piece of wood
- Weldbond Adhesive
- container and mixing tool for the grout
- pair of latex gloves
- mosaic tiles
- small, flat paintbrush to apply adhesive
- sponge and bowl for water
- cotton cloth eg. old T-shirt cut into small pieces is perfect
1. The first thing you need to do is choose an alien. That way you’ll know how many tiles you’ll need, and what size the piece of wood should be. Do an internet search for space invader aliens and Invader, and look at the images that come up. Select the one you’ll be making, and count the number of squares used to create the image, so you know how many tiles to get. If you want to design your own, simply draw it out on graph paper to figure out the design and numbers.
2. Next come the tiles. Space Invader aliens are easily reproduced using traditional, square tesserae tiles (Venetian glass), which are available in an assortment of colours at craft shops, tile shops or online. These 3/4 inch squares come in sheets of varying sizes. It’s worth visiting a tile shop and asking if they have any tiles that were part of damaged sheets, that they won’t be using (in other words, probably throwing away). I was able to get quite a few free ones this way, so you might want to try your luck.
3. Wood makes a sturdy base for mosaics. To figure out the size required, copy the alien by laying out the tiles on a piece of paper, leaving a small space between each one. This will be for the grout. Measure the length and width of the design so you know how big the piece of wood needs to be.
I got some empty cigar boxes from a smoke shop, at no charge, and used the lids. If you go this route, remove any lose paper from the surface. Stores like Home Depot are another option. They sell scrap pieces of wood for next to nothing, and provide the first 3 cuts for free.
4. Lay out the tiles on top of the piece of wood to ensure they all fit. Those along the 4 sides should be flush with the edge of the wood. Weldbond is a great adhesive which looks just like white glue, but is stronger and better at holding tiles in place when grouting. Pour some Weldbond into a container, and using a small, flat paintbrush, apply to the back of the tile (the side with ridges). Glue the tiles on one row at a time, and make any adjustments before they dry. If a tile has dried and you need to remove it for whatever reason, simply pry it off using something like a palette knife.
5. When all the tiles have been glued and allowed to dry for 24 hours, you can begin grouting. Grout can be purchased at stores selling mosaic tiles and online. This site has a grout colour simulator which can be helpful when choosing the colour.
Prepare the grout by putting it in an old bowl (e.g. recycled yogurt container) 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.
Make sure to press it into all the spaces, and remove any excess. When grout has been applied to the entire area, and all the excess has been removed, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes, allowing it to partially set.
Use a damp sponge and wipe the tiles gently to clean them. Be careful not to press into the spaces where the grout is. You don’t want to accidentally remove it. 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. 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.
6. Allow to dry for approximately 24 hours. Use a cotton cloth to give the tiles a final polishing. An old t-shirt is perfect. You can add a tiny bit of water if necessary. A toothpick or wooden skewer is helpful to gently remove any grout which gets stuck in the tiles’ minor imperfections.