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MOSAIC ART: Old Technique – Modern Expression (photo Stella Geel)



The use of tiny mosaic tiles or blocks to create works of art is an ancient craft that is becoming ever more popular in the present age. As an art form it can have great depth, variety and freedom of expression – but best of all, it is a skill that can be aquired by anyone, with only a minimum of instruction.

This website will explain the fundamental techniques  used and touch on other aspects of mastering the craft. We also tell you about the tools you will need and steer you through the choice of materials that are available. There will be numerous images of great mosaic art to inspire you and we  also provide a wealth of interesting facts about the rich history and culture of the ancient civilization that first adopted this  most enduring of  all art forms.  

Why Make a Mosaic ?

Creating mosaics is a fascinating craft that is easy to learn. Working with mosaic tiles is rewarding at any level of expertise and even as a beginner, your mosaic projects will give you hours of pleasure. You do not need to be a great artist or clever handyman to create a mosaic artwork that has beauty, usefulness and durability. Moreover your mosaic creation will last for years, looking just as good as the day you first made it, with no more attention than an occasional quick wipe with a cloth to keep it bright and clear.


START WITH SOMETHING EASY – Its great fun to make a mosaic with a child

A beginner does not need to start with expensive materials to create something that is interesting and attractive. Mosaic tiles from broken crockery, reject ceramic tiles or even stones and pebbles can be used to make your first mosaic – and cements, glues and grouts are cheap. All that is needed is a little imagination and a suitable surface to cover. You do not even need to have a firm plan and can just let your expression run free, creating a splash of color in an otherwise drab part of the home or garden. For the less adventurous there are ready made mosaic kits that can be purchased on line or from craft or hobby shops. These tiles mosaics kits have everything that is needed to create a stylish set piece and come complete with full scale plans.



A SPLASH OF COLOR IN A DRAB CORNER                                (photo Stella Geel)


On the other hand, mosaic can also be  great art. Mosaic artists such as Antonio Gaudi have created sublime works, selling on commission for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a medium, mosaic art is  ideally suitable for adorning large surfaces in prominent sites as it exudes a  vitality and ambiance  that is hard to recreate in less durable mediums. Mosaic art is the ideal compliment for good sculpture and can be incorporated in theming both internal and external public spaces.

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What Actually is a Mosaic ?

Any definition of Mosaic has to recognise that it is really an effect or art style, rather than a particular artistic technique and is not bounded by the usage of any specific medium. The mosaic effect is to create a picture or pattern on a variety of surfaces, assembling large numbers of coloured shapes or blocks to generate a pleasing overall impression when viewed as a whole. Mosaic tiles can be applied to any number of surfaces, choosing shaped blocks of whatever material catches the mosaic artist’s imagination.




The Wide Universe of Mosaic Expression

Mosaic art may have the permanence of centuries old marble chips, cemented onto the floor of a Roman Villa or just a passing moment of glory when a scrumptious mosaic pattern of brightly coloured candies is pressed into the icing of a birthday cake. Romans created wonderfull patterns using a limited  palette of just a few natural stone colours – and Byzantine cathedrals had complex mosaic icons of  of outstanding brilliance, using the reflecting quality of a huge range of mineral stained glass and gold leaf blocks . Today the mosaic effect may be displayed as a fleeting patchwork of colours arranged on a  screen to form a computer mosaic – either as a mosaic design aid for creating a permanent mosaic work or simply to have your own stylised mosaic screensaver. However, for our purposes, the mosaics described in the following web pages are restricted to tile mosaic applications that involve the traditional cementing or gluing of small stone, glass or ceramic blocks or tiles (called tesserae) onto firm surfaces or objects to create  mosaic works of lasting value.


The Fundamental Techniques

There are several well known techniques and styles for the creation of a tile mosaic project and the choice of method is up to the individual – bearing in mind the scale of the task, the type of surface to be covered and the form of artistic expression the artist wishes to adopt. The technique chosen will also have to take into account the availability and affordability of the mosaic materials, adhesives and grout that the mosaic artist prefers to use. However, irrespective of the actual mosaic technique and style to be adopted, the final objective is always the same – simply to fix a pattern of tiny mosaic tiles or blocks into a bedding of adhesive or cement that is pasted onto a receiving surface – in order to form a pleasing or functional design that will give pleasure for many years.

The two most common techniques for creating tile mosaics are the so-called Direct Method and the Indirect Method. These traditional techniques were first used by the ancient Romans and are still the basis of most mosaic art today. However each has its place and would be chosen to fulfil a specific role, depending on the requirements of the project.


The Direct Method of Making Mosaics

The Direct Method of making mosaics is the more obvious – as the name implies, you simply set your mosaic blocks (tesserae) directly onto a prepared bed of cement or adhesive. In one sense this method is easier to control, especially for the mosaic beginner, because you keep the bright side of each tessera in view and, as you progress, the pattern or picture develops in front of you. This can be great for creativity, as easier to modify effects as the work develops and so is excellent for display items such as wall coverings and  plaques. However it is not easy to achieve a very even surface, suitable for table tops and floors, by using this method. Where this aspect is important the Indirect Method is more suitable.

For more on this  >>>    DIRECT METHOD

The Indirect Method of Making Mosaics

The other method of making mosaics is completely different in concept and a little more complicated. A pattern is first drawn onto a temporary backer sheet. This pattern is actually a mirror image of the original mosaic design as envisioned by the artist. Mosaic tiles (tesserae) are then glued face down onto this temporary sheet, following the inverted pattern and using a water soluble glue. Meanwhile the bedding surface chosen for the actual mosaic is prepared and smeared with a thick layer of durable adhesive. When all is ready the temporary sheet, carrying the tesserae, is turned over and the prepared tesserae are pressed into the permanent adhesive with the backing sheet facing outward. The use of a flat board to press the assembly into the glue would ensure an acceptably level surface. After the bedding glue has set, the temporary backing sheet would be washed off, revealing the finished design in all its glory.

For more on this  >>>    INDIRECT METHOD



Generally, after the mosaic bedding has cured, the gaps between the mosaic pieces would be grouted, usually with a cement based (cementitious) tile grout. This mosaic grout (which may be coloured to suit) adds strength and stability and is essential if the mosaic is to be used in a wet environment, or where it may be subject to frosts. However, many artists prefer the ungrouted look and consequently keep the tesserae tightly packed to create a very different effect – often giving the same impression as oil paint on canvas.


Now go for it!

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