* Mosaic Tile Tips 'N' Tricks
A few instructions for working with tiles and supplies.
I've been selling mosaic tiles and supplies for over 15 years. In selling tiles to budding new mosaic artists I've noticed one difference between those who become committed to this wonderful art form and those who quit. First projects. It is my firm conviction that people who are first starting out with mosaics should start small. One woman emailed me to tell me she was mosaicing a huge outdoor project. This was her very first tile project! She wanted some advice from me. I told her to start out with a small tiled flower pot, trivet or mosaic picture frame. Why? Because you need to experiment to see which glues, grouts, and tesserae YOU like to work with. You need to get a "feel" for the tiles, glues, and grouts. You may start out working with china and decide later, you like working with stained glass tiles better. I've worked with Tiffany style stained glass for over 20 years. My first mosaic project was a disaster. But, it was a small disaster. I started out making a simple trivet. This small project taught me many lessons. Which glue I liked, how thick to mix my grout, to make sure I removed large pieces of grout BEFORE it dries. Another piece of advice, get a book. Rent one from the library. Most books in libraries are old, but you'll still get a lot of good info from them. Pick the experts brains. There are lots of different ways to do mosaics besides glue and grout. The books and experts can help you find which way YOU like to do the mosaics. You're supposed to be having fun not be frustrated from lack of knowledge. Your success at this fast growing art form is my main goal. Your first projects will more than likely dictate what you contribute to mosaics and weather or not you continue with this beautiful craft. And remember--I don't want to lose you as a customer either!
For those who don't know what this word means--it is what you're glueing to your project base. You can use glass tiles, mirror, shells, beads, smalti, mirror tiles, old or new china, glass gems, buttons, pasta, pieces of wire for accents. The list goes on and on. Anything and everything can be glued to your project. One thing you must remember: if it's pourous--seal it. The porcelain roses I sell are pourous. I found out, the hard way, that if the roses weren't sealed before I grouted, the color of the grout would stain them. I ruined a beautiful jewelry box I was making when I tried to grout it black and the dye from the grout turned the roses blotchy black. You can seal most anything with brush on or spray varnish.
~SUBSTRATES (your project base)~
You can mosaic most any hard surface. Wood, hard plastic, hard paper mache' type objects, glass to glass, over existing ceramic surfaces, plexiglass, concrete and just tons of other things I don't have listed. If you want your glass colors to be true, paint your project surface white before you glue on your glass. If you'd like a "different" look, try glueing a mirror to your surface and then glue clear or textured clear tiles on top-what a neat look! Or, crumple heavy duty tin foil, uncrumple it and glue this to your surface. Then you can use any type of clear or semi-clear type glass and you'll get a shimmering look. Also, the colors will be more brilliant. If you're going to mosaic on wood type products, clay pots, concrete, or anything else that's a pourous type material, you need to seal it BEFORE you glue a piece of tile! I've been using sanding sealer. You can pick this up in any paint department. I normally put on two even coats. I've heard of people using varnish and I should think this would work fine too.
Everyone has their favorite. Mine is "Liquid Nails Clear Silicone Sealer". I have several reasons for this. I live in Wisconsin, known for extreme temperature changes. The silicone will expand and contract with the temperature changes. Also, it doesn't have the terrible smell normally associated with silicone glues and has a good working time so I can still move my tiles around before it dries really hard. And...it dries very clear, great for working with projects I may want to hang in a window or projects on candle holders. Once dry, it sticks like nails. (hehehe) IF your glue oozes up between the tiles, use a toothpick to pull it out. You need to keep this area clear for the grout. A little trick to keep the end of the glue open-stick a wooden dowel in the end. As soon as you're done working for the time being, put the dowel back in the hole. You'll always have a clear opening. Every once in a while when the glue starts caking up on the end, use a piece of paper to pull the excess off and your dowel will be clean again. This keeps the end from hardening up.
I use sanded grout on every project I make. I do this because I like the look of it. The mosaic expert's rule of thumb is: if your grout line is less than 1/8" use unsanded grout, anything over 1/8" use sanded grout. I don't follow that rule. I guess I'm a maverick, I make things the way I think they look good, even if it means I break the rules. Don't skimp on price! The grout you use can make or break your project. I've bought grout at discount hardware stores and could not believe the difference in color and quality when I bought grout from a floor tile supply store. This meaning a store that specializes in nothing but floor/wall tile. If you can't find a store like this in your area, try contacting a professional floor tile installer. Most are listed in the phone book. It's more than likely they'll sell grout to you if you explain to them what you're doing with it. They don't want competition and if you tell them you're doing hobby mosaics they won't be threatened. For the most part, I've found these people like to show off and help blooming artists. Now, a new lesson I learned! I normally am not a "china" mosaic artist. But, I've been working with it more within this last year. If you look in my gallery, you'll see a large rose table I made. When I made the table I used a lot of china that had a stippled gold pattern on it. I wanted the table to look like a quilt. These tiles were my fill-ins between the main pattern. When I was grouting I pushed the grout very hard around the china. After I was finished I was horrified to see that I had pushed and rubbed the grout around sooooo hard, I literally wiped a lot of the gold stippling off of the china. Lesson learned...tender is better. Lately I've been having problems with my grout cracking. I've checked into this extensively and found it could be something showing up in our water. I have never had this problem before. We live in the country and the village decided to put up a school next door to us. Since they started working on the school, our water smells and looks cloudy. Because of this, I've started using a liquid admixture with plastisizer in it instead of water to mix my grout. I've not had the cracking problems since I started doing this. You can pick up bottles of this at home-improvement stores or do-it-yourself ceramic tiles shops. I mix my grout so that I use the least amount of liquid as possible but yet be able to spread it, much like frosting a cake with very, very, thick frosting. Water can weaken your grout. In extreme temperature changes your grout is more likely to crack or glass pop out or crack if you've used too much water when mixing the grout. I do not ever use premixed grout, again my preference. Anytime I make something I put my whole self into it. So, I use my bare hands when mixing and spreading the grout. I've found that rubber gloves rip, fall off, or get gummy when I'm trying to spread the grout and fill the areas completely. My freed up hands allow me to feel the areas I'm trying to fill. I do make exceptions to this when using very dark grouts that will stain my hands badly. My hands are a wreck, but my mosaic grout lines are filled nicely. I also make sure to use a good moisturizer since there's acid in the grout that dries skin out terribly. I would suggest wearing a dust mask when mixing dry grout. There's silica in it and when inhaled, this is terrible on your lungs. Grout can be colored with acrylic paint. I haven't tested this method on outdoor projects, I'm a little leary of putting items with paint based color grout outdoors. I fear the sun will eventually bleach the color and it'll fade. I'm testing "Patio Paints" to see if they fade. Other than the testing projects with patio paints, I use professional color additives or grout that is already colored, on all outdoor projects. When using paints to color the grout, I suggest putting the paint in before the water, so your grout doesn't become too thin. Always try to mix more than enough to finish your project since you may not get the exact color when mixing the second batch. Also, after you finish grouting your project, put some of the leftover grout in a jar with a lid. Seal it tight. After your item has dried you may find small pinholes or an area that needs touching up, this extra grout will be needed for this. After I apply the grout, I wait about 5 or 10 minutes before wiping the excess grout off. I opt for paper toweling over a damp sponge. Sponges cost money and grout and glass or china edges ruin them. Also, when wiping the project down, I've found damp sponges can remove some of the grout in the lines, making them thinner. I want my grout to be the same thickness as the glass or china so I don't get cut up arms or hands later. I wipe in small circles tenderly but enough to get the excess off. If you have large chunks of grout stuck on your glass and it dries completely, you'll have a hard time getting it off later. I wipe once, wait a couple minutes, then wipe again, wait again and then wipe a 3rd time. I then wait a while and polish with a very, very damp piece of paper toweling or a soft lintless white rag. Let set overnight and polish with a dry soft rag. If you end up with very small pieces of grout stuck on your glass, use a tooth pick or piece of wood or plastic to chip it off. The very first mistake I made when I first started using the mirror was to let chunks of grout dry on it and then I used an abrasive pad to try to get it off (not using the brain here). Wrong! I scratched the mirror beyond repair and ruined that project. This will happen with glass, mirror, or china. This is not a complete run down of all there is to grouting, but I hope it helps someone, not make the same mistakes I've made. If your hands feel dried out and just plain crummy after grouting, try soaking them in a refreshing bath of plain old vineger. It really does help! Also, you may want to use it as a final rinse for your project to give it a nice shine.
I make it a point to seal everything I make. I mean EVERYTHING! This was a hard lesson I learned when I was first married and had kids. One of my kids spilled fruit juice on my brand new concrete fireplace mantel and it seeped into the grout line. It stained! No one ever told me I should put a sealer on the whole concrete mantel. The spot was there for life. This can happen to your grout. You need the sealer to protect the grout from water seepage and stains. I use a sealer from the tile section at a local home improvement center. It works fine. There are tons of different ones on the market. Be careful not to put it on too thick. Sometimes it can discolor your tiles. Much like putting on too much wax on a floor. You'll want to get a sealer good for indoors or out. One last thing....don't forget to sign and date your project! Every artist signs and dates their works, you are no different! Years down the road you'll be happy you signed it, believe me! Remember--have fun!!!