February 19, 2012


Mike and I just wrapped up a mosaic workshop through Portland Community College. It was a 5-hour Saturday workshop, with a couple hours on evenings before and after the workshop to discuss project ideas and grout the finished piece. We took the class because Mike has always been interested in mosaic tiling, and I have an interest anytime there's a craft that we can do together.

Mike and I have very different approaches to beginning new projects, therefore our outcomes are different too. I chose a small project (in hindsight it was perhaps a little too small - lots of little pieces to cut); something that I wasn't too invested in so that I could just have fun with it. Mike chose a larger project; something that he had invested a lot of interest in, and something that he really, really wanted to do just right. As a result, my project is done and he's still working on his. Since his isn't complete I'll save it for another blog post. In the meantime here's a picture tutorial of my mosaic process:

My simple sketch

I chose to work with stained glass shards, and apply the shards to a piece of framed clear glass. The idea is that my piece can hang in a window, with the light shining through, and it will glow. Our instructor recommended purchasing a picture frame, removing the back piece, and then gluing the glass to the frame. There were a couple of added advantages to this approach: I could put my sketch behind the clear glass and use it to guide me in placing my glass shards, and cutting glass is much easier than cutting ceramic tile.

Our main cutting tools were Running Pliers (left) and Glass Nippers (right). The running pliers have a little cutting wheel on one side used to score the glass sheets, and then the pliers are used to break the glass along the score line. The nippers are used to "nip" little pieces of glass off a large piece. This helps in shaping. I used the nippers a lot because my pieces were so small.

We started with larger sheets of glass and then cut them down into smaller shards. We purchased most of our glass at Cline Glass, making use of their "Tips & Tails" bins. These are the ends that get cut off the larger sheets when making big panes of glass. They are sold by the pound and are significantly cheaper than buying square sheets ($3/lb vs. $12/lb). Problem is that the color options are limited and you don't ever know what's going to be there. Lucky for me there was lots of blue and green. We also picked up some smaller glass shards at Scrap for only $1.50/lb.

Once I had some pieces cut I started laying them out on my glass. It's a bit like working a puzzle; trying to make all the pieces fit together. The instructor said it's much faster to cut your pieces to fit rather than spend the time searching through your shards for the perfect piece. She's right, but there's something fun about the challenge of finding the exact fit as well.

The instructor encouraged us all to try her "tape trick", which I found to be pretty handy. The idea is that after you have a small section laid out how you want it, place a strip of packing tape over the pieces (secure one end to the frame, and apply the rest over the shards). Lift up the other end and all of your pieces will be ready to apply glue. Apply glue to the back side of the shards and then lay them back down. Keep the tape in place until the glue has dried. I didn't let the glue dry completely because my piece was so small that I needed to remove some tape so that I could keep working. For glue we used PVA glue (Elmers, Alenes, etc).


After all the shards were glued down, and dry, it was time to grout. I don't have photos of the process because my hands were a little messy. The materials were pretty simple:

Mixing up grout is a "guesstimating" process. But for my small piece I really didn't need much (about a small yogurt container's worth). I added a little water, and folded it until it was the consistency of pie dough. Using my hands (gloved), I rubbed it into the grout lines using circular motions. Once it was fully grouted I used a damp rag (not wet - you don't want to add any more water to the grout) to wipe off the excess.

Once I got it home I painted the frame black and added some black glass beads for eyes. Then I put it in the window...

Glow, baby, glow!

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