Mosaics are, in the simplest sense, a grouping of small, sometimes broken materials, joined together to form vivid patterns. These patterns may tell stories, like those found in the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy. Originally dedicated in 504 AD, the Basilica features a still intact intricate pattern of tesserae that depicts the story of Christ. Then there are the magical works of twentieth century French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, who used glass, mirror and tiles to create extraordinary mythical mosaic statues that tower above garden installations throughout the world.
To me, mosaics are appealing because they are a rebirth of an imaginative community; individual pieces linked together to form something whole and totally different than the purpose of their initial journey. In many ways, you might be considered a mosaic: an ever growing and fluid pattern made of unique experiences and memories held together by the grout of self-preservation.
Mosaics are created with a variety of materials: small tiles, broken ceramics, sea glass, mirrors, even stained glass.
Because I often write of hunting for buried treasure within thrift stores and re-purposing discarded objects into something new, beautiful and useful, it is fitting then, that we might create mosaics from some of the smaller, hidden thrift store gems.
Today, I’m going to show you how to create a mosaic serving tray from mostly thrift store materials. We will scout for colorful ceramics that can be broken (without guilt) as our primary medium. Although I will be making a serving tray, don’t let that limit your creativity. You can follow the same process below with simple common sense adjustments to create mosaic vases (clear vases can be readily found at nearly every thrift store), tables, platters, etc. Once you see how easy it is to re-purpose something with a mosaic design, you’ll want to try it on other bases! Mosaics also make beautiful and totally unique gifts that have a value beyond a typical DIY craft project. In fact, I’m seeing quite a few mosaic vases selling for $100 and up! Yes, you could totally do that on your own.
Things You Need
- Ceramics (plates, mugs, platters…)
- Serving Tray (or your preferred base)
- Hammer (or rubber mallet or tile cutter)
- Plastic Bag
- Cloth Rag or Dishtowel
- Mosaic Adhesive
- Grout Applicator
- Paper Towels
The Hunt: Do you have any idea of what pattern you would like to create? A quick internet search should yield a variety of examples and pattern ideas. Decide what colors you might like to feature. Then, head to the housewares section of your local thrift store and look for plates, mugs, serving trays-essentially anything made of ceramic that you don’t feel guilty about breaking. I found a variety of plates and mugs for $0.49 each.
Also, take a look at their vases and serving platters; do you see anything you’d like to use as your base? I’ll be using an old serving tray I bought a few years back. You will also need to hit up a craft store for grout and adhesive. Most craft stores actually have mosaics sections, so you might want to check out their selection of tiles and glass, as well. I found this adhesive and grout for about $3.00 each. I prefer to use white grout because it makes the colors pop, but you might want to try yellow or blue or green for a twist!
Break: Now you’re going to break your ceramics. You may want to consider wearing gloves,or even protective eyeware, because the pieces can be very sharp. In order to prevent loose ceramic bits from going everywhere, I recommend placing each piece in a plastic bag on a flat floor. Then, cover the bag with a rag or dish towel. Use your hammer to break the ceramics.
Check back a few times to make sure your pieces are small enough. If you want a more precise cut, you may want to use a rubber mallet to break the ceramics, or even a precision glass or tile cutter that will allow you more control.
Layout: Once you have finished breaking all your ceramic pieces, carefully carry them over to your work space and lay them out in front of you. Now you are going to create your design.
Lay out your pieces on your project and do not use any adhesive yet-you never know when you might want to switch one piece for the other. If you are making a vase and will have to remove the pieces once you’ve finalized your layout, take a picture so you can remember which piece goes where.
Adhesive: Now, you’re going to attach your mosaics to your base with adhesive. Depending on the adhesive you purchased, you’re either going to spread a layer over the tray and lay your pieces back in their pattern, or you will be able to individually adhere each piece to its pattern.
Make sure to apply adhesive to both the ceramic AND the base. You must now wait for the adhesive to dry; individual dry times will vary, from five hours to overnight.
Grout: Mix your grout according to the directions and apply with your chosen applicator. Make sure to get the grout in all the holes between the mosaic pieces. Once you have applied grout over the piece, wipe the grout off the ceramic with a wet sponge. I alternated between using a wet sponge and a paper towel.
Because I was nervous about getting grout in the sink disposal, I put a bucket under the serving tray to catch the excess grout/water.
Dry: Allow your piece to dry! It will take at least one day for the piece to be fully dry and ready to use. Warning, mosaic is very addictive; you might just find yourself ‘accidentally’ breaking a plate or two.