Recycled Art: Tile Mosaic

Each year, our local Habitat for Humanity puts on a recycled art show, called “Home is Where the Art Is“. Artists from around the area volunteer and are given a voucher to purchase materials from the Restore to create a piece of art that will be auctioned at the show. All proceeds go back into the Habitat for Humanity organization.

First of all, I love the Restore. We actually purchased this really cool cabinet set there last year, which we plan to turn into a wine cabinet/hutch/drink station…you know, when we have time? It’s been on the back burner.

We have also purchased flooring there as well, and occasionally I see really cool pieces of furniture that just need a little TLC (and a home in need of a cool piece of furniture!). Anyway, they have cool stuff. If you ever need to redo a bathroom or kitchen, the Restore should be your first stop!

This year I took on the challenge of creating a piece for the art show. The hardest part was deciding what to do. Because I don’t necessarily have a “thing” — I am a “that sounds cool, I should try that!” type of gal — the decision was really hard. I thought of some random small ideas, but I wanted to make sure what I would make was something someone would pay to have, that not every person would attempt to do, yet would also be unique.

The Restore has TONS of tile, so I thought I’d give a mosaic a try. I did some research on creating mosaic art and decided I’d be able to do this – I have tiled a floor before, so I somewhat understood the process.

I started with a piece of plywood (that was leftover from a different project) which was approximately 2 feet x 3.5 feet. I purchased white, gray, and dark gray tiles from the Restore, as well as a mirror and grout. I needed 2 buckets of this Mapei Opticolor grout, and with this product you also purchase the color you want the grout to be separately. The color I used was alabaster.

The nice thing about this brand of grout is that you get almost everything you need for your project inside the bucket – gloves, a cleaning sponge and a scrub pad. You just need to make sure your work surface is protected and that you do this in a well-ventilated area.

 1. I drew a rough sketch of a tree onto my plywood. It is totally imperfect, but I knew it would evolve as I pieced together the tiles.

2. I grabbed a hammer and some kitchen towels and took my tile to the cement sidewalk. Placing the tile between a towel ensures the shards won’t fly everywhere. You should definitely wear safety glasses as well. I broke off pieces of all sizes and kept my dark gray tiles separate from my white ones, as well as breaking the mirror pieces and being much more careful with those as they are SHARP!

3. I knew my tree would be white, so I started with those tiles (as well as a light gray for more depth). It was like piecing together a puzzle, loosely following my tree shape I’d drawn, and placing in pieces as they fit. I tried to keep an even amount of spacing between tile pieces, around 1/4″ spaces for the grout to fill. I also tried to mix up the larger and smaller pieces, randomly placing in the light gray pieces, too.

4. Once I had formed my tree like a puzzle, I also placed the broken mirror pieces on top of the branches to act as fallen snow on the tree. Some of the mirror had cracked backing from the hammer (so they essentially looked like regular glass) so I had to be more choosey about the pieces I used, as well as making sure the edges weren’t lethal.

5. I went back and glued down each piece of tile using a clear, waterproof silicone.

5. I used Mirror Mastic to glue down the mirror pieces. Apparently certain types of sealant/silicones can break down the backing on mirrors, whereas Mirror Mastic is specially formulated to work with the backing on mirrors. You can see in this picture, that the mirrors have a tan-colored substance coming out from underneath.

 Here is the completed tree with mirror tiles.

 6. Next, I repeated the process for the dark gray tiles, piecing it all together like a puzzle, then going back and gluing down each one. I made sure to allow a 24-hour cure time for all the silicone to set.

7. Time to grout! I put some painter’s tape around the edges to act as a wall for the grout.

I mixed everything up in the buckets according to directions. My husband helped me out with this part, and we worked from one end to the other, pushing in grout with our gloved hands.

After we filled in all the cracks, we started gently wiping off the tiles with the sponge. This part was kind of fun, because you finally see the finished product! The only problem here was that we needed to be careful of sharp edges sticking up (please see the important tidbits about that at the end). My gloves tore a few times and we had to pick out a few pieces of sponge.

We also found that the mirror pieces were not as thick as the tiles, so they sunk lower than the rest. We had to go back and individually wipe off each one with a wet rag.You can get a sense of the depth differences in this shot:

We let the grout dry for awhile and wiped clean again, just to get it all, then let it dry another 24 hours. This particular brand of grout was sticky while it was in the process of drying.

When it was all set, I tore off the painter’s tape to assess the situation on the edges. There were some edges sticking up that we filed down. Also, of course you could see the plywood underneath. I felt at a loss for what to do here.

I knew I had some gray paint so I tested it out and it happened to match the alabaster grout perfectly! I carefully painted all the edges with a few coats and it looked great.

I am thrilled with how it turned out!

I will share some more photos after the event, with an update of how much my piece brought in for the organization!

The final piece is currently on display (as well as the work of all the other contributing artists) at The Spirit Room downtown Fargo, ND.

Want to attend the art auction? Advance tickets are currently on sale for $15 (they will be $20 at the door) and the event starts at 6:30pm on February 2. Please visit the Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity website by clicking here to purchase yours! There will also be hors d’oeuvres and wine tasting at this event, so unfortunately guests must be 21 or older.

 *IMPORTANT TIDBITS!*

- If you plan to make a mosaic that will be used as a step stone or any surface your feet or hands will touch often, you must be much more careful about the types of tile used and also about the sharp edges. You would want to be more careful about getting all the tiles level as well. I have read if you use a knife sharpening stone you can file down sharp edges.Because my piece is meant for art to display on a mantle (at least, that is how I picture it…if only I had a mantle!), I didn’t worry about it.

- There are a few different methods for making mosaics, this is just the method I chose. Research them to find out which is best for your particular project!

- Do the entire process in an area that can be well-ventilated (we did it on our kitchen table because it’s winter, but we had the patio door open a few times just to create more ventilation).

If this tutorial helped you, please let me know in the comments below! I am definitely thinking about making my own mosaic now, just need to make a decision on what I would do! Wouldn’t it be awesome to make a tree for every season? If I only had a mantle…

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