How to Make a Backyard Ceramic Tile Mosaic

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As a member of Lowe’s Creative Ideas Network I received gift cards from Lowe’s in order to purchase supplies to complete projects. All opinions are my own.

The Lowe’s Creative Ideas Network challenge for July is “outdoor art.” I decided to pay tribute to one of my favorite artists, Fernando Llort. When we went to El Salvador in 2011, we visited The Catedral Metropolitana in San Salvador – a cathedral full of history and which featured a colorful tile mosaic façade by Llort. Months after we returned to the United States, that façade was thoughtlessly torn down. It’s difficult to say how sad and angry this made me – it still upsets me to this day. Making a replica of part of Llort’s mosaic felt like the right thing to do.

The cathedral before its destruction, and the section of the mosaic I decided to replicate.

A photo I took of the cathedral before the mosaic’s destruction, and the section of the mosaic I decided to replicate.

This project is time-consuming but worth it. Here’s how to make your own Backyard Ceramic Tile Mosaic.

How to Make a Backyard Ceramic Tile Mosaic

Materials:

square white ceramic tiles (amount depends on desired size of mosaic)
glass paint (gloss opaque in desired colors)
fine tip paint brush
ruler
rubbing alcohol
cotton balls
1/2 inch deep wood board cut to desired size (depends on desired size of mosaic)
screwdriver
2 screws
hanging wire
Gorilla Glue
needle-nose pliers
scissors
pencil
colored pencils
permanent marker
plastic gloves

Instructions:

1. Choose a design for your mosaic. This can be an existing design you want to re-create or one you created yourself. Decide how many tiles wide and high you want your mosaic to be and using a ruler and pencil, divide your image into a grid with an equal number of blocks. If your image is small, you may have to re-draw it larger. I recommend doing this the old-fashioned way instead of blowing the image up and applying a grid through computerized image editing, since the old-fashioned way gives you practice drawing the design. Use colored pencils to lightly color in the image if desired.

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2. Number the blocks on the grid and the backs of the corresponding tiles to keep things organized in case you don’t finish in one sitting. (If your tiles come attached to each other, separate them and remove as much of the glue as possible using pliers.)

3. Screw the screws into the top edge of the board. Later you’ll tie the wire on but do this part now. You don’t want to do this after the tiles are attached and have the board crack.

4. Clean the surface of each tile with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol and then allow each to dry before applying paint. You can use a pencil and/or permanent marker to draw the outline of your design before you paint it.

5. Paint each tile, referring to your grid as a guide. Allow to dry.

6. To cure the paint on the tiles, place tiles in a cold oven on a foil-lined baking sheet. Set oven to 350 F, bake for 30 minutes. The foil is especially important if there is still glue on the backs of your tiles. This glue will melt in the oven and the tiles will attach themselves to your baking sheet! Turn oven off, allowing tiles to cool completely inside the oven before removing. Note that your tiles go into the oven when it’s cold and come out when it’s cold. They must be allowed to heat up and cool down properly. If you have a lot of tiles, you may have to do this in batches. Note: When moving tiles be careful not to chip the paint. The paint is not permanent until tiles are cured. If you do chip the paint, touch it up and wait for it to dry again. The tiles, (I believe because of the glue), smell strongly while being baked. I recommend having a few windows open while baking.

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7. Now you’re ready to assemble the mosaic and attach it to the wood. Put on some plastic gloves to avoid getting Gorilla Glue on your skin. Lightly moisten the back side of each tile with a damp paper towel and apply a very small amount of Gorilla Glue. Place tiles on your piece of wood in order using your grid as a reference. (Remember to check that the screws are at the top before attaching tiles!) Carefully place a flat heavy object, such as books, on top of the glued tiles to apply pressure. Wait 30 minutes until dry. If your mosaic is large, I recommend doing this step one section at a time. Note: You may want to test this process with extra tiles and a scrap piece of wood. Gorilla Glue expands and what you may think is a small amount, will be too much if you aren’t experienced in using it.

8. Wait 72 hours to be sure that paint and glue are fully cured before tying the hanging wire to the screws and hanging outside.

9. Optional: For a more finished look, you can glue thin pieces of wood molding around the outside of your mosaic. To make the mosaic more weather-proof, you could apply a ceramic tile surface sealer but I did not attempt this and can’t tell you whether it would affect the appearance of the painted tiles.

Note: Although the paint and glue are permanent, harsh weather will take a toll on your mosaic. Consider bringing your mosaic indoors during cold or rainy months, or display it in a sheltered area, such as a patio under an awning.

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What will your mosaic design be?

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10 thoughts on “How to Make a Backyard Ceramic Tile Mosaic

  1. Wow! That is awesome! I’ve always wanted to do a mosaic, but I’m not sure I have the time or patience. What a great way to remember the beautiful artwork that was destroyed, too!

    • It did take a lot of patience – especially for me! Usually I end up rushing through long projects and ruining them in the process, but I forced myself to take my time with this. It’s definitely something one would be wise to do in an area that ISN’T the dinner table. My mosaic-making took up our dinner table for several days ;)

      • LOL, because unless you’re blessed enough to have your own craft room (I wish!), that’s usually where all kinds of projects get done. The dinner table is such a special piece of furniture at most houses. It withstands a lot of creative abuse ;)

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