Angela Cummings on Mosaics

I recently decided to personalize some ordinary garden ornament by decorating it with mosaic tiles.  Before I got started I met with art instructor Angela Cummings.  She walked me through the process of designing and applying a tile fish to a concrete bird bath.  Here are her instructions.

Angela's BirdbathIt's easy, when you look at magazines or books and try to come up with ideas, and that's what I do. And I look a lot at clip art and on the Internet or at art stores. And if I see a shape I like, I may Xerox it, and then I might enlarge that shape. And that's what I've done with this fish.

The background, this black part, is an enlarged fish that was once about this small that I saw in a book. And I enlarged it so it would fit inside my birdbath. So now I'm laying my glass pieces on that shape. You notice how I'm not really trying to stay right within the lines. I'm trying to work within the constraints of these lines but also add some of my own ideas to it. So I use contact paper to pick up this fish in its hole. And you have to be careful when you lay it down that you just sort of drop it down. If you don't you're going to move your tile or your glass. So we're pressing down so all of this glass sticks to the contact paper. Now we can pull it up, but it usually sticks to your background paper. I like to work on a white background paper so I can see more clearly what I'm doing. I've cut all around the fish, and I'm going to pull him up, and all of my tiles are stuck to the contact paper.

So now my birdbath that doesn't have anything in the middle can take my ceramic mortar and apply it in the very center. Now I'm ready to lay my fish on the bed of mortar. And I need to really press it down into the mortar. Now I'm not going to remove the contact paper at this time, because if I do I'm going to pull it out of the mortar. So I'm going to leave it for 12 to 24 hours, and then when I come back, all I have to do is pull the contact paper off.

Now that you've got your fish down in the middle of your birdbath, the hard part is over. So all you do is take your mortar and apply it all over the background of your birdbath and randomly apply your tiles. Now I would suggest that you use just one color. That way your fish is going to be the focal point of the birdbath. You could always outline it like I did in another color.

Now once you have all of your tiles adhered to your piece, you're ready to grout. And you always need to wear gloves when you grout because if you're working on a piece that's to be placed outside, you're going to have to use a cement-based grout. Make sure that it has a latex additive added to it so it will expand and contract with the weather.

Now you always have to wear gloves because cement has lime in it, and lime will eat away at your hands. Now I'm just going to take my little spatula and apply some grout. And grout makes a huge mess. You'll want to lay down paper. It'll be a lot easier cleanup.

Once I get quite a bit on, I just take my hand and gently push it in to those cracks, the seams, and the little spaces between each tile. Now be careful because this is glass, and you could cut your finger. Now you're going to wipe over one pass with this sponge, and you got all of this grout on it, but you can't use that part again. Turn your sponge over. Wipe there. Look for a clean spot on the sponge. Wipe again. I usually cut my sponges in half because it's easier for me to work with them that way. And we'll take one pass with that side. If you see any spots that don't have grout, like this area here, just grab a little and poke it in there. And wring out another sponge. Now when you've gotten just about all of the excess grout off, you get a clean, soft cloth. And this towel is a little thick, really. T-shirt material would be better. But you polish this tile, because the grout is going to leave a hazy film. I've turned this simple, little clay pot into something really special.

And anybody can do this. This is a great hobby. There are hundreds of books on the subject, and you don't have to take a class, but there are classes probably in all major cities. Your local art museum, your craft stores -- a lot of those places offer classes in mosaicing.


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