A labour of love – or: why typists shouldn’t mosaic as a hobby

This year, my friend L and I decided to attend some crafting classes.

When you spend much of every day sitting at the computer, and editing and proofreading other people’s writings, you tend to live in your head quite a lot and to over-exercise the mental muscles, particularly on the logical left side of the brain. Giving my creativity – and the right side of my brain – some space and time, and learning some new skills that didn’t involve tippity-tappiting away at the computer keyboard and staring at small letters moving across a computer screen, sounded extremely appealing.

House Number

My first mosaic was our house number

My first mosaic was our house number

I was very keen to learn how to make mosaics. So one of my first projects with Amelia from the Crafter’s Den, who runs small classes from home, was to mosaic the numbers of our house. (She has a shop inside Wynica Stationers at the Bothasig Mall in Vryburger Avenue, Bothasig, where you can get all the bits and bobs you need for your craft projects.)

What took the longest time was choosing the colours that I wanted to use, as this was also influenced by the colour of the wall against which we wanted to mount the number. In the end, I settled on shimmering red and blue tiles, with white grouting inbetween.

Hubby mounted it carefully against the wall

Hubby mounted it carefully against the wall

I had originally planned to use the same size square tiles throughout, because those tile nippers, quite frankly, scared the bejeebers out of me… they look like medieval torture implements to remove bits of you! But my fellow class mates wielded them with such ease and skill, that I gave it a try too. And it turned out to be much easier than I’d thought!

Okay, actually getting the broken piece to look like what you need in order to fill that gap, is a different story, but that was part of the challenge fun.

More alarming, though, was the tendency of those small pieces to fly off across the room, even when I cupped my hand around the nippers to prevent it. It was my first experience of how needle-sharp those glass tiles are… yowzer! The teeny-tiny glass splinters are particularly vicious because you don’t see them until you suddenly feel them digging into your fingertips!

I'm rather pleased with it - and so was Flat Kathy during her stay with us

I’m rather pleased with it – and so was Flat Kathy during her stay with us

Mixing the grouting to the consistency of (inedible, please note) icing-sugar-like paste was rather enjoyable, reminding me of childhood games with mud and goo and play-dough and ‘fake-cakes’ and such-like… but applying the grouting to the mosaic, and making sure that it went evenly into every nook and cranny, and then all along the outside edge, was my least favourite part of the whole exercise. (In fact, I would gladly pay someone to do this for me.)

The part I particularly loathe is having to smooth it along the edge, which invariably has some extremely sharp pieces sticking out, just waiting for your tender fingertips to pass by…

In hindsight, I should really wear rubber gloves for this, but nobody else seemed to be having the same problem, and besides, it is easier to feel how thick the grouting is and to smooth it down properly, when you’re not wearing gloves. Sigh.

Hubby was suitably impressed by our new house numbers, bless him, and offered to mount them on the wall with a couple of screws right away. I thought they looked simply marvelous. And Flat Kathy, who was visiting us at the time, thought so too.


My second mosaic project was more ambitious - a birdbath

My second mosaic project was more ambitious – a birdbath with a spiral motif

All in all, it was so much fun, that I leapt at the opportunity to do another mosaic project. This one was rather more ambitious – a birdbath, with a spiral motif of colourful glass drops (slightly raised and rounded tiles, vaguely square-ish).

I had bought two large terracotta dishes from the nearby nursery – the dishes actually go underneath large pots, but I figured they’d make some great birdbaths.

Once all the tiles are glued down and the glue has hardened a bit, the grouting mix is prepared

Once all the tiles are glued down and the glue has hardened a bit, the grouting mix is prepared

We already have a couple of birdbaths in our garden, which the birds seem to adore. As a result, the baths tend to get emptied quickly (because our feathered friends like to spraaaay all the water around) and they regularly need a bit of a scrub. I don’t mind, as it’s one of the best things in the world to watch our flocks of Cape white-eyes or Cape sparrows come for a swim in the hot summer weather amidst a cacophony of birdsong.

Our one birdbath has looked grotty for a number of years already, and it has a crack, which hubby has admittedly repaired, but I still felt that the birds needed a much nicer bath.

Grouting... my least favourite part of mosaicing - Amelia kindly helps me

Grouting… my least favourite part of mosaicing – Amelia kindly helps me

This time, I came prepared, having spent some hours on Google, looking at other people’s birdbath designs for inspiration, so I already knew what design (more or less) and what colours I wanted. Which was just as well, as there was so much to do within those few hours of our class, that there was no time for dilly-dallying.

I started by glueing on the tiles all around the edge, and just beneath the edge, to give a bit of a frame to the design. Then I glued on the spiral, starting with three rows of colourful glass drops, and gradually narrowing the spiral to a single row of glass drops in the centre. Then I glued on all the blue tiles – no nipping this time!

After rubbing in a dusting of grouting powder, it's starting to look nice and shiny

After rubbing in a dusting of grouting powder, it’s starting to look nice and shiny

I deliberately used only a couple of glittery tiles, because – apparently – birds don’t like reflective or glittery surfaces when they’re having a swim. Well, I’m not sure if that’s true, but I wasn’t going to take a chance!

The next step was mixing and applying the grouting – thank you, Amelia, for helping me!

Once the excess grouting had been scraped off, I applied a light dusting of grouting powder, which goes into all the tiny little holes that you can’t see, and rubbed this on gently, with my fingers.

Here it is - our new birdbath... the birds were rather suspicious of it at first

Here it is – our new birdbath… the birds were rather suspicious of it at first

This also dries the damp grouting a bit, but you have to be careful not to remove accidentally any of the still-soft grouting between the tiles. While you’re rubbing on the dry grouting powder, you gently remove any excess grouting that is stuck ontop of the tiles.

The last step, once the grouting had dried for about 15 minutes, was to use a cloth to buff-polish the tiles until they shone.

A few days later, we bought a base-stand from a cement statue place in Northgate Island, and mounted the mosaiced terracotta ‘birdbath’ onto the base with a strong adhesive. And waited for the birds to come for a swim.

And waited…

And waited… It took them a while to get used to it, but I think they do now swim in it, based on the fact that I have to keep refilling it. πŸ™‚

Another House Number

When a friend happened to see our brand-new house numbers, she asked me to make a number 9 for her.

It took me a while, as this time, I liberally applied several coats of wood sealant to the wooden number base, ontop and below, as well as around the edges, because it would be mounted outside and thus exposed to the elements. Only once the sealant had dried properly, did I started glueing on the mosaic tiles. Also, instead of using water to mix the grouting, I used Bond-It, which makes the grouting stronger for outside use.

Some days later, I was finished at last – and my friend was delighted. πŸ™‚

Gecko No. 1

During one of my visits to MosaicWorks in Montague Gardens to purchase some colourful tiles and grouting, I picked up a wooden gecko base – one of those that you can mount against an outside wall. It was a fairly small one, though, and it looked rather fiddly, particularly the area around the toes! At the next mosaic class with Amelia, while my friends were decorating the most adorable little birdhouses, I tackled the gecko. I had already spent a couple of days applying wood sealant, top and bottom and all around the edges.

Gecko No. 2

As the small green gecko seems lonely, I decide to mosaic a big daddy gecko - like the small green one it gets a striking central ridge

As the small green gecko seems lonely, I decide to mosaic a big daddy gecko – like the small green one it gets a striking central ridge

As the small gecko looked rather lost on our outside walls in the back garden, my friend L found me a large version of the same gecko at a shop near her.

Several days of wood sealing later, I started glueing on the tiles. It took me a couple of days to finalise the design, as I was working on a deadine at the time, and only able to do bits of it in-between, while munching my muesli, or nibbling a toasted sandwich.

I started with the central ridge, of dark blue shiny tiles interspersed with pale blue ones. Then I cut small triangles of yellow and orange tiles, to fit into the corners.

I'm doing the body in tangerine orange and the legs in yellow - the head looks odd... but I hope it'll work!

I’m doing the body in tangerine orange and the legs in yellow – the head looks odd… but I hope it’ll work!

I used slightly raised orange glass-drops for the toes, as I wanted them to stand out, large blue glass-drops for the eyes, and some red ones for the flickery tongue. πŸ™‚

I made the main body in tangerine orange, with a couple of light-blue tiles dotted about, and the legs in sunshine yellow, with a couple of the dark blue glittery tiles dotted about, to add a bit of interest in the otherwise flat expanses of solid colour.

Yesterday, at last, Mr Gecko was ready to be grouted. Yay. (Can you sense my enthusiasm dread?)

The hard work of nipping and cutting and glueing tiles is done

The hard work of nipping and cutting and glueing tiles is done

After my finger tips were cut to shreds yet again by the sharp edges, I decided that I wasn’t going to tough this out any longer, so I dug up some rubber gloves. It made working definitely more awkward, particularly when squishing the grout into the gaps along the edge, but what a relief! (Unfortunately, typing with rubber gloves while the poor fingertips heal isn’t an option.)

In the middle of all the back and forth, mixing the grout with Bond-It, and applying it to the gecko, and needing to mix yet more grout because it just wasn’t quite enough (that gecko was large!), I stepped on a small piece of glass tile with my bare foot… Jeepers!

Long, painful, expletive-filled minutes of contortions later, and after much hopping about on one leg, I had finally extracted the offending sliver, and cleaned and applied a plaster to the cut. Sigh.

Yes... grouting... :-(  My finger tips are cut to shreds again...

Sigh… grouting… 😦 My finger tips are cut to shreds again…

The hazards of mosaicing that no-one mentions.

At last, the entire gecko was grouted thoroughly. I applied a fine layer of grouting dust all over, and gently rubbed it across the tiles, making sure it went into every teeny-tiny nook and cranny, and rubbing all the extra grout off the tiles, which were started to develop a nice glassy shine.

Then I left it to dry outside in the sun for a bit, while tackling the clean-up of the kitchen counter and floor. Once the mosaic was more or less dry, I used a rough cloth to buff it to a proper shine.

Ahhh…. I must admit, it felt good to complete this project!

And now it’s over to hubby to find the perfect spot for this pair on the garden wall!

But I am delighted with the outcome.

But I am delighted with the outcome of my most ambitious project so far!

19 thoughts on “A labour of love – or: why typists shouldn’t mosaic as a hobby

    • Well, as long as you wear rubber gloves when grouting, and shoes at all times, particularly when cutting and nipping the tiles into shape, you should be *fine*, Paprika.

      Creating a mosaic *is* a lot of fun – I find it has a nicely balancing effect on the mind and emotions. There’s a bit of logical planning involved, in figuring out a rough design and a colour scheme, but then there’s plenty of room for creativity and playfulness, as the mosaic starts to develop. I really like that.

      So please do give it a try! I’d love to see your project. πŸ™‚

      • Oh, I would definitely try to keep Linus and Sam away from the mosaic while you’re working on it – if those little glass shards are vicious to human feet and fingers, I don’t want to know what they do to the tender paws of kitty-cats. Luckily, Tuffy doesn’t hop up on countertops anymore, but I don’t know about your pair! πŸ™‚ Or perhaps, as your first project, do one where you don’t have to cut any tiles. πŸ™‚

  1. Reggie, I’ve often thought of venturing into mosaic projects and wondered all that would be involved. Now I know. So much hard work, yet such amazingly beautiful results. I love your choice of designs and colors. The house numbers, birdbaths and geckos are projects I’d choose to do too. My birdbath is leaking so I could really use a new top for the base. The nicks on my fingers would drive me nuts too and since I am usually barefoot, I’d join you in saying ‘Jeepers’ more often than usual too. Lovely to read about this.

    • Although it wasn’t as easy as I’d thought originally, it was a lovely creative project. I’ve in the meantime seen other people’s *magnificent* and hugely complex designs, so I know that I am very much a beginner.

      I guess the memory of the hazardous glass slivers must have faded, because I bought some more wooden templates two/three months ago, including an owl, a bird, a bunny-rabbit…., and started working on those. They’ve been put on hold again, due to *more important stuff*, but I’ll go back to them as soon as I can. Unfinished projects!

      Do you have an arts and craft shop near you, where you can buy the supplies you need?

  2. Yes we do have an arts and craft shop nearby (I used to teach drawing and calligraphy classes there). I will have to check it out once I can foresee a block of time in which to complete a small mosaic project. Thanks again for giving some insight into this art form.

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