Mosaic Tray Tutorial

I've been asked by a bunch of folks to provide a tutorial on my Trailer Tray Mosaic.  Here's my stab at it.  There are lots of good mosaic tutorials on the internet.  It's a lot easier than you think.   Really anyone can do it.  Here's a pic of the finished prjoect and my inspiration least partially.

  1. Sketch pad or photos for inspiration
  2. Substrate for your project (tray, wood plaque, durock, flower pot etc....)
  3. stained glass, tile, beads, etc... (see below for sources)
  4. assorted container for organizing your pieces by color etc.. (optional)
  5. Bonderizer  for wood projects
  6. Glass cutter, nippers, etc., ballpeen hammer
  7. Safety googles/glasses
  8. Gloves (ntirile is what I use)
  9. Titebond Tongue and Groove Flooring Glue or any good quality wood glue that dries clear.
  10. cheap painters brushes
  11. Sanded Grout (color of your choice)
  12. Groat Float (optional)
  13. Bucket or plastic containers for grout
  14. Water and a bucket for it
  15. Cheesecloth, sponge, old t shirts for wiping down grout.

1.  Figure out your design and basic color scheme.  Don't get too detailed, or precise.    I take several pieces of paper the size of the tray.

2.  Collect your tile, glass, beads etc... that you might want to use. Get more than you think you will's good to have options once you are in the creative process.

3.   If using wood as your substrate, prepare the Surface of the tray, by sanding and then paintin the area that will be tiled with bonderizer.  This seals the wood.  If you are using a flower pot, stepping stone, or durock can skip this step.

4.   Now it's time to start laying out your design.  Get your nippers, glass cutter, ballpeen hammer and start getting pieces the size that you want.   Wear goggles/glasses when breaking tiles and gloves (I wear nitrile gloves) to protect from glass splinters.  SAFETY FIRST!!!  Please watch these videos.

Note in my piece there's a range of sizes used from small to large, and precise shapes to random.  This is intentional and adds to the interest.  Have fun with it.  If this is your first mosaic, go for the impression versus actually representing your picture. 

For the design above I did the trailer first and then built the rest of the scene around it.  For the trees I used triangles (like pine trees), for the mountains large blocks.  For the water, I used lots of colors with a linear look like water current, plus rocks and mirror shards.  For the trailer, I kept the colors uniform but varied shape and texture of pieces.

5.  Once you have the design blocked out on the tray, start gluing pieces with wood glue to the tray.  You don't need much on each piece.  If you have a very irregular piece it may need to be put in with mastic, but most pieces will hold with glue in a couple of strategic spots.  I keep the glue in a small plastic yogurt container that has a top (or you could use a perscription bottle (but they don't stand up when you leave the brush in).  You can take your time on this part.  If you need to take a break, just put the lid on, and rinse out your brush.  

6.  As you go you'll change your mind about placement, color and size of pieces.  That's the creative process.

7.  Don't leave more than about a  1/8" to 1/4" in gap between your pieces.  If it's more than a 1/4" the grout won't adhere well, if it's less, you may have a hard time getting the grout fully into the gaps.  Even this rule can be broken though.

8.  Once you are done gluing down everything let it set for 24 hours.  Out of heat or direct sunlight.

9.  Grouting.  You can use any color of grout that pleases you.  You can either buy colored grout or make your own custom color with acrylic paints.  I tend to like either black, white, terra cotta or natural.  Try out this free online grout color simulation tool.

10.  Mixing grout.  Your goal is something like toothpaste or peanut butter. Estimate 1.5 - 2 cups of dry grout per sq. foot but it really depends on how far apart and how deep your grout joints are. It's better to have left over than not enough. Put the amount of dry grout in a bucket and slowly add water while mixing until you have that toothpaste consistency. After mixing you want to let it "slake" for about 15 minutes.

11. Once you've mixed your grout it's time to push it with your fingers or with a float into all the nooks and crannies. If using a float hold it at 45 degrees and work diagonally across your piece. Work from the inside out. Use gentle but steady pressure.

12. Once you've got it into all the spaces and removed the excess....leave it to set. How long this is will depend on the humidity etc. Usually in 20 - 30 minutes. Then gently wipe with a very dry damp sponge. The less water you use in the clean up the better. Next polish clean with cheesecloth, paper towels or a soft rag. I like old sweat shirts and t-shirts.  Place your project in a cool place overnight to cure.

13. Sometimes you will get a "grout haze" that will not polish off. If this happens wait a week or so and then use an acid wash. First try white vinegar. If this does not work use Sulfamic Acid. This is a mild acid and will usually take care of any haze. Wear rubber gloves and have a clean bowl of water nearby. Rinse thoroughly with clean water when finished to stop the chemical process.

14.  If your project will be used outside or around water, you may want to seal the grout to protect it from the elements.  Any kind of grout sealer will do.  Follow the directions on your grout or sealer to see how long you should wait after you have grouted to apply the sealer (usually 7 days)

15.  Enjoy your finished project!

Links to mosaic websites that I like and have drawn on for this tutorial.

Online sources

Most large cities these days have a stained glass shop, art supply store, or even a mosaics shop that offers classes and supplies-- Shop Locally when you can.  Many community colleges do as well.  In addition YouTube, EHow etc... have lots of videos on the different aspects.  Go for it and have fun!

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