Magical mosaic

Words Donna Blaber

Simply put, mosaics are designs created by embedding small pieces of china, tiles, glass or even stone into a bed of cement or a similar fixative. Mosaics can be used indoors and out, and are often featured on floors, panels, ceilings and vaults. Historically the earliest mosaics can be traced back to the early Greeks, who used water-smoothed pebbles to make polychrome floor mosaics, depicting light figures set against a dark background. However, it was the Romans who exported the knowledge of this dramatic art form, around the globe. 

Today mosaic remains a popular form of art. For beginners, there are a number of mosaic-making courses to choose from throughout New Zealand; many are tutored by contemporary mosaic artists themselves.  There methods of mosaic-making have been tried and tested, but the vast majority of courses teach novices the “direct method” of mosaic construction, whereby each tile is glued onto the supporting surface. It’s an ideal way to work with small installations as it allows beginners to make adjustments as they work.

However for larger-scale projects, many mosaic artists prefer to use the “double direct method”, working onto a fibreglass mesh, which is then transported to their installation. Alternatively, another popular approach is the “indirect method” whereby tiles are applied face-down to adhesive paper, before being transferred onto the installation.

Mosaic Makers Tool Kit

To work with mosaic you will need a basic tool kit consisting of:

·       Safety glasses (to protect eyes from flying pieces when cutting)

·       Standard tile nippers (to give the broken tiles a nice finish)

·       Wheeled glass nippers (for cutting and shaping mirror, glass, and shells such as paua)

·       A tile scriber (to score tiles so they are ready to break into pieces)

·       A tile breaker

·       Waterproof glue

·       Mirror glue (if working with mirrors)

·       A pencil and marker pen

·       A stanley knife

·       Tesserae (the materials you will apply – otherwise known as tiles, broken china, etc)

·       For the grouting you will need an old wooden spoon and bowl to mix the grout in, a dust mask, a grout spreader, sponges (to push grout into joins and to clean off excess grout), and a polishing cloth to rub over the tiles once the grout has dried. 

·       Methylated spirits is also handy for cleaning the surfaces of any dirty tiles prior to use.


Step by Step

Make a Mosaic Planter

You will need: a wire brush or rough sandpaper, palette knife, sponges or cloths, paint or a silicone masonry sealant, cement based tile adhesive, grout powder, beeswax polish, a pot or planter, and prepared tesserae – ceramic or glass tiles, broken china, etc.

1.     Begin by cleaning the pot or planter. If it is unglazed, scrub it with a wire brush. If it is glazed, sand the surface lightly so the adhesive will grip. 

2.     Seal the surface of the planter with paint, or if the planter is for outdoors use, apply a coat of silicone masonry sealer.  

3.     Prime the whole pot with a thin coat of cement based tile adhesive and leave to dry.

4.     Once dry, reapply a coat of adhesive thick enough to embed tiles. Place tiles into the adhesive ensuring that the glue doesn’t ooze around the edge of the tile.

5.     When finished leave the mosaic to dry for at least 24 hours to make sure it bonds.

6.     The final stage of making your pot is to apply grout. The grout mix should be mixed in an old bowl until it resembles crumbs, and then gently applied by rubbing into the grooves between tiles.

7.     Gently brush off excess grout, then with a damp sponge wipe over the mosaic several times, rinsing the sponge each time you do so.

8.     Leave the mosaic for an hour to dry, and then buff the tiles with a dry rag.

9.     Place undercover to dry for 12 hours, and then polish with beeswax to finish.


Tips and tricks

Mosaic experts recommend:

·       Choosing a contrasting grout for maximum impact.

·       Purchasing mirror glue if using pieces of mirror; over time other glues erode mirror foil resulting in unwanted black marks.  

·       Ensuring you use frost resistant materials in frost-prone areas, or plan to bring your planter inside during the colder months of the year.

·       Cutting tiles inside a see-through plastic bag – all the little pieces land inside the bag instead of flying up and catching you in the face.

·       Rinsing your hands with vinegar after working with cement or grout as it helps restore the pH level of your skin.

Mosaic inspiration

For outstanding inspirational mosaic moments we suggest visiting an artist’s studio such as The Giant’s House in Akaroa, where Josie Martin, an established artist, painter and sculptor, whose works feature globally in both public and private collections, has created an awe-inspiring array of mosaic installations and art works.  

The Giant's House
68 Rue Balguerie
Akaroa 7520
03 304 7501

Further information

A number of excellent books are available on mosaic art. We recommend Backyard Mosaics by Connie Sheerin which comes jam-packed with exciting projects for outdoor living, including pots and planters, bird baths, signs, and outdoor ornaments.  Those seeking design inspiration need look no further than the Mosaic Idea Book by Rosalin Wates; it showcases a range of designs and shapes to create mosaic. Meanwhile the works of more than 75 mosaic artists from around the globe are highlighted in JoAnn Locktov’s Mosaic Art & Style, a book exploring the architectural, decorative and functional aspects of mosaic.

Mosaic Courses

Most major cities and towns regularly host mosaic courses with community centres, education facilities and high schools providing course programmes on a term by term basis, so keep an eye on your local paper for advertisements. Class prices depend on what is provided – some include all materials and equipment, while others require attendees to purchase their own.

For those who like to combine holidays with learning, year-round weekend workshops are run by The Clay Art Studio in Tauranga. They even host regular mosaic art classes for kids, which run throughout the school holidays. For further information visit


Mosaic Stockists:

Heritage Tiles -

Clay Art Studio & Leadlight Expressions -

Mosaic Tiles Supplies -

Bunning Warehouse –

Placemakers –