Mixed Media Mosaic – Tips and Tricks
Confession time. I’m a little addicted to making mosaics. I love the way broken bits can be used to make something new. In fact, I have a whole Pinterest board just for them. With that being said, I realized the other day that I haven’t shared an in-depth tutorial on how to take this traditional art form to the next level and create a mixed-media mosaic.
There's something so satisfying about creating art from broken shards of glass
Just a heads up; this tutorial will show you how to combine different objects, textures, and art forms in a mosaic. It’s not intended as a painting tutorial. To make things easier to explain, I’ll be using a zentangle Unicorn, another addiction of mine 😉 as an example of what you can do. If you don’t feel comfortable painting a unicorn, I’ve added some alternatives a little lower down in the post you use instead.
Okay, before we get to the tutorial, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. And don’t forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter so you’ll never miss a post!
What you need
Mixed Media Mosaic Supplies
- Tesserae (tiles, beads, shells, pebbles, broken pottery, etc.)
- Permanent & Non-Permanent Marker
- Rubber Edge Squeegee or Float
- Carbide Mosaic Glass Cutter
- Strong Clear Glue
- Grout & Sealer
- Safety Glasses
- MDF Board
Painting the Unicorn’s Face
- Craft Paint. I used Unicorn SPiT. Appropriate right!!? 😉
- Gesso (store-bought or you can make your own)
- Pencil and Carbon Paper
- Mod Podge to seal
- Unicorn Template and Printer (optional)
For a mixed-media mosaic, you can use any picture or design as long as it’s simple. Drawings from coloring books work well, as do cartoon characters. Zentangles are great too. The beauty of a mixed media mosaic lies in the way the tiles, beads, shells, or found objects complement other art forms.
I drew a zentangle Unicorn which I painted afterward, but if painting or drawing is not your forte, why not color a picture from a coloring book and have it enlarged at a print shop or use block poster. The image can be Mod Podged on after grouting the mosaic. You can also download images from the internet. Pixabay has a whole bunch of free zentangles here.
Getting your Image Ready To Use
Alrighty then. Before we start the mixed media mosaic, we need to transfer our image or design onto MDF. I used BlockPoster to enlarge my zentangle unicorn. You can download the unicorn sketch for free here.
Position and trace your image or design onto the MDF board. I cut around the whole unicorn with a jigsaw, but it’s not necessary.
When using MDF, I like prepping my board first by giving it a light sanding and a coat of paint. That way, I have a blank canvas to work with, and since it’s MDF, the paint will help protect and seal the board to prevent warping. Wood absorbs moisture, and over time the grout and tiles pop off if it’s not sealed first. If your finished piece is going outside, use a concrete board instead. It’s far more durable.
Transfer the entire image onto the board and outline the areas you’ll be mosaicking with a permanent marker.
Mosaicking the Design or Image
Okay, now that the board is ready, we can start mosaicking 😀 Since I’ll be painting the Unicorn’s face with Unicorn SPiT, I chose tiles, beads, and shells with the same jewel-like tones and vibrant colors as the paint.
If you’re using mosaic tiles, you may need to trim them to fit into your design. A mosaic carbide cutter is perfect for nipping them into shape. Place the tile on your design and mark where to cut with a non-permanent marker before cutting so you can get the best fit. Please wear safety glasses. The cut bits tend to fly all over the place.
Save any off-cuts in zip lock bags or small containers to use in other projects. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found that perfect “already cut” piece in one of those bags 😉
For a bigger impact, use contrasting colors, and don’t be scared to mix tiles and beads to create texture and add visual interest. Just make sure that the beads are as thick or thicker than the mosaic tiles. Trust me; if they’re too thin, it’s a huge pain in the butt to try and find them once you grout your final piece. And don’t try to reproduce the image or design perfectly. That’s what makes mixed-media mosaics so much fun.
Mixed Media Mosaic - When imperfectly perfect pieces come together to tell a unique story.
While placing the tiles and other whatnots, step back and take a photo. I find that photos give me a much better idea of whether the colors and textures work together. Or not 😉
When using transparent glass beads, I usually color the area where they’ll go first. That way, they’ll blend in and if any grout seeps under the clear beads, it won’t look messy.
Once you’re happy with the layout and colors, glue the beads, shells, and whatnots down with clear glue. Welbond, E6000, and silicone are all good choices. Don’t be scared to pry some of the tiles off if you don’t like something, and remember to remove all the old glue so that when you stick another one down, it’s not wonky or higher than the other pieces. When everything has been stuck down and the glue dries completely, it’s time to grout.
Grouting the Mixed Media Mosaic
So many people say that grouting is the worst part of doing a mosaic, but I love this step. Yes, it’s messy, but nothing beats that “wow” when the tiles finally emerge under the grout. If you’ve ever tiled a bathroom before, you can grout a mosaic. It’s the same process.
Mix the grout with water according to the manufacturer’s instructions. I normally add a little more water. It flows better into all the nooks and crannies, which is especially important when it comes to mixed media mosaics.
Spoon a dollop of the grout and water mixture on top of your mosaic and spread it all over. I use my rubber-edged squeegee, but a spatula or wooden stirrer works too. Trust me on this one; that squeegee is a lifesaver. I learned the hard way when we tiled our patio wall. Grout and broken glass bits can rip your fingerprints right off 😀 Repeat until the entire piece is covered.
Use a sponge or the squeegee to scrape any excess grout off and ensure all the gaps between the tiles are filled. Add more grout if necessary. Rinse the squeegee or sponge and wipe again until the tiles are clean. You may find that the tiles look hazy once dry. Just wipe the haze off with a clean rag or dry sponge.
If it’s hot, it helps to keep the grout a little damp while it cures. The chemicals inside need time to activate and get stronger. If it dries out too quickly, it will crack or crumble. To dampen, simply wipe your mosaic with a clean, slightly moist sponge.
Just look at how the tiles and beads pop after grouting. In my humble opinion, a darker grout always looks better. My personal favorite is black. The way it complements the tiles and beads reminds me of a stained glass window. So gorgeous.
Finishing Off The Mixed Media Mosaic
If you’re going to combine a painting or drawing with your mosaic, as I did with mine, make sure to apply tile and grout sealer first before adding your artwork. It’s especially important to apply the sealer to those areas where the mosaic meets the painting since it stops the fine grout dust from contaminating the paint.
I mentioned earlier that grouting is a messy business, so the area where you’ll be adding your painting or drawing will probably be pretty dirty. Clean and prep the area first with a layer or two of gesso before adding your artwork.
I used Unicorn SPiT to paint the face, but any paint will work. Or you can Mod Podge on a gorgeous picture instead.
Adding a few ceramic flowers and broken shells to the unicorn’s mane create interest.
Aren’t those colors just beautiful? Depending on the paint you used, you may need to seal your piece again. Unicorn SPiT has to be sealed with tung oil or polyurethane for the colors to pop.
Love all those gloriously vibrant colors and the different textures.
And the way the colors change depending on the viewpoint.
By using different types of tesserae (that’s the fancy word for tiles 😉 ) you create contrast and interest that draws the viewer in.
I’m afraid photos will never be able to truly capture how it looks in real life.
But I can try 😉
What do you think? Is it something you would do?
If you like the idea of making a mixed media mosaic, don’t forget to pin it for later
Mixed Media Mosaic – Tips and Tricks Recap
Before I sign off, let me quickly recap some of the tips and tricks for making a mixed media mosaic.
Find the right picture
Simple line drawings and designs work best. Zentangles, pictures from coloring books, or cartoons are great. If you can outline the picture with a permanent pen and it doesn’t look cluttered and messy, it will work for a mixed media mosaic. The unicorn sketch I used is a perfect example of what will work.
Choice of media
With a mixed media mosaic, anything goes as long as you can glue it down, and it’s tough enough to withstand the abrasiveness of grout. Cheap plastic beads and tiles will more than likely lose their color after the grout has been applied. To test, mix a teeny bit of grout (1/2 teaspoon with some water) and rub it over the bead. If it scratches away the coating, then it’s not the right choice.
If you’re going to be painting something, make sure to seal the grout before the time. Unsealed grout “dust” will contaminate the paint and make it murky. Don’t forget to wipe any sealer off of your tiles before it dries. It leaves a film that’s difficult to remove.
I ALWAYS use black grout. Black is so dramatic, and it makes everything pop, in my humble opinion. If black isn’t for you, go for a contrasting color. The purpose of grout is to fill the gaps between the tesserae and to outline each bit you used. And a white outline is just BLEH. I think the only time I’ve ever used white is on a piece I did with delicate pink roses.
Grouting is a messy business, so it’s best to do it outside. If that’s not an option, make sure to protect your work surface. Don’t be in a mad rush to grout your mosaic, either. Not only does the glue need to cure properly, but it gives you the chance to pry any bits off that don’t look right.
Clean the excess grout off as soon as possible. If you find that grout has been left on too long, use steel wool and warm soapy water to remove it gently. And if grout really isn’t your thing, you can always try this no-grout mosaic 😉
Cutting the tiles and whatnots
When cutting tiles, use a non-permanent marker to mark where to cut. Keep a plastic container nearby to collect the shards and store the left-over bits in clear plastic bags for other projects. Pieces that are smaller than 2/8″ (about 1/2 cm) can be thrown away. They normally pop off when grouting because they’re too small to glue down properly.
Use a carbide mosaic cutter for glass tiles and a tile nipper for ceramic tiles, pottery, porcelain, or china dishes. In all honesty, I have a tile nipper somewhere, but I never use it. A mosaic cutter should suffice to cut ceramic tiles or old dishes.
Allow yourself to be imperfectly perfect
Don’t let “little miss perfect” interfere. When I first started mosaicking, the
bitch perfectionist inside kept on trying to take over. No matter how hard you try, the tiles and beads will never fit perfectly. Using a non-permanent marker before cutting the tiles will help, but the tiles still have a mind of their own. It’s okay if your mosaic has flaws. That’s what makes it special and unique. So tell that perfectionist inside to hush up and let your creative soul take over 😉
Shooooo, sorry about the long post, guys. I wanted to try and give as much information as possible so you would feel comfortable playing around with mixed media mosaics. If you’d rather try your hand at a beginner project, then you’ll enjoy this heart doorstop mosaic or these arum lilies. It’s a super easy and fun project to get you started. Or you can make yourself one of these gorgeous mosaic Faberge eggs. They’re guaranteed to wow no matter what your decor style is.
Oh, and if you’re looking for some of the things we used, we’ve got you covered. Disclosure: Clicking on the links below means we may receive a commission from Amazon. But don’t worry it, won’t come out of your pocket, and it helps us come up with more amazing craft ideas to share with you 😉
Or if you prefer to buy rather than DIY
And as always, wishing you a beautiful, crafty week filled with lots of love. Thank you for popping in for a visit.
40 thoughts on “Mixed Media Mosaic – Tips and Tricks”
Michelle, this Unicorn is stunning. The details are beautiful and precious. I have many pieces of jewelry that I keep hoping I will be able to use to create and mosaic, but I could never make anything this beautiful. I can imagine this is placed in a very special place in your home.
I’m sure you’ll be able to do it Deana. It’s just like coloring in the lines, except you use broken and discarded bits 😉
This is truly a piece of art, so much loving detail.
Thank you, Laurie. Mixed media mosaics are my favorite to do
Your unicorn is phenomenal! Wow! Where is it hanging? Hope it is somewhere where it gets all the attention it deserves!
? Thank you soooo much, Lynn. We hung the Unicorn on the wall in our gypsy lounge at our holiday home. Her jewel-like colors fit right in.
Love this piece!! I’m addicted to mosaics too but haven’t done one in the longest time! I misplaced my nippers. Off to tear the house apart 🙂
I hope you find them Sara ? I’d feel all lost if my nippers went missing
This is really stunning Michelle and I am so jealous that you can draw so well. It is something I have never been able to do. Your chose of colours for the main is really beautiful and striking.
Aaaai my friend, drawing, sketching, and painting is something I wish I had more time to do. I just started on a portrait of friends of ours and the rough sketch is done but I just can’t seem to find the time to pick up my oil paints and start laying down all those colors. Time for a holiday me thinks ?
Hi, I hope you can help. I have just finished my first mosaic (nowhere near as beautiful as yours) and I have messed up with the grouting. I let it set too hard before trying to remove it. What is the best way now to remove the excess grout?
Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear that Juliet. It can still be saved. All you need is a wet rag with lots of clean water, a sharp instrument of some sort (toothpicks or skewers will work), patience, and a good dollop of elbow grease. Wet the grout in the places you don’t want it and gently remove with the toothpick. If there’s quite a bit of grout, you can use one of those nylon scouring pads. Wet it first and then a scour the surface of the tiles. Rinse and repeat. Good luck.
Really, really magical! Thank you so very much for the time you’ve taken to detail all the steps of the process, the tools you used and some places where they can be found. I’ve long wanted to put together a number of mixed media projects that feature saints, yogic masters, musicians, cats and whatever in a contemporary iconic style in which I paint their portraits and mosaic their halos or clothing trim, etc. Like you, I’ve already figured out a good way to seal my mdf board and transfer an illustration rendered using photoshop. Ah, but this final part! How to keep the grout from interacting with the oil painting I’ve already done. You’ve offered good ideas with respect to this issue; doing the painting AFTER the mosaicking; also sealing the grout. I also intend to try masking off the painted portrait. Deep appreciation again for your step by step sharing and photography, for your inspiration about letting go of the perfectionist tendencies and for the inspiration of you and your lovely work!
You just made my day Koriander. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lovely comment. I would love to see your mixed media projects when they’re done. They sound incredible. I’ve always had a deep fascination with iconic works, especially the middle Byzantine styles, and then there’s the Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Sicily. OMW, it’s stunning!!!! Have fun making your pieces and thank you again for taking the time to comment and share ?
I had forgotten that along with amazing faerie gardens you also do incredibly gorgeous mosaics too. This mixed media mosaic unicorn is absolutely beautiful, Michelle! The colors and textures are stunning. You are the Queen of Whimsy my friend. xo
Ahhhhhhh the Queen of Whimsy 😀 I like that. Thanks, Marie. I’m a little besotted with using broken bits to create pictures. It’s so rewarding.
Your mosaic is really amazing! I do have a question. How do you make things of different thicknesses be level? I have a mosaic all laid out, ready to glue and grout, but I used some tiles that were thicker than others. If I put more glue under the thinner ones, will that raise them enough? Thank you!
Thank you Deb. Regarding your question; glue will work but it’s sometimes difficult to control, especially if it has a slow drying time. The tile might sink into the glue rather than resting on top of it and you run the risk for adding to much glue and it squishes out the sides, which is a pain to clean up. I normally place my thicker tiles down first to act as a leveling guide for the thinner tiles, then use one of the following methods to add the thinner tiles:
1. Add a dollop of quick-drying glue (cheap glue gun glue dries really fast), and place the tile on top. Press down with a piece of MDF be level it with the thicker tiles. Remove the tile. Cheap “glue gun glue” doesn’t stick to smooth, glassy tiles so you can remove the tile quite easily. Wait a few seconds for the “glue gun glue” to set, and then glue the thinner tile down with good quality glue. That way the “glue gun glue” creates a platform to raise the tile a little and the “proper” glue sticks it down.
2. Ice cream sticks work really well to raise a tile a little too. You get them in a few different thicknesses, but I find that the really thin ones work best. Cut them into small pieces with a pair of scissors or a craft knife and stick them down where the thin tiles will go. Then glue the thinner tiles on top.
3. Use cement-based tile adhesive. It’s a bit more expensive and I find it chews away at my fingertips, probably because I never use gloves when doing a mosaic. With that being said though it does let you control the height. Just butter quite a bit of the adhesive on the back of the tile and use MDF to press down and level the thin tile with the thicker one. Clean up and adhesive that pops out the sides of the tile immediately.
You’ll need to play around with the options to see which one works best for you and the tiles you’re using. Have fun.
This is Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing! I would love to try something new like this.
You are most welcome Gabrielle ? Mosaics can become a little addictive and I find it so therapeutic looking for broken bits and pieces that will fit into something new and special
Wow, this is simply stunning. I love mosaic projects and this one is one of the best out there!
? thank you ?
This is such a beautiful work of art Michelle. You really never cease to amaze me. And I know I say that a lot but it is so true!!
? Awwwwwww Mary, thank you.
This is amazing Michelle, the unicorn is a work of art!
Thank you so much Mel ?
This is stunning Michelle! I have never tried any mosaic, but have always loved it. I love how you took it to the next level with the mixed media! Beautiful!!!
Oh Linda, you’ll love mosaicking and I bet you have so many beads and things at home that you play with too. I hope you do give it a try
Wow! How absolutely magical! ??
Congrats on a beautiful piece Mish!
You are so very talented. ??
Thank you very, very much ? ? ? ?
Wow Michelle…what a detailed and amazing tutorial. I have done a bit of backsplash tiling, but I struggle with the glass cutting and therefore have stayed away from mosaics. Obviously I am using the wrong tools. I love mosaics and also have a full Pinterest board of them! I agree that the black grout makes everything else “Pop”. I love that you incorporated iridescent beads as well….I have millions of those around and would have never thought of that. Thanks for sharing your beautiful piece and inspiring us all!
I’m doing the happy dance right now Laurie ? You know how much I love your Unicorn SPiT creations, my friend, so your comment means so much to me. Thank you ?
Absolutely beautiful work of art, Michelle! The textures and colors are magnificent and draw you in. It looks to be a large piece too. Your talent has no bounds, my friend.
? Thank you Marie and it is quite big, about 1m (3 and a bit feet) from the tip of the unicorn’s horn to the bottom of her mane
You are truly artistic. This is fabulous. And who doesn’t love a unicorn?
? Thank you Claire. I really enjoyed doing this one
Stunning shades of pinks and purple. My favourite colours when is comes to magical fairy ideas. Just love it. You never cease to amaze me with your gorgeous talent.
? Thank you fwendsus. Love you to the moon and back ?
This is a real masterpiece, Michelle. I just can’t stop admiring your stunning mixed media unicorn. Many kisses, my dear friend.
And right back at you Mia ?