How to make your own Tesserae for Mosaics
If you are thinking of making mosaics you will likely need some Tesserae. That is the name for the little pieces used to create mosaic design. Since falling in love with this versatile art form my mind imagines ‘everything’ as potential mosaic supply! It’s amazing that I can make amazing art with almost no costs. Let me show you how to make your own Tesserae for Mosaics with an extra special step for sharp edges.
What can you use for Mosaics?
The true fact is that ANYTHING can be part of a mosaic! However there are things to consider. How permanent and durable do you want your mosaic to be? Do you want to be able to put your mosaic outside? Do you want to use glass tessera or natural stone (pebbles)? There are no rules but part of me feels that if I spend the time to make a meticulous piece of art it should last for quite a long time. Media such as glass (smalti, stained, opaque glass) stone, metal, shells, beads, rocks, tiles, marble & more come to mind. Glass in mosaics has such amazing qualities and just feels like it catches so much light. It has been around since 2500 BC so we know it has a sense of longevity. You can also use plates and ceramics for mosaics, but they are not transparent as with my Mosaic pet Portrait.
Certain stones and rocks also have a permanence that we like in our mosaics. I expanding my materials used to create mosaic work in the coming weeks. Honestly, I knew what mosaics were but I now see such beautiful composition that does not necessarily adhere to the typical historical methods in early antiquity.
Where do I find great Glass for Mosaics?
If you want to be traditional you can buy commercial stained glass, smalti, or mini tiles to create your mosaics. There is a wide variety of colours (interesting mixed colours) and even confetti glass. Using transparent shapes on top of clear glass; ‘Glass-on-Glass’ mosaics; makes for a lovely stained glass look.
I always like to be unique and extra creative; so I try to incorporate some type of recycling of unwanted items. Well, yes, I find it extra fun when I do not have to invest in expensive trips to the craft or art supply store. Thrift shops have a lot of glassware that is unique. Since the trend of minimalism much unwanted glass ends up there. I look for interesting colours, textures and how flat the shape is.
Breaking glass with some control:
Before you start breaking glass make sure you are wearing protective eye-wear and also protective gloves. I do not want any bloodshed! It’s also a good idea to contain where the glass can fly…
This $2 plate looked so rustic in it’s texture and was fairly flat. It does not need to be completely flat depending on your preferred design. Cutting the plates may involve a glass cutter, hammer and glass nippers. To start I first try to coax the ‘break’ along a line that I score with the glass cutter. Tapping the score line with the brass ball end of the cutter helps the glass start to crack along the line.
I then use the running pliers to crack it along the line. If the glass is too thick for that tool you can also use a tap with the hammer or a tile breaker. It will also depend on your particular piece. If your hand is not strong enough you could consider using power tools like a wet saw. I like to keep it simple for myself, with less cleanup so I avoid them. Dry cutting is a problem because of the dust; that is why the glass grinders also use water.
‘Take’ what you get:
Since there is not much invested, I try to accept what I get and work with that. ‘True artistry comes from working within limits’.
Sometimes it just means breaking into manageable pieces to start… Once you have smaller pieces; then the glass cutter can be used to score lines and then the running pliers usually breaks those strips easily.
After the strips are long I use the glass nippers to cut small squares. You do not have to have squares but they are quite versatile in designs. These then resemble the small glass smalti or smalto small cubes of old roman mosaics.
The old mirror above had partially lost the silvering (metal foils) on the back, but that added to the character. The rustic nature of the cubes looks much more handmade.
Breaking and Cutting Bottles:
A colored glass bottle from olive oil is scored lengthwise before it is ‘tapped’ with a hammer. The long strips are then scored (from inside curve) and snapped with the running pliers.
Glass nippers make a lot of little squares. I know they may be sharp so I will show you how to take off the sharp parts further below.
Finding Coloured Glass:
Funny story; I started to look around and realized I had hung onto some bottles from some alcoholic things for their colours. The lovely blue bottle made some nice mosaic pieces. When it comes to the colour red it is more difficult to find. When I look closely at red glass it is often not solid; it has some coating to make it red.
I see this often in vases and plates as well. I still gave it a try and will see how that coating lasts as it was almost impossible to notice until broken. Red is an expensive pigment.
How to Make you own Tesserae for Mosaics
- Tile Nippers
- Glass cutter
- Safety Glasses
- Protective Gloves
- Running Pliers
- Large plastic jar
- Glass from bottles, jars, vases, etc
- Plates, ceramic ware
- beach stones/rocks
- water, dish soap
- Source glass or ceramic pieces. Look for unique colours or designs.
- Prepare area to protect from possible glass flying
- Score glass if possible. This will make it more likely to break along the lines. Running pliers may be used on flatter pieces.
- Cover glass piece with a towel (using a tray will also help contain pieces) Put on protective equipment
- Tap to urge the breaking at cut lines. Use harder blows as needed.
- Once broken, decide on shapes. Use glass/tile cutter to cut more long lines (as desired)
- Use Running pliers and break along lines. Glass nippers work well to cut square type shapes from the long strips.
- With gloved hands place tesserae pieces into jar with water, soap and beach stones.
- Shake & roll the jar to wear off the sharp edges. This can take a few minutes or longer of you want more round edges. A commercial rock tumbler can also work (see instruction manual)
- Check a few pieces to see if desired stage is achieved.
- Strain the tesserae pieces & rocks from water. (best to not flush particles into drain, use fine sieve)
- Spread on towel to dry; enjoy the mosaic making!
How to make your own ‘Rock Tumbler’
When making your own mosaic pieces they may be sharper than you would like them to be. The usual method to get sharp edges off is with an electric device that has an abrasive in it and tumbles until edges are ’rounded’; called a rock tumbler. I remember as a child I had been given one since I was even artsy back then. I had huge hope for those rocks that are all polished and shiny! Well, let me tell you; it would take days and days of it running and I then did never see those polished rocks.
Here I improvised (ya, I am cheap) and wanted a faster version without electricity. Since there is usually an abrasive used I opted to use some beach stones. You can use larger ones for more tumble force or smaller ones. It may depend on whether a bit of scratching is an issue. The rocks tumble and sand away the points of glass. That is much like what happens on the beach to create sea glass.
I also add water so there is no glass dust; very important. Adding a bit of soap will clean your glass as you do this.
The fun part; shake, shake, shake! Shake and roll for a few minutes. It did not take long since I was only getting the dangerous points off. These pieces are not rounded like sea glass; you would need a lot of tumbling for that. This does fulfill the purpose though.
After your tumbling, use some strainer to rinse and catch your tesserae glass or tile pieces. Spread on towel to dry and you will now feel how they do not feel like they will cut you instantly. Adjust how much tumbling according to your preference. (video; my hands in non-sharp glass)
Use your Mosaic elements to create!
This is a super quick mosaic adhered with Versabond Polymer modified thinset as the ‘glue’. The natural rock works well as a substrate since it is a very hard material and does not rot from moisture of the outdoors. The thinset grout/mortar is meant for exterior use as well since it is cement based. (can be used for floor mosaics)
Exterior thinset is used to adhere and also grout the glass and other tesserae to the rock. Choose (or tint) your colour to accent or blend the design.
See how the blue bottle & olive oil bottle glass pieces and broken dishes make a sweet blue jay artwork. I like the freedom of creating mosaics that do not have the exact regular shape of geometric patterns. The Thinset colour matches the stone colour so well.
Whack! This vase will give a lot of sparkle to some mosaic orbs! The metallics that resemble gold leaf and rough appearance of bubbly glass looks antique.
I’m gathering a variety in my travels and this assortment is like a palette of paint! Yes, (reusing castoffs from the grocery store for) organizing is a must! I can’t wait to incorporate these into some amazing art! Please stay tuned…
The things we make – Make us!
Awesome Barb! The DIY tumbler is a GEM!
Thanks. I’m looking forward to make some mosaics!
Fascinating! Thanks for re-igniting my mosaic interest! I think I’ll make a / some stepping stone memorials for my Sweet Calico Cat Cannelle. To mark her final resting place behind the lilac tree ♥. I like the application on various boulders in your yard. Did I mention ‘fascinating’? 🙂
Awe, that would be nice. The way nippers cut pieces from plates works so well for fur look. Have fun!