Introduction: Make a Stained Glass Mosaic Portrait From a Photograph.
Aimed at total glass newbies, instructions on making an 8"x10" framed stained glass portrait from a photograph of your subject. Please read the supply list and the entire instructable before beginning. From start to finish you need about 3 days: one day for gluing the glass to the frame and letting it dry, one day for gluing the glass to the glass and letting it dry, and one day to let the grout dry so you can seal it.
SUPPLIES: (see instructable for details, cost is in USD, ESTIMATED)
flat surface (hope you already have one)
glass ($20-$60 depending on your design)
ruler (if you don't have a suitable one, usually around $10, add a couple bucks if you need to buy the cork separately)
glass cutter ($1-$40)
cutter oil (about $3)
glass nippers ($25)
running pliers (about $10)
breaker/grozer pliers (about $8)
plastic bowl and spoon ($2?)
paper towels ($4-$8)
newspaper/plastic sheeting ($1)
masking tape ($2)
adhesive bandages (for when you cut yourself with the glass) ($3)
grout sealant ($5)
hanger for frame ($1)
bamboo skewers ($2?)
Total cost $107-$236 depending on what you already have and how you budget.
If you do not live near a craft store or specialty stained glass store, www.delphiglass.com is a very reputable and well-stocked store to order most if not all of these supplies from.
Step 1: Find Your Frame
You have to have something to do your mosaic on, right? So the first step is to find a frame you like. For your first one, let's go with an 8"x10". Preferably wooden and not painted, and if it has any paint or fancy gilding it would be best if it has a protective coating of some kind. At some point you are going to be grouting and using glues, so it's best if the frame is sort of simple and easy to repair if something were to get scratched or scuffed. Hopefully your frame comes with glass, but if it does not, don't worry, the next step will cover getting that fixed.
Step 2: Making Your Backing
You are going to need to glue your mosaic onto something, and in this case we will be doing glass-on-glass. That means that light will show through your mosaic, but the back is going to be sort of ugly up close.
If you'd rather it be completely opaque, you will need to get a piece of fiberboard or some other hard, thin substance and cut it down to fit in the back of your frame.
If you are using clear or opaque glass that came with the frame, you are ready for the next step.
If you need to cut down a bigger piece of glass to fit into the frame, here is how you do it:
1. Measure your frame and jot down the size of the hole in the back that the backing glass needs to fill. It will be bigger than 8"x10" or whatever sized frame you are using, because the front of the frame is smaller than the back.
2. Procure your backing glass, whether it be old window glass, mirror, or opaque glass. If you are using window glass, don't use any with potential cracks (you can't always see them, so if the window has been broken in the past anticipate having invisible hairline cracks in the glass).
3. With a ruler (preferably a metal, cork-backed ruler to prevent skid), mark out on your glass with a sharpie where you need the cuts to be. If you have a square corner, use it and only make 2 cuts. If your corners all suck, put it about an inch in from the closest edges and make 4 cuts.
4. If you don't already have a glass cutter, get one. I like the fancier handled ones, but a simple oldschool cutter will work just as well. Get cutter oil as well, as cutting with a dry wheel tends to lead to chipping, breaks going askew, and horrible noises.
5. If this is the first time you have cut glass, make sure to read over the instructions that come on your glass cutter, if they came with any. Practice on a scrap piece first. Remember to oil your cutting wheel, and press firmly. Only cut in one direction, don't cut over another cut, cut your glass on a flat surface or table, cut on the smoother side of the glass if it has texture. Cutting away from yourself is usually easier than cutting toward yourself, although safety-wise in this case it doesn't actually matter.
6. Using the ruler as a guide, cut out your pane of glass. Set the cutter on the glass next to the ruler to see how close to the ruler it actually gets, and line up your cut accordingly. Your pane can be a little smaller than it should be, but if it's bigger it's not going to fit, and you'll have to grind it down. (We will not be going into grinding in this instructable.)
Oh, and be careful, glass is sharp; duh.
7. Once you have made your cuts, use a pair of running pliers to break the glass on your scores. They are curved, which puts stress on the glass and causes it to break on the score line that your cutter makes. Break the glass down and away, per the illustration I have provided. If you do not have running pliers and for some reason refuse to buy them or can't find them, you will need a straight edged table and some courage. Position the score just over the edge of the table, then lift and slam (gently) the glass downward. Carry on the motion beyond the table and grip firmly with your fingertips so that you don't drop the glass.
Step 3: Gluing Your Frame
Ok, you need to get a good craft glue, preferably something that dries clear and works on glass and wood. (And plastic or stone or whatever your frame is made of. A stone frame would be awesome. Heavy, but awesome.) You can use silicone for this step. I prefer using a silicone-like gel craft glue for this, but you could use a paste glue too.
I wouldn't recommend E6000 for this job, as it is light sensitive and will give out after a period of time hanging in your window. That would suck. Make sure your glue is not light sensitive.
Glue your glass into the back of your frame. It doesn't need to be a completely waterproof seal or anything, but you want it to STAY in there. I usually just put an even bead around the entire back. It will keep grout from bleeding through later, and makes it pretty darn sturdy.
Let your glue dry as long as it needs to. I usually let mine sit overnight.
Step 4: Okay, Now the Fun Stuff Starts
Find your subject! In the case of this instructable, it will be a portrait. If you need to go out and take a picture, do it. If you already have a pic, good. Take it into your favorite image editing software and crop it and resize to 8"x10".
To do a photorealistic mosaic, you would then just print it out, cut it out if necessary, and tape it into the back of your frame, like you were framing your template. I warn you now that I don't do photorealistic style because it is HARD. Really hard. you need tiny pieces, lots of colors, and more paitience than you would think or have. (Unless you do, in which case, damn you are dedicated.)
To do a stylized mosaic like mine, use a filter or hand draw over the photo using tracing paper. I use the "cutout" filter in photoshop and usually go with 2-4 layers depending on how many colors I want to use. Play around with it to see what you want to do, and it helps if you pick your theme of colors now. With mine I went with black/white/red and a little green.
Once you have your template finalized, print it and tape it into the back of your frame securely.
Step 5: Gather Your Palette
Ok, now you're ready to start the fun/tedious part. Gather up the colored glass you want to use. Craft shops or specialty glass shops should have an ok selection, or you can order it online. Stay away from textured glass and cathedral (see-through or transparent) and streaky (partially transparent) glass and try to stick to smooth opaque glass, sometimes also referred to as opal or opalescent.
Once you have your glass, you need to cut it into tiles. I went with random shapes, but if you wanted you could do little squares or rectangles. I like the organic, angular look I get with my method, tho. Use your glass cutter to cut strips out. Make varying widths or if you feel comfortable with the cutter, do curvy strips so you can get lots of different widths. Once more, use your running pliers to break off the strips (you will need the pliers this time). If the strips are too thin you can try to break them with breaker/grozer pliers, but that can turn nasty quick.
Using your mosaic nippers (don't use tile nippers as they will crush the glass) chip pieces off of the strip into a little bowl or cup. You can angle the wheels differently to produce different shapes. You can just use your glass cutter to make the shapes too, but talk about a timekiller... Just get the glass nippers. They usually have little wheels on them to break the glass between them using pressure. You will be getting some hand exercise, be careful if you have carpal tunnel issues.
Step 6: Glue by Numbers
Remember paint-by-numbers? It's just like that except with glass and glue.
My strategy is to pick a color to start with, and finish that color before I move on to the next one. If you are doing a much bigger mosaic (like a 16"x20" omg) you might want to go by sections instead.
Keep in mind that for an experienced mosaicker like me, it can still take like 6-8 hours to do a small mosaic portrait because of all the detail involved. Plan accordingly. I usually will set up in front of the TV with all my stuff on a tray or table and the mosaic on my lap, or on a desk or something. If you need to take breaks, do so. Just store your mosaic in a safe, flat place.
For your glue, you'll want a paste type glue, not a gel or silicone. I like omni-gel because it dries a little slow, so you have time to change your mind or move pieces around a little, and it drys clear and is waterproof. Weldbond is ok, but it dries a little quicker and the bottle seems constantly clogged. Even though it dries quicker, it takes longer to set and turn clear. But, it IS easier to find at the store. *sigh* Pick your fave glue and go for it. If you are unsure, do an experiment with scrap first.
I basically start in a corner or edge and work inward. I put a little pile of glue on a paper towel or aluminum foil and dab each piece in as I go.
****Another way to do it, which I have used and seen used successfully but find frustrating if something goes wrong, is to lay out all your pieces without gluing them down, then put a piece of contact paper on the top so that all the pieces stick to it. Put something flat and solid like a piece of glass or a book on top of the contact paper and use it to flip the whole thing upside down, then remove the frame and paint the glue on in a thin layer with a paintbrush. Then fit the glue-laden frame back onto the pieces and flip it back over. Pat and rub the contact paper so that the pieces are good and stuck, then wait for it to dry and peel the contact paper off.
The problem with that method is the pieces SHIFT BADLY for a couple reasons. The first usually being that it's practically impossible to get the contact paper down without them moving a little, and the second being that the contact paper is not sticky enough to hold the smallest of pieces, and they dislodge or fall off when flipped. So, it's an option, but I don't think it's the best option. Feel free to give it a shot if you want, I have seen people do it successfully, but there's a lot more after-the-fact fixing involved than I would like. ****
Remember to leave room in between each piece if you are planning on grouting. Techincally you don't have to grout it for it to be a mosaic, but I find that it gives the portrait a much more finished, smooth look, more professional.
Make sure that your mosaic dries well before you grout it. At least a day.
Step 7: Prepping the Grout
You don't need a special kind of grout for this and don't let anybody tell you that you do. You don't need to order DiamondCrete or fancy colors and stuff, but if you have the fancy-pants grout, feel free to use it. Just remember that DiamondCrete is really soupy because it's mainly for pouring into molds to make stepping stones, so if you are using it for this project, use much less water than they suggest in their directions.
Get ahold of some sanded grout from a garden supply store or craft store. I prefer black for most projects, but I have also used white, gray, pink, and slate blue. They make lots more colors, so get something that won't clash with your glass or frame. My shop used to buy the big bags from a grout supplier and separate them into 1 lb bags for a dollar a bag (ripoff!). If you buy a big bag and only use a little, just remember to store the grout in an airtight container for it's next use.
Don't get the grout down your drain, in your carpet, or on your clothes. IT WON'T COME OUT EASY. And it will clog the hell out of your sink. Put it in a disposable plastic bowl and mix it with a disposable plastic spoon, or if you want to use reusable stuff, take it outside when you are done and hose it off, and only use it for grouting, not for eating with. Mix it with just enough water to make it have the texture of moldable wet sand, not wet enough to be pourable or gloopy. Experiment a little, and add water a little bit at a time, stirring after each addition. You'll learn how much water you need with experience.
Make sure you have protected your home! If you need to grout indoors, lay down some newspaper or plastic sheeting. Always use gloves, grout color is heck to get off your hands.
Make sure you have protected your frame! Masking tape is the easiest way to do that. Cover ever inch of the frame that you don't want to turn the same color as your grout and get scratched to heck.
Step 8: Getting Muddy
Grab a handful of your grout and smush it onto your mosaic. Keep smushing until every little nook and cranny is full of grout. Feel free to apply way more than you need. It will temporarily cover your mosaic and your art will look like a sandbox. It's okay!
Wait about 5 minutes for the grout to start drying. When you can wipe a paper towel across it and get it up enough to see the glass and not just smear around the grout, it's ready to clean off. Use dry paper towels, damp ones, a sponge, a rag, whatever you want. Just wipe off the grout and be careful not to peel up the masking tape. Make sure to get any lumps or buildup out of the corners, the grout tends to hide there.
Clean it off to your high standards (or low ones, whatever, it is your first one) and clean yourself up too. Once your artsy area is tidy, peel off the masking tape and chuck it. If there are any grout marks on the frame from sneaky grout that seeped under the tape, wipe them off with a damp towel. If they won't wipe, you can try some alcohol. If that doesn't work, retouch the frame with paint or markers. If that doesn't work, you'll need to repaint the frame most likely.
Then let it dry. Again, for about a day.
Step 9: Sealing
This step is optional. If you are using DiamondCrete you don't need to seal it, but if you are using standard commercial grout, feel free.
Get a grout sealant that dries clear. THAT IS IMPORTANT SO I'LL TYPE IT AGAIN. SEALANT THAT DRIES CLEAR. Many sealants add a sort of milky layer that will look like crap on your awesome mosaic. I can't remember the name of the one I use, but it comes in a bright yellow and green bottle and works like a charm. Follow the instructions on the bottle to seal. You'll usually want to apply 2 coats. It shouldn't do anything to your frame, but if you want to re-tape it, feel free.
Step 10: Hanging Your Art
You can use a standard tooth hanger to hang the piece, or eyehooks in the top of the frame, but avoid if at all possible using a "picture frame hanger" setup with one wire going across the back. It puts stress on the glass that could cause a fracture in the backing glass over time. See illustrations.
Ok, you're done! Congrats!