Create an Eccentric Mosaic Garden Ornament

Introduction: Create an Eccentric Mosaic Garden Ornament

Recycle old materials to create an eccentric garden decoration. Your neighbors will thank you for it. People will think you're "artsy."

Step 1: Gather Materials

You'll need to decide what garden "item" you'll be applying a mosaic to. I am using flower pots, a bird bath, and this "thing" that I found in my neighbor's trash. For this instructable I'll focus on the birdbath.

You'll also need to gather a bunch of old crap to apply to your garden item. I am using old tile pieces, marbles, coffee mugs, broken flower pots, mirrors, and other odds and ends. Anything that will withstand the elements should be fine.

There are some tools and materials that you will need:

2 buckets
a sponge
steel wool (or a scrubby sponge)
Thin set mortar
Sanded grout
Tile snips (optional, for more fancy designs)
Glass cutting tool (optional, for more fancy designs)
Silicon adhesive (optional, for more fancy designs and for smaller pieces like a flower pot)
Safety glasses

Step 2: Think About a Design...or Don't

At this point you can preplan your design. On the other hand, you could just do a free-form design and don't plan anything ahead of time.

I created a star template out of cardboard and traced it onto the birdbath with pencil. This keeps me on track when I'm applying the tiles.

Step 3: Break Stuff

You'll need to break all of the tiles, mirrors, etc. into small pieces so that you can apply them to the object. Use a hammer and make sure you wear safety glasses when you do this. Be careful!

If your design is somewhat intricate you'll want to break the tiles and mirrors with some degree of precision and accuracy. A glass cutter and tile snips come in handy here.

Glass cutter: a little, pen-like tool that has a sharp wheel to score glass. This will cost <$5 at a hardware store. You basically press firmly to score the glass. Then you tap the glass to break it along the scores.

Tile snips: These are like a hybrid between pliers and hedge trimmers. They gradually nibble away at ceramic tile to acheive a desired shape.

Since I am making a star pattern I had to make sure that I had some sharp, acute angles for the tips of the star. It is really important that you plan these things ahead. You don't want to be snipping away at tiles while your mortar is mixed.
If you're doing a free-form pattern then screw it and just break eveything with no regard.

Step 4: Prep the Surface

The surface of the object that you are going to mosaic needs to be relatively clean. So you should wash it off if it is dirty. The bird bath that I am doing was covered in algae and other gross stuff so I scrubbed it with bleach and hosed it off. It doesn't need to be completely dry before you start mosaic-ing but there shouldn't be any puddles or excessive water.

Step 5: Apply the "Intricate" Portion of the Mosaic Design

Your mosaic design can be completely random or very thought out. If you intend to make a specific design you should draw it out on paper first and keep it near you while you are working or create a template. Otherwise, just make the design up as you go along. If you intend to create a more formal design you should start with that part. The small detail pieces can be applied with Silicon adhesive rather than messy, thick mortar. I finished the entire star pattern in this way.

Apply the broken pieces to the object. Keep them pretty close together...1/8" or so. Any large gaps will use up expensive grout.

Step 6: Mix the Mortar

Once you are done with the intricate part of the design you can start applying the rest of the mosaic with thinset.

You'll need to get some tile thinset mortar at the hardware store. This stuff is pretty cheap (about $5 for 50lbs).
Mix it per the instructions with water in a bucket to get a paste-like consistency. Don't mix more than you can use is about 20 minutes or it will get too hard while you're working on it. It's better to make a few smaller batches than to waste a large one.

Note: if you are just doing a small object, like a flower pot, you can forgo the mortar. Instead use cheap silicon adhesive for all of the tile pieces. But for larger projects it is far more cost effective to use mortar.

You want the mortar to be like paste...not too runny but also not crumbly and dry. Keep in mind: It is always easier to add more water rather than to add more dry mortar.

Step 7: Apply the Motar to the Object

Thinset mortar is called thinset for a reason. You only need to apply a thin layer. Apply the mortar to the surface of the object using a rubber spatula or mortar tool or some kind of stick or your hands. Only do as much area as you can work on in an about 10-15 minutes. Otherwise it will begin to skin over and not stick as well.

Step 8: Apply the Broken Pieces

Take all of the broken pieces that you have and start applying them to the object. If some of them are very heavy you'll want to put a little bit of mortar on the back of the tile piece to help it stay in place. Go nuts.

Step 9: Let the Mortar Dry

Go to bed and let the mortar dry over night.

Step 10: Grout the Mosaic

You can now apply the grout. You can use a spatula to mush the grout into the spaces between the tiles. I prefer to use my hands. But be careful because the tiles are sharp and will cut.

You want to keep the grout moving and smear it off the surface of the tiles and mirrors and stuff. There will be a glaze of grout left on the surface of the tiles that can be removed later but you don't want it to be so thick that you cannot get it off.

Use the sponge and the water to smooth out the grout and wipe the excess from the tiles.

Step 11: Let the Grout Dry

Let the grout dry overnight.

Step 12: Remove the Grout "Haze" and Seal the Grout

Use some clean water and the steel wool (or scrubby sponge) to remove the grout haze from the tile pieces. You may need to scrub pretty hard if the grout is caked up. If you can, use a garden hose to rinse it off as you go.

Let the grout dry and you can seal it. Sealing it is optional but it is a good idea because it will help keep the algae down and help it last longer in the winter*. The hardware store will have grout and tile sealer. You will probably only need one coat.

*If you use regular bathroom tiles, or any tiles that are not designed for outdoor use, you probably shouldn't leave it outside in the winter if it is cold where you are. The freeze/thaw cycles will cause the tiles to crack and chip off.

Step 13: Enjoy the New Garden Decoration

Install the newly funkified object in your garden. You can now enjoy the garden a little more.

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    13 years ago on Introduction

    I use liquid nails construction adhesive on my mosaics. I'm still having a little trouble with freeze/thaw on the grout; I might need to find something more flexible.

    The Papier Boy
    The Papier Boy

    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not a huge fan of liquid nails. it takes too long to cure, IMO.


    12 years ago on Step 13

    Very nicely done 'ible. I've been wanting to do a mosaic table top on an old ornate wrought iron end table but have been afraid to try. Can mosaic stuff be applied to tempered glass or should I swap out the glass table top for a piece of plywood?


    13 years ago on Step 12

    I have to say I've never found removing grout haze to be a problem. I usually put dampened newspaper on my mosaic pieces to slow down the drying process. The longer it takes to dry, the stronger the grout will be. Grout dries on top faster than on the bottom (due to air exposure) and what you want is to slow that down a bit so it dries more evenly. I spritz the newspaper every couple hours or so to keep it damp over night. Once you go to bed it will finishing drying on it's own. I usually just use a rag to buff off the haze later. I also add some Weldbond glue to my grout water. Just be careful when using it on mirror as it tends to make a more cloudy haze on the glass which would require more buffing. Other than that, I think this project came out really nicely and I'd be proud to have the birds in my back yard bathing in it!


    Reply 12 years ago on Step 12

    Thank you for the newspaper tip. I have carpal tunnel and anything that helps me to not have to scrub for a long time is much appreciated!


    12 years ago on Step 9

    Had to chuckle at the Ambien. It's probably what I'll need to keep from fiddling with it before it dries :)


    13 years ago on Introduction

    If you're in New England, you might be interested in the upcoming Art of Mosaic show to be held at the Somerville Museum in Somerville, MA in September. If you would like to submit a mosaic, please go to Submissions are being accepted through May 31, 2009. The show is open to New England Mosaic Artists only.


    13 years ago on Step 13

    That looks cool! I'm gonna give it a go :-)