Introduction: Make a Flower Mosaic From Broken Dishes and Plates
This is a mosaic made from reclaimed plates and scrap wood. It is an inexpensive and fun way to make unique art for home.
When making art with easy to source materials and lower costs, everyone can afford to be creative and have fun!
- Reclaimed Dishes
My reclaimed and repurposed crockery is from the Habitat For Humanity ReStore and another local Thrift Store. I used part of about 7 dinner plates. Each item cost $1 or less, except for the cow. She cost $2.50 and I just couldn't resist bringing her home.
The 1 inch thick plywood was reclaimed from the scrap bin. It measures 8 inch by 15 inch in size. The holes are left from a previous project.
Some of the tools are specific to glass and ceramic tile work but can be found at most big box hardware stores. You don't need all of these specialty tools, they are just the tools I used to cut and shape the plates into the pieces I wanted.
- Glass Cutter with wide cutting head
- Heavy Duty Running Pliers
- Wheeled Nippers
- Tile Nippers
- Sharpie Marker
- Ruler and Straight Edge
- Carbon Transfer Paper
- Tracing Paper
- Graph Paper
- Sandpaper 80 grit
- Mixing Cups
- Weldbond Adhesive
- Spritz Bottle with water
- Thin-set Powder
- Thin-set Colorant in black
- Mini Whisk
- Dremel with Diamond Wheel EZ545HP
- Safety Glasses
- KN95 Mask
- Digital Scale
- Hobby Turntable, Non-slip Rugpad and Picture hanging hardware (not shown)
Step 1: Design the Mosaic
When creating a design for a broken dish mosaic, look at the dishes you have and let the colors dictate your choices. Try to look at the underside of each dish to see if there are more colors to choose from. I decided to go in a flower direction with pink for the blooms, green for the stems and leaves, white for the clouds, and an assortment of blues for the background. The apple plate was an amazing find because the background was streaky blue and the apples could be my flower centers.
If stumped for a place to start drawing, a good source of inspiration for design are free coloring pages. Before beginning to draw, try and pick a theme. I decided on three flowers because I like things in groups of three. Drawing the flowers swooping and getting smaller as the eye traveled down the page gives interest. The idea of math in art helps to guide overall layout by including patterns and shapes like the golden ratio in the underlying drawing. The three flowers are the pink corners of a triangle and the stem very loosely follows the curve of the golden triangle. Included is a photo of how to construct a golden rectangle to get a golden triangle and the initial layout of the main objects in the sketch. It is best to draw the design in pencil so you can make changes as needed and even better to draw to scale so you can transfer your pattern to the dishes without redrawing.
Step 2: Prepare the Plywood
When using reclaimed plywood, or any wood backer for a mosaic, it needs to be sealed. If the wood is not sealed, then there is a chance it will absorb water from your thinset (what you use to glue your pieces down). This will cause the thinset to dry too fast and not set correctly. Also, plywood backer should be used for indoor mosaics only, not outdoor mosaics.
Set the plywood on some cans to elevate it off the table surface. Then, whisk together 1 tablespoon of Weldbond and 3 tablespoons of water in a mixing cup. Spread the mixture evenly with a brush onto your wood. Be sure to cover the top and four sides completely. Let the wood board dry for 24 to 48 hours in a warm place (above 50 degF).
Step 3: Shop Safety
- Wear safety glasses!
Breaking pottery can cause sharp pieces to go flying. Make sure you always wear eye protection when breaking or cutting dishes.
- Wear a mask!
Inhaling fine powders can cause injury. Make sure you always were an appropriate mask when fine particles are airborne.
Step 4: Cut the Reclaimed Dishes
Use shop safety. Always wear a mask and safety glasses when working. Broken fragments can be sharp so be careful to not cut yourself.
Cutting Out The Foot:
The foot is the thick ring around the base that the plate sits on. I want to remove the foot from the plate to have more control when I cut the plates up. I used a dremel with a diamond wheel. First, put on your safety glasses and wear a mask. Then, place the plate upside down on a turntable with a non-slip rugpad. Wet the plate with a water from a spritz bottle and use the dremel to cut the foot out. This took about 15 minutes a plate, but I think it was worth it. Here is a short clip:
Make sure your safety glasses are on! Clean your piece of plate and then lay it on the non-slip rugpad. Now it's time to use your glass cutter and running pliers. A glass cutter has an offset carbide wheel that scores the surface and tells the fragment where to break. Take your glass cutter, pressing firmly, score the glass in one motion running along a straight edge. My glass cutter is self-lubricating, but you might need to add a little oil when using the glass cutter to score where you would like the piece to break. The running pliers will actually break the ceramic just like glass. Before using, notice that the jaws of the running pliers are curved, hold them with the front edge of the jaws curving down (frowning) and the score centered. There is usually a black mark on the center of the upper jaw. Place the scored piece of plate in the jaws of the running pliers and squeeze really hard. The center of the bottom jaw will push up while the outsides of the top jaw will push down and your piece should break on the scored line. This is called running the break. If you have trouble breaking the pottery then make sure the screw on the running pliers is in its highest position so the pliers can close all the way. Here are 2 short clips:
Check again to make sure you are wearing your safety glasses! Using tracing paper, copy a flower petal set. Layer the tracing paper over a piece of carbon transfer paper (carbon side facing down) on a clean piece of pottery and redraw your petals. Remove the papers and go over your tracing with a marker so you can see it better. Label each petal with sequential numbers so they can be reassembled later. Score your petals with the glass cutter and break them apart using the running pliers. It is best to score from the middle out, trying to always have equal amounts of material on either side of the score. Use the wheeled nippers and the tile nippers to shape your piece. Clean up and round the edges using 80 grit sandpaper. Note, I tried to cut my shapes out with the dremel, but found it chipped the enamel on the plate edge. Here is a clip of the cutting out a flower with hand tools:
There are sometimes surprises when using reclaimed dishes. A few plates just crumbled when I tried to break them while others required all my body weight just to get the running pliers closed. The edges of the white plates I had chosen for the clouds turned to dust so I decided to change the sky design to stripes and use the underside of the apple plate for any white.
Finish cutting out any other needed pieces for stems and grasses. Step back and appreciate your handiwork!
Step 5: Dry Fit the Mosaic Pieces
I like to dry fit my pieces on my drawing to make sure I like the color and fit. This is the hardest part for me because I tend to fiddle with the details and forget the big picture.
Set the flower petals down and arrange the stem pieces to make a soft curve. Arrange the large background pieces until you like the general look. I tried 4 different stripe arrangements before settling on fewer white stripes. When you are happy with the look, take a photo of the dry fit mosaic and check the arrangement. This allows you to step back and really see the whole thing.
Make sure your safety glasses are on! Now, begin to nip the background pieces to fit closer to the flowers and stems. Take small bites out of the plate fragments with the wheeled nippers and the tile nippers until the background rectangles fit fairly close to the flowers. I try to limit any spacing between pieces to not more than 3/16 of an inch.
Step 6: Glue the Mosaic Down
Transfer your drawing to the wood backer with carbon transfer paper. Then prepare the thinset. I use thinset to glue my mosaic pieces to the sealed wood backer, thinset is the bond between the irregular mosaic pieces and the wood. It comes in powdered form and can be mixed with a colorant. First, make sure you wear a mask that can filter fine particles! Then use 60 grams of thinset and 10 grams of black colorant, add water and stir until a thick paste forms. I weigh my components so I always get the same shade of thinset.
Working in sections, spread a 1/4 inch thick bed of thinset. Working one piece at a time, press and gently twist each mosaic fragment into the thinset. The thinset should squish about half way up the piece. Place the next piece down trying to leave uniform gaps. Thinset is a structural bonding adhesive made of cement and capable of handling gaps up to about 3/8 of an inch.
Transfer all of your pieces to the wood. They may not all fit because the thinset takes up space but it's alway better to have extra pieces cut. Now take more thinset and press it into all the gaps. Wipe any extra off with a damp sponge. Clean your sponge often.
The last step is to apply thinset to the edges to hide the wood backer. I mixed my thinset a little thicker and then spread it with a palette knife. Use a wet finger to smooth out any lumps and bumps.
Let the mosaic dry for 24 to 48 hours in a warm place (above 50 degF).
Step 7: Finishing Touches
Set the mosaic on some cans to elevate it off the table surface. Spread undiluted Weldbond along the 1 inch wide thinset coated edge of the mosaic to protect it from knocks. Let the edge dry for at least an hour in a warm place (above 50 degF).
Lay the mosaic upside down on a cushioned surface like a thick, folded towel. Attach the picture hanging hardware of your choice. I used 2 d-rings and picture wire. Sign and date the back of your new art and hang it up.
Step back and admire your work!
Second Prize in the
Reclaimed Materials Contest