New Ceramic Tile Download Available! How to Design, Make and Install Ceramic Tile Murals and Mosaics: Design Tips and How-To Instructions for Handmade Ceramic Tile Projects

A few weeks ago, we presented an excerpt from the new Ceramics Handbook, Wall Pieces. The response to that post was so enthusiastic, that we decided we should come up with a free download on ceramic tile. 

For today’s post, I thought I would share an excerpt from How to Design, Make and Install Ceramic Tile Murals and Mosaics. In this excerpt, I am presenting a cool technique that Jerry Goldman came up with to make custom ceramic tile mosaics. He started out making mosaics out of shards of commercially manufactured tile, but this method didn’t provide him with the colors he desired. So he came up with his own method of casting slab tiles with slip stained with metallic oxides and commercial stains. See the technique below.- Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


Years ago, Jerry Goldman was inspired by a friend who made wonderful mosaics out of tile remains from kitchen and bathroom installations and make great works. Jerry decided to try this technique. He liked it, and got his tiles from the usual sources at first. Seeking to augment his palette, he found the dump sites of two manufacturers, one in south New Jersey and one in Massachusetts, and worked with these tiles. But it was not enough. He felt a need for something more, not that the tiles weren’t wonderful – technically hard, vitreous, nice looking; it’s just that he wanted a greater color range, and the cold perfection of the pieces moved him to start making his own.

For years, he blended metallic oxides and commercial slip stains to make many thousands of color tests that he carefully recorded. When he came upon a color he wanted, he mixed a quantity and cast a slab about 5/16-inch thick. When he had a kiln load of slabs, he stacked them one on top of another to conserve kiln space, which resulted in a couple of wonderful effects. First, the center interior of the stack never got quite enough oxygen, so there was reduction and marvelous color variation; and second, some of the tiles cracked, creating even more color variation where oxygen circulated around cracks.


The Poured Ceramic Tile Mosaic Process

Paint the mold with colored slip then immediately pour the required amount of uncolored slip into the mold. There are two reasons to do this: metallic oxides can be costly and require care in preparation, and using a solid-colored tile is unnecessary for this project. Use a level to set the mold. Slip, like water, seeks its own level, so a level mold assures a slab of uniform thickness.

 

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Allow the slab to dry. If the slab is left in the mold too long, it will begin to curl. As a matter of fact, the slab will continue to curl the longer it is left in the mold, and will curl even more during the drying and firing stages.

Remove the slab from the mold as follows: Completely cover the clay with newspaper then place a piece of plywood cut to the size of the mold on top. Firmly grip the mold and plywood together with both hands and flip it over in one quick movement. Place the slabs so that both surfaces will have a chance to dry evenly, such as on a grate, or flip them over from time to time.

If you want a tile with a flat surface, cover the clay with a newspaper laid flat and roll it on both sides. To diminish the possibility of edge cracks, burnish the edges with a knife.

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Stack the dried slabs in the kiln and fire them to maturity. For illustrative purposes, he removed the tiles and restacked them on a ware board to show what the stack looked like in the kiln. This illustrates the variation achieved using this method. Tile 1 was on the top, Tile 2 was just under Tile 1, Tile 3 was below and Tile 4 was close to the middle of the stack. To mount the mosaics, use a durable sheet material framed with the material of your choice. This backing is made of 3/8-inch thick treated plywood and a nice hardwood for the frame.

Assemble the mosaic. In this photo most of the mosaic was assembled; this is one of a series of roots and rocks. The root was made of plastic clay and formed completely in that state. He allowed for about 20% shrinkage in the drying and firing.
Finish the mosaic with grout. There are many different colored grouts available in tile shops and home centers. Black grout usually has powerful colorants, but if that gets on the tile, it can darken the tile or make the cleaning of it very difficult. If you want a darker grout, you can paint the grout after it is in place in the mosaic. Tile store and home improvement centers carry abundant stocks of tile adhesives, and have tools as well as helpful, knowledgeable staff.

A completed poured tile mosaic made with small pieces of handmade ceramic tiles to create a large composition.A completed poured ceramic tile mosaic made with small pieces of handmade ceramic tiles to create a large composition.

Tools for Working with Fired Ceramic Tile

"Carbide-tipped tile nippers are an important tool. For small cuts, use just the tip of the cutter. WARNING: Always wear safety glasses when cutting tile."

"A tile cutter is useful for straight cuts. Various tile-related tools may be rented at tile stores or tool rentals, so you don’t need a major investment up front."

"The 4-inch circular saw with a diamond-tooth blade is a very versatile and useful tool. Do your cutting outdoors because of the dust it creates. WARNING: Read and follow all tool manufacturer warnings on any power tool."

Comments
  • Simply stunning! I sat here muttering “Hummph!” over and over. I’m assuming your have a LOT of studio floor space, something I sorely lack, but it was nice to dream along side you today! Thanks.

  • We are currently putting a floor down in our greenhouse where we grow hydroponic veggies. The floor is made of cement tiles with old shards
    from our pottery as insets. We are using casual mosaic patterns in the corners like a quilt top. It’s funny how so many crafts mirror this technique. I enjoyed the artical and being inspired to finish this job no matter how long it takes. We devided the tiles with 2x4s and left them in place to hold the tiles securely. Beautiful and easy to hose down for cleaning. Micro veggies require super clean areas.

  • Superb idea thank you for sharing.
    Does it also work with paperclay and other molds besides tiles? Love your mosaics and the way you graded the colours well done indeed.

  • Very interesting and highly instructive. Thanks for sharing this. I have been trying to make thicker “tiles” to be set as foot paths in the lawn (round,15in.diam;1,5in.h.) I use slip in mold and it dries well and burns well at high temp., great results. Have not been able to figure a way of fixing it on the ground. I am no expert on materials but have a feeling cement won´t work because of its different expansion coefficient. I welcome suggestions.

  • Maria,
    Have you tried just setting them in a bed of sand? it seems that your tiles are large and heavy enough that you could just cut out the lawn where they are to sit, lay down an inch or two of gravel or sand so they are easy to level and they would stay in place fine, especially once the lawn grows up next to them. My soil is almost adobe and we have walkways that are cement tiles just set into the dirt and lawn…the only problem is having to edge the lawn around them once or twice a year so they don’t disappear.
    I have also heard of laying a brick pathway in sand, then spreading dry cement and sweeping it into the cracks, then hosing it down to activate the cement.

  • Hi Charlotte,

    I would be interested in viewing a photo of your greenhouse project. Email me at aradia@mts.net.

    Another avid gardener.

    Teresa

  • How would you hang one of these that are mounted on plywood? I’ve made some great carved ceramic mirror frames,& am now trying to figure out how to mount and hang so they don’t crash .
    Linda

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