How to Do Mosaic Stained Glass Direct Method

There are two basic methods to mosaic work - the direct method and the indirect method. In the direct method, the pieces of material you are going to mosaic with, known as tesserae, are directly fixed top side up onto a base or substrate and then grouted. In the indirect method pieces are temporarily fixed top side down onto a removable base material. This is (then) cast in its final form and the temporary base material is removed to reveal the mosaic, top side up. The indirect method is most often used when the finished surface needs to be extremely smooth.

Selecting Tesserae

Tesserae are the individual pieces of material you will arrange to form your mosaic. Most people think of those little square pieces of tile seen in early Roman mosaics or in swimming pools. Today the term applies to anything pieced together to form a design. Common tesserae include:

venetian tile, gold leafed tile, smaltiTraditional Tile Tesserae

Ceramic Tile

stone pebbles for mosaicNatural Stone

Includes everything from beach or river pebbles to marble, granite, slate and modern day stone tiles. They have a wide range of colors, textures and surfaces. Also included are semiprecious stones - turquoise, lapis lazuli, alabaster, quartz and agate.

China & Porcelainshells for mosaic

A finer form of ceramics, they are a good source for interest, pattern and color.

Shells and Mother of Pearl

Mother of pearl is the lustrous inner surface of shells like oysters and abalone. Commonly used shell forms include spirals, scallops, snails, etc. and cover a wide range of color, luster and size.

asstorted items to mosaic withGlass

Includes mirror, colored glass, sea glass, glass nuggets, marbles, and pressed glass jewels

Everything Else

Bone, metals, buttons... just about anything you want can become tesserae in your mosaic.

Selecting the Base

You can apply a mosaic to nearly any surface, so selecting the base material becomes a matter of the shape you want, how it will be used, and where it will be used. When selecting a base think about the following:

items you can apply mosaic to Commonly used base materials include but are not limited to:

Selecting the Adhesive

The base material, tesserae, project use, and its location all influence the type of adhesive you will choose. There is a 'glue' for every situation. Start by reading the 'applications' section on the package. Common choices include:

Basic Tools

Beside a base, tesserae, and adhesive the only tool you'll really need to start with is a tile nipper. All other tools can be commandeered household items. As you work with different tesserae, bases, and adhesives you will find it useful to add specific tools to your arsenal.

Cutting Tools are used to shape and trim your tesserae


For holding your sorted tesserae, mixing adhesives and grouts, adding color to grouts, and holding water for cleaning. Save those containers you were about to throw out! You may not want to clean out that cement or grout container, so these "salvaged" containers can just be tossed out when done.

mosaic tools for pushing and spreadingAdhesive Spreaders

Depend on personal choice and the adhesives. Trowels of different sizes and types are useful for cement-based adhesives. (For small work) plastic spatulas, butter knives, and palette knives work well. PVA and epoxy bases can be applied with plastic spreaders, old brushes, straws, toothpicks, wooden sticks, etc.

Grout Spreaders

Help push the grout over the mosaic and into the spaces between tesserae. They need to be flexible so as not to scratch the surface. Plastic spatulas, squeegees, grout floats, or even gloved hands will work.

Tools for Pushing and Prodding

Are handy for moving pieces into place and scraping out excess mortar or grout. Wooden sticks, wooden scrapers, tweezers, dental probes, toothpicks, awls, wooden clothes pins, pencils, and manicure tools are just some of the choices.

safety equipmentSafety Equipment must include.

mosaic grout and grouting toolsGrout

Cleaning Articles

Are needed for wiping off excess grout and general tidying up. Lint free rags, sponges, and non-scratch nylon scouring pads are quite useful.

Lets Get Started

Surface Preparation: Base surfaces should be clean and dry. When applying a mosaic to surfaces like wood or interior / exterior walls, scoring the surface will add "tooth" and improve the adhesion of your tesserae. Use a sharp knife or similar tool to key the surface. Sealing will also benefit surfaces like wood and terracotta. Use a diluted solution of PVA or similar acrylic bonding agent and apply with a brush. It is essential to seal all surfaces for wood bases and it is recommended for unglazed ceramic and terracotta.

Tesserae Preparation: All tesserae need to be clean and free of dirt, grease, and dust. Wash your materials before breaking them into smaller pieces. Lightly soiled items can be cleaned with a damp cloth. If the tesserae are attached to a mesh or paper, soak in warm water to remove the backing and glue. Allow all pieces to dry thoroughly. Shells need to be soaked in water for several days (changing the water daily), then allowed to dry out over several days. Pebbles need to be soaked overnight and then rinsed until the water runs clear. Allow them several days to dry out as well.

Test Your Adhesive: READ THE LABEL! FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS! It doesn't hurt to test its performance on a small piece of the base material. Pay special attention to your choice of adhesive for outdoor projects. Extreme heat and cold can create cracks allowing water to fill the voids - this will destroy your work when the freezing temperatures come.

Designs and Patterns: Inspiration comes from everywhere: nature, cities, surfaces, feelings, dreams, pattern books, magazines, and the list goes on. The choice is entirely up to you. You can go from totally abstract to precisely planned. You may want to use (or modify) an existing pattern. Sketching out a basic cartoon can help you to solidify your idea, as well as to plan for color and movement. You can draw guidelines directly on the base for reference. You may want to transfer complex designs to wood or terracotta bases using carbon paper. Large designs can be transferred section by section. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but don't over plan! Some spontaneity is needed to make your design dynamic and interesting.

Color: Once you have a design, you will need to fill it with color. Choose what you like! Layout your tesserae and play with different combinations. Lay them on your design to see how they work and look. Keep in mind that each unit is a unit of color, texture, size, form and brilliance. How they play off each other will affect your design. Remember that the viewers eye will mix the shapes and colors in your design. Instead of covering a large area with the same tile, vary the shades used to add interest (unless the effect you want is a uniform block of color!). Grade (transition) colors into each other by varying the size and shape as they meet each other. Mix pieces of differing colors together. Place opposite colors next to each other for contrast. Make black or gray lines to accent or separate design elements or colors. Take advantage of patterns and colors in your tesserae. Play, experiment, stand back, look, rearrange, change, stand back, look... - until you are satisfied. Again, do what you like and once you get started don't be afraid to change or deviate as the project unfolds.

Cutting the Tesserae: With any new technique or tool it is a good idea to practice on scrap materials (before you attack that one piece of really unique china you have). Work in a protected, covered, easy to clean area; you'll be creating shards and stray pieces that can cut the unsuspecting visitor. WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES! You can cut all your pieces ahead of time and lay them out on your cartoon or base; or you can work on the fly - cutting and fixing as you go. The choice is yours and depends on the complexity of the design, shape of the base, and the adhesive used.

Applying the Design


Grouting is the technique of filling in the spaces between your tesserae. Generally, it is desirable to make the grout level with the overall height of the mosaic surface. Grout is just a fine textured version of cement mortar. It unifies the design. Its color enhances the design: and it adds strength. 


Some materials and applications benefit from an application of sealant after the grout is dried and cured. Sealing pebbles brings out their true 'wet' color. Porous materials benefit from sealing also. Sealers are available in a matt or shiny finish. Read the bottle to see if it fits your application.

Now, stand back and admire your handiwork!

There are variations on the technique presented here and many excellent book resources (see below) to help you expand your knowledge and creativity. As you experiment and work with different materials you will discover what methods, tools, and supplies work best for you!

Books and Article Resources

Ancient Mosaics
by Roger Ling Paperback
Princeton University Press
Paperback / 1998 / 144pp
ISBN: 0691004048
The Art of Mosaics
by Joaquim Chavarria
Watson-Guptill Publishing
Paperback / 1999 / 160 pp
ISBN: 0823058646
The Art of Mosaic Design: A Collection of Contemporary Artists
by J.Locktov - L.P.Clagett
Rockport Publishing
Hardcover / 1998
ISBN: 1564964205
Backyard Mosaics
by Connie Sheerin
Sterling Publishing
Hardcover & Paperback / 2001 / 128 pp
ISBN: 0806929677
Classic Mosaics
 by Elaine M Goodwin
Trafalgar Square Publishing Ltd.
Hardcover / 2000 /  144 pp
ISBN 1570761590
Encyclopedia of Mosaic Techniques (Encyclopedia of Art Techniques)
by Emma Biggs
Penguin USA
Hardcover / 1999 / 160 pp
ISBN: 0762404442
Making Mosaics
by Leslie Dierks
Sterling Publishing Co.
Hardcover / 1998 / 128 pp
ISBN: 0806948728
by Kaffe Fassett & Candace Bahouth
Taunton Books & Videos
Hardcover / 1999 / 160 pp
ISBN 1561583731
The Mosaic Book : Ideas, Projects and Techniques
by Peggy Vance, Celia Goodrich-Clarke
Trafalgar Square Publishing Ltd.
Paperback / 1996 / 128 pp
ISBN: 1570760608z
Mosaic Workshop : A Guide to Designing and Creating Mosaics
by Emma Biggs, Tessa Hunkin
Trafalgar Square Publishing, Ltd.
Hardcover / 1999 / 128 pp
ISBN: 1570761493