Monday, October 11, 2010

Cured-On-Raw Mosaic Tutorial

Okay, so I decided I wanted to do a mosaic using the techniques I taught the kids a few weeks ago and I thought I might as well write a tutorial while I'm at it.  So here goes:

(BTW, I'm a lefty so if the photos with my hand in them look awkward...)

This is the project I am going to show you:

Okay, so first make a pattern.  Mine is based on an abstract drawing I did in a drawing class years ago. (The gray stuff is a copy of the original drawing.)  I didn't want as much detail so I simplified a bit:

Color your pattern if you want.  Of course, these aren't the actual colors I will use, just a rough idea:

Next, mix your colors.  I keep all of my color families in separate containers (pinks, blues, green, metallics, etc) and just toss the scraps in there.  When I get a lot of little balls of any given "color," I mix them up into a new color and see what I get.  Since the colors in this weren't desperately important, I decided to do that:  (I had already started mixing the green.)

Now, normally I would tell you to condition your clay before you start work, but since all of these colors were mixed, they are conditioned already.  If you are using new clay, make sure you mix and knead it really well before starting work.  Then roll it through the pasta machine at a medium-thin setting:

Now, to save clay, I try to cut about the amount I'm going to need rather than just guesstimating.  So I laid my pattern on each color of clay and traced (loosely) around that color in the pattern to impress the design a little:

Then cut along the lines that you made.  I actually should have done a little more pink- I ran out:

Put the extra away (that's the wadded up piece).  Bunch up the stuff you are going to use and flatten it into more of a square shape. Roll it through the pasta machine at the same thickness as before and lay them out on an oven-safe tile.  Do this with all of your colors:

Now, you need to impress little squares into your clay.  I couldn't find my texture sheet with the grid pattern so I used this piece of plastic canvas.  (You could also cut the tiles freehand if you want.)  Lay it on there and roll over it with a brayer or something.  Make sure you do all the way out to the edges:

Score your clay along the impressed lines with a sharp blade.  Leave the tiles on your bakeable surface:
(You can scrap the rough edges if you want to eliminate even more waste.)

Bake your tiles according to your clay manufacturer's directions.  I usually bake everything at 230 degrees for 45+ minutes.  At that temperature it won't burn even if you forget it for a couple of hours. 

After the clay has cooled, scrape your tiles off whatever you baked them on:

Here's all of my pretty tiles piled up on my clay board:

Condition some black clay and roll it out on your thickest pasta machine setting.  Make sure it is bigger than your pattern:

Lay your pattern on the black clay and trace it with a needle tool or other pointy object:

Spread some liquid clay or white glue on the black clay in a very thin layer: (This will help the cured tiles to stick to the raw clay.)

Start laying your tiles on the clay, following your pattern:

When you need to fill in a small space or go around a sharp curve, use a craft knife to cut tiles to fit.

Keep filling in the design with tiles...

...until the whole pattern is covered: (You can see in the upper left where I ran out of pink and filled it in with purple.  I could have made more pink tiles but...)

Now, take your roller again and roll firmly over the entire mosaic, going in all directions, until all of the tiles are firmly pressed into the background and the background is starting to rise up around the tiles:

Cut the background away with your craft knife.  I originally was going to make the edges straight but when I got done, I decided I liked the edges the way they were so I cut around the tiles that were sticking out:

Ready to bake again.  This time I left it in for an hour:

Now, you can leave it the way it is or you can sand and buff the piece, or you can glaze it somehow.  I have been experimenting with using liquid clay to get a high-gloss finish.  So I spread liquid clay all over the mosaic...

...making sure to get it in all of the cracks and not getting it too thick:

I experimented with the heat gun for curing the liquid clay but it's not a craft heat gun and it blows too much air- pushing the clay around and making it ridged and lumpy.  So I baked it at 340 (yes, 340) degrees for about 5 minutes.  The high temp helps the liquid clay cure clearer and sets it so the heat gun won't blow it around.  Then I hit it with the heat gun, making sure to watch closely- as soon as a spot had a high gloss, I moved on to the next one.  It did smoke a little but I didn't burn anything (so far as I could tell).  Anyway, It has some air bubbles and I still need to work on the technique but it turned out pretty good.

If you don't want to mess with the liquid clay and heat gun, I recommend glazing it with liquid varathane (don't use a spray glaze) on a paint brush.  You can give it a few coats and even buff it after it's dry.

You can see my high shine a little better in this photo:

So, there it is!  I hope you enjoyed my first blog tutorial and if you have any questions, feel free to comment.