Basic Mosaic Design


When we think of mosaics, we often think of ancient archeological finds and images painstakingly constructed for kings thousands of years ago. But the technique of mosaic making is a wonderful contemporary way to spruce up old furniture or decorate new items. You can apply mosaics to most solid, clean and dry surfaces including wood, walls and floors, so the only thing limiting you is your imagination.
Many different kinds of mosaic techniques exist. The simple and relatively quick technique shown here uses pieces of tiles and broken crockery, so it’s a great way to immortalize a favorite piece of broken china. It’s a good idea to work out a design before you start and always observe safety precautions.



  • In addition to wearing safety goggles to protect your eyes, to prevent shards and chips of china from flying about when cutting pieces, position the piece in the nipper, fold a dust cloth over it and cut. Don't shake the cloth out after use, simply throw it away.
    Always wear goggles and a nose and mouth mask when cutting pieces of glass and china and never cut directly under your face.

Safety goggles

Nose and mouth mask

Selection of tiles and china

Mosaic tile nippers
12mm/ ½” plywood cut to the desired shape and size
Thick felt-tipped pen
Cutting knife
Waterproof adhesive
Waterproof, ready-mixed colored grout
Rubber gloves
Mixing bowl
Wood sealant

Before you begin, draw your design on a piece of paper to make sure you are happy with the way it looks. The best designs, which may be abstract or figurative, are simple and bold since they create the best effect.

When the design is ready, trace it onto the surface which you wish to decorate, using a felt-tipped marker. If the object is intended for outdoor use, it’s best to buy marine plywood.  For greater adhesion, score the board with a cutting knife before you position the mosaics (but after you’ve drawn the design).

Sort your supply of broken tiles, china and mosaic pieces according to color (never mind if some pieces aren’t flat, as long as they are small). To get a rough idea of how many pieces you will need, lay them out on your design according to the colors you wish to you and make sure that they cover the whole area.

When you’re sure you have enough pieces, you can begin to glue them, working one section at a time. Begin by gluing around the outlines of each section, cutting and choosing the best shapes. Leave small gaps between each piece which will be filled later with grout.

After you have completed the outline, you can begin to fill the sections in, working your way inwards.

You can introduce other colors and textures within sections to make a more interesting surface. Play with contrasts of light and dark colors or smooth and rough pieces. Remember, though, that if you are decorating a table top, it’s a good idea to try and ensure that the pieces are of a similar thickness.

Cut and glue until your whole design is complete.

If you are decorating an item with clearly visible edges, cut and glue pieces to the sides to make a clean edge and to provide a finishing touch. You can choose colors which complement the overall design, just cut them down to the right side and fit them as neatly as possible along the edge.

Leave your design to dry overnight.

When your mosaic is completely dry, you can complete it using the grout. It’s best to use grey grout (not white) as this provides the best effect. (You can buy grey grout or color white grout with some grey artist’s paint dissolved in a little water.) Apply a generous quantity of grout to the mosaic: wearing gloves, rub the grout well into the gaps between the pieces, making very sure that you fill in all the gaps at the edges and that you rub it well over any uneven surfaces.

Brush off all the excess grout and wipe the mosaic down well with a damp cloth. Leave your mosaic to dry for at least 24 hours.

If your mosaic will be used outdoors, spray the underside with an extraordinary wood sealant and try to avoid letting it get wet or exposed to frost, which will damage the mosaic.


You can use mosaics to decorate table tops, door numbers, wall plaques, pot stands or anything else that takes your fancy. 




Mosaic tile nippers are made to cut glass, ceramic tesserae and other china. The tungsten-tipped cutting edges give a clean cut and prevent bits of dust and shards. In order to provide the most pressure, making it easier to cut, the handles must be held as far back as possible. Nippers with a spring between the two handles are easier to use than those without as they open automatically, but both kinds will do the trick.
It’s a good idea to practice using the nippers before you start. Wearing goggles and a mask, practice cutting some tiles or crockery - hold the china between your thumb and index finger and hold the nipper handles as far back as possible. Then simply squeeze the handles and the china will break in line with the cutting edge. Practice on old china and tiles until you feel confident handling the nippers.

Click here to purchase nippers used in this activity