What Is a Mosaic?

mosaic definition and information

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A mosaic is a piece of art that is composed of many tiny pieces of glass or tile. To make a decorative object into a mosaic, you can tile the surface, much like you would a backsplash. From afar, mosaic art glistens with an impressive array of colors and patterns. Up close, the intricacies involved are unveiled, and you can see how much time and effort must have gone into creating the artwork. 

To be a prolific mosaic artist, you must exhibit patience and particular attention to detail that allows you to see the whole broken up into small shapes and colors. However, you don’t need to be a skilled artisan to try your hand at this ancient craft. Some basic knowledge will help you lay the groundwork for your mosaic masterpiece. 

Mosaic Definition

A mosaic is an artistic technique that uses tiny parts to create a whole image or object. Mosaics are usually assembled using small tiles that are made of glass, stone, or other materials. Typically the tiles are square, but they can also be round or randomly shaped. The small square tiles are known as tesserae, and the rounded tiles are known as pebbles. 

There are two main methods for creating mosaics. The first is known as the direct method. Using this technique, artists place the tiles directly on the final surface, whether that be on a wall, table, or other objects.

The second method is known as the indirect method. This particular technique is ideal for large scale pieces with a lot of intricate details. Here, artists place the tiles on a backing paper that is later transferred to the final surface once the mosaic is complete. This technique allows the artist to work on a flat, horizontal surface and then place larger sections at once on vertical surfaces like walls or columns. 

Mosaic History

The term mosaic is likely derived from the Greek word “mousa,” meaning “muse.” Mosaics as an art form have been around for thousands of years. Mosaics were first discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, where small pieces of tile were found in a temple from the third millennium BC. These artifacts were random and straightforward. It wasn’t until the ancient Greeks and Romans that mosaics began to depict real-life scenes, patterns, and symbols. 

As years passed, mosaics became more intricate and realistic. Mosaic artwork became culturally significant all over the world. Starting the fourth century, mosaics depicting Christian scenes were immortalized in famous basilicas and churches all over Europe. Archeologists have also found mosaics with colorful geometric patterns in the Middle East and Asia. 

Eventually, this technique fell out of fashion during the Renaissance and was replaced with oil painting. During the Georgian and Victorian era, mosaic jewelry became popular. Jewelers would create micromosaic scenes and set them in brooches, necklaces, and rings. Unfortunately, making this jewelry was tedious and time-consuming, and this art form is not commonly seen today.   

Mosaics Seen Today

In modern times, mosaics have seen a resurgence among street artists and crafters. You can purchase ready-made mosaic making kits for kids and adults at most craft stores. Today, you’ll find mosaics in the form of garden art, stepping stones, accent tables, and wall art. It’s rare to see modern-day mosaics that are as intricate and lifelike as those in the past, mostly due to the time involved to make such a piece. 

A more modern rendition of the mosaic is known as a photomosaic. Artists work with a variety of photographs and arrange them to create one larger image. There are also CAD or computer-assisted mosaics that can create commercially available mosaics for use in shower stalls and floors. The computer helps transform an image or pattern into tile shapes and assigns each tile a specific color. 

How to Make a Mosaic

If you want to make a mosaic for the first time, keep it simple. You can purchase ready-cut tiles and cover a small, flat surface like a tabletop before attempting more complex patterns and shapes. 

Basic Supplies

  • Tiles
  • Adhesive
  • Grout
  • Surface

Beginner Technique

  1. Plan out a simple design or pattern and sketch it in with a pencil.
  2. Dry fit the tiles on the surface. Keep the tiles close together so your grout lines will be minimal. 
  3. Attach each tile one by one using a tile adhesive. 
  4. Let the piece dry for at least 24 hours.
  5. Spread grout between the tiles using your hands or a putty knife. 
  6. Wipe down the tiles using a damp sponge. 

Mosaics can be incredibly intricate or pretty straightforward. Regardless, the result is usually worth the effort it takes to make one.