New page, compressed foam board

July 12, 2014

There is a new page on the website which has details on using compressed foam board for mosaic work. This includes the recent video on hanging these boards using tee nuts. You can see the page here (there is also the page on using cement fibre board, Hardibacker, No More Ply etc).



May 17, 2014


This photo shows the effect the correct sealant has on surfaces. The left side of the paper towel has been sprayed with LTP Tile & Grout Protector and then water has been dropped on both sides and you can see the result. On the side that has been treated the water droplet just stays on top.
The stuff that I’ve used here is good if you want to protect your grout. It won’t stop it from getting dirty but it the dirt just sits on top so it can be wiped off.
Thanks to Gavin at Tile Giant in Bury St Edmunds for this.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, Villa Reconstruction

March 7, 2011

This post relates to the mosaic made for the Roman Villa reconstruction at Wroxeter. Details of the programme are currently on the Channel 4 website here

If you’re not in the UK you can’t watch the programmes but you can go on the virtual tour. To see the mosaic click on ‘Triclineum’, click and hold and then move your mouse to move the picture round and you will be able to see some of the mosaic.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – The Mosaic

What did I think of it? First things first, I think the guy who was responsible; Kevin was set up to fail. I would have been very surprised if he had pulled it off. Mosaic work, Roman or Contemporary is easy to learn, it’s not rocket science. You draw a line, put your adhesive on the line then put your tiles tesserae (tiles) on the adhesive. That’s it, how good you get is down to how many you do. To make a Roman mosaic floor of that size takes careful planning and experience, having someone looking over his shoulder would have made all the difference.

When you have a project that makes much of its authenticity and use of original methods and materials then it must expect to be reviewed by others with experience in those fields. You only need to look at the comments on the website to see how people take at face value what they see in these programmes.  Here then are the main points that I feel need highlighting, (with the caveat that we only see the final edited programme and I am looking at images from the programme and from the website, I’ve not been there in person);

  1. The materials, coloured clay was used for parts of mosaics in Britain, notably the red is cut up roof tile, pottery pieces. They made extensive use of local stone. Clay is not strong enough as a floor surface and if you colour it the colour needs to be part of the entire piece. Just colouring the outside doesn’t work as this will be worn away. He did though do very well in producing that amount of tesserae for the mosaic.
  2. The method, there is absolutely no hard evidence to say they prefabricated the mosaics on cloth. Cloth at that time would have been very valuable and not something to use for this sort of thing. We do have hard evidence that they scored marks/guidelines in the surface of the floor and set the tesserae direct.
  3. The Rules, andamento, whatever you want to call it. The Romans used a set of rules in every mosaic they made, that’s the reason you see a line of the background colour tesserae around every figure. This borderline rule is also seen in geometric mosaics. In parts of this mosaic you can see some attempt at a borderline but mostly it’s not apparent. These rules are why you can criticise a Roman mosaic but not contemporary mosaics. In modern works there are no rules.
  4. The central motif, a bull’s head had the background made using what looked to be white Carrara marble. This is a pure white marble (it appears slightly grey on the programme which is how it appears when it is wet). When we talk of a white background we mean off white. Pure white is very rarely seen in a Roman mosaic as it is a very ‘flat’ colour. The stone of choice is something like Botticino, a marble with a very slight shade variance. It is this variance which gives the impression of depth.

It’s a real shame this ended up like this. I do not hold, as has been said that there are examples of Roman mosaics that are this rough. If there are I’ve not seen them. As I mentioned right at the start the chap who landed this job did not appear to have any real professional back up so you cannot hold him responsible. You only have to look at the example of the timber framing, the carpenter had problems with it and rightly or wrongly (in my opinion wrongly) he was removed from the project. And then they got in a professional timber framing company to do the rest. If they had had a professional guiding him for that part of the project maybe they would have pointed out earlier that it’s a job that is not possible for one man using hand tools.

It’s not being precious about this work but I think we owe it to the original craftsmen to make a bit more effort if we’re going to make these reconstructions.

Learning to draw figures

January 9, 2011

If you want to use figural work in your mosaics but need to learn to build up the figures in an anatomically correct way then this book is for you. It’s brilliant, clear, concise and not spending hours agonising over your piece of art!

I know this seems like a strange choice but look at it this way; Your mosaic is the important work, your figure just needs to be accurate enough for you to work on, but your drawing doesn’t need to be a work of ‘art’.

Learn the basics and then be able to put them into practice straight away. Remember people who draw comics don’t get stuck on perfecting one drawing, they get it right then move on to the next, and the next, and the next……

And yet their figure drawing has to be to a consistantly high standard.

Just Google the title, there’s loads of copies out there.

Double Reverse for Mosaics

January 9, 2011

Not the best of images in this series but this will give you a rough idea of how the Double Reverse method works when used to make a piece for piece copy of an ancient mosaic.

Using a blow up of a photo of the original mosaic I used tracing paper and traced around each piece.

turn the tracing over and draw round each tracing of the tesserae with a water soluble pen.

Place the tracing with the water soluble tracing (the 'negative') down onto a bed of air drying lime putty.

A large part of the lower area finished. Then you use water soluble glue and glue fine medical gauze over the mosaic.

When the glue is dry use a trowel and lift the mosaic (hopefully stuck to the gauze!) off the lime. Then clean the lime out of the gaps between the tesserae.

2 Panels after shipping to Spain.

Cement to the base and on the back of the mosaic panel. Then place the panel in the right spot.

Make sure there are no gaps between the panels before the cement dries.

When the cement has dried remove the gauze using hot water and a scrubbing brush. The hot water dissolves the glue, the gauze breaks up under the scrubbing brush. Simple really 😉

Most of the mosaic was made using the Double reverse method but for this part of the guilloche border pattern I used the direct method (using cement as the adhesive)just to see how fast I could work.

The finished mosaic.

A close up shot showing the use of both smalti and marble, as in the original too.

The shots a bit out of focus but just to give you an idea of what my work area looked like. The coloured discs are smalti pizza.

This method does take a little while to master but for very fine work it’s the best method possible. As the lime putty is air drying then overnight you can spray it with some water (the tracing doesn’t run) and put a plastic sheet over it. I had one mosaic that I did over 18 months using the same lime bed.

Grout Colour

October 28, 2010

I always use grey grout for the Roman mosaics, never white or Ivory. These lighter colours tend to ‘separate’ the tesserae (tiles) whereas the grey pulls them together allowing the focus to be on the pattern.

Another thing I do is to use the adhesive as a grout. Grout is, essentially a fine powder grout. When you wipe off the excess it should remian fairly level with the top of the tiles. Use the courser adhesive mix and when you clean it off it will remove more of the cement leaving a more ‘worn’ look.

Basic Colours in Roman Mosaics

July 3, 2010

If you’re making copies of Roman mosaics or producing contemporary ‘inspired by’ mosaics then you need to start with a basic colour palette. Here is a list of the main colours you need to start with. I’ve included the best stone colours to help you, (when I talk of colours I tend to be refering to the various shades of a colour as with stone it is not that often that you get a ‘pure’ colour except with black or white).

You need Black, White, Red and Yellow. These give you enough to start with for your geometric patterns etc. Next add Dark Red and Green. After this look at your specific piece you want to create and you’ll be looking at adding brown and various shades of red/pink which gives you the range to start on figured and portrait work.

White – Firstly I don’t mean white! The background stone you tend to see in Roman mosaics is an off-white, almost a very light beige colour. Pure white is very rarely used in a Roman mosaic except for small areas. The reason for this is that white as a background produces a very flat effect. Using off white stone such as Botticino creates more depth as this stone has different shades running through it. Up close it does look like a light beige colour but in the mosaic and seen from 5′ – 6′ away it produces the effect of a white.

Best stone; Botticino (a number of types, go for Bott. Classico for the best), Crema Marfil, Biancone looks like a bright white but is veined and has an almost imperceptible green tinge to it.

Black; Nero Assoluto, Zimbabwe Black (granite), Nero Macquina, Toros Black. The last 2 have white veins and a more ‘dusty’ look to the colour. NB Never be tempted to use slate! I was given some in 15mm x 15mm x 10mm and although it looked fine, just like the Nero it was hell to cut. Slate shears, ie the top layer separates from the bottom. Not fun to cut believe me.

 Red; Light red as in Rojo Alicante. The standard red used in patterns. veined but nice to use.

Yellow;  Giallo Atlantide, Sienna. Yellow is a problem, the most reliable for a good shade is the Giallo Atlantide. There is a good yellow in Travertine Giallo but Travertine is rock formed by the residue from geysers, millions of years ago. This solidifies with air bubbles hence Trav. has a pitted surface. Too much pitting and it will take up any grout you use which is a shame as it does have a good colour.

 Dark Red; Rosso Laguna, standard for dark red. Not that common as tiles though so be prepared to look around. Cuts ok.

Dark Green; Verde Guatamala, a really beautiful, deep green. Lovely, lovely colour but quite dark. Against black it can merge. There are lighter greens but these can be quite expensive. Unfortunately I don’t have a decent picture of this one.

So, just a quick list. There are many more coloured stones finding their way onto the market now so this list may alter. It really does depend on the quality of the stone, its availability, how it cuts amongst other considerations.