Mosaic Trinket Box Tutorial

by Johnnie Collier

Of all the things I enjoy about winter melting into spring, the return of garage sales is one of my favorites.  Check out this jewelry box I snatched up for a measly $2 and transformed with some paint and mosaic tiles.  This tutorial will cover the basic mosaic process as well as making tiles out of polymer clay.

 

 

Supplies:

  • Surface to mosaic – box, picture frame, vase, end table, pretty much anything without a pulse works.
  • Polymer clay for tiles and knob covering
  • Cookie cutters in the shapes you want your clay tiles, or craft knife to cut the tiles freehand
  • Glass tiles (I used both glass and clay tiles, but this is optional)
  • Glass nipper or two wheeled mosaic glass cutter, or hammer and pillowcase to smash glass
  • Mosaic adhesive and wooden craft sticks
  • Grout and grout spreader
  • Sponge for wiping away excess grout

To begin, I lightly sanded the box and wiped away the dust with a damp cloth.  You can plan your mosaic and draw an outline with marker on your surface, or you can just go free form.  I did the latter.  All I knew was the four depressed panes on the doors were begging me to tile them.  I gathered coordinating glass tiles from my stash and began arranging them on the surface, smooth side up.

I went around the perimeter of each pane, using nippers to cut the tiles to fit when I came to corners.  You could also put your glass in a pillow case and strike with a hammer to get smaller pieces if you don’t have nippers (or if that just sounds kinda fun).
Once all of my tiles were in place, I began to glue them one by one, onto the surface.   I used mosaic tile glue to be safe, applying it with a wooden craft stick.  Whatever you use, make sure it dries clear and is weatherproof (so that the glue doesn’t expand and pop off your tiles).  If a bunch of the adhesive is squirting out between tiles where grout will go, use less.  Dab it on the back of the tile and put into place.  You could also squirt lines of the adhesive onto the surface and lay the tiles down on top if that is easier.
Once I had glass tiles bordering the perimeter of each pane, I decided to make polymer clay tiles for the inner rectangles.  The benefit of clay tiles is that you have complete creative control.  You get to make them whatever color you want, you can add interesting textures, and you can easily cut them in shapes and sizes to fit your project.
Start by conditioning clay (tutorial here) in color of your choice.  I do this by squeezing it in my hands to warm it up for a few minutes, then rolling it through my clay dedicated pasta machine about 5 or 6 times to warm up the clay.  Every polymer clay project begins with this step.  I used the “1” thickness setting (1-9 with 1 being the thickest and 9 the thinnest) so that my clay tiles would be similar in thickness to the glass tile border.  Having tiles of uniform thickness makes grouting easier.

I ended up with this sheet of clay.

Now time for adding texture to the clay.  There are several ways to do this, using items you probably have lying around the house, texture sheets for clay, rubber stamps, seashells, rocks and more.  I decided to use an old doily I picked up at a flea market.  I placed it over the sheet of clay and rolled over it with my acrylic roller (you can use a smooth drinking glass, rolling pin or brayer as well). Try to use firm and even pressure along the entire sheet.
Next, I made a template of the rectangle to be filled using a piece of cardstock.  Lay the cardstock over
the area and mark its dimensions with a pen, then cut out template with scissors.

 

Using the clay blade, I cut out 4 sheets to fit in the panes.
I carefully placed each sheet on a ceramic tile that would fit in my toaster oven and added shimmer color using Perfect Pearls powder pigment.  A tiny bit of this goes a long way.  I dipped the tip of my finger in the jar and ran it across the surface of each textured clay sheet.  I like Perfect Pearls because it has a built in resin that sets when you bake the clay, so it stays on without a sealant.

 

 

Using cookie cutters, I cut out various rectangles for my tiles.  You could cut them freehand or use cardstock templates in the shapes and sizes you want your tiles.  A good way to make sure the clay does not stick to the cookie cutter is to spray Armor All on the edges of the cutter that will be in contact with the clay. There are expensive mold release agents you can buy, but Armor All works great.
Sheet of clay after cookie cutter…

Time to bake the clay per instructions (275 degrees for 20-30 min).

Once the clay has cooled after baking, pop out the tiles and place them to your liking.  You can easily cut them to fit when necessary.  Glue onto surface with mosaic adhesive as above.

 

Once the glue has set for 24 hours, you are ready to grout.   Grout comes in powder or premixed.  I used premixed, finely sanded grout (recommended for small spaces between tiles).

Spread a big globe of grout all over the surface using the spatula like grout tool (in retrospect, gloves would have been a nice addition at this point).  You can see that I taped off the painted areas of the box before grouting, which was pointless.  It will get everywhere, and that is ok.  It washes off.

When you are confident you have filled every space between your tiles, let the grout sit for 10-20 minutes, then with a damp sponge, begin wiping away the grout.  You will think for awhile that it is never going to go away.  Rinse and wring out your sponge frequently so you aren’t just spreading around the grout.

 

After I got rid of all the grout I could, I had to touch up the paint on the doors in a couple of places.   If there is stubborn grout on your tile surfaces, dip your sponge in vinegar water and sponge the tiles clean.  After 24 hours, the grout is dry enough for you to buff off of the tiles easily, but it does not cure completely for about 2 weeks, so don’t put it outside.  Here it is all cleaned up, with the box frame repainted.  Notice the effect of the grout on the textured clay tiles.  It goes into the depressions, emphasizing the dimensional effects…
This project took up the weekend, but it was fun and well worth the effort.  Yet another use for polymer clay.  I love how this looks on my wall.  Before and after, one more time;
Like those gold, textured knobs?  Check back tomorrow for a tutorial on covering hardware with, you guessed it, polymer clay!

 

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