Piece by piece, press chipped china and tattered tiles into service to add color and whimsy in the great outdoors. Here are the steps to get you through a beginner project and beyond.
Found objects, such as seashells, give character to this sea turtle steppingstone. Using the glass insulator as the turtle’s head adds unexpected personality.
Mosaic portraiture has a long history from the architecture of the ancient Romans through the modernism of Antoni Gaudi. Nearby seashells suggest that the fierce face in this steppingstone represents a bearded Neptune.
Mosaics with raised patterns, like this octagonal octopus, can serve as steppingstones but work best as plaques propped upright or hung against a wall or fence.
Using a thick layer of mortar allows you to sink varying sized pieces into the matrix so that you get a flat surface.
Gather Your Materials
- Cracked or broken glass, china, ceramics
- Safety glasses
- Kraft paper
- 2 boards
- Tile nippers
- Wire cutters
- Wooden frame or heavy plastic form
- Fencing or baling wire
- Heavy plastic sheet or trash bag
- Chopsticks or popsicle sticks
- Large bucket
- Cement trowel
- 1 bag of Quikrete
- 1 cup of Portland cement (optional but recommended)
- Old towel
- Dish scrubber
Sketch a design, then using your sketch as a guide, draw an outline of your design on paper that will fit inside your mold frame (we used a square of 1x4s nailed together). Cut out the motif. Trace this onto another piece of paper and add details to guide tile placement. Keep it simple for best results.
Cover table with heavy plastic and place frame on it. Cut a piece of baling wire to fit within your mold frame and set aside.
Place kraft paper design on table with your original sketch and arrange mosaic pieces to create your image.
Wearing gloves and safety glasses, break ceramic objects into small tiles as needed by placing objects on plywood and covering with another piece of wood. Gently tap with a hammer. Trim smaller pieces with nippers or glasscutter if necessary.
Lay out your pieces and settle your design BEFORE mixing up the cement. Generally, once it’s mixed it sets up quickly.
Add all the edging pieces and embellishments to finish your pattern. As you work on placing pieces, give your motif the squint test to see if you’ve got enough contrast between tiles to make your design clear.
Mix Quikrete in a bucket according to package directions. Stir in a cup of Portland cement for added strength. Mix up only enough concrete to fill one mold at a time.
Consistency should be a soft paste—do not over-mix.
Fill your frame half full with concrete and level.
Place baling or fencing wire flat on top of the concrete in the mold.
Add another layer of concrete into the mold.
Tap the frame gently with a hammer to remove air bubbles in the concrete mix. Wait a few minutes to allow the concrete to firm up a bit. This will keep your objects from sinking too far into the mix as you work.
Press tile into wet concrete at the corner of the mold to determine the correct placement for your paper motif outline.
Place your cut-out design outline on top of the concrete and trace it lightly into the concrete with a popsicle stick or chopstick.
Quickly transfer your mosaic pieces from the paper to the concrete and gently tap into place with a stick.
When everything is placed, cover the mold with an old towel, blot the surface of the steppingstone, and allow it to set overnight.
After 24 hours, scrub off the top of the tiles with a dish scrubber to remove any stray bits of concrete that may be obscuring your tile surfaces.
For defined edges, clean tiles off with your popsicle or chopstick. Keep your steppingstone moist for two days. Mist it with water once or twice a day and keep it covered. This will prevent it from drying too quickly and give it added strength.
Leave your stone to set for four days before attempting to remove it from the mold. When ready to remove, tap the insides of the mold gently with a hammer to loosen the frame.
Let your stone cure for at least another week before placing it in the garden. Place in your lawn so that no more than ½-inch of the steppingstone is above ground. This will make it safe for people walking, for mowing, and will help prevent the stone from cracking.
Project by Melanie Grand
Photography by Iris Wylie
© Caruth Studio