A few months ago Elmer’s sent me a big box of stuff to play with, and there was so much good stuff that even after I made my Spring Birdhouse centerpiece, I had to keep right on going. While I was at a home decor store I came across a mirror with an elaborate tiled frame and as soon as I looked at it I had a brainstorm. Mosaic tiles are beautiful, but they’re expensive, heavy, and a pain to cut to special sizes. With a little foam core and a bunch of paint, you can make a frame that looks really close to the real thing but won’t need to be bolted in place or cost you a fortune.
This step is a bit tedious, but it went by pretty painless in front of the television one night. I just used my ruler and exacto knife to cut foam core into 1/2″ squares. You can cut these pieces any size you want, of course, and even cut them into fractions if you need to maneuver in a tight spot or around a curve.
For this project I just bought a cheap wooden frame from Hobby Lobby and painted it black. The no glass was a plus since it’s going in Atti’s room. This project is messy, so I think it’s best if you paint your base coat to match what you’ll be using as “grout”.
Glue your tiles onto the frame, spacing them out to leave room for grout. You’ll want them to line up on the edges of the frame – inside and outside – so that it looks as neat as you can get it, which means you might have to fudge the spacing a little bit. Embrace imperfection and this project will be a success. Aim for exactness and you’ll be crying the whole way through.
The little dots show me planning out my design. I had an idea of where I wanted to go, but this let me figure things out before making a big commitment.
This is the tiles in their finished, polished, state. All I did to get them to look like this was give them a coat of paint for the color – making sure to get the inside edges – and then a generous coat of a clear embellishing paint. Dimensional Magic or something similar. Pour it on until you get a nice dome and then let it dry overnight.
The grout is a matte black fabric paint that I squeezed between the rows. You can see here that I made the paint go really high up the side of each tile. I wanted that foam core completely covered and the fabric paint does shrink. You’ll probably have to go back a couple of times to cover up any air pockets that develop in the drying process.
To neaten up your lines, use the back of a paintbrush dipped in a little water, just like you would with regular grout.
Then spread a layer of the fabric paint on the outside and inside edges to cover up the foam core there too. It looks messy from this view, but I’m OK with that. Mosaics are most charming when they’re not factory produced and you can see a little human ingenuity at work. You’ll probably end up with a little paint on the top of your tiles. Don’t let that get all the way dry, but wipe carefully. If you find a little film on the tiles when you’re done you can clean it up with a little household cleaner.
This project took me a few days, but mostly just in the drying process. This is a great project to let your kids help with – coloring the tiles would have been a lot more fun with a little help – and then it’s just nice mindless work. Just be sure and resist the temptation to mess with it while things are drying. I added two days on to the process by not leaving the grout alone.
Wanna see it demonstrated step by step?