Grouting is my least favorite task when making a mosaic piece. It’s labor intensive, it’s messy and there is a lot of clean up afterwards. I especially hate not being able to take a break and come back to it when I feel like it. Grout has a life of it’s own.
I get many questions in my classes about grout. Where do I grout, indoors or out? How much water to I use? “Why can’t I rinse my sponge?” What color is best? Sanded or non-sanded?
So, allow me to address the mysterious attributes and characteristics of grout.
As many of you know we use grout to complete a mosaic panel, table, bench or an installation. If you are considering making a mosaic on your own with no experience, I wouldn’t advise it. Take an in-person class and get some experience under your belt before you tackle a project on your own. I learned on my own….and I had some terrible mistakes. I learned that all grout cracks and all grout fades if exposed to the elements over time. There are many tips other than what I’m covering here that can make a project successful.
There are so many variables when choosing grout. Here are a few tips. First you have to decide on the color of the grout. When you have all your mosaic tiles glued down in place, (read the instructions on the your mastic or thin set package), you are ready for the grout. You have to visualize what color would be most appropriate for you design. I have used many colors. It depends where the project will end up. Is it a table or bench that will be mostly outdoors, exposed to the sun? Will it be a wall panel on a colored wall? Do you want the color to compliment or contrast the tile? Is it an installation that needs to blend with a stucco wall?
I tend to go with a contrasting color. It’s one of my trademarks that make my mosaic tiles pop. I always use sanded grout with mosaics. It’s usually a dark brown color. But like I said, it depends on what the project is. I think of the grout color as part of the design. The choice of color can make it or break it. Choose wisely. Many years ago I used a dark purple and dark cherry. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find those colors any more. Mixing your own colors are an option by using white base grout with tints, or acrylic paints.
As you can see below in the Angel Shrine created 2002, with the purple grout has faded a bit toward the top. It has had filtered shade for the past 9 years. (I need to give it a bath.) But it has held up fairly well for being close to 20 years old. Take note the tile is still very vibrant with the exception of a little dust.
My installations are always similar to the color of the wall. If the installation is outdoors, chances are the grout color is going to fade before the tile. In this case the grout color is not really a part of the design but part of the wall. The darker the grout the more it will fade over the years.
The Dry Method
In my workshop, I teach the dry method of grouting. We make a mosaic panel in 3 hours. I and my assistant prepare everything so the students can have a fun time without being concerned of how to mix the grout. We mix the sanded grout with enough water to the consistency of brownie mix. Yum! It’s mushy but holds it’s shape when you mold it in your hand. It’s not soupy or watery. It’s mixed well. We have to pay attention to the timing of the grouting process. The time we add the water, starts the clock ticking. It’s a chemical reaction. Here’s where the variables come in again. Depending if you’re mixing on a hot dry day you add a little bit more water so the grout can be more pliable longer. If it’s a monsoon day, a moist day, cooler day, you want to add less water. The grout starts setting up rather quickly so you have to work methodically and quick, smooshing all the grout into the grout lines. NEVER ADD MORE WATER TO AN ALREADY MIXED GROUT !!! We use no tool to get the grout onto and into the project and but with our hands in rubber gloves we add just enough grout to fill every space that doesn’t have a tile. At this point I only supply a dry sponge to begin wiping away the excess grout. The grout will start to get stiffer over 15-20 minutes. In that time we are smoothing the the grout so that it looks even and just below the tile surface making it appear inlaid and making sure all tile is uncovered. I have a mantra in my class, “you must see ever edge of every tile”. I say it so much my students begin to repeat it.
There is no rinsing of sponges. WE JUST KEEP WIPING AND WIPING. At this point many of my students are wondering to what end?…. when do we stop wiping? What they are not aware of is the grout is doing it’s thing. It’s slowly but surely getting stiffer and less pliable. It’s setting up. Eventually, then suddenly, it’s more difficult to move and smooth. At that point is when students begin to check for every tile to be revealed, and start polishing the tiles with a soft cloth or newspaper. Newspaper works great.
You may ask why no rinsing sponges? I’m glad you asked. First of all, it’s a 3 hour workshop. We don’t have time to let the glue dry. (Instructions say wait 24 hours before grouting, Ha!, who has time for that?), If we add water to the sponges to wipe we could end up with a sopping mess with tiles moving and possibly coming off. We are in the last hour and need to work quickly and efficiently to complete the project. The grout is the key to creating a beautiful masterpiece even for a beginner.
My Own Work
So, that’s what happens in a workshop. But when I am doing a project, like a bench, at my studio, I do have time to let my tiles set up and wait 24 hours until I grout. I do use water to rinse and wipe. I grout outdoors. I am in a dry-er, environment. I got air circulating around me drying out the grout. I work quickly and methodically. That grout is going everywhere, not just on the project, but on the table, on the ground, in my hair, it’s all over the place. It’s all a hot messy blur of grout all over the tile. I just keep wiping while the grout does it’s chemical magic. I begin to get glimpses of my beautiful tile design, I begin to see the trees from the forest, everything seems to calm down and I breath a sigh of relief. And yes, it exhausts me, but not as much a scrubbing my floors exhausts me. Wink!
Below are a few video samples of the process:
If you would like to learn more about mosaic and grouting, sign u0 for one of my workshops. You learn a lot and it’s fun. Click here to register