Working with children: mosaic workshops

I’ve just finished a set of mosaic sessions with a group of 16 eight to fourteen year olds.  I thought it might be useful to provide others with some tips and observations for working with children on mosaics…

The mosaics we were creating are eventually bound for RHS Tatton so needed to be suitable for exterior use – adding a further complication – eight year olds and cement-based adhesive in a carpeted room (gulp) just don’t mix!

Tip 1 – Draw the designs first.  You can get the group to come up with some designs in an initial session but I’d really recommend taking these away and translating them into drawings suitable for mosaicing – ie. simplifying them, getting them to the correct size and outlining in a nice thick pen.

Tip 2 – Make the drawing/design smaller than the FINAL size.  If you’re working to a specific size always bring the border / edging line in by 20mm ish.  Regardless of how many times you tell them, the kids will always go over the lines rather than up to them so you need a bit of extra space – you can always add extra pieces around the edge if necessary.

Tip 3 – Use the double indirect method.  You can look up this process in any good mosaic book or on t’internet but you basically work with brown paper, watered-down PVA and the mosaic tiles in the group sessions, simplifying the process and removing hazardous materials from the workshop.  Draw designs onto brown paper and then stick the mosaic tiles (facing up) onto this with the PVA.  This will create extra work for you in the long run but removes the need to use cement-based adhesive with the group.  Changes and errors are also easily rectified as the tiles have only been stuck down with a weak PVA mixture.  However, if doing interior mosaics I’d just use the direct method and stick directly to your mosaic base with a strong PVA.

Tip 4 – Use pre-formed mini-tiles.  Of course this is a matter of personal choice and the style you are aiming for but I have found using pre-formed tiles much easier and safer to use in workshops with children, especially those 12 and under.  This does create limitations in terms of shaping etc but there are a great selection of tiles available – not just the 10mm square glass vitreous tiles.  You also don’t need to worry about safety goggles, flying shards, sharp edges, cuts and pinched fingers!

Tip 5 – Sort the mosaic tiles into groups of colour.  Don’t try and keep all the tiles in individual colour and type order.  It won’t work or will drive you crazy sorting them out at the end of the session.  Instead have big trays of reds, greens, blues etc – the kids will enjoy sorting through to find the tile / exact colour they want and they are much easier to keep sorted.

Tip 6 – Use a single colour to edge shapes.  Depending on the subject of the mosaic, I have found it works really well to edge items within the mosaic picture with a strong contrasting colour.  For RHS Tatton we created mosaics of bugs and some of them were such a celebration of colour(!), they needed a strong line to define the bug from the background.  Again, this is personal choice but does help if you find the main focus of the mosaic is disappearing amongst the surrounding colour.

Tip 6 – Give your group some basic guidelines.  It’s easy to take simple mosaicing techniques for granted when you do it a lot – what seems obvious to you won’t be obvious to the group and it’s worth giving them some easy rules to follow.  Include: leaving a gap between the tiles, not using too much glue, sticking the tiles the right way  up and keeping the tiles on one level (ie. don’t build them up in stacks).

Think that’s probably it for now, though I’m sure I’ll think of some more…

Depending on age and ability of group, it’s nice to include them in the grouting though I’ll usually do the ‘sticking on’ stage using the cement-based adhesive myself.  If you are going to get your group grouting, they’ll need gloves and possibly masks.

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