Exploring paper mosaics

I had a great day today. I held a paper mosaics workshop at Goodwood Library. Eleven eager artists attended and had a good time.

I gave a quick rundown on tools and materials and let them have at it 😀

It was great fun to see the different interpretations and experimenting going on and I really hope that I can do more workshops in the future – if anyone is interested in playing with one of my techniques in a group situation, let me know and we’ll see what we can come up with.

So here are the notes from the workshop – Exploring paper mosaics.

Finding beauty in the small

While playing with paints one day I stumbled across the idea of one centimetre paintings.

1cm paintings

The concept of tiny amounts of paint on paper being works within themselves intrigued me. Each of the above one centimetre square images was cut from a larger sheet of painted paper. The paper was created using a simple technique of the butterfly painting (see separate Exploration). While part of the larger work, the intricacies of each square centimetre are lost in the whole, but separated out, the character of each piece exists by itself and can be better appreciated.

It wasn’t long before I was sticking them down as tiles in paper mosaics. The ‘grout’ between each tile enables each piece to be separate from all the others and have its own presence, while the overall effect of the mosaic can be manipulated into a larger piece of art.

What you might need

Paper – can be plain coloured or decorated (be wary of commercially printed papers and copyright issues if you intend to sell your final piece). I especially like to use my own created papers using the Butterfly Painting technique.

Board – canvas board, prepared MDF, or artist panels. I prefer either of the latter, but a canvas panel is a good cheap way to experiment. MDF is time intensive for preparation, but cheap. Be wary of board warping in canvas boards.

Acrylic gel medium – Matisse is a good brand, Australian, and likely to be less expensive than the imported varieties, though I do love Golden mediums as well. There may be cheaper versions around, but be aware that with art materials, there is a lot of cheap and nasty out there. I use gloss as it is the most transparent.

Small and large paintbrushes – not too expensive for the small one as this process is likely to ruin it. I use a flat or bright.

Acrylic paint – for the background ‘grout’. Consider your ‘grout’ thoroughly in relation to your paper colours. I tend to work with both at the same time – creating the background shortly after creating my butterfly paintings so I have the colours cooperating nicely.

Water pot – to save the paintbrushes from an early demise.

Rag – to remove excess everything from your brush from time to time.

Scissors – or other cutting tools depending on what shapes you would like to cut your paper into.

Optional bling – paper mosaics can have other materials like rhinestones or beads added to the design. Be aware of the capabilities of your board and glue (gel medium) to make sure your added items will stay stuck to the mosaic and not warp it.

What you might do

Paint in a background in the colours you prefer to show through between your tiles. Consider how the colours of the tiles will interact with the background. Let the background dry. I usually prepare both my paper and my background the night before, but as long as the paint is not too thick, it will dry quite quickly.

Blue Moon WIP1

Cut up your paper into the shapes you desire. Keep in mind how you are going to lay the tiles down. I often just snip off paper at random, then turn each tile face up and arrange them according to colour percentage – particularly if I’m working on a strongly colour contrasting design. Do not cut off too many pieces of paper as the acrylic paint can cause the pieces to stick together. The picture below is too many, I did this before I knew better.

Fire tiles

If using unpainted coloured paper, sort the different colours into piles or containers.

mosaic tiles

Using the gel medium, stick the tiles down by painting the surface, placing the tile down and then painting over the top of the tiles to seal it in. This is particularly important when using unpainted paper and it gives the paper a chance to absorb the medium and present a consistent sheen – paper is naturally matte, and the gel is gloss, so it is a good idea to cover the paper completely in gel. How you space your tiles is entirely up to your experimentation. I like to leave a roughly consistent space between all the edges of the paper tiles. This mimics ceramic tiles and gives and even colour exposure from the background – but will all things art, it really is entirely up to you.

Ice crystal wip

When you have laid down all the tiles, give the entire piece another coat of gel medium. Once the medium is totally dry (let it sit at least 24 hours, and at best a week), varnish with a non-removable acrylic varnish.

Ice Crystal II
Ice crystal II, paper mosaic on MDF, 250x250mm.
Ice Crystal, paint and paper on canvas (incomplete but like it anyway :D).
Paper and jewels mosaic, acrylic painted paper and mixed media on canvas board.

Now that sounds pretty easy – paint board, cut up paper and stick it down – and it is. The key is in the colour.

Working with contrasting colour

One way to get extra pizazz in paper mosaics (or any art, really) is to play the colour game. Use a little colour theory to make your artwork do what you want it to do.

Here I will talk about the heart of the design of Ice Crystal and Ice Crystal II above. It is a simple play on contrasting colour values.

Colour value is basically how dark or light a colour is. It is the difference between light blue and dark blue and the difference between yellow and dark blue. Think of black as one extreme and white as the other and the gradient in between.

Ice crystal II uses a blue gradient background, white in the centre to dark blue at the edge.

blue gradient circle

The mosaic tiles on top are the reverse, dark in the centre and light towards the edge.

blue gradient star

When combined, the contrast between the light and the dark between the top and background, make the tiles pop out where the difference in value is at its greatest.

blue gradient top and bottom

As long as there is a contrast, this technique will work. Another way to create a contrast is to use opposing colours.

color wheelw

Yellow – purple, orange – blue and red – green are the opposites on the colour wheel. If played well, they can create a great contrast, if played too harshly, the resulting combination may scar your eyeballs. So it is a good idea to play around with opposite colours to see how they work together before committing to a piece of artwork. Experiment with the values of the colours or change the hues slightly so they are a little less opposite – for example instead of blue – orange, try blue – red-orange, or blue-purple – orange, leaving just enough ‘opposite’ to zing, but softening the eyeball raking.

green on red
light green on red

Eyeball pain-inducing versus not so bad, still contrasting, and both green on red. The green has been shifted a little closer to yellow, changing it to a lighter value.

You can play around with adding a gradient, adding an extra colour to the paper that is not in the background, you can try anything you like. Beyond the laws of physics and the tools you are using, there are no rules in art, so don’t be afraid to play around and experiment – that is the fun part, and you never know what you might end up discovering.

If anyone has any queries about this exploration, don’t hesitate to contact me – details in the right column of my blog. If you are interested in me presenting a workshop in this technique, also give me a yell.

Best wishes,

Discover my other Explorations here!

Find more of my paper mosaic experiments here 😀

PS: I just remembered Paint Party Friday! So I’ve submitted this exploration for this week’s painting adventures. Don’t forget to drop by and check out all the wonderful art over there!


13 responses to “Exploring paper mosaics”

  1. WOW! How incredible! So wonderful! Very positive and love all the colours and shapes! Very inspirational! happy PPF and have a lovely weekend!

    1. Thankyou, Maria! It was a great experience and a lot of fun.

      Best wishes,

  2. Hey Liz, glad the workshop went well and thanks for the comprehensive notes. Sorry I couldn’t be there – just got back from Hobart to a semi-blocked toilet (luckily we have 2 so it’s not so bad, especially as my parents are visiting at the moment as well) and a smoke alarm that keeps going off for no reason, the very first time at 2a.m. after we’d been up at 4a.m. the previous day to get our flight! A workshop would have been lovely but alas, was not to be…

    1. Ugh, Tracy, sounds like life is being evil to you. I hope it improves!

      No need to apologise for not attending the workshop, I suspect it will not be the only one I do, so there will be others. But I was thinking, would you (and family, if they are interested) like to visit here for a little arty get together? We could see if Sis wants to join us. We could set up a table in the studio and just play. I have the room now! Won’t be for at least a couple of weeks as I’m about to drown in work, but we can work out a date. What do you think?

      Best wishes,

      1. Sounds like fun! Can’t really do anything until at least April with visitors and then Easter, but after that, we’ll have a bit more free time.

  3. Fran sometimes known as Gracie Avatar
    Fran sometimes known as Gracie

    These are beautiful. So labor intensive with a great result.

    1. Hi, Fran.

      Thank you! Yes they do take some time to put together, but with the assistance of a TV, they are like knitting or other handiwork and a little meditative.

      I’m certainly going to experiment more 😀

      Best wishes,

  4. Wow stunning work and tutorial! These patterns would make gorgeous fabrics on spoonflower or quilts at society6! Love them!

    Hugs Giggles

    1. Thankyou, Giggles! And thanks for the idea to publish on fabrics. I hadn’t thought of that. Definitely an idea worth investigating.

      Best wishes,

  5. I have to say–I love this. Ice Crystals is just gorgeous. xo

    1. Thankyou, Dea! I’m definitely going to explore this technique more, it has so many possibilities.

      Best wishes,

  6. […] If you would like to see one of these completed, check out my Exploration of Paper Mosaics. […]

  7. […] I’m having lots of fun with these at the moment with some serious plans in the works, so stay tuned. Don’t forget to check out my Exploration of how to do this technique! […]