Journey of a Mosaic

Have you ever wanted to do something, but you didn’t quite know how to accomplish it? That was me on my journey to creating a unique table.

In April of ’18 we bought a house and then spent a couple of months remodeling it. For a centerpiece for our ocean-themed home, I wanted a special dinner table. We visited local furniture stores and checked out tables online. Nothing grabbed our attention. Well, one did, but it was too expensive.

In July, I began playing with the idea of making a mosaic tabletop. Not a simple one, either. This would be a big project. Might take two weeks or something.

I watched YouTube videos and spent lots of time looking at mosaics on Pinterest. I had some design ideas of my own. It had to be about the ocean, and not just to go along with our decor. I was writing a book about a seaside town. I’d lived on an island in Alaska for twenty-five years. I love the sea, so it just had to be.

About ten years ago, I bought a few pottery plates from the thrift store and busted them up with a hammer–that was cool. Then I made a simple mosaic on an end table. Perhaps that experiment gave me the courage to tackle a bigger mosaic project.

My husband, Jason, built a farm-style table and painted the top white. I ordered a bunch of glass mosaic tiles. I had no idea how many pieces it would take. I shopped at and chose tiles by color.

Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting into with this project. But I can say, I loved almost every step of the process. A friend asked me how long I thought it would take to do a mosaic that size, and I really did tell her two weeks. (Big chuckle.)

Our table is 3 x 5′, and we needed a sketch. I tell people my drawing skills are that of a five-year-old. But I spread out freezer paper and drew my design on it. Don’t laugh!

Originally, I was going to do a scalloped circular design in the center, with an Alaskan scene in the middle. But then, we purchased a captain’s wheel at an antique store and put it on the living room wall, so my design changed to replicate its shape.

I needed a more detailed drawing now. Jason’s artistic skills bailed me out again. Thanks, Jas!

I used carbon paper beneath the sketch–they still sell that stuff?–and I traced over the top to get this design transferred onto the table.

I decided to put a shell design in each corner of the tabletop, making freestyle, colorful waves going around the perimeter. At first, I used bright colorful pieces for the shells–I don’t have a picture of that stage. But when they turned out looking more like cartoon shells, I scraped them off–which was difficult once they were glued down and dried–and then it was back to the drawing board. About that time, a friend gave me a shell that I loved. So I used it as inspiration in the new design.

My waves are, I admit, still colorful and cartoonish. If I were starting over, I would choose teal or gray for a better water color instead of the brighter green. But I wasn’t willing to scrape that part off.

Most of the mosaic tiles had to be cut at least once, sometimes two or three times to get the shape and size I wanted. I tried to make action in the waves around the sides with a mismatch of color and tiles going in different directions.

Finally, the exciting day came when the outer portion of the table was finished. I could now work on the four ripples of water. This was an emotional phase for me because of the symbolism I envisioned. I arranged four dinner plates on the table to make equal sizes for the ripples and drew around them.

Then, in the center of each circle, I placed an inch-wide gray tile, trimmed in a circular shape, that would represent a rock. Four rocks in the center of four ripples, symbolically thrown into the sea of life–our four kids making their own ripples in this world. Gets me teary still. I loved working on those ripples, and praying for, and thinking about my kiddos who are all grown now.

The tile work was slow. Much slower than two weeks! My hands ached from all the cutting, but I was determined to have my table ready by Thanksgiving.

In all, it took about four months of part-time work. Definitely longer than two weeks. ?

I was also busy writing and editing a book. However, I worked on the table in the evenings when I didn’t want to stare at the computer screen any longer. Doing anything artistic is therapeutic and inspirational for me. I loved experimenting with this mosaic. Piece by piece, it formed into something new and interesting.

Each time I moved to a different section of the table it was exciting. It was fun to see the pieces coming together, making a whole.

Here, I must say, I told myself I probably wouldn’t like the finished product once I grouted it. I’d read that using a dark grout was best for a piece of art. That it makes the design pop out better. But part of me wanted to keep it light. I’d grouted with dark gray around white stones for the back-splash in my kitchen, and I didn’t like it at first, either.

Time would tell about this one.

I couldn’t wait to begin tiling the center of this project. I feared doing it too. It would be more intricate in design. The pieces smaller. A more challenging scene.

I kept cutting glass and filling in more and more white space. I ordered mosaic tiles four times!

The center picture took a lot longer than I thought it would. The boat lines were the hardest–so very thin.

Also, I struggled with recreating the northern lights. How could I make the gorgeous lights I’d seen in Alaska look like they were dancing in a mosaic scene? I tried various colors. Turned the pieces this way and that. Some I scraped off. Tried again. And again. Sigh.

Finally, for better or for worse, the glasswork was done. Hallelujah!

Now came the scariest part: grouting. Covering the whole design with goo, not knowing how it would turn out, freaked me out. Would I hate the finished project? Once I started, there was no turning back. Part of me didn’t want to move forward. However, Thanksgiving was drawing near.

When I put the grout on the center portion, I was so nervous. What if I couldn’t get it off? I also had to try not to make a mess of the other parts I’d already finished and cleaned.

It did work! Yay! And I didn’t hate it. However, as I thought, I didn’t love the darker grout around the white ripples.

The change was an adjustment for my artistic side. Although, after a month of looking at it, and smoothing my hands over it, I can affirm that the dark grout ties all the elements together in a cool way, making one mosaic out of many pieces.

Kind of reminds me of the body of Christ. Alone we are jewels, shining bright. But together, we create an awesome, beautiful picture of love and grace and resilience.

Jason stained the table legs and sides black. I spent about eight hours running a tiny brush dipped in sealant over the tiny lines of grout around every piece of glass, being careful not to get liquid on the tiles. That was challenging, but the time was worth it in preserving the integrity of the grout.

Some people have asked if we are going to put a glass piece over the tabletop. We’ve decided not to do that. In the future, if something stains the grout, it will become part of the picture, changing through the years–kind of like us.

We used the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I can say, I’m hooked on mosaic art. I can’t wait to begin my next project. I hope these photos will inspire you to give mosaics a try too.

This blog post was originally written on 1/5/19.

Mary Hanks writes inspirational Christian fiction about couples finding their way back to grace and each other. She also enjoys dabbling in art. To follow her journey, “like” her Facebook author page: