Kids Holiday Workshops: How I got started with Mosaic

I have been running workshops for kids during the school holidays since 2010. Each School holiday I run a series of all-day workshops which are themed with a famous artist or art movement. I was thinking back to when I first started and realised just how far I have come.

I started with mosaic workshops in my garage. The first few classes were mainly for friends’ kids and boy did I learn a lot from them. I should apologise heartily to the kids who came along to the first few. They were the guinea pigs, sorry guys. I didn't have much of a plan, the place was disorganised and I seemed to think baking them all cake was a good idea. I also let the kids do their grouting and didn't consider the weather. Wet weather causes all sorts of problems when making art, especially with kids, and you need to have a backup plan.

Gradually I began to run the workshops every holiday, and I offered the mosaic workshops for many years. They were always popular, and kids loved them

Mosaic is a fantastic medium for kids. It's immediate and the kids can see results very quickly. It's also good for perception and fine motor skills. We have still got the pieces my daughter made during these first workshops, and I love them.

Getting the materials together for the mosaic was a challenge, sourcing brightly coloured tile when interior design trends were for neutrals was time-consuming. I did get lucky as a neighbour donated two palettes of seconds Mexican tiles from her imported tile business which was a huge help. Some colours were virtually impossible to find, red was elusive, yet much requested when we were doing Christmas projects. I did manage to get some purple and bright orange, which begs the question who puts up purple tile?

For several years, I would ask the kids to choose an animal, we would draw it out and then I would cut the shape from MDF to order. What was I thinking? It took me a while to realise this was time-consuming and unnecessary.

The later workshops featured pre-cut shapes. We made name signs, plant pots and mirrors, plus themed pieces such as easter chicks and rabbits, Christmas trees and presents. It was so much easier. 

I always had the tiles pre-cut, kids breaking up tiles was going to be hazardous at best. For the first workshops I had the bright idea of cutting the tile up using a tile cutter into neat squares, what was I thinking? The result was I had blisters and not enough tile. So, I started using a hammer on a concrete floor to smash the tiles. Using a dustpan and brush proved to be the best way to collect the tile to dump them into individual buckets.

The substrate was always MDF, we used wood glue to stick down the tile. A good tip is to use caulk to stick down tile if you are working on a 3D object such as fence posts or plant pots. The tiles slide off if you use wood glue. Teaching the kids to use enough glue was crucial as not enough meant the tiles would break off when I grouted. I would leave the tile to dry for at least 24 hours before grouting them.

The first few workshops I got the kids to do their grouting. I thought this was a fine idea, teaches a new skill, self-reliance and great fun, not so much it was a disaster. The mess was extraordinary, and it was impossible to supervise a garage full of kids grouting. A secondary problem was that the glue holding the tile was never dry enough during the workshop. Grouting needs to be done quickly and efficiently. Let's just say that didn't happen. I spent a huge amount of time after the first workshop chipping off dried grout, which was a slow and painful process I never wanted to repeat.

After the first few workshops, I learnt my lesson and always grouted the pieces myself. The final straw had been a child who decided to eat the grout.

The mosaic pieces produced in the workshops were stunning. The kids were always thrilled with the finished piece. Although some of them couldn't work out why their piece now had a white background instead of the brown one, they made it with.

I haven't run mosaic workshops for a while now simply because I ran out of a good range of colours. I have a massive pile of yellow tile and some patterned ones but that's about it. Tile is expensive and the grouting process time consuming for me.

I have moved onto paper Mache which the kids love and have the bonus that we are making art from junk, it's a great way to repurpose.