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Learning Activities

Art Project # 1- Make your own mosaic

A considerable number of Greek mosaics have survived into modern times. Many were found at Olynthos. Earlier mosaics were made using a mixture of black and white pebbles. Later ones used multi-coloured stones and, later still, cut cubes of glass or tile. The word “mosaic” refers to a surface decoration (such as on a floor, wall or ceiling) made by inlaying small pieces of coloured material so as to form a pattern or picture.

The range of materials that can be used to make a mosaic is considerable- pieces of broken pottery, broken tile, glass, metal, shells or, even, teeth. The ancient Greeks began with the use of small stones and then learned from eastern cultures how to work with small cubes. Likely this was a technique imported as a consequence of Alexander, the Great’s extensive travels. Small, fired clay tiles became the most widely-used material.

The subjects depicted in Greek mosaics were the same ones they chose to illustrate vases, plaques, jewelry, fabrics and paintings — scenes from mythology, floral designs and animal motifs. In October, 1831 there was discovered in a splendid house in Pompeii a mosaic approximately 20 ft. long by 10 ft. in height. (6.10 m. by 3.5 m ). It depicted a scene from a battle between Alexander, the Great and the Persian emperor, Darius. (The mural is now in the museo Nazionale, in Naples, Italy.

The art of creating mosaics was very popular in ancient Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries, B.C. After Rome conquered Greece the use of mosaics became widespread and it was common practice to have a Greek-themed mosaic floor in almost every Roman villa.

Activity: Make your own mosaic panel.

Teachers, or an adult volunteer, will have to assemble and prepare the materials needed for the mosaic.

  1. First, you will need to get a backer board unto which the mosaic will be created. Suitable materials include ½” plywood, masonite or MDF.
  2. If you want to make a temporary mosaic panel spread soft modeling clay on to the surface of the backer board. Students will then be able to press whatever they are using for the mosaic (broken tile, pottery, shell, pebbles) into the modeling clay, making all of the pieces as flush as possible.
  3. If you want to make a more permanent mosaic you need to have a better matrix into which the mosaic pieces can be embedded. Some art teachers use a plaster of Paris base while others use cement mixed to a thick consistency (one part cement, three parts sand, one part water).
  4. A SAFETY NOTE. Cement is not something you want to get all over yourself. It can sting, particularly if the student has cuts or scrapes or is allergic, and it can stick. Painter’s gloves are recommended. Also broken pottery and tile (particularly the glazed portion) can have sharp edges. The use of tweezers or needle-nosed pliers and a small length of molding or dowel is useful to position the mosaic pieces. Also do not prepare too much cement or plaster in advance; you have a short timeframe before the material sets.
  5. Discontinued tiles are usually available cheaply or at no cost for this kind of project. Put a few tiles inside a strong recycling bag, a couple of strong plastic bags or an old canvas bag. Wrapping a couple of tiles in an old towel will also work. The, take a hammer and break up the tiles. (safety glasses should be worn) This is a job for the teacher or an adult volunteer, not the student. Break the tiles into rather small pieces. Put the pieces into a cardboard box where they can be selected by the students.
  6. Old plastic lids, even the lids of shoe boxes are suitable for small projects.
  7. Students should plan out their design in advance, laying out their pebbles, tile or pottery pieces in a “dry-fit” fashion rather than trying to figure out what they are making as they go along. They should leave a space between their pieces, like a grout line, to reflect the separation they will have when the pieces are pushed into the matrix.


Making mosaics has become a very popular craft activity. You might want to check out some of the following web sites for information on techniques, materials and designs. Enjoy yourselves!