Friday, July 1, 2011

How to Make a Mosaic Planter and Save the World (DIY)

Three weeks ago I told you about a couple of mosaic projects I had in the pipeline. I figured I'd have them done in about a week. Delusions.

I've been away from making mosaic pieces for some years now, and I have only one word to explain my absence from this craft that fills my soul....children.

Now I am back and I can feel the passion rising again. Given unlimited time and patience, I would fill my world with mosaics. Gaudi style. For now I will have to settle with whatever pieces I can create - between kids and life needs.

First up is my toilet tank repurpose/upcycle. I found her, abandoned in a pile of junk behind a home improvement store and down by the river. My husband's only comment as I unloaded her from the car was "Can't wait to see what you do with that", as he slightly shook his head back and forth  - giving me just the right amount of support and disbelief at the same time. Motivating to show him what I can do with a junky toilet tank!

Why a toilet tank? has a lovely shape if you are thinking 'cool garden planter'. It's also waterproof, so no crazy sealing necessary. Why the plastic bottle? Because I've seen some fabulous plastic bottle projects in blogland lately and I thought 'why not?'.

While the inside of the tank doesn't need any sealant, the outside did need a primer applied since the surface is smooth porcelain and the tile adhesive won't stick if you don't have a roughed up surface. And because I have no idea if you can sand a toilet tank (and the real reason is that I was too lazy to try), I applied a basic primer for tiling and let it dry for a couple of hours.

I had an idea of the sun and moon from Barcelona trip inspirations. So I started with the (easier) backside and sketched my moon. Look closely and you'll see a star sketch which doesn't make it to the final piece. Meanwhile, my kind husband mixed the tile adhesive for me according to instructions. You just have to gauge how much you'll need given the time you have available to work on your project - and hope for the best. Only mix portions you can use that day.

It's important to take sections at a time so that your tile adhesive doesn't dry out too much before you get tiles laid in place. My tiles were already broken (using the 'hammer tiles wrapped in towel' method), so now I was mainly using tile clippers to get smaller shapes. The tile pieces don't have to be perfect fits. In fact, I prefer they are a bit wicky wacky - adding to a lovely 'dirty mosaic' style. Tip:  keep a plastic bag around your tile adhesive mix to keep it from drying out too quickly. Too-dry tile adhesive is one reason for tiles falling off when a project is completed - and believe me - when you invest time in mosaics you don't want that to happen!

Tiles are all in place on the backside.

Here's my DIY workshop. It may not be the most practical, but it does force me to clean up when I break from each project. And I get a little fresh air at the same time.

Mosaic supplies are in the brown bag...

...and in the plastic boxes, of course.

The plastic bottle? I sliced off the bottom and gave it a light spray of yellow paint on the inside. Then when that dried, did a light spray-by with orange.

Turn it over and the plastic gives it a nice 'colored glass' feeling. It will be perfect for the center of the sun on the front side of the mosaic planter. 

Now all the sun bits are in place with tile adhesive. You'll see that I mix colors - and different sizes and heights of tiles. Again...I like my mosaics 'dirty'. They are the 'rustic' version of mosaics - versus the clean modernist mosaics where everything is consistent and matchy-matchy. Nothing wrong with that...but I like mine eclectic.

Here's what your project will look like when you get all tiles into place. If you aren't used to working with mosaics, this is the point where you step back and say..."I spent all that time working on this monster? What was I thinking?" Be patient! The real beauty of mosaics doesn't reveal itself until you have finished the very last step! Let the piece sit at least 24 hours so that the tile adhesive dries properly.

Now it is time to start grouting. I love using a dark graphite gray grout in many of my pieces. It adds to that eclectic dirty mosaic feeling. I do plan, however, to experiment with more grout colors on some coming projects.  Be prepared! this is when the project REALLY gets dirty! Literally! Push the grout back and forth over your piece to press it in the gaps between tiles - I use a small kitchen sponge.

Use gloves if you don't want to end up with bandaged hands - tile grout sucks out any moisture from your skin, leaving hands and fingers cracked and sore. It's time to get a bucket of water, wet the sponge, and start wiping away that grout. Wipe and dip (in water) and squeeze. It's good to keep using a healthy amount of water on your sponge when wiping because it helps prevent the tile grout from drying out too quick (which would cause cracking and breaking pieces later). 

Keep wiping. I think this is after my 2nd or 3rd round of wiping. If anything, working with a mosaic is a lesson in patience. It will be ruined if you work too fast. 

Once you get all the grout wiped off the tiles and pressed in between the gaps, you'll still have a piece that looks smutsy and dirty. Leave it! What is important is that you have gotten the main chunks and layers of grout off the tiles and that the gaps are filled. The 'film' of grout will still be there - and you will leave it like this for another 24 hours. I promise may look 'wrong', but it will be 'oh so right' in the end. 

The next day, get out your rag (I like to use an old thick washcloth) and start wiping away that 'film' left on the tiles. You'll do this step with a dry rag - no more water. This is when your mosaic will begin to reveal herself and pop! 

Now you can put your mosaic to work. This toilet tank is now a lovely flower pot in our remodel-in-progress front yard. It has the sun on the front side to greet our friends as they arrive.

See? I told you that it would be worth it!

When we have friends over for a visit, we hope they will sit and stay for a while (perhaps even sit in the blue velvet chair?). So I think it is only appropriate that they see the moon side of the planter as they are leaving our house in the evening after a good day of thoughtful conversation and laughs. 

Well...there we are. It took me 3 weeks. But if you are focused and patient, you could do it in 3 days. Hope to see some of your own mosaic pieces soon! Let me know if you have any questions about making mosaics and I'll see what I can do to help you out. I'm sure I've left out details in the interest of not making your eyes totally roll back in your head as you try to get through this post :-)

Until next time...


  1. That is beautiful! I have a lust in my heart to start tiling and doing mosaic work, but haven't ever done anything about it ...

    Love this!

  2. WOW, this is just beautiful.
    Great job!!

  3. You are amazing! That is so beautiful!!!

  4. Michael - saw that this was featured on DIY Showoff - its great - fabulous idea! I'm glad our paths have crossed - I'm your newest follower!
    amy of four corners design

  5. That is soo pretty and very creative with the back of a toilet!! :)

  6. Very clever! And I really love the design you picked too.

  7. Great job Michael. Love the colors.

  8. Wow! This is amazing. Not only is it beautiful but I love that its reusing what could have ended up in the trash!


  9. This is great, Mike! I've been wanting to try my hand at mosaics for awhile now... more inspiration! Thanks!

  10. Following u with GFC!

    So beautiful thanks for linking to Bacon Time.
    Hope to see you each week.

  11. Awesome! I love the design, colors, and that you used a toilet tank! Wonderful!

  12. That is awesome! I made a mosaic gazing ball from a bowling ball and it was such great therapy. I must make more stuff and this is great inspiration.

  13. I've been looking forward to seeing this project and I'm not disappointed! It is ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS!! Brilliant work and some great tips on mosaic tiling too!

    Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a great week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success

  14. As I was beginning to read this I'm, what kind of project is this but I have to tell's amazing!! Who knew?!? Thanks for linking up, I'll be featuring your project this weekend and hope you come back again and show more inspiring projects!

  15. was just talking on fb about how to re-use toilets in the garden making them less toilet-y!

    i love your mosaic. do you have any idea how well it will hold up in the weather....i'm especially wondering about the bond between the tank and the primer.

    here are some ideas i've been knocking about...

    a couple of ideas that might make the toilets nicer planters, less toilet-y.

    1. use the tank separately as it's own planter. i have a little hill in my yard so i've wondered about free materials to build a terrace. and i've wondered if toilet tanks would do a good job. ...or on my porch that doesn't have railings, just vertical poles. have toilet tank planters instead of a railing.

    2. the bowls. removed the seats. dig a hole so some or most or all of the skinnier base of the toilet will be buried. just have the bowl above ground. should be less toilet-y. should keep moisture better because the base of the toilet planter is underground

  16. Hmmmmm.....seems like someone taught me to mosaic once and helped me make a really cool tabletop! Glad to see you're still loving this! Love you!

  17. Funny, it doesn't look like a toilet tank but a massive purse w/o a handle! Nice job, Mike! I love it!

  18. I LOVE THIS! Thanks for doing and sharing!

    A poster mentioned she did bowling balls /mosaic, i did bowling balls with half marbles. And lots of patience ..."yard art", so pretty.


  19. To find a toilet tank, visit a local salvage yard. If you live near Knoxville, TN visit Burnett Salvage, 1220 Prosser Rd, 865-637-3996, they have a web site. It is worth a drive to see all that they have, a crafty recycler's dream!

    Had another idea for tank: plug up hole to make water-tight, add mosaic to the top few inches & sink into the ground to the mosaic rim. Add FISH or WATER PLANTS! If you live in a cold environment the fish would have to winter inside with you. If fish are to be used, check to see if the porous inside of the tank would cause a problem. I don't think so if a hardy goldfish were used. I have a vision of a combination of FISH & WATER TANKS dotted around the garden...

    I am Yvonne Cato on Pinterest, no other profile choice for me. My husband does not see this vision, so
    PLEASE someone JUST DO IT & pin it!!

  20. Michael this is probably the MOST creative use of totally old parts, and garbage! I have seen. Pure genius. Congrats on the Roadkill Rescue! Will mention this on my FB page. This needs to be seen! -K


I'm listening! And responding - so let's create some buzz together for recycled and repurposed arts and crafts.

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