Pictured: Alfredo Ratinoff with one of the students from the summer mosaic class at the Smithsonian
This project was conceived as a combination of two different ceramic techniques: mosaics and hand-building clay. The idea is to create one-of-a-kind mosaic sun dials for the garden using tiles, glass, broken china, and any other object we may have had for years waiting to be recycled into a beautiful art piece. Also this fun project includes a special section about hand-building the sun dial with Laguna Clay and glazing the piece with exquisite Versa 5 colors. The class was held at the Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and it was a great success! Some of the students who had never worked with clay before loved it and created beautiful pieces that now are in display in their home gardens. The project does not require any level of expertise and is for beginners to advanced students. Follow the instructions and be sure to let your creative spirit flow … enjoy!
Materials for project:
- 12” x 12” concrete tile from Home Depot (Garden)
- Laguna Glazes Versa 5 colors
- 2 pieces of flat, plain rectangular wood molding 14” long each and ¾” thick
- Small piece of canvas
- Small 12” x 12” piece of plywood or similar material to work with clay
- Rolling pin
- Wire cutter
- Some clay modeling tools (Laguna Clay Company)
- Small knife
- Metal rib to smooth the clay surface (Laguna Clay Company)
- Sanded Grout
- Plastic Containers
- Mask N 95 for silica protection 3M type
1. It is always a good idea to have one color sketch of your mosaic on paper.
2. Make a separate sketch of the shape of your sun dial, too.
3. Once your design is ready, transfer it to the concrete tile. The easiest way is to use carbon paper, though you can also draw your design free hand on the tile.
4. Draw the area where the sun dial will be placed on your concrete tile.
5. Select the materials for your mosaic based on the colors and textures from the original design. Please pay attention and take your time to make a good selection.
- Choose a very hard surface in order to break your pieces with the hammer.
- Choose any concrete outdoor space or you can buy a solid concrete block at any construction supply center and use it as your working area.
- Place your china, tiles or glass between two pieces of brown wrapping paper and break them between the paper to keep sharp pieces from flying and facilitate collecting the broken pieces after you are done.
- Choose a medium size hammer to work with and hit the pieces a couple times, checking the pieces each time, as some materials are harder than others.
6. Start breaking small amounts of pieces at a time. (DO NOT FORGET TO WEAR YOUR EYE GOGGLES WHEN YOU ARE BREAKING THE CERAMIC PIECES).
Place the broken pieces on the areas of your mosaic (DO NOT GLUE ANYTHING YET), working in one area at a time. If you get tired, you can work in another section and always get back later to the first area you started. Keep working and breaking the different tiles and china with your hammer and help yourself with the tile nippers in order to shape the little pieces as much as possible.
Pictured: Place the mosaic pieces one at a time. Be sure that they all fit well.
7. Once you have finished an area, you can start the very important task of applying the glue. Apply your glue with a small plastic knife or spatula, applying enough glue to keep your pieces well-attached to the concrete.
Pictured: Placing and gluing the first mosaic pieces on the concrete blocks
Apply enough glue! Don’t worry if some glue comes out around the edges of the pieces. The glue should be enough to bond between the two sides. If any glue arises between your mosaic pieces, clean this immediately with a wet sponge since it is difficult to remove it once it has hardened, and it will show on your grout. Also, do not let any stray glue on top of the mosaic pieces to get hard either. Continue to clean with a wet sponge as you work.
Pictured: Assembling the pieces slowly to fit each tile on the circles.
The mosaic is partially assembled. Now it is time to work with the clay to make the sun dials.
8. At this point once you have partially created your mosaic piece, and you can start making your sun dial in clay.
Working with Laguna Clay:
9. Use a small board covered with canvas to work with the clay to prevent the clay from sticking.
Pictured: Alfredo demonstrating how to make small slabs of clay
10. Place the two pieces of flat molding 8” apart from each other on top of board covered with canvas.
Pictured: Students working with Laguna B-Mix Red cone 5making slabs using rolling pins
11. Open your bag of clay, and, using your wire cutter, slice 1 ½ “ of Laguna B MIX RED cone 5 clay and place it on top of your working area covered with canvas.
12. Using your hand, apply even pressure to the clay to make it a little flatter.
Use even pressure when you are working with your clay. Try not to make any holes in the clay with your fingers since this can create air pockets that later on can cause explosions during the bisque firing.
13. Once the clay is ready adjust the two pieces of wood to the desired space on the board, the clay should always be thicker than the two wooden sticks. Using the rolling pin, start rolling the clay, applying even pressure until it gets flat and the rolling pin is touching the two sticks. At this point your slab should be ready. Always check that the thickness of the clay is even on the slab surface. Your sun dial should be ¾” thick at least in order to stand on its own during the firing
If the slab surface is not even, use a scraping tool to slowly scrape on the base of the piece in order to make it more even and stable.
14. Remove the wooden sticks, and smooth the clay with a metal rib.
15. Trace the shape for your clay sun dial on a piece of paper.
Pictured: Alfredo helping one of the students to cut the shape of the sundial on clay
16. Place the tracing paper on your clay, and, using a pointed tool, draw the shape of the sun dial on the clay surface and lift the paper.
17. Using your knife, cut the final shape of your sun dial and place your dial on a board, allowing the clay to dry a little. You can then carve any design you want on the clay using your clay carving tools.
Pictured: Students created beautiful patterns on the sun dials using hand-carved Indian stamps.
18. Once you are finished with the surface treatment on your clay check that the clay is shaped correctly and that it stands at a 90-degree angle from the base. Allow the clay to dry slowly, placing a piece of dry wall or plaster on top in order to keep the clay flat as it dries without any risk of warping.
Pictured: After completing the decoration, each piece is cleaned and the edges are beveled.
19. Once the clay is dry, remove the dry wall or the ceramic or plaster tile, and with a damp sponge clean the edges and any other area on the clay surface and place the piece in a ceramic kiln for a bisque firing to cone 06 (1816F).
Pictured: Alfredo explains to one of the students how to apply the glazes to obtain thin lines with a brush.
20. Once you have fired your clay piece for the first firing (“bisque firing”), choose the colors you want for your sun dial using the Laguna Versa 5 glaze system palette. The Laguna Versa 5 allows one to mix any of the colors without any adverse reaction. You can use the colors from the jars as they come or mix them in order to obtain thousands of beautiful and different colors. If you make your own mixes, it is a good idea to keep a log of each of them in order to be able to repeat the same color. You can store your mixes in little containers and save them for other projects as well. Always test each color mix before using them on the final piece in order to be sure about the color.
Laguna Versa 5 colors may change slightly when fired over red or dark colored clays. If you are not sure about the final results, I recommend always to test the color first on a small piece of the same clay.
Pictured: Students glazing the pieces using Laguna Versa 5 colors
21. Apply three flowing coats of the color to the bisque pieces.
Pictured: Detail of the color application by brush on the bisque piece
22. Allow the glaze to dry. Be sure to clean any glaze close to the bottom of your piece, and remember that stoneware pieces should always be fired dry footed on the kiln. Place your sun dial in the kiln standing up and fire to cone 5 (2194F).
23. Once your piece is fired and cooled, you can attach the piece to your concrete stone using the Acryl Pro glue, or if you want a stronger bond, you can use any Marine Epoxy (I recommend “PC-11 Epoxy Glue”).
Once you applied the epoxy to the sun dial base, place it in the desired location and apply some pressure to allow good bonding between both sides.
24. The Glue will take 24 hours to dry. Place some duct tape between the sun dial and the base or sides to keep it attached if it is necessary. Ultimately it should stand by itself. You can keep adding more broken pieces until your mosaic is finished.
Pictured: The mosaic piece finished and ready for the final grouting
25. Select your grout color according to your piece colors.
Use Sanded Grout only for this project. Sanded grout is designed to work with joints between 1/8” to 1/2”.
26. Remember to wear your mask when handling grout in powder form. Mix enough grout, but not excessive amounts since you can always mix more.
27. Get your plastic bucket ready and pour 1 and 1/2 cup of powdered grout and start adding water little by little (you do not need too much water). Keep stirring with the spatula; the grout should have a thick, creamy consistency.
28. Allow the mix to set for 10 minutes before using the grout.
29. Start applying the grout with a spatula over the mosaic. Have a bucket of water ready next to your piece and clean with the sponge as you work, continuing to apply the grout as needed. Replace your water as necessary to keep the water clean.
Pictured: The grout should be cleaned with water and a soft sponge until there is no
more residue on top or between the mosaic pieces.
30. Once your mosaic is clean and grouted, allow the mix to dry for 24 hours.
Pictured: The mosaic piece is ready and clean to dry.
A final clean-up will be done the next day to clean the last residue from the grout.
Never discard the grout in your sink (!!)
31. Clean the mosaic surface the next day with Windex using paper towels.
32. Install your piece in the garden. Sundials need adjustment, and it will take a couple of days to have it oriented properly. Also keep in mind that the readings may change slightly with the seasons. Most importantly, enjoy your beautiful art and plan an art opening reception for your piece in the garden with friends and family!