Flashback: Cut Paper Mosaic

Craft & Design Paper Crafts

Our My Paper Heart theme this month has me revisiting some real paper-infused gems from the pages of CRAFT magazine. Back in CRAFT Volume 05, Susan Brackney introduced us to an idea that is far from conventional when she tiled her faulty living room floor with paper and glue to gorgeous result. Way to take lemons and make lemonade, Susan! Check out her whole process here in this week’s Flashback, and if you don’t already have it, you can pick up a back issue of Volume 05, the Paper issue, in the Maker Shed.
Make a durable mosaic on the cheap with paper and glue.
By Susan Brackney

Maybe it was the wall-to-wall green shag, or the fact that the previous owner had housed 14 cats there, but my charming 1930s bungalow was a steal. The place purportedly had gorgeous hardwood floors throughout, but ripping up the smelly-cat carpeting had revealed one 8’×10′ expanse of ugly pine boards — raw, uneven, and studded with rusty nail heads — smack in the middle of my living room. Turns out that leaving such unfinished business was pretty common back then; nice wood is expensive, and most people had area rugs anyway.
Rather than spend a fortune on refinishing or carpeting, I would do as the Romans did. A nod to Pompeii and my precious pooch, this durable “Beware of Dog” mosaic on the cheap is tiled with paper, not marble, and held together with glue, not grout.


Design sketch
Ruler and T square
Tape measure
Marker or colored pencil
Painter’s tape
Lightweight poster board, junk mail envelopes, or magazine pages
in black, white, red, gray, and cream
Paper cutter and scissors
Jars, cigar boxes
or other containers
Latex or acrylic paint
Chip brush
Small paintbrushes
Elmer’s glue
Small bucket or plastic tub
Dax window glazing
or other filler product that can expand and contract with temperature changes
Putty knife
Small, handheld vacuum cleaner
Envirotex Lite pour-on resin finish
Rubbing alcohol
Flat-bottomed bucket
Paint stir sticks and squeegee
Hair dryer
Plastic tarp, at least 4mils thick
Wooden screen molding
Hammer and small handsaw
Finishing nails
Wood stain (optional)
especially those who owe you big
The patience of Job


Before You Start
Not much of a dog person? Almost any simple, bold line art will work well for a cut paper mosaic, so find a design you love. And for those with perfectly pristine wood floors? Create a stand-alone mosaic on a large sheet of plywood for wall mounting instead.
The size of your mosaic will dictate the amount of paper and other supplies you’ll need. Measure the area’s length and width, and then multiply these numbers to obtain your square footage. Now you can collect the right amount of lightweight poster board and other potential tiling materials.
You’ll also need to purchase enough Envirotex sealant to complete the job. One 8-ounce package of the two-part, glossy finish coats up to 4 square feet. My 80-square-foot project required 3 gallons of the stuff. One coat of Envirotex equals nearly 50 coats of traditional varnish.
Step 1: Cut and sort your paper.
While you won’t need to amass boxes of heavy tiles, you’ll need to cut hundreds and hundreds of tiny paper squares. Depending on the size of your paper cutter, you may need to fold your poster board in half to fit under the cutting arm.
1a. Fold your large poster board in half, and place it in the paper cutter with the folded edge closest to you. Make a ¼” or ½” cut, stopping about 1″ above the fold. Move the sheet to the right and continue to make a series of long, attached strips.
When you’ve reached the end of the sheet, rotate the piece (which will look a bit like a clunky grass skirt) so that the fold is to your left. Bring the cutting blade down hard at ¼” or ½” intervals to create multiple tiny squares. Once you get to the end, you’ll have just the leftover, folded area. It will be too small to safely cut with the paper cutter, so you may want to use scissors to cut this part into squares.
1b. Because tiles of white and cream paper can look similar, be sure to put these and other colors in separate, labeled containers as you go.
Step 2: Prepare the area.
2a. Use painter’s tape to mask off the outer edge of the area to be tiled.
2b. Apply a coat of light-gray latex or acrylic paint over the entire work surface. This color will show between the tiles you place. Let dry completely.
2c. Use a putty knife to apply Dax window glazing to any large cracks or holes in the work surface. Removing any excess as you go, smooth the filler material flush with your floor. Allow 2-3 hours for the glazing to set up (it won’t harden completely).
Step 3: Transfer your sketch.
3a. “Squaring up” is one of the easiest ways to transfer the contents of a small drawing to a larger area. Using a pencil and ruler, draw a grid of 1″ squares over the top of your mosaic sketch. If you like, you can use letters across the top and numbers down the left side of the grid for easy reference.
3b. Count the number of boxes on your drawing, and lightly draw with a colored pencil and T square to re-create the same number of boxes on your larger work surface. In my case, eight 1″ boxes on my design sketch came out to eight 1′ squares on my floor, but the ratio of the size of your sketch to the size of your mosaic area might produce a slightly different scale for you.
3c. Use a pencil to transfer just what you see in grid A-1, A-2, etc., into their corresponding areas on the mosaic surface. If you like, go back over your lines with a marker or a very dark colored pencil.
Step 4: Glue those tiles.
4a. So that you won’t need to tread on areas you’ve already tiled, it’s best to work from one end of your design out. (Psst! Grab a pillow to place under your knees, and don’t forget to take breaks.) To start tiling, pour about 1″ of Elmer’s glue into a small bucket or plastic tub, and use the chip brush to paint a fairly thick coat of glue in one 6″ area at a time.
4b. Gather several cut paper squares, dip the tip of a small paintbrush into glue, and then pick up one square at a time by touching the tip of the brush to the middle of the square. With just enough glue, the square magically sticks to the end of your brush!
4c. Stick each square down one at a time onto the glued mosaic surface, making sure to leave equal amounts of space around each. You may find the need for a custom shape or two. Use scissors to cut triangles or skinny rectangles as needed.
NOTE: For a softer look, I mixed cream squares with white squares for the background, and gray squares with black squares for the dog’s body. The border areas, however, are tiled solely with black and white for maximum contrast.
4d. In between gluing sessions, cover the mosaic with your tarp to protect your work. Completing my mosaic took several weeks, so be patient!
Step 5: Prepare to seal.
5a. Once all the paper tiles are glued down and the glue has dried completely, use a small, handheld vacuum over the entire work surface to remove any stray hairs or dirt. You may lose some tiles along the way, so replace them as needed.
5b. With the hammer and finishing nails, attach strips of wooden screen molding around the perimeter of your mosaic. Use the small handsaw to cut pieces to fit and to create miter joints at the 4 corners.
5c. Vacuum the entire surface once more to avoid trapping debris under your glossy sealant.
Step 6: Mix and pour sealant.
6a. Thoroughly mix equal parts of Envirotex resin and hardener in your bucket, scraping its sides and bottom frequently with the stir stick. This process shouldn’t take more than 2 minutes.
WARNING: Avoid contact with eyes or skin, and use only in a very well-ventilated area.
6b. Pour a uniform coat of sealant in a line along one end of your mosaic. I mixed and poured ½ gallon at a time. Then use a squeegee to uniformly spread the sealant over the top of the mosaic.
6c. You’ll see many tiny bubbles trapped under the sealant surface. Run a hair dryer on its hottest setting 1″-2″ above the surface to smooth it out.
Step 7: Clean up and wait.
7a. Clean up any stray sealant on your hands or tools with rubbing alcohol.
7b. Allow the mosaic surface coating to cure completely. This can take 3 days to 1 week.
Step 8: Add finishing touches.
Paint or stain the wooden screen molding trim, if you like. Once your mosaic has cured, you may decide you want an even thicker coat. In that case, you can apply a second coat of sealant.
About the Author:
Susan Brackney is an avid crafter, beekeeper, blogger, and author of The Lost Soul Companion as well as the sequel, The Not-So-Lost Soul Companion. lostsoulcompanion.com

2 thoughts on “Flashback: Cut Paper Mosaic

  1. Paper Mosaics session one | Art for Wellbeing says:

    […] controversial but produces lovely results a lot more cheaply and quickly. We also saw an image from this lady who did a paper mosaic on the floor of a room in her house which cost next to nothing and looks […]

  2. Alfredo Serna says:

    Good job!

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at snowgoli@gmail.com or via @snowgoli.

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