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Why DDM is Crucial to Your Mosaics

I want to share with you a process that will keep you from making wrong decisions about your materials. This process will help you design and complete your mosaic inspiration without unnecessary complications and failures.

I call this process DDM: Design, Display & Materials.  If you use this process, you’ll be able to pick the right backer, adhesive, materials, and display options.

Always try to start with your Design. Your design decisions help refine your display decisions and they in turn, refine your material decisions.

So I created a visual to help explain how decisions flow through from beginning to end. Think of it sort of like a “sifter” – where you put lots of ideas in and then they will filter down while you are making certain decisions along the way.

Let’s run through 3 examples.

The top tray is where your Design ideas go – some possibilities could be a design for a functional mosaic, or a 3-Dimensional mosaic, or 2D mosaic.

Let’s say for Functional we are making a mosaic trivet - for the 2 Dimensional let’s do a name sign - for 3 Dimensional we’ll mosaic a fishing hat. 

Now your 3 Design decisions have refined your display decisions.

On your functional trivet – you want to display it indoors, in your kitchen or dining room table.

The 3D fishing hat will be displayed indoors on a shelf or in a display stand.

The 2D name sign will be installed outside on the wall.

Now these Display decisions help to refine your Material decisions. 


What exactly are your Material decisions? This is where you need to know which backer goes with which adhesive and which tesserae works with the design, the backer, the adhesives and the display area or environment it will be in.

So for the functional Trivet that is going on your kitchen counter, you’ll want to choose a backer that is waterproof since spills can occur.  So a foam core backer will work well. Your tesserae may need to be ceramic since you will put hot pots on it; your glue will need to withstand moisture as well, so thinset is a good choice.  

For your indoor fishing hat, material decisions may be to buy a cotton hat that you will put coats of thinset on. Then your tesserae will need to go around the circular hat and into small areas, so you will need small tiles or stained glass to go around the contours. You can use weldbond or something similar to glue your tiles to the hat, since it is an indoor piece. And sanded grout works well. Skeewpicks work well to clean and detail small areas.

And then for your 2-dimensional outdoor name plaque, you need to use the appropriate hanging system to accommodate the weight of your piece, so you may want to use a very lightweight backer which is also weatherproof since it’s going outdoors. So foam core boards may be your best choice. Also consider the size, because if it is really large, you may need to plan how to manipulate it in your studio. You might have to section it or even transport it. And, again, to match the right adhesive to the environment, thinset may be your best choice. Think about your tesserae choices and how they fit with the environment, the backer and the adhesive. A good tile for this could be vitreous tile and there are many more that would work well.

Now, the final step is to look at what your choices have all shaken out to be and then start your project. But, what if you don’t know what all your substrate and adhesive choices are? 

This is where the Book on Mosaic Backers can help. This book is a compilation of some of the different mosaic backers that I have used throughout my many years as a mosaic artist. I have also researched different adhesives and what they will bond to and included them in this list.   

What you’ll find in here is a comprehensive list of 33 backers that I categorized into 8 groups. I talk about their common uses, how to cut and shape them, what surface preparation is needed, what adhesives work with it, and details about the weight and grouting you might need to know. 

So, before you get too excited and just jump in and start a project, try having a well developed vision of a mosaic before you begin. DDM is a good process that will help you do this and will help you make the critical decisions before you start.


  • Thank you for this most excellent summary! Much appreciated

    debra williams
  • Thank you for DDM process. I found it very informative. I usually keep all your e-mails in a file for reference.

  • Muchas gracias por compartir su experiencia, muy útil la información

    Carmen Rosa Calle
  • Your Book on Mosaic Backers (and adhesives) is tremendously helpful. Thank you,

    Sue Tee
  • Me encantó tu libro.

    Cecilia Esmeralda lopez de chala

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