I wrote this years ago when the river was just finished. I have no intention of doing another - but it was such an accomplishment, I want to save it here to show what I CAN do when I'm inspired.
Anyone who has been in contact with me for the past year or so has heard me moan about my mosaic river. I have done many mosaic projects in the past, but never anything quite so ambitious. As you can see, there is still a lot of work to make the back yard a showplace, but the river is finished!
It is approximately 55 feet long and averages about 3 feet wide. The standard tile around the edges was put down by a professional. I drew a curvy line on the concrete where I saw the river flowing and he left a path for me.
You can’t really tell from the photo, but the medium blue in the river are little clay “stones”. I started by rolling our a bunch of clay balls varying the size a little to keep it looking natural. I placed them in an area the width of my rolling pin and, and rolled them into little flat rocks using 2 sticks to hold the rolling pin to the thickness I wanted. Then with a damp finger, I smoothed the edges. I can’t tell you how many of these I made, but I really got sick of them. I loaded them into my kiln with shelves placed on my shortest kiln furniture fired, glazed and fired them – there are actually a couple of colors to add interest.
Then I started placing the stone, glass gems and broken tile pieces out in a design that seemed pleasing. I had to break the tiles around the edge, the “riverbank” as I went, so it was pretty slow going and I spent a lot of time trying to get comfortable as I worked on the ground. I’m glad I have a special deal at my massage therapist’s studio.
I got about ¾ of the space filled before I ran out of my little clay stones. Arrgh. Back to the studio. I needed to make some pots for the sales I show at during the holidays so this kiln load wasn’t packed quite so tightly. It felt good to be making something besides little round balls. Of course this was going to take some time, there would be weather and since the tiles weren’t affixed, they would get kicked around a bit, but eventually, I was able to continue.
I cleaned the tiles and repositioned them. I bought some super sticky tile tape from EMI Specialty Products. It comes in a 12” or a 6” width. With the help of my husband Craig, we stretched the tape out piece by piece to cover the entire river. Then with an X-acto knife, cut pieces about a foot square (of course they were nowhere near square).
I learned much during this project and one thing I can recommend to anyone who might want to try, is to keep your tiles all the same thickness if at all possible.
Craig mixed up the thinset and worked a section at a time, placing the river back together. He had to move a row or so beyond where he was planning to work so he had room to maneuver. He lost track of where he was from time to time, but I was right there to help fit the puzzle together. The river tiles are not as thick as the riverbank tiles and so he had to put down a thicker layer of thinset in the center – even with our super tile tape holding things together, there are several different heights in the finished product – and some sharp angles too. We’ll go back with a grinding wheel to knock off the dangerous spots…later.
Then Thanksgiving was here, and with it our dear friends from all over the country – plus a wedding brunch was going to happen at our house. Oh well, we’re only human. It didn’t get finished. OK, no rush then, let’s do the holiday stuff.
The week between Christmas and New Years, I grouted. I used a sandy color for the riverbank and tinted a platinum with a ceramic stain to make just the right shade of blue. The late December days are not warm enough or long enough for me to process a 25 lb bag of grout in one day. This was fine with the sandy color, I could mix up a half a bag at a time, but once I started tinting, I needed to measure the stain so I could get the same color each time. There was a lot of grout haze that didn’t get removed soon enough. It is much more labor intensive to get rid of it after it has hardened…and not all of it will come off. I waited the 10 days recommended on the sulfuric acid cleaner for grout haze. Today I did my best to clean it. Whatever is left, we’ll soon ignore. Just look at the overall river and enjoy it with me.