Sophia Othman

Mosaic art & Concrete Sculpture

Posts from the ‘Ceramic Tile’ category

stained glass mosaic mural of phoenix plant leaves wild fire art expression regeneration after wild fire resurrection hope Visions of The Wild themed art
blue green iridescent stained glass for mosaic mural by sophia othman bay area mosaic artist

Iridescent Glass Tile in Blues and Greens

How to choose whether to go with glass or ceramic for mosaic? Mosaic artists have used just about any material for mosaics:  ceramic tile, glass tile, stone, shells, found objects, broken crockery, wood, metal.  And in mixed media mosaics, anything goes, with delightful results.  However, if you are choosing mosaic material for an outdoor art piece in a frost prone climate your choices start to narrow and both ceramic tile and glass tile can stand up to freezing if they are chosen carefully.

Is glass tile more colorful than ceramic tile?  Yes! the array of color available in stained glass sheets is dizzying and marvelous.  Most metropolitan areas have stained glass retailers so glass is easier to source in general.  Ceramic tile is available in a wide range of brilliant colors as well but is not nearly as nuanced in the variety available of any one color.   Daltile makes a colorful line.  McIntyre does as well.  Heath Ceramics in Marin county has rich color. Since most consumers don’t tile their kitchen or bathrooms or floor with bright yellow, red, and orange, the retailers don’t stock these colors and they must be obtained by special order.  To obtain brilliant colored ceramic tile can take up to 8 weeks lead time for the manufacturer to custom make the order and ship it.  Also the cost is higher as there are often one-case (12 square feet per case) minimums per color.  If I am designing a mosaic mural with many colors I would have to order a case of the colors of which I need a small amount.

Reflection & Glassy Shine & Iridescence

Ceramic tile with a virtuous glaze will have a shiny reflective look to it. Vitreous meaning glass. However, most ceramic tile will not look as shiny as glass. Matt ceramic tile is deliberately manufactured to achieve a less slippery surface when used in bathrooms and other flooring. Glass tile by definition will have a lot of reflectiveness and look aglow in certain angles and less shiny in others, giving it a dynamic changeability that is expected of glass tile.  Some ceramic tile is available with an iridescent sheen but stained glass and other glass shapes can come with stunningly beautiful iridescent coatings.  Your personal aesthetic and the purpose of the mosaic  will determine the degree of shine, glassiness, reflection, and friction that you want/need for the project.

stained glass mosaic mural of phoenix plant leaves wild fire art expression regeneration after wild fire resurrection hope Visions of The Wild themed art

Stained Glass Mosaic showing shiny reflective glass surfaces and iridescence

Is it easier to cut shape glass vs ceramic tile? Ceramic tile is usually twice as thick as glass used for mosaic. Most commercial ceramic tile used for mosaic is approximately 1/4 inches thick and most stained glass used for mosaic is 1/8th ” thick. Any thicker and they are prohibitive to cut and shape with reasonable ease. It is physically easier to cut glass than ceramic tile. However, to shape either ceramic or glass tile with precision takes skill and experience. Still, glass faster to shape & cut.

ceramic tile mosaic mural tree of life memorial mosaic

Memorial Mosaic Tree of Life Mural

There are many types of glass tesserae used for mosaic, pre-shaped pieces in circles, triangles, rectangles, teardrops, & etc. These come in thicknesses from 2mm to 7mm approximately. Most glass mosaic is made of glass pieces 3mm or 1/8th” thick. Glass tile is generally physically easier to cut and shape than ceramic tile. If you want to shape glass tiles precisely it is easiest to use stained glass. Stained glass comes in large sheets that can be cut into smaller and more precise shapes to do their duty in your mosaic art.

Mosaic Weight or Load on Architectural Support – Another consideration when choosing between ceramic tile and glass tile for mosaic is that the thinner glass will weigh less per square foot than the ceramic tile.

What is the purpose of the mosaic? Backsplashes, walls, murals, fine art mosaics, all these don’t have to withstand people walking on them, so they can be made of thinner and less durable tile. But for floor mosaics ceramic tile is the more durable choice. Ceramic tile that is high fired (harder) is necessary when creating floor mosaics due to the loads floors must support as we use them in daily life. Often higher fired ceramic tile has less vibrant colors are available at that higher kiln temperature. A high gloss finish is usually not desired as it also means less friction and a more slippery floor. So a more matte finish is desirable in floor mosaics that use ceramic tile. Ceramic tile can be manufactured with added grittiness to reduce risk of slipping. All these factors can combine to make the color and texture choices for ceramic tile for floor applications less vibrant and less reflective. That being said, I have seen spectacularly beautiful floor mosaics made with small glass squares called virtuous glass tile usually 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3mm. The smaller shapes are less likely to break under normal load than longer pieces of glass. Insets of glass tile such as medallions or other shapes can add beauty to a floor without rendering the entire surface in glass and retaining the strength of ceramic tile for the rest of the floor.

What tile to choose for community built mosaics? Ceramic tile is the winner here, allowing individuals to shape, texture, and glaze individual tiles that can then be incorporated into a unified whole community mosaic art piece.  The image below shows a ceramic tile mosaic mural incorporating handmade tile from hundreds of students & staff at a K-8 school.  Each student created one tile.  The second graders created the poppies, the kindergartner’s and several older grades created the oak leaves, & etc.  Groups of students worked together to created the larger creatures like the hawk and deer.

handmade ceramic tile school mosaic mural installation images from beginning to finished product showing fiberglass mesh mosaic sections

School Mosaic Mural using Handmade Ceramic Tile

Glass is used in community art mosaic projects as well by allowing individuals to piece their own small mosaic to be incorporated into the mosaic mural or allowing groups to piece mosaic together. The difference I see is that shaping clay and coloring it with underglaze and glaze is usually an easier & more intuitive creative process when involving inexperienced participants in a community built mosaic mural. Handmade ceramics allow more line work and nuance and colors on each individual piece than pieced mosaic with glass tesserae. The image below shows stained glass mosaic marine creatures each pieced by a family group or a staff member from the school.  This image shows vitreous glass squares in the background of the mosaic in white and blue.

glass mosaic school mural art project stained glass mosaic vitreous glass mosaic group art community built art

Glass Mosaic Mural

These are only some of the practical considerations in choosing between glass and ceramic tile for mosaic.  There is no clear choice as it depends on your specific project’s practical needs and your aesthetic. Happy creating.

Photo by Mosaic artist Sophia Othman of her puppy in her studio Mosaic art San Francisco Bay Area
Art Studio’s Chief Morale Officer – Jasmine the puppy doing a superb “Down” on a kiln shelf

How do you prevent your ceramic wires from sticking to your kiln shelves? you use kiln wash – here’s how to make it yourself

Today I’m repairing, reshaping (with a tile wet saw), and reapplying kiln wash to my ceramic kiln shelves. Pleasant outdoor work on a bright winter day in service to my mosaic art studio. A lot of ongoing maintenance to keep my tools happy and show them love.

Basic Salt Kiln Wash Recipe
50% Alumina
50% Kaolin

To prepare your own kiln wash measure out a ratio of 1 to 1 of each ingredient and add water. Mix the kiln wash dry mixture with water thoroughly to the consistency of whole milk. To prepare your kiln shelf ,sand or grind your shelf as needed to remove flaky old kiln wash and wipe with a moist sponge to remove any loose flakes and dust. Then use a brush to apply a thin layer or two of kiln wash either in bare spots or covering the whole shelf.

These ingredients are very very cheap compared to buying premade Kiln wash and you can get them from any Ceramic supply store. My favorites in the bay area are Clay People in Richmond and Clay Planet in Sunnyvale. If you don’t want to do your own measuring you can buy dry pre-mixed kiln wash powder which is also much cheaper than buying prepared wet containers of kiln wash from the suppliers.

San Francisco bay area mosaic artist Sophia Hoffman prepares her own kiln wash for making handmade ceramic tiles for mosaic garden art bench
Raw Materials to make your own kiln wash

Even if you’re not interested in being frugal there’s a deeply enjoyable aspect to Diy in the art studio and it’s fun to know how to go from raw dry mineral ingredients to a product that matches a commercial kiln wash.

I laid down this kiln shelf separately so I would remember to add kiln wash to it. My puppy, Jasmine, is now eight months old. She can’t wait to grow up like all children saying that they their age is “5 1/2 “ years old – they are eager eager to go forward into life. Here if she is sitting on my kiln shelf saying to me, “ Mom I’m only half baked! “

Photo by Mosaic artist Sophia Othman of Handmade ceramic tile for mosaic art bench fired in ceramic kiln  in her studio Mosaic art San Francisco Bay Area
Handmade ceramic tiles On shelf protected by Kiln wash which is appearing as a bright white powdery surface on which the tile sit these tiles are for an art Mosaic bench with the most recent offerings from the Kiln

More DIY Kiln Wash :

If you want to get Uber geeky about kiln wash, here is a superb article in Ceramic Arts Monthly by John Britt that dives deeply into the topic and offers many recipe variations for specific applications.

photo of a White Spirit Tree Mosaic Mural

White Spirit Tree Mosaic Mural

This mosaic mural is 21′ x 7′ and adorns the wall of a private residence overlooking the garden. The colors were chosen to render a nature theme and provide a decorative piece that blends with the garden. The image invokes nature spirits and the energy of growth, expansion, and splendor. Mirror was used to outline the main design element and the whole mural, reflecting the garden itself in the mural.

Detail of tree trunk portion of the mural.


mosaic mural titled Flow with sun tree water


This 6′ x 8′ mosaic mural was completed in May 2011 and it is my first effort at a large mural after working with Isaiah Zagar in February 2011. It is located on a wall in the community center building of Maitreya Mountain Village, a community in Northern California.

detail of sun from mosaic mural


The swirly design evokes Klimt and popular depictions of The Tree of Life. The design expresses themes from Chinese Traditional Medicine Five Elements Theory: the elements flowing into each other. Water flows into Wood which feeds Fire which flows to Earth and then to Metal. I dedicate this mural to my teacher, Donna Eden, of Eden Energy Medicine.


This is a memorial mosaic mural. It is a portrait of the personality of Koko Jaeger.  Koko died at age 44 in November 2012, and I am still melancholy with the loss of her brilliant and fun presence. 

The archetypes and themes used to represent her essence were based on Five Element Theory from Traditional Chinese Medicine and also on more whimsical input like what here favorite color was – purple. Metal Wood with Fire loves Purple would be the most accurate way to name this piece.  Koko had a mix of Wood Element and Metal Element.  Wood Element meant she was good at leading, getting things done, loyal, and willing to go to battle for what she cared about.  Metal Elements showed up in her as a profound spiritual connection and reverence for nature and all life.   Metal Element also manifested as being tidy, organized, protocol-driven, and an obsession with all things spiritual.  She had just enough Fire Element to know how to have fun.  The tree and the green trunk and leaves all represent Wood Element.  The white flowers and moons represent Metal Element and also point to the very reverent way Koko lived her life. The red stars and sun represent her Fire Element. Overall this is a nature-based design which also represents Koko for she was very connected to the earth and plants and animals. She loved purple so the background was done in mixed purple tile.

This mosaic tree of life is large enough that once it is installed on a wall, it gives the feeling that one is sitting in the shade and splendor of a tree in bloom – invoking the peace and joy of the beauty of nature.  Total dimension of 9feet wide by 5feet high.

It is finished and I love the scale and bold statement,  a fitting tribute to a fabulous soul.  Rest in peace, Koko, and my your spirit continue on many more extraordinary adventures and find infinite love.

More photos of the process of creating this mosaic art piece.  Production assistance from Siram, and Kemper Stone.