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Grouting a Mosaic Part 2: Take Courage

According to Constellations of Words,

The word congruent comes from the Indo-European root *ghreu– ‘To rub, grind’. Derivatives: grit, groats, grout, gruel, grueling, great, groat, gruesome, chroma (color), chromatic, chromato-, chrome, –chrome, chromium, chromo-, chromosome, gravel, congruent, congruence. Pokorny 2. ghreu– 460. Watkins

It is only fitting that grout is relate to “grueling” in origin, since there are moments where grouting appears to be a crazy idea.  After making my chocolate truffle mixture, and in my nitrile gloves, I scoop up a handful of grout and begin to cover my mosaics. Some mosaicists use a grout float or other tool for distributing the grout among the interstices, but with the variety of textures and heights of the tesserae in my work, I find applying it by hand to be most effective.  As I massage the grout into the gaps, all color is obliterated in a muddy coating.  This is a leap of faith.  Covering all the carefully glued pieces with a type of cement is counterintuitive.

Fortunately, I’ve grouted enough pieces to be somewhat adapted to the moment of transformation!  But even now, there is a realization of the point of no return.  Grout can bring a mosaic together, like its cousin “congruent,” or it can be divisive.  A dark grout unites the dark elements and breaks apart the light ones, and a light grout does the opposite.  This mirror has a medium tone that is fairly uniform across reds and oranges, so the brown grout is like a setting for jewel tones, the black velvet under the sparkly ring.  Grout is about relationships between colors, and can change the perception of the tiles, drawing them forward, pushing them back, intensifying or diluting the color.

Light Appears

Grouting a Mosaic: Part 1

Out of my growing collection of mosaics to grout, I choose the red-orange mirror, and the green box. I masked both with green painters tape, and both will receive “chocolate truffle” grout. Painters tape usually comes off quite cleanly, even after a week or so, and makes an attractive edge. It’s quite magical to peel away the green, especially when everything is covered in grout. Grout is a a way to pull all the pieces together. In drawing class, the equivalent to the grout lines was “negative space.” The spaces in between have their own form and substance. Grouting is commitment. It is possible to use a dremel drill to grind the cementitious grout out, but this isn’t something I can fathom doing.

First, I pour acrylic admix into the bottom of a plastic container, about 1/2 inch deep. My admix has been renamed “grout enhancer” by the manufacturer, which sounds like steroids. It’s the consistency of milk. I add grout slowly, 1/2 cup to start, and then back and forth between grout, mix, liquid, mix. Once it is between cake batter and peanut butter in texture, I leave it sit for a minute or two to slake. Or as my first mosaic instructor said, until you’ve lost patience or said hello to your neighbor. Then mix again. This makes the grout stronger, letting it form a few bonds and then remixing.

Chocolate Truffle Grout

There is a reason this one is called “chocolate.”



Getting Ready for the Grout Zone and Avoiding Mosaic Procrastination

Grout.  Grout. Grout.  I’m gearing up for a grouting session.  Designing, choosing tesserae, gluing–all these are intriguing in and of themselves.  Grouting is more of an act of faith.  I usually collect several pieces and grout all at once because getting organized takes a good part of the time.  Gloves, mask, acrylic admix, a container, a stirring implement, layers of blank newsprint that I can peel away one by one as the excess grout piles up.  Each mosaic needs to be masked with painter’s tape to protect frames and backs.  I cut up non-scratch scrubbies into 1 or 2 inch squares for helping the glass emerge from the grout, as well as get any blobs of glue on the surface of the tesserae.

Thinking about it probably takes more energy than actually getting started.  Procrastination creeps in, subtle at first.  “Well, I need to make a few more mosiacs that will need brown grout so I have several to do at once,” combined with the call of the glass.  I’ve talked to quilters who have a similar challenge, and accumulate multiple quilt tops that all need basting and stitching, and some get handed down from generation to generation until someone finally picks up the thread.

Starting a mosaic is the moment of possibility.  Grouting can feel like a test–will this turn out ok?  And it also requires moving into the grout zone–a meditative state of mind.  Once the admix meets the grout powder there is a limited amount of time of pliability before it cements.  You grout in “real time”–and this requires being present in the moment.  An hour is about as long as the grout remains workable.

I have grouted enough mosaics to know that the rewards are great in taking the grouting leap, but it’s still an awesome process.  My husband is going to take pictures of my next grouting session.  Stay tuned for the grout adventure!