Saturday 29 March 2014

The Great Wave Mosaic

I am a fan of Japanese woodblock prints, particularly landscapes, I also love the medium of mosaic so when I was free to tile a whole bathroom however I wanted, I chose to tile my shower in the famous watery themed print “Under the Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai, more popularly known as "The Great Wave."
An original print of Under the Waver off Kanagawa
I bought tiles to break up into mosaic pieces as this was the only way that I could get the specific colours I wanted and have all the tiles the same thickness, which made them much easier to work with. With a colour photocopy of ‘the wave’ in hand I used the old fashioned grid method to transform it into a 1800 x 2100mm drawing, with a few minor changes to make it fit to the size of my shower. I then mosaiced each of the two 900mm shower walls separately. I cut, smashed and nibbled the tiles to the right shape and laid them out over the picture in sections the width of a piece of contact, then rolled the contact over the top to hold the pieces in place.

The first panel I laid out on the floor, which was good as I could see the whole picture at once but working on the floor was not good for my back. When complete I cut the mosaic along the grout lines into panels of about 300 x 300mm. The second panel was done on a large bench 1.5m wide but not long enough to hold the whole panel, so I started working at the top and pushed the panel up the bench as I went when the tiles got to the edge of the bench I cut them off into the 300 x300mm panels. The panels were packed into a box in the order that I would put them on the wall, which meant that the panel I finished last was the first to go up. 

Final section made up on the bench, with contact on top
Mosaic being cut up into sections
Sheets of mosaic packed into a box for transport
I was worried that I would have trouble putting the approximately 300 x 300mm sheets on the wall, but this was unfounded and the mosaic went up surprisingly easily. I spread tile adhesive on the wall, in wide bands sufficient to take a row of mosaic sheets, then, careful to line up the first piece straight, I pressed the sheets onto the wall. To try and push them on flat and not have an undulating mosaic surface I pressed them on gently by hand and moved them into the right place then pressed them down with my rendering hawk, which is a flat square of metal about 300 x 300mm with a handle on the bottom. Then when the whole row was done I went over it with my level, which covered the whole row of the mosaic, and pushed down to make sure it kept straight across the row. I later did this vertically too. 

Three quarters of the mosaic on the wall, hawk and level at bottom
The following day I peeled the contact off the front of the mosaic, a few pieced had not adhered properly and I had to go back and put them back in, but this was not bad considering the number of pieces in the mosaic. Unfortunately several of the pieces that had to be put back in did not sit flush and are a bit uneven, but this is hardly noticeable over the whole piece.

Mosaic adhered to the wall
I was very happy with the finished look and how it almost seamlessly bends the corner however, when I grouted the mosaic with white grout the white sections blended together and the grout lines in the dark section became more prominent. I am not sure if I like the look of the mosaic with the white grout and am worried the white of the wave does not stand out enough against the alabaster background. However, I will wait until I finish the rest of the bathroom before I decide to make any changes.

The whole mosaic project took me well over 100 hours, I think, and it could be as much as 150 hours. It is hard to tell as I did the mosaic over 9 months. The first section with large amounts of the same colour was put together quite quickly, once I realised how long the detailed sections would take I was too far into the project to stop and so I persevered and I am proud of my achievement.

The finished mosaic


  1. That is amazing - excellent job! I was thinking of doing a bathroom mosaic of the Great Wave too and came across yours in the process of researching it. That really is beautiful though. I think we'd have to have a working bathroom in place first though and then hopefully assemble the finished chunks all in one go.