Saturday, October 26, 2013

Pebble Mosaic

Ever since my BFF CathyO introduced me to this book, I became obsessed with the art of pebble mosaic.

From this book, I headed to the internet to collect more info, and of course started a Pinterest board.  I discovered that I really LOVE the work of Jeffrey Bale.
 Portland garden designer and artist Jeffrey Bale. Mosaic border.
 So there are basically 2 techniques for building a pebble mosaic.  I call them the "wet" and the "dry" methods.

For the dry method, you lay out your pattern in dry mortar mix, then fill in with more dry mortar mix before wetting the whole thing down.  Here is a good tutorial from This Old House.

For the wet method, you mix the mortar to a pudding texture, and place the stones into the wet mix, then let it cure.  This is the approach we used for all of the following attempts...

Pebble Mosaic - first attempt

So Dean had the foresight to suggest we try the first one out in a not so conspicuous place.  This was a smart move because it did not come out very good, but I learned a few things.

We chose this spot in the back near the clothes line and decided to make a pad for standing on while hanging the clothes.  So here is our set-up and below is the prepared spot.

I had all my pebbles sorted.  Here are some that I used.

Granite chips

Glass from the craft store

Yellow pebbles collected from Gay Head Beach on Martha's Vineyard probably about 15 years ago!

Some red stones that I found on the property

Black stones from the craft store

Dean mixes the mortar.

We mixed and poured the entire load of mortar all at once and I started laying in the stones.

And here it is covered so that it will cure slowly.

So here's what I learned from this project:

   1.  Don't mix all the mortar at once.  It starts to set in about 40 minutes which is not enough time to get all the stones in.  Jeffrey Bale recommends mixing only one bag at a time...
   2.  Make sure you have enough stones!  I thought that I had MORE than enough, but came up short.

Here's what it looks like today.

Second Pebble Mosaic attempt

For our next attempt, we decided to build a step for the "man door" of the garage.

Did you know that the small door that a person enters ( as opposed to the big ass doors used for cars and machinery to enter) is called a "man" door???  But I digress...

For this one, we built a wood frame for the form.

Instead of mixing all the mortar at once, we mixed just one bag at a time, and this worked much better.

Rather than going for a specific design, on this one, I built the design more organically working from left to right and using the shapes of the stones to dictate the layout.

Here's what it looks like today.

And a couple of close-ups.

Third Attempt Pebble Mosaic - La Piece de Resistance!

Way before we started experimenting with the above projects, it had been our intention to put a pebble mosaic at the top of the outdoor stairs.

I had started collecting stones a long time before we actually started on this one.

I had an idea of an image that I wanted to do, and because it is such a large space, and I wanted to work out the design, I started with having Dean build a sandbox in which we marked out a template, and I actually laid out the entire design first.  

Many of you who have visited us saw this in process, and then saw it sitting there (for a long time) waiting to be installed.

We thought the installation might take more than one day, so we decided to wait to have at least 2 days of good weather before getting to work.  Also, we did not want to do it during the high heat of summer and risk having the mortar dry out too quickly.

But finally the day came - and starting fairly early in the morning, with our excellent teamwork - Dean mixing the mortar, and me laying the stones - we were able to get it done in just one full day...

A word about our new "supervisor".  I think that most everyone knows by now that Pumpernickel left us in June of this year.  About one month ago we adopted Angela - a 12 year old cocker spaniel/chihuahua mix (we think...) who was in need of a home.  Here she steps into the supervisor role...

Periodically, when a section was laid out, we put down a piece of plywood, and use our body weight to tamp it down and level it.

I started out working from right to left, but quickly realized that I wanted to work from the bottom up, so switched gears after this section.

 We are using this rigid foam insulation to keep the work from drying out while in process.

 Almost done!
 This is back-breaking work.

Hosing it down.

And then we used a soft brush to even out the surface and clean the mortar residue from the stones.

And here it is covered with plastic to cure for a week or so...

And here is the result.  I am pretty happy with it.  It is not perfect - some of the stones sunk in too far and got lost.  And the moon in the upper right did not come out the way I had it originally laid out in the template.  But there will NOT be a re-do on this project.

Stepping Stones

We have quite a few bags of mortar mix (and lots of stones) left over, so we are in the process of constructing some 15x15 stepping stones to incorporate in front of the porch area.  Here is the first one we did.

So that's it for this special pebble mosaic edition of MHHB!


  1. Very nice opus palladianum!

  2. You are so artistic Cathy. I love it.

  3. Fabulous !!!!!! Can't wait to finally see the finished product in person !
    xxoo -P

  4. Looks fabulous! You two are a good team.