Oliver shows us his mettle

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Faced with the twin challenges of the English weather and the possibility that commissioners sometimes want to move his public mosaic artworks, Oliver Budd devised a method of creating permanent but portable mosaic panels. Here, he shares his method so that you can use it too. 

One of the greatest advantages of being an English mosaic artist is that you have an intrinsic understanding of how your work will tolerate bad weather.

Rain, frost, torrential rain and severe frost are things your externally-sited work will have to withstand. So over the many years of creating public artworks in the UK, I eventually devised a method of fabrication that could cope with pretty much anything the elements could throw at it.

Another problem I felt that needed to be addressed was that of urban regeneration. Many of the Budd Mosaics public artworks are sited in city centres and these are prone to constant change. Council officials had always asked us to provide “vandal proof” mosaics, artworks that were “monolithic” within the structure of their settings.

A good example of this was the mosaic installation on the concourse at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham, where the works were literally set in stone beneath the Pugin Cathedral. The city councillors, not casual vandals, destroyed the work during an outburst of regeneration and it was at that point I decided upon a need for change.

Above: Some mosaics that Oliver Budd has made using this method: Left: This portrait was a commission for a property owner in the St Pauls area of Bristol and depicts one of his ancestors; Top right: Morgan panel for Kensington High Street, London; Bottom left: Detail of Chartist Mural remake, a recreation of Oliver Budd’s father Kenneth Budd’s original that used to be in Newport City centre – this is a 10% re-creation

We cannot do everything ourselves; others have skills beyond our capabilities, and we need to realise that and accept their knowledge.

So, bearing that in mind, I approached an engineering firm with the problem of how to make permanent but portable mosaic panels. Here is the answer…

Aluminium is light but firm and easily fabricated into shape but it is also a complicated material that will oxidise and warp when heated.

My engineers came up with the following solution: for large-scale (or even lesser-scale) mosaics, the design should comprise of “jigsaw” shapes of approximately 2 x 1-metre squared. Aluminium comes in a maximum sheet size of 2.5 x 1.25 metres.

Step-by-step process

From start to finish, here is the process:

1. I begin with a finished colour design, which I created to sell to the client. Using this as a starting point, I draw the design as a line drawing. To achieve this, I put the design onto PowerPoint and then project it onto my working wall, which is marked up in feet and metres. The projection is set to exactly the size required (for large works, this will be a proportion of the whole).

2. I pin up Polydraw matt paper, which is perfect for this type of work because it doesn’t stretch or deform under any circumstances. With that all in place, and the projection of my artwork upon it, I’m ready to go.

3. I draw the image as a line drawing using a thin black Sharpie until the whole design is completed (or in the case of a large work, a section of the whole work).

4. Once done, I take the drawing down from the wall and lay it on my bench. I have a 2.5 x 1-metre worktop, but it folds out to double the width for larger jobs. My studio is only 6 x 4 metres, so an economy of scale leads to a swift understanding of spatial awareness.

5. I use a sheet of clear polythene to cover the drawing, to protect it from the PVA adhesive. Next, I lay down a layer of fibre mesh, through which I can see the drawing. 

6. Mosaic time! Following the design, I apply my mosaic to the mesh with a good PVA (Evo Stick Waterproof is the best). Upon completion, I flip the work and remove the polythene backing.

7. Meanwhile, the aluminium tray (or sheets of aluminium if it’s a large work) has arrived (figure 1). Now for the important bit. The metal needs to be treated to accept the finished mosaic areas.  I use my trusty 4.5-inch cordless angle grinder, first with an 80-grit flap disc, working over the whole surface of the metal (figure 2). I follow that up with a basic grinding disc to scour the surface (figure 3). Both of these processes make a key for your adhesive. Without this procedure, your work will not adhere to the metal so it’s worth the time and effort to get it right.

Above: Figures 1, 2 and 3

8. So now to the adhesive. I always use Mapei’s Kerapoxy CQ but I’ve used others and, quite frankly, any good epoxy adhesive will work. I always go for a neutral colour – grey! Cement colours are good; white is awful. And always remember that the grout areas represent about 10-20% of your surface area. White grout will bleach the colour from your work. A neutral grey is unassuming; it won’t bother the eye.

9. I take my finished mosaic on its mesh and lay it onto the treated aluminium (figures 4 and 4a).  Mark its outer areas and then put the mosaic to one side. Spread the adhesive to the area using a 3mm notched trowel (figure 5). Set the mosaic onto that and gently beat it into place with a grouting float (figure 6). I always have a bucket of warm water with a bit of detergent squeezed in beside me. (Why warm water? Because it’s much nicer than dipping your hands into cold water!)

Above: Figures 4, 4a, 5 and 6 (clockwise from top left)

10. Now you need to identify where your fixing points are going to be. If I’m looking at a panel of say 2 x 1 metre, I’d say one in each corner, two top and bottom in the middle, and one or two in the centre. So, a total of about 7 or 8 fixing points (figure 7).

Figure 7

11. Drill these (5mm is ideal) and countersink them so the mosaic will sit flush when set. I sometimes grind the back of the mosaics that are covering them, to make a good finish.

12. Cut a piece of gaffer tape to cover those fixing holes and grout the complete panel. A tub of Kerapoxy totals 3kg. Three tubs will be enough to fix and grout two metres squared of mosaic work.

13. The next day, I remove the gaffer tape plasters over the fixing points and clean the complete panel with Kerapoxy cleaner. The work is now ready to go to site.

    14. Offer it to the wall and mark the fixing points, drill and plug, and then screw it to the wall. I always use stainless steel screws and, once fixed, I set the covering mosaic pieces over the screws with a bit of blue tack. Then I grout them in with the Kerapoxy. Why blue tack you ask? Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, your client will probably want to redevelop this site and your mosaic will need to move. If you’ve taken the precaution to protect the screw head with blue tack, and of course photographed where your fixing points are, then removal and relocation are a piece of cake as they say!

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