Monday, June 01, 2009


I worked on the mosaics all weekend - well, about 6 or 7 hours worth, total - and I got one side of one bed done. One side! There are two long sides and a short side and part of a short side and part of a long side left! That means there are about 20 - 30 hours of mosaicing in my future and I'm kind of kicking myself for ever starting this project, because there are other projects I want to get to and I can't have any pudding if I won't eat my meat. Or something like that.

Since I really didn't do much this weekend besides mosaic, drink beer and read mediocre British - possibly faux British, even - mystery novels, I have decided to post a tutorial on how to make giant garden beds full of yellowing, spindly plants that look like they need to be airlifted to a better place while I get carted off in handcuffs for vegetable abuse. This tutorial will not really be illustrated, but tomorrow it might be. One never knows, does one? Oooh, the faux Britishisms are getting me.


1. Get a bunch of concrete blocks. I located a huge pile of them down by the stockyards and then my friend Adam and I ferried them up to the house, 12 blocks per car (on the theory that too much weight fucks your car up but good and we both have ancient, ailing cars, so we are careful) for a total of something insane like 250 blocks. I've fortunately forgotten the exact number, but, hell, they were free and some were painted with cryptic graffiti symbols, bonus.

2. Adam will transform the blocks into bunkers for you while you are at work. How did he do this? I have no idea. I believe it involved cement. I came home and they were built and I gave him some money and we were all happy.

3. Your neighbor will tell you this will never work. Ignore her.

4. Adam will fill them up with dirt while you are at work. This might have been a bad mistake. If you are doing this, fill them up with dirt you have personally inspected. My dirt is not really "dirt" per se, I think it is actually mostly "mulch" or "sawdust" or, I don't know, "completely lifeless moondust" or something. My plants are not happy at all and it's not the sun or the water so it must be the dirt. I added composted cow manure and I added bloodmeal and I added lime and now, looking at my sad plants, I am thinking about just going whole hog old school and adding a bunch of rotting fish. Sigh.

5. Gather all the broken dishes you've been collecting for years, along with the bottle caps and bits of sea glass and bits of marble and bits of tile and bits of mirror and bits of stained glass and bits of everything. Gather all the same from Adam and then from all your friends. Go to the thrift store and buy plates. Tell everyone you need plates and mosaic stuff. It won't be enough but it's a start. Apologize when you hear from your friend Dianna, Adam's wife, that not all those plates were broken to start with. Feel guilty for adding to American consumerist culture. Think about buying things in order to break them. Think about what the world would be like if everyone was issued a bowl and spoon at birth and that was it. Think that you would probably have long since broken yours and starved to death. Be excited by your friend Lee's find of a Chorus Line collectible plate and stop worrying about all this shit.

6. Buy Thinset. Thinset is really concrete and in the last month it seems to have disappeared and been preempted by something else, something like mortar but with polymer added, that is white instead of gray. Go figure. It works the same and let's all hope it's okay, because it's what I used yesterday.

7. Put plastic sheeting down by a bunker. Set up an ancient patio umbrella for shade from the blazing sun. Set up your iPod outside. Put on yellow rubber gloves. Drag buckets and boxes full of heavy bits of plates over and dump them onto the plastic sheeting. Mix the thinset or mortar in a big tub with water from the house. The proper consistency should be kind of like cake batter, not like hummus. Think about food similes. If the thinset is too thin, the stuff will not stick. If it is too thick, it won't stick either. Cake batter is what you want. Get your special plate breaking hammer (when this project is over, you will probably be throwing away this hammer, because its handle will by then be made of concrete. Unless you are not as messy as I am but I think it probably will.)

8. Put thinset on the back of a mosaic piece and apply it to the concrete block wall. Use a knife at first, then give up and use your fingers. Try to work from large pieces to small pieces, but then realize you are out of large pieces. Some pieces will fall off. Some will not. Try to think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. Try to think of it as art. Try to think about nothing. Succeed. Get thinset all over everything, including your shoes. Discover that squatting on the ground for hours at a time makes your legs go numb. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat. Every time you use up a tub of thinset you can have a cigarette, but be aware that all the concrete on your gloves will make it hard to put them back on. Manage, miraculously, not to impale yourself on anything yet although you are, basically, sitting in a giant pile of broken glass and ceramic.

9. Some neighbors will stop by and tell you enthusiastically how incredibly cool this project is. Feel cool and proud. Some neighbors will slow down and scowl at you in fury. Feel cool and proud. Hey, it's all in the attitude.

10. When the thinset dries, anywhere from 3 hours later to a day later (do not, repeat, do not, wait several days because you will regret it) you must clean it off each piece of mosaic. With a toothbrush. Yes, I said a toothbrush. First you take a scraper and you scrape the big pieces of thinset off. Remember, thinset is concrete. The longer you take to scrape it, the longer it takes. Then you take a big scrub brush and you brush it. Then you take a toothbrush and you brush it. Then you take the toothbrush and dip it in a water/vinegar solution and polish each piece and then you dry that piece with a cloth because if you just let it dry it looks weird. Yeah. This is the part of mosaicing where your your inner OCD sufferer gets to really, really enjoy herself while you look on from your usual brain going WTF?

9. Realize that as usual, you have dramatically underestimated the amount of time this project was going to take. Oh well. It's not like you have anything else to do, is it?

11. Vow to take a newer picture this evening, but here's an older one - figure about 6 or 7 hours for each of the long sides: 2nd mosaic bed almost done


haskell said...

You do realize that you used the number 9 twice, so really it's 12 steps, huh? Like a 12 step program? ;-)

I think it's a really cool project, though certainly more time-consuming and labor intensive than I would ever attempt.

But there's no time limit, you know. It's not like you have to finish it this week, month, season, whatever. You can set it aside and work on it months from now...or whenever you have more plates.

Anonymous said...

I love this sentence: "This is the part of mosaicing where your your inner OCD sufferer gets to really, really enjoy herself while you look on from your usual brain going WTF?"

mygothlaundry said...

Yeah, math is hard. ;-) I suck at numbered lists. But I do not suck at doing mosaics! Besides, the OCD part of me can't just let them rest. They HAVE to be finished! Hmmm. That is a bit ridiculous, I know, but, oh well, there you have it.

Thanks, anon! Yes, we all have a little OCD in us - a tiny obsessive jumping up and down suggesting that it's time to alphabetize the dish towels. Fortunately, s/he's usually eminently easy to ignore, particularly with the help of God's wonder drug, beer.