2 July–Clean and Varnish

It may not look like much change, but scraping out the excess cement is really hard work.  I had been pushing to get all the tiles up and so left a lot more of this to do than usual.

After the scraping and cleaning (I use the scrubby side of a ScotchBrite pad), I brushed the varnish onto the unglazed tiles.  SO here is how the seafloor looks as of 2:00 PM today, all ready for grouting!

And here is what may be the very last unfinished photo of the project:

Next (and last) page:  3 July–FINISHED!!


Hard to believe…

At about 1:30 this afternoon, I put up the very last tile in this project.  Sp took this photo to mark the occasion.

Compare this to my last post on 28 June; I really pushed last week to get this done.  Being so close to finishing does that to you!

(If you look closely, just above my head there is still and empty area.  But there is something special going in there; you’ll see that in a day or two.)

So, now what?  It’s the usual pattern: cleaning out the excess, sealing the old tiles that need it, and then grouting.  I also still have to use the grouting bag both in the sea floor area and on the rest of the mosaic.

But this is going to get done this week!

Next page: 2 July–Clean and Varnish

28 June–Building the Sea Floor

Lots of work over the last six days (in between rainstorms).

First task was to decide how to END this thing!  Up until this week I had the far end of the sea floor marked with a couple of vertical-straight-edge tiles (photo), but that just would not look good when we decide what to do with the ugly cinderblock wall to the right.

So I did some Photoshop mockups of what things might look like and decided on a design.  This photo shows that, and where the project stands now, at the end of today:

The new right-hand end is a good 10 inches farther than it used to be.  I’ve defined it with the same gold glass pool tiles used to separate the ocean floor from the water; from the top it curves down (covering a really ugly square concrete post) and then straight down to the base.  You can see a tiny bit of the cinder block wall; it continues about another 10 feet to the right.

There’s a lot of color mixing going on here, from yellow to brown to a beige that is almost white.  Also a lot of large shells are joining the starfish!

As you can see, there’s just a couple of square feet to cover.  It has gone pretty fast, EXCEPT around the starfish; you can see a lot of small tiles in there that I had to use to make things fit.  (Lots of chipping and grinding involved in all that.)  The photo looks very mushy in the center; that’s the cement that I just did today; it has not yet been cleaned off.

So here she is:

Next page:  1 July–THE LAST TILE

22 June–GROUTED!!

Amazing what a 3-hour hard push will do.  I started around 10:00AM; by 1:00PM all the blue, green, and Sirena herself, was DONE.  There is still detail work to do, which I’ll show you at the end of this post; but for now, it is a HUGE day in the life of this project!

Here’s how I started.  After mixing maybe 1/3 of the 5kg bag; I’m using the float to spread the grout over the tile, pressing it into the cracks.

I can tell you right away, this is NOT the same as doing a tile wall or floor where all the tiles are square and the same thickness!  I had to slide the float in all directions or it would miss whole joints where a thick tile would hold the float out away from a thin one.

But the good (great, really) news is that instead of the grout bringing out all my irregularities in thickness and spacing between the tiles, it ended up masking nearly all of them!  Even the glass tiles, many of which have no gap between them at all,ended up with a very nice white grout line around them.

You really have to work fast, and nonstop.  I took about a half hour to use up all the grout in the bucket. Then immediately starts the process of using the sponge to scrub off the excess.


The sponge has a scrubby side and a spongy side.  It takes serious elbow grease to get the excess off!  (Sometimes I cheated and used a fingertip.)  And here was the second really great news: even with the hard scrubbing, NONE of the tiles broke off the wall.  I’m amazed…

Here you can see a second wipedown of the glass tiles on the tail.  I had to stop about every minute to rinse the sponge with the hose and nozzle.  A big Home Depot orange bucket was my “sink.”

A second bucket of grout and 2 more hours, and she’s done!  Here is how La Sirena looks after grouting, the sponge scrubbing, and then a light wipe with a dry towel to take off the haze:

BUT she is not quite done yet.  Obviously the yellow ocean bottom isn’t done yet.  But there is some important detail work to do. The grout will have to be applied using a bag that’s just like what a cake decorator fills with frosting to write and make designs.  I’ll use it to fill in

around the fish and Sirena’s hair:


and the seashell bracelets and necklace have their own issues.  They are buried way to deep for me to grout around them.  I think the best thing to do, since I have an unlimited supply of shells, is to just glue a near-identical shell right to the top of each one.  That should bring them up to the level of the tiles, and then I can grout around them.

(UPDATE 23 June: that is exactly what I did, and I think the grouting will go fine.)

SO, Wow… this grouting day went spectularly well; far better than I ever thought it would.  I can finally say:  she looks GREAT.  Here’s one more look, from the right end of the wall:

Next page:  28 June–Building the Sea Floor

20 June–Ocean tile done!

A LONG post today, because it’s a big day for La Sirena.

TASK 1:  Finish fitting and taping up tiles. This was a really long process as I’ve typed before, with many tiles taking 15-20 minutes to fit.  But I got it done before lunch, and here’s the photo.

TASK 2:  Cement them in.  I’m back to the Bexel “Solucion Total” cement, and I’ve decided I really don’t like it as much.  But I got them up in good shape (assuming they STAY up).

A few “Hazaa!s” at that moment.  It has, after, been FIVE MONTHS TO THE DAY since I started this blog, and all the tile except the beach is ON THE WALL.

Well, I thought so anyway.  Because when I stepped back, I realized there were still a few little gaps to be filled; irregular-shape places that I figured I’d wait until the right tile showed up.  They never did, so another half hour of cut-and grind to do these (under her hair)…

and this green one (between her fingers).

Not so bad.

I next took some time to clean a lot of the tiles (not the ones just cemented) so I could begin to seal the worn ones with “barniz” (sort of a varnish).

Only a small percentage of the tiles need this step; the ones whose glassy surface has worn off over time.  This has to be done now, or the grout will be absorbed and badly stain the tiles.  Although it looks like it might take forever, it actually is going very fast.

So here she is!  The next real change you’re going to see will be once I get grouting; the sand area to the right will come after that.

It’s a celebration night!  That means the really good Scotch before bed…

Next page:  22 June–GROUTED!!

19 June-One More Day?

Let’s start with the End of Day Photo this time:

You can see, the green really is almost done!  I think one more day to fit the rest of the tiles and then cement them all in.

Here’s the closeup view.  You can see there really is a very small space left to fill in with green.

This is going very slowly.  (Compare the photo above to the one six days ago.) The space is very confined, so practically ever tile is being cut and ground to fit. Most of them take 10 to 20 minutes each to do this.

The plan is to finish the green, and then GROUT all the way up to the sand-bottom border, and then work on the sand after that.  The grouting could go smoothly or have problems from one end of the wall to the other, but it’s time to find out.

Next page:  20 June–Ocean tile done!


13 June–More green (and some yellow)

 Light at the end of the tunnel?  

This morning I cemented the top row of tile all the way out to the end!

I think there is now less than a 2-square-foot area of water to do, and then just the sandy sea bottom.  If it looks like I can’t get it all done before we travel again July 7, then I may do the grout all the way up to the gold line of tile that defines the edge of the sand.

The grouting is going to be very interesting, since the tiles have such a wide range of thickness and the gaps between them go from zero to maybe 1/8″.  I do not have good feel for how it will look at the end.

Oh!  But before that, comes CLEANING the tiles, and SEALING any of them that have lost their glass surface over years on the beach.  I have what appears to be some very good sealer for that task; it will be careful detail work with an artist’s brush.  Anyway, here’s La Sirena at noon 13 June:

Next page:  19 June–One more day?

8 June–Lots more Green

Remember when every day (back the end of March) my post was nothing more than “More blue tile”?

That’s about where we are now with the green.  I should have lots of material to finish the ocean, in several different shades of green (but especially that Plain Old Pastel Green).  Some folks even surprised me by bringing some over yesterday!  I’m in fine shape.

So the last several days have been the same slow process of finding a tile that almost fits a place, chipping and grinding it, and taping it up.  Then once a day, mixing up the cement and sticking them all on the wall.  The above photo is the recent work as of 12 Noon today–notice that the entire area above her is now completely filled in!

But there was one unique little project this morning.  At the gift shop of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, we bought a little coaster made from six pieces of ceramic tile, molded and arranged into a pattern actually found on some of the walls there.  I taped the faces all together and then stripped off the piece of felt that was holding them into shape.

I was going to put it on the wall and then get tiles to fit around it, but realized that would take forever and with questionable success.  Instead, I laid it on the table and fit tiles all around it.  No climbing up and down the ladder!  The whole thing took about a half hour.

After taping it all together so it could be handled as one piece (just as I did five months ago with Sirena’s body), I cemented it in place as you see here.


Several hours later:

The tape is off and you can see the pattern!





Next page:  13 June–More green (and some yellow)


4 June–We’re back!

Back from five weeks in Europe, and there’s some pretty inspirational tile work out there.  Portugal in particular is very well known for paving its pedestrian walks and plazas with black and white mosaic tiles, and the Andalusian cities of Cordoba and Sevilla have tile walls and decoration literally every place you look.

(Sites like the Alcazar in Seville and Alhambra in Granada have walls and walls of the stuff, created using several different 2D and 3D techniques.)

Returning home the first issue to deal with was the same one that existed in April: the lack of enough pale green tiles.  So I put a request out on our local expats Facebook group.  Unlike my try several months ago (it was blue tile that time), I got several responses!  It took a few trips out to the other beach towns, climbing around construction sites or combing piles on the playa, but I now should have more than enough to get this project finished.

Today was my first day back at work on La Sirena, and the result is here.  I’ve selected, cut, grinded (ground?) and taped up about 50 pieces to be cemented on the wall tomorrow morning.

And I have to be more careful.  It took less than a minute for me to slip the first time using the grinder; fortunately it barely touched my skin (this time).  And later on, I nonchalantly grabbed a just-ground tile in my ungloved hand and burned two fingers.  (I can’t glove both hands; need the dexterity in my right one.)

Anyway, we’re on a roll again.  We travel again in 5 weeks, and when we return it will be the rainy season, so it would be really nice to have the mermaid done.

Next page: 8 June–Lots more Green

17 April–too much distraction?

Let’s start off focusing on the bulk of the work of the past several days.

It’s very slow right now; a combination of working in the small curving space above her body and the lack of tiles to choose from.  Those two things mean it takes a lot of time to find an appropriate tile, a lot of clipping and grinding to make them fit, and a LOT of trips up and down the stepstool.  Still, you can see I’m very close to having the entire area above her body filled in!  And there is more done out front of her as well (see photo below).

I broke down and bought some tiles at the Mexican-style tile store in Merida.  There are several colors here, and I bought one pattern that you can see in the photo.  Notice that none of these are soft pastels; Mexican tile is known for its bright colors!

So now the question: is there so much color up there that Sirena is getting lost?  Lots of colors; lots of small tiles in a multitude of shapes.  Hopefully when it’s all cleaned up and grouted it will all be fine.

Here she is as of the end of April 17.  I have at the most one more day of work before our long trip!

Next page:  4 June–We’re back!