Mosaic hints: colour use

Mosaic Blog: Let’s talk Colour

Our palette in mosaic does not allow for colour mixing – the colour is determined by the colour of our material – recycled crockery, glass, smalti, stone – and we become greedy collectors of all colours and shades, tints and tones that are out there. Particularly when recycling for our mosaics we meet some amazing colours.

The colour wheel is a great aid in making decisions about how to combine our finds successfully in a work of art. It also helps us find the right combinations of colours for our glue and grout, which really mesh the whole work of art together – “the healing power of grout” as Gerry would say.


The word ‘colour’ can be replaced by the word ‘hue’ – as hue is the place the colour occupies on the spectrum/wheel. In mosaic, we can create an effect of a hue by intermixing mosaic tiles of different colours, e.g. we achieve an impression of purple from intermixing blue and red, much like an impressionist or pointillist painter would. When using contrasting hues, it is important to create visual links between those colours unless a stark effect is aimed for. The highest contrast exists between colours on opposite sides of the wheel. Complementary hues sit side by side on the wheel and keeping tones close but varied excite our eyes in more subtle ways.

Hues, tints tones and shades- mosaic by Veronika

Tints, tones and shades are mixed by adding black, white or grey to any colour – which is important to know when mixing grout. Tints are created when adding white to a hue, tones when adding black and white and shades when adding black to a hue. Tints and tones are softer and desaturated, while shades are strong and dark. To make colour sing in a mosaic we often find that a darker shade grout or darker shade glue of the hue of the tiles will make the mosaic sing.

Tints of green and tones of brown- mosaic by Katrina

Tints and tones can be used to create a fusion of colours to bring them close together. It is useful for creating softness and blending effects, particularly in mosaic backgrounds. It can also be risky as it can cause the loss of clarity of an image. Shades of colour darken the hue and can be used to emphasize colour relationships.

Tones of pink and shades of grey- mosaic by Robyn

Shades of yellow – mosaic by Jenny

So much to think about! And there is more: warm and cool colours; warm colours are your yellows, oranges and reds and cool colours are your purples, blues and greens. Cool colours can be warmed by adding a warmer complementary hue, e.g. yellow to green results in a warmer lime, or can be cooled down by adding a cool complementary hue, such as blue to green resulting in a cooler turquoise. Again, remember that your glue or grout colour, shade, tint or tone can be used to soften or intensify effects, you may want to achieve.

A lot of these theoretical things are done in practice by gut feeling – we like some combinations and dislike others. However, it is useful to have a clear idea of colour use to be able to analyse why some combinations work and others don’t. There are so many decisions to be made in the creation of an artwork and understanding and using colour effectively is always essential!

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