Making mosaics with recycled materials: Katy Galbraith

Mosaic artist and upcycling fanatic Katy Galbraith urges us to look at our old crockery and glassware with a creative eye....and turn them into something useful and beautiful ...or purely decorative. She tells us about her work

Use lockdown to start mosaic making..Katy Galbraith

I love mosaic and want to encourage people to see there's a lot more to mosaics than those very expensive tiny glass squares you buy on a mesh... so if you have old crockery and glassware, why not learn to put it to good use and make lovely mosaic-decorated pieces for your home; or  commission a mosaic artist to make something for you useful those old bits of crockery. Pictured above: a decorative mosaic panel of exotic birds made for a bathroom.

I've always had a love of crockery - and as a consequence my kitchen cupboards are full. But it got to a point where if something new went in, something had to be taken out; and instead of taking it to a charity shop or a recycling centre, I decided to try working with the material in my garden workshop. And what resulted was a passion for mosaic.

It started about a good 20 years ago when my husband and I couldn’t agree on a garden table. He wanted a picnic-type table; I wanted expensive teak. We finally agreed on a mosaic-topped one. Subsequently I felt inspired to sign up for a mosaic course run by a friend of mine locally, and one of the first things I made was...yes, a mosaic-top for an old garden table. 

Being a compulsive upcycler from my teens (fabrics, wool, felt, paper…) mosaic fits perfectly for me. It's eco-friendly to re-use them and I love the idea that someone’s redundant ceramics or glass can be reused to make something else - which may be functional or purely decorative.

Many of the projects that I work on using clients' old ceramics  - from mirror surrounds to kitchen splash-backs - have a history to them, much like traditional patchwork quilts would have done when they were made from pieces of a family's clothing and other textiles.

Mosaic rainbows for Clap for Carers
A work in development

One of my pieces, Isobel’s Garden, was made from the contents my husbands’ aunt's kitchen, after she moved into a residential home. I don’t recall eating from particularly interesting crockery when we used to visit her, so the bags of stoneware that came in my direction were a total surprise and were fantastic to work with and it's a very special piece for me.

I used to buy crockery from bric-a-brac stalls and charity shops, but now I find packages of broken ceramic pieces left for me on the back doorstep by someone who's heard about my work. That's always an exciting moment, as you never quite know what you are getting. Quite often the last piece donated to my mosaic cause is the piece that triggers the next mosaic.  

And I do get given the small square mosaic tiles, left-overs from people's tiling jobs. In the past few years this has been the common perception of mosaic, but personally I find meshes of small uniform squares rather uninspiring.That said, I do use the donated pieces for edging, but my work tends towards the Opus Sectile mosaic style, (where one piece of tile is cut to a whole shape, such as a petal). To cut ceramics to shape involves a variety of tools including standard ceramic tile cutters from the DIY store.

Mosaics and jigsaw puzzles have a lot in common

Making mosaics is a very meditative and calming process, a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. However, as with most things, it has its complexities.

Incidentally I'm often asked if I enjoy throwing the plates Greek-style to break them. I don't -  I cut them with tools to ensure the best bit of the design is kept intact. You have to learn about which type of ceramics to use and which adhesive does what and which ones to use for outdoor mosaics. I do, of course, have a garden full of early experimental pieces where the pieces of tile weren't robust enough for our Scottish winters.

Personally, I love all things floral and colourful and find inspiration from my garden - the herbacious borders in particular! And I like using the 'quirky' bits of a design on a piece of crockery and incorporating it unexpectedly - for example, I put a tiny image of a windsurfer taken from a tacky holiday commemorative plate in a tree for a bit of mischievousness! 

I love working to commission and I start the process by asking clients what images they like and dislike. I particularly love to make bathroom or kitchen splashbacks, as you have a great big canvas to work on. I also make mosaics for galleries and exhibitions; these tend to be pictures and mirror surrounds and I use ceramic tile pieces for them.

Find out more

If you'd like to learn to upcycle using mosaics, contact to find out about courses in your area.

Are you an upcycler and would like to share your story? Especially if lockdown has got you to embrace a craft!  Drop us a line and a couple of images to