Ceramic Tile Photo Display
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A few weekends ago, my parents offered to take us with them to St. Louis for a long weekend of sight-seeing, and we had the most amazing time! We spent most of the first day at the Anheuser Busch Brewery, taking a “beer school” class before touring the brewery; the second day we spent at the Botanical Gardens, and the third day we met Cory’s mom at the Butterfly House before returning home to KC. It was a fabulous weekend, and maybe one of these days, we’ll create a “Things to do in St. Louis” post; however, for now, let me tell you about the gardens and how it inspired a display of my favorite flowers, currently hanging in my studio! (And please humor me as I just have to share at least a few of my favorite photos from the lily gardens!)
When my parents went to the Botanical Gardens the first time, Mom came home talking about this massive section of nothing but day lilies; as these are my favorite flowers, she knew I’d love visiting and that we’d have to make the trip when they’d be blooming. Despite her descriptions and pictures, I didn’t truly grasp how many lilies we’d be seeing.
I. Was. In. Heaven. SO MANY BRIGHT COLORS! I had no idea that many varieties of day lilies even existed, and I’m pretty sure we stayed in that particular part of the garden for well over an hour, all the while with me overwhelmed and awed by the sheer beauty surrounding me. It was incredible, and I’m thrilled to have a reminder of that day and a small portion of that beauty in my home. I can’t wait to go back and spend more time amidst all that cheerful color (and to see the rest of the garden! We spent almost the entire day there and still didn’t cover all of it!).
I didn’t have a plan for this project when we left, but Mom had mentioned letting us take pictures with one of her cameras (she’s a fantastic photographer… and lucky for me, a very patient teacher!). As we wandered, she talked us through some basics of photography, and Cory and I took turns snapping photos, slowly improving our photography skills. While we still have a tremendous amount to learn (seriously… so much… but we’re getting better, and that’s what counts, right?!), I was really excited to see some decent shots of ours when we scrolled through the pictures back at the hotel together. Back home in KC, it took me several days to narrow down all the lily pictures to my favorites—I think between the three of us, we took over 150 pictures!
Since we tend towards home decor that incorporates nature/natural elements, a wall display of close-up lily pictures seemed perfect, especially in my studio, which, despite being the first room de-wallpapered and painted upon move-in, still has almost nothing on the walls. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to create a photo display with standard picture frames. I wanted something different, and I was trying to think of things people might have leftover at home from various renovations and other DIY projects, to keep costs down a little, when I thought about using tiles. Even if you don’t have extras lying around from your last project, you can pick some up from your local hardware store for pretty cheap—I think we paid about $12 for the 15 tiles we used.
Initially I decided to spray paint the tiles with a slightly textured black, but after the first coat, it clearly wasn’t working. The paint adhered well, but trying to get the edges of the tiles coated left splotchy/uneven patches on the tops; it seemed like I was wasting tons of paint trying to get those thin edges covered. To get even coats, it was going to take about 3 cans of paint, and I really wanted to keep this cheaper and simple. To that end, I decided instead to use some of the gray paint we had left from our bedroom, and we picked up a sample size of a black paint for a few dollars for the bigger tiles, which I decided I liked better in a different color. If you do go the basic latex wall paint route, you will need one coat of a good primer; for that, I used a self-etching spray paint primer I had lying from another project. It worked great, especially because it’s only needed for the tops of the tiles, as the edges take the paint just fine without primer. To keep some of the textured look, albeit more muted, I used a foam roller.
Alright, then… ready to choose some of your favorite photos for a simple, lovely wall display?! Let’s get started. (Note: If you’re already a DIYer, you too may have much of this on hand from various other projects, making this a very inexpensive wall hanging!)
- Ceramic Tiles (size and quantity based on your space and design)
- Spray Primer ( We used Krylon Covermaxx Primer, but any brand/type for ceramics/glass/all-surfaces would work)
- Mod Podge (finish matters less, it’s only used to adhere)
- Small Foam Roller
- Foam Brushes or Paint Brush
- Mod Podge Spray Clear Acrylic Sealer (I used the Super Hi-Shine, or you could use Mod Podge Acrylic Sealer)
- Strong Glue (I use the E6000 Adhesive for lots of projects)
- Sawtooth Hangers
- Small felt pads
- Printed Photos
Start off by choosing your photos, designing your wall hanging, and grabbing your tiles. I sketched out some possibilities, decided on the overall look I liked, and headed to Lowe’s, where we laid tiles out on the floor trying to decide which sizes worked best together. We went with two 12×12s and thirteen 4x4s and purchased the cheapest of each size. I think the biscuit tiles we used for the little ones were around $0.50 each, though I’ve since seen them since as low as $0.16!
Once you’ve chosen your photos, size them appropriately and print them. Because our color printer is a mess (I decided to try some cheap off-brand inks on Amazon… disaster! Now we have to figure out if it’s fixable or time for a new printhead or printer. *sigh*), we had them printed at Office Depot on bright white paper. To figure out exactly how it would all look and how much space would go between the tiles, Cory drew out our design on graph paper, which made hanging them far easier when the time came (make sure to measure your tiles prior to graphing, as they’re actually 4.25”x4.25” and slightly under 12”x12”). Or just eyeball it when you go to hang it if you’re good at that (my mom excels at this… I, on the other hand, end up having to adjust half the time, leaving me with several extra holes in the wall!).
Once you’ve got the design finished, prime the top of your tiles, wait however long the can indicates, and paint away! Ours needed two coats on the edges (regular foam or paint brush) and tops (foam roller), and it required very little paint overall.
Once that’s all dry, flip the tiles over and glue down the sawtooth hangers with the E6000 glue, making sure to place them at the same points on each tile (I recommend orienting your tiles the same way for all of them…. As you can see from the photos, that didn’t occur to me at the time!). This glue, while extremely useful and uber heavy-duty, smells absolutely terrible; you’ll definitely want a mask and to work in a ventilated area. I let the glue set overnight. While it’s drying, stick little felt circles on the bottom corners of each tile to keep them from scratching your walls up during hanging.
Next, glue your printed photos to the tiles with Mod Podge by spreading a thin layer on the back of the photo and centering the photo on your tile. As you go, gently use your fingers (or a decoupage roller if you’re feeling fancy and have one) to remove air bubbles; I found that starting from a corner and applying steady but light pressure worked best for me. Take care to avoid excess Mod Podge around the photos, as the spray sealer will highlight those areas. Before you glue all the photos down, do make sure they’re oriented correctly with respect to the sawtooths!
Once you’ve taken a moment to admire your handiwork (it looks so pretty, right?!), spray a light, even coat of the sealer over each photo/tile. You might spray some test paper at first to make sure you get the hang of even spraying. Now you’re ready to hang your photo display! To simplify this, we cut out templates for each tile out of contractor paper, and I marked a nail hole in each one where appropriate.
Since Cory graphed this all out and was willing to hang it for me (it was late, I was desperately trying to get some other work done before the next morning, and I was, admittedly, getting a bit cranky… sorry, babe!), I let him work his magic. He found the center of the space we were hanging in, taped the central tile’s template on the wall, then measured the appropriate distance from nail hole to nail hole in the center row. He worked outward from there in the same manner, measuring and leveling as he went.
Once he had the template up, he put nails in where they were marked, and we replaced the contractor paper templates with our photo tiles and rearranged until we liked the overall look! Now, every day when I go to practice or teach, I can’t help but smile at the lovely lilies on my wall! They’re just such happy flowers!
If you’re looking for more great DIY decors to liven up a room, check out our Coloring Book Cut Paper DIY and our Miniature Bud Vase projects. Needing to get organized? Start building a Simple Pantry Shelf or a Tie/Storage Rack!
Do you have blank walls in your home begging for a simple photo display to brighten them up? Let me know your plans in the comments below!