Talavera Tile Mural – Tiling for Beginners

A Talavera tile mural is a stunning piece of art for your home. Used indoors or outside, they add color and character to a home. I am using a few tile murals in our Spanish style home: in the kitchen, by the front door and on the loggia. However, laying out these handmade murals can be a little tricky.

A Little Talavera History

Mexican Talavera tiles and pottery have been around for hundreds of years! It’s commonly thought that Spanish monks brought this ceramic art to Mexico. In order to decorate the new monasteries, the monks taught the local artisans the craft. Soon the tiles became a symbol of wealth for both families and churches. In Mexico, and especially Puebla, there are spectacular examples of these tiles used to decorate the inside and outside of buildings.

The art of making Talavera tile and pottery has changed very little over the centuries. After two different types of clay are mixed together, it’s then turned on a potter’s wheel (bowls, plates, vases, etc.) or pressed into a mold (tiles, tile murals, etc.). The pieces are then dried for up to 90 days. After an initial firing, the piece is dipped into a glaze, stenciled and hand painted followed by a higher temperature firing. All in all, it takes 3 to 6 months to create Talavera art!

Talavera Tile Mural

I bought my murals online. There are many sources for tile murals and a Google search will give you plenty of both retail and online stores that sell them. There are tons of design choices! If you’re going to

NOTE: Talavera tiles and pottery susceptible to cracking/breaking when exposed to freezing temperatures. This is especially true if they get wet and then freeze. If the tile mural is to the elements make sure to order frost proof tiles. My outdoor murals are going to be mounted behind a wall in the covered entry and won’t get wet or be exposed to ice/snow.

I also designed one tile mural on my own. I found a large Talavera Mission tile and then chose 3 different tile designs to surround the Mission tile. This tile mural will be framed and hung like a picture over the loggia fireplace. The one for the kitchen will be in the backsplash over the stove and surrounded by subway tile.

The two tile murals for the entry are the same size, have the same border tile but are 2 different scenes. They are complimentary but not matchy-matchy. There are going to be mounted to the walls during the stucco installation. The stucco finish will go over the backer board and up to the tiles so they’ll be part of the wall!

The Tiling Process

Materials:

HardieBacker® Cement Board – I love working with this board. It comes with a grid for keeping tiles lined up & is pretty light compared to other tile backer boards. 3′ x 5′ board will fit most murals.

Notched trowel – I used 1/4″ but you can go smaller.

Grouting sponge

Grout Float

Adhesive – I used MAPEI® Type 1 Tile Adhesive. A gallon was needed for two 36″ x 28″ murals.

Grout – MAPEI® Flexcolor CQ 0.5-Gallon White Acrylic Premixed Grout. This grout is premixed and very easy to work with plus no sealing needed. White or an off white is the more traditional grout color.

Tile spacers – not really necessary but can be helpful with the border tiles. I used 1/8″ spacers.

Tile Mural

IMPORTANT!! As soon as you receive your mural, carefully unpack it on a soft surface (to prevent any chipping, cracking or, God forbid, breakage) and lay it out. Carefully inspect each tile for chips or cracks. Check the overall mural to make sure the tiles of the same pattern are matching (as much as possible – these are handmade). I had mismatched border tiles in one of my murals where the tiles were noticeably different from the corner tiles and had to be replaced. Also check that nothing catches your eye as a mistake. It helps to print out a picture of the mural and compare the two. Contact the store immediately if there are any problems!! Check the store’s policy (it’s a good idea to do this before placing the order) but usually you only have a couple of days after receiving your tile mural to file a claim.

Tile Mural backer board

Step 1

Lay out your mural on a padded flat surface. Adjust each tile for the approximate grout lines. As far as grout lines go, it’s really a personal preference. 1/4″ grout joints will have an overall smoother looking surface while a smaller joint will show off the rounded surface of the tile. However, the grout joints will not be exact because you’re going to have to make adjustments for the slight variations of the tile sizes. This will give you a good idea of the finished size. It also makes it a lot easier to start tiling (and reduce mistakes) when you grab the tiles in order.

Tile Mural Layout

Now measure top to bottom and side to side. On your tile backer board mark your mural measurements within the grid. You’ll want to have spacing all around your completed mural for screwing it to whatever surface you’ve chosen. Double check your measurements then cut off the excess. Score and snap the board by making 2-3 passes with a utility knife or a carbide tipped blade, place one hand and knee firmly along the score line, then use the opposite hand to pull the board up.

Step 2

If you’ve never tiled before, watching a couple of YouTube videos is very helpful! This is a pretty messy process. Keep this in mind when you’re figuring out where this will be done. Also you’ll want to wear gloves. If you prefer to work with out gloves, as I do, the wash your hands frequently to reduce the buildup. Both the adhesive and grout clean up with soap & water – yeah!!! This stuff is pretty stinky, be sure to do this in a well ventilated area. Click here for the manufacturer’s instructions.

Adhesive for Tile Mural

Using your trowel, scoop out some adhesive. Working within the backer board grid, spread the adhesive with the smooth edge of the trowel. Work in a small area at a time to prevent the adhesive from drying out! I spread it thinly and then apply more adhesive with the notched edge of the trowel. Because my murals are going to be mounted vertically, I “back butter” each tile as well. I like to start from the top left corner of the mural and work my way down the column and repeat the process for each column to the right, applying adhesive to the board as needed and back buttering each tile.

Tile Mural Back Buttering

Step 3

NOTE: Pay attention to the direction of the design! It’s very easy to lay a tile design in the wrong direction.

The first column is pretty easy to lay – use the top & left lines of the grid. This is when I use the tile spacers so I can create even grout joints. With the next set of tiles, use the top grid line to start the column and use if tile spacer on the left side if needed. Now here’s where it starts getting a tad tricky. You’ll start seeing the small variations in the tile sizes. This is when you start eyeballing it and toss the tile spacers. Just try to line up each tone with the tile to the left and above. You may have to readjust the surrounding tiles a little bit too. As you go, wipe off any adhesive that’s on the tiles without moving the tiles.

Tile Mural Grout Joints

Don’t spend a lot of time on this and don’t get anal about it! You’ll be surprised after it’s grouted how the gaps don’t seem as obvious! Pour yourself a glass of wine and allow the tile mural to dry overnight.

Step 4

Now you’re ready to grout! Grouting is pretty easy but also pretty messy. You’ll want to have access to water close by for rinsing out the grout sponge. Which you will do frequently, like a hundred times (it seems anyway).

Scoop out some grout with the grout float. I like to use the end of the float, as opposed to the side, to smush the grout into the joints. Use the side of the float at a 45 degree angle to remove excess grout. You may need to go back and add some to areas where one tile is higher than another. I also make sure that there’s grout at the edges of the joints along the perimeter of the tile mural. And I remove any grout that’s oozing out and smooth it with the float.

Tile Mural Grouting

Once you’ve finished grouting, it’s going to look pretty ugly. Grab your grout sponge and get it wet, squeezing out the excess. You want it moist but not sopping wet. Go to your starting point and start wiping the grout off the tiles. I like to do it in circles as it helps tidy up the joints too. You’ll only be able to do about 4 tiles at a time even with switching to different parts of the sponge! Rinse the sponger and repeat. I had to go over the whole mural a couple of times.

Cleaning Grout off Tile Mural

Step 5

After about an hour or so, there’ll be a faint haze on the tiles. I like to use a terry cloth rag and individually polish each tile to remove that haze. Voila! It’s done! Pour yourself a glass of wine, celebrate, and let it dry overnight. After allowing the grout to dry, you’ll need to move it. It will be a lot heavier than you think! Use 2 people to move it unless it’s small.

I hope this inspired you to create your own Talavera tile mural! Where will you put it?

Antoinette de Janasz Baxter