Ceramic Mural Project Plan

Ceramic murals or clay projects are truly one of the most cherished of all creative keepsakes in elementary school. And for good reason. Those treasured plaques, handprints and pumpkins are simply adorable. And they’re fun to do. I’ve never had a child balk at the sight of clay. Instead, most children can’t wait to mold, sculpt and shape their visions into permanent pieces. Now take  those clay projects a step farther by creating a beautiful ceramic tile mural.

You can do it.

Many of my readers have asked me to explain all the steps involved in making a clay project, but to do so properly, would make a very long post. I’ve also received many, many queries regarding the murals, and now I can finally share what I’ve learned from my fantastic ceramic mentor, Catherine Vallance. It has taken years to accumulate the photos of the students work, showing visually what to expect every step of the way. This is an information dense packet that will guide you through all the steps. I know you will love it.

Just look at the murals my classes have made throughout the years.

California Fruit Inspired Mural

The students at Brandon School chose the theme “California produce” for their annual ceramic tile mural project.

The students began the project by first drawing their chosen California produce onto a 5″ x 5″ piece of paper, then turned the one-dimensional drawing into a 3-dimensional tile by pulling, attaching, molding and texturing. Most kids really got into this tactile art project and created beautiful, realistic avocados, husks of corn, bunches of grapes, cherries, artichokes, Meyer lemons and naval oranges!

The tiles were laid out to dry for about two weeks then fired in our on-sight kiln. After the first firing, the students painted their tiles with underglaze and dipped them in a purple glaze. The results were fantastic and the students were pleased.

The mural is mounted just outside the Principal’s office on the inside wall of the bowl.

Ancient Greece Ceramic Tile Mural

Capping off the 6th grade promotion festivities was the reveal of the annual 6th grade mural. This year we chose to do Ancient Greece, with many student’s incorporating mythological creatures into their tile creations.

We used terra cotta clay to create our tiles. To save time and to take advantage of the sgraffito technique, we painted our underglaze directly onto the greenware. This is sometimes difficult as kids have a tendency to leave many fingerprints. But that’s easily remedied with later touch-ups.

2012 Greece Tile Mural

Car-themed Collaborative Ceramic Tile Mural

collaborative ceramic tile mural project for 6th grade

The 6th grade car mural completed in Spring 2015, marked the 10th year I facilitated a collaborative ceramic tile mural project. Within that span, 12 murals were created to help graduating 6th graders leave their mark. It’s been the most wonderful experience; bringing parents, teachers, district personnel and students together.

America the Beautiful Ceramic Tile Mural


This project had it’s challenges: our kiln wasn’t reaching high enough temperatures to fire the glaze properly and as a result, most of the tiles are a bit cloudy. But I imagined that a lovely “fog” settled over our beautiful tiles creating a soft lustre.

It always takes a little bit more time than what you expect to pull off a mural like this, but plan on some set-backs and start the process early.

California Marine Life Ceramic Tile Mural

Our school’s interior “bowl” now boasts five murals. This mural is extra special as it’s my daughter’s 6th grade class and my last year as a parent of an elementary school child. Our theme that year was California Marine Life.

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  • Carly

    Your site is so WONDERFUL! I am a first year art teacher, and I want to do a ceramic mural with my fifth graders. This PDF will help so much with the process. Thank you for sharing your ideas! -Carly

  • Brenda Murphy

    Hi Patty,

    I am so thankful for your site. You inspire me! I visited Artsy_2 on Flickr after reading about the Expression Portraits that you had posted. When I was on her site, she had mentioned that she had work also posted on Artsonia. I was wondering if you knew what the name of her school or city and state is? Also, do you post on Artsonia? As always, I look forward to my daily check-ins to your site/blog.

    Thank you for all that you do for our field!

    • Patty

      I don’t know where Artsy 2 teaches. All that I know of her is on her Flickr page. I don’t post on Artsonia. I sued to but this blog is all I have time for!

  • Patty

    I received this email form Janet from Ontario, Canada and thought her questions would be relevant to others….

    Hi Patty,

    This spring I ordered your ceramic tile pdf booklet. Like all of your ideas, it has me all “fired up” and wanting to start my own project. I teach Grade One to a class of 16 students. I am interested in trying this as a class project, and if all goes well doing a school wide project with the 125 kids in our school. Perhaps I am crazy because I have no ceramics experience, but then again I am just coming off a one year leave for breast cancer. Nothing is impossible!

    A couple of questions: I know you teach in a warm climate but I seem to recall that you are Canadian… is this indoor outdoor in California only, or could it survive an Eastern Ontario winter?

    Glazes… how many colours should I buy?

    How many tiles does 50 lbs of clay produce?

    Is there a reason you don’t buy your clay, glazes, and tools from the same place? (I know there is, but I am wondering what it is).

    I read the booklet twice but I think my brain is a bit fried, I hope I am not asking questions you already answered in the booklet.

    I hope you are enjoying a lovely summer! Thank you so much for your time, expertise, and generosity in sharing your ideas.

    Here is my response:

    Weather: The murals hold up well in our climate and I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t do well in Ontario. You may want to ask about the bonding agent (glue) and the grout from your local hardware store. Show the store guys what I have used and see if another product might be better for your climate. I’m thinking that the freezing temps might have an impact.

    Glazes: Completely up to you, but you’ll only need to purchase one pint of each color. Look at your theme and identify the elements which may need color. Go from there.

    Clay:50 lbs of clay generally gets me 40-50 tiles. About 20-25 tiles per bag (if you buy the cutter I mentioned).
    Sources: No reason. Just better prices and brands. In Canada, for instance, you may not have access to Laguna Clay company, so you would have to find
    Another supplier. If you ever have questions about the products, call the supplier and ask for advice. They really know their products.

  • Holly

    I have already read the PDF booklet several times. I completely understand how to make the ceramic tiles. I have experience teaching ceramics. What I don’t understand is how to install the mural to the wall. I know that you said to build a frame. Should the frame be hung to the wall before attaching the tiles? or Should I attach the tiles, and then hang it to the wall? I would love your thoughts on this. Thanks.

    • Patty

      Hi Holly,
      The frame is build 1st. Then the backer board is cut to match the frame dimensions, although it probably doesn’t matter which is cut first. The backer board is installed to the exterior wall surface. The frame is installed to the backer board. At this point the tiles can be mounted on the backer board (which is on the wall).
      It would be far too heavy to lift the mural if the tiles were mounted to the backerboard that was not already mounted to the wall. I think that is your concern, right?
      I hope this helps…I can see where it wasn’t explained exactly and the pictures of the backerboard and adhesive doesn’t exactly show that it is already wall mounted. Have fun!

      • Holly

        Thanks so much. I am very excited to try this project. I am nervous about the installation process, but I think I have a grasp on it now. Thanks for your expertise.

  • Joslyn

    Hi there,
    I just read through your booklet, can you give information on the tile spacers that you use and step-by-step tips for grouting?
    Happy Holidays,

  • Joslyn

    Hi, I just read though your booklet. Can you tell me more about the tiles spacers that you use and step-by-step tips on grouting including the brand you use?
    Thanks and Happy Holidays!

  • Debbie Killian

    Would this be possible to use with ready made ceramic tiles that you would buy at Lowe’s and use sharpies?

    • Patty Palmer

      The mounting part yes, but the instructions are for clay created tiles and firing techniques, etc. To do glazed ceramic tiles with sharpies is a project that doesn’t have a huge amount of staying power unless you seal it very well but even then it will fade over time. Can you try bisque tile and underglaze? That way, the art work is slightly more permanent.

  • Laura

    I would love to make a mural with tiles, but do not have a kiln. Do you have information about creating a mural with tiles?

    • Patty Palmer

      All of the mural projects that I have done involves firing tiles. If you use pre-fired tiles, such as the ones you buy at a hardware or tile store, they would require a special type of paint or even the use of Sharpie markers for the art. In my experience, this doesn’t produce art work that is long-lasting.
      The work of installing this type of mural is equal to installing a mural of fired tiles.
      You could do a tile mosaic, which wouldn’t require any artwork on the tile itself.

  • Jennifer

    Hi Patty!
    I had a snow day today and had the opportunity to browse through your blog. Our schools P.T.O. group have suggested ideas to help build morale in our school. I had the idea of doing an interactive thankful tree in our schools entryway. The tree would have a basket of leaves and a marker next to it. Parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc. could write messages of thanks to people in the school making a difference. These leaves would be taken out of the basket and hung weekly on the tree. By the end of the year it’s a tree full of thankful thoughts. Some teachers wanted it painted, others wanted it made out of paper, etc. Everyone had an idea, but in the end I would be the one making it. 🙂 I’ve been dreaming up ideas in my head and I think a tile installation would be the best. When I presented the idea to my superintendent he said he liked the idea, but what happens to it when the idea fades and we just have this permanent mural on the wall? I was caught off guard by this and didn’t know how to respond. I told him I’d get back to him on it. Do you have any advice for me on how to convince my administration that this would be a wonderful idea? Thanks for your inspirational blog!

  • Ranny Kim

    Where can I purchase and download the pdf, ceramic murals? It’s not listed in your ‘shop’ page.

  • Amanda Miller

    Hi! I’m looking for where to purchase the pdf booklet on ceramic tiles? Thanks!

  • Jennifer Best

    Is there a way to buy the 21 page mural project booklet?

    • Bethany

      Hi Jennifer! We have bundles available for purchase through our SHOP on our website and we also have Sparklers Club bundles available to paying members of the Sparklers Club.

      Bundles from the SHOP:
      Here is a link to bundles that we have available for purchase through our SHOP:

      **Whatever bundle that you purchase from the SHOP, you would have access to all the lessons in the bundle.

      BUNDLES from the Sparklers Club:
      The Mural Project is not available in the Shop. To access these bundles you would need to join the Sparklers Club. You get 3 bundles a month and would have access to all K-6 lessons in the bundles. Our next enrollment is coming up in January.

      The Sparklers Member’s Club is a membership program that supports teachers who teach art to kids. We offer three bundles a month. One bundle Team Sparkle will “drop” into your account. It is the monthly bundle that Team Sparkle will create for that month. Then- you get to choose 2 bundles of your choice from our bundle archive each month. We have over 90 bundles to choose from. You can choose whatever two you like from our bundle archive which has artist and themed bundles or can choose to unlock curriculum bundles from one of the 3 curriculums that we offer. Each month going forward, you can add 3 more bundles to your account in this way.

      Please let me know if you need anything else.

  • Mary Neyer

    How do I purchase the directions to the America The Beautiful Mural? Directions?, supplies? Is it a package?

    • Bethany

      Hi Mary! We don’t offer a free lesson plan for the America the Beautiful Mural. But we do have a Ceramic Mural Guidebook that explains how to create a large-scale ceramic tile mural inside our Sparklers Club. Are you a member?

  • Anna Warkentin

    Amazing work. How can we assess the detailed lesson plan on the tile mural? Thank you so much! We are hoping to attempt this at our school.

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