Sunday, September 11, 2011

Grouting as an Art Form

On Friday night I cut and mortared the very last piece of tile for this project, an angular piece of rope tile in the upper left corner of the shower trim. I ran downstairs to let Cheryl know about the stupendous milestone, but more about that later.

Yesterday I started grouting. And though I was prepared to be careful, slow, methodical and precise, my nature runs in the opposite direction, and soon I had bitten off more than I could comfortably chew.

Grout goes into the joints and begins to set up immediately, turning into a gray haze. After about 15 minutes a damp sponge is used to wipe off the excess and get the grout into its final shape, just so, between the tiles. Then it becomes as hard as stone.

If a grouter is not meticulous, if he doesn't look at every single corner, the grout might harden up over a corner of the tile face. If the grouter is too meticulous he might overwork the grout and weaken it. If the grouter is too slow, if he starts at the top and takes too long to get to the bottom (certainly not me, even though getting the grout into those irregular cracks was very tricky), the grout at the top will become stiff and difficult to shape.

Of course the Renaissance fresco painters faced this same dilemma, the clock tick-tocking as the wet plaster canvas dried.

I could have been someone like Michelangelo but I'm not, and I'm not sure why. For several years I practiced the piano many hours a day--hours and hours and hours. I believed that if a person wanted something enough and tried hard enough, a person could do anything, like becoming a good pianist. At least that's what we tell children. Instead we should teach children how to tile and grout.

Then, after a few hours, it's time to wipe off the haze and see the tile shine again. I've been looking into the depth and shadows of the cracks between the tiles for several months, and now the surface is flat, more or less.

Now I have to figure out how to grout the shower ceiling. I guess if Michelangelo could paint the Sistine chapel ceiling I should be able to get some grout into upside-down little cracks. And be very proud when I'm done.

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