Mosaic is a labor- and inventory-intensive pursuit, but that shouldn't deter you from jumping in with both feet and exploring this colorful and infinitely varied art form. Once you start accumulating bits of tile, glass, and other materials, you'll want to build more shelves so that you can see it all at one time, the better to choose what to use to make your next work of art! Over the years, I've found that clear plastic containers are the best way to store my extensive mosaic inventory because it is so easy to see what I have without opening and emptying every box; what's more, they are very cheap! You'll soon have a colorful assortment of organized containers, and you can easily see what supplies you have at a glance. When I first started with mosaic, I used old glass jars to store the tiles, but I was always afraid of breaking them, and they were a lot heavier than the deli containers.
Glass tile is sold in an almost infinite variety of shapes, from tiny 3/8-inch squares to larger 1-inch tiles. Sometimes they come with the front side glued to a paper backing; this is done so that, if you want to build a backsplash or wall out of perfectly square tiles, they'll go on straighter and faster than if you had to adhere one tile at a time. If, like I do, you want to use the tiles individually for cutting into mosaics, you need to get the paper off. The best way to do this is by soaking, and the most efficient way to do that is to use an old salad spinner; its colander-like inside basket is the perfect size for holding one sheet of paper-backed tiles if it's scrunched up a bit (which doesn't hurt the tiles one bit), and the fact that it fits into a larger bowl makes it easy to soak. Use warm water and let the sheet soak for several minutes. When the tiles start to come off easily, just scrape all of them off, drain out the gluey water, swirl them around in fresh water to rinse, and then lift out the strainer and dump the tiles out on an old towel to dry.
I like to separate tiles by color and store them in clear deli containers, which I buy at a nearby restaurant supply retailer very inexpensively. (You can also save your used deli containers for a more Earth-friendly option, but they usually have printing on the sides, which hides the contents, so I find other uses for those containers. Also, using only containers of the same sizes keeps your inventory more orderly.) The 16-ounce container holds about a pound, or 1 square foot, of the small glass tiles. Smaller and larger sizes, such as 8-ounce and 32-ounce, are useful for holding scraps of a color or larger miscellaneous items of the same color. These conveniently fit inside each other as well, which saves space on your shelves.
Ceramic & Marble Tile
Ceramic and marble tile comes in a great variety of shapes, colors and sizes, from 3/8-inch mini tiles to floor tiles of 24 inches. Ceramic and marble are heavier than glass tile, so you'll need sturdier containers for your ceramic and marble inventory. I sort by color and break larger pieces to fit. The discount stores are your friends here as well; you will find a variety of strong, clear plastic containers with lids that will hold your tile at hand easily. Take care, however, not to choose very large containers which you won't be able to lift easily when full, and make sure your shelves are sturdy and secure enough to support them.
Miscellaneous Junk—I Mean, Inventory!
I often scour garage sales for cheap junk jewelry, buttons, beads, marbles, stones, or small ceramic items to use in my mosaics. I separate these by color and store them in the larger deli containers. These containers also come with lids, which protect the contents from dust and debris.
Stained glass is generally sold in square-foot sheets in stores that specialize in stained-glass supplies, but you can sometimes find ½-inch or ¾-inch precut squares at some online retailers. If I buy the square-foot sizes, I cut them into thirds and store them, sorted by color, in those clear plastic shoe boxes that are incredibly cheap at discount stores. When I use a color for a project, I keep track of the shards and store the ones that are large enough to use for another project in an 8-ounce deli container, which tucks right into the shoe box for that color ready for the next project.