about us: design process
Decorative ceramic tile, custom handmade tile for unlimited possibilities
Each year I personally produce hundreds of thousands of handmade ceramic tiles. It's a tedious, time consuming process that is physical grueling. It requires about 80+ hours per week.
I've had artists work for me in the past that have left in tears. They found the work too physical, couldn't master the processes, and couldn't stand when something didn't turn out as planned.
There is a magnitude of room for error...cracking, warping, skewing, breakage, glaze interactions, a drop of dust on a firing tile, etc. Just when you think each piece looks perfect, you open the kiln and a disaster. It's taken me many years to perfect my techniques to eliminate these issues. Occasionally, there is still a problem.
"Opening the kiln can sometimes feel like opening a present at Christmas...or not!"
Sometimes a rendering of the ceramic tile design is made by the customer or myself, but only if it is a detailed mural or logo. My lily pond ceramic tile designs, leaf floor designs, trout stream tile designs are normally designed on the fly. Drawing them out makes them look to contrived. I always end up changing something.
This horse ceramic tile drawing was made by our customer, Sharon Cain of Quitman, Georgia to fit a 2' tall x 3' wide floor space. Sharon indicated that she would like an olive glaze with splashes of black and cream.
Upon customer design approval, the medium fire (cone 6-8) clay is cut from a 25 lb. block of clay, hand rolled to about 1" thick and then rolled out using an industrial slab roller to a 1/4" thickness.
If I'm making a pattern in the clay, I lay it on the clay and roll it through the slab roller once again. The picture to the right shows some Lamb's Ear leaves being pressed into they clay. These leaves have excellent vein structure.
Once rolled, the clay slab is transferred to a workbench where the pieces are cut.
The excess clay is dampened and gathered into a ball. It's set aside for a bit, then kneaded like bread dough and rolled out again for the next group of tile cutting. It's a workout for certain.
"Each tile required DAILY attention. I often feel like a baby sitter."
The WET clay tile pieces are carefully placed onto one foot square, 1/2" thick drywall, where the clay tiles will be sandwiched and placed in our drying room for drying. Depending on their size, the clay ceramic tiles will dry anywhere from 1-4 days. By using drywall, the clay pieces remain flat while drying and the water from the wet clay is absorbed evenly. The tiles generally shrink about 8% during this stage.
NOTE: Each tile must be rotated to dry boards daily to reduce the chance of warping, cracking, and skewing during drying and firing(s). Some need carving while in the leather-like stage as well.
When the tiles are completely dry, "Poose" the studio cat is removed from the studio. We do this because the clay, when dry, is extremely fragile and easy to break, and Poose likes to help me whenever possible with the ceramic tile development. She even has her own line of cat footprint ceramic tiles!
Once the cat is removed from the studio, the tiles are transferred from the drying room to the clay room, and cleaned with various clay tools and a damp sponge. This process insures the edges of each piece are evenly smoothed.
Upon the short second drying, the clay pieces are very carefully transferred to kiln shelves and cautiously placed into the kiln where they are fired to a specific temperature. The tiles once again shrink...and not evenly.
(Firing temperatures range from approximately 1800º – 2200º, depending on the clay base.)
NOTE: Clay has a memory. It remembers if it is bent, stretched, etc. during production. This can cause warping. Extreme patience must be giving during production of ceramic tiles.
When the kiln shuts off, it must cool down for a minimum of twice the time it took to fire the pieces. This can be anywhere from 24-48 hours in large kilns. If the tiles are unloaded from a hot kiln, they could split in half or the glaze could "craze."
DANGER!: NEVER open a hot kiln! The tiles can explode and your face will literally melt.
Once the kiln has cooled down, the "fully vitrified bisque" tiles are unloaded and sorted according to the customer orders. They are moved into the glaze and layout room in the back of the studio.
Each tile is wiped with a damp sponge to remove any clay dust residue, prior to glazing. Depending on the type of glaze, I either air-spray or hand paint the glaze on the tiles. The picture to the left shows bisque tiles that were glazed using a spray gun with a 6-gallon air compressor. Later the dried tiles are splashed by hand with drops of satin cream and black glaze.
When the glaze has fully dried on the bisque tile, they are once again loaded into the kiln on shelves, being careful not to have any one piece touch another. If they touch, they will become fused together as the glaze melts onto the tile. Glaze is basically a glass-like material that goes "molten" in the kilns during firing and turns into a glass.
The kiln is fired for the second firing. Once the kiln reaches the appropriate glaze temperature, the kiln shuts off and must cool down once more. The glazed ceramic tile load shown above is about 3/4 full and will probably take about 1 1/2 days to cool down.
Note: Some of glaze techniques require multiple glaze firings.
When the kiln lid is lifted, it displays the finished ceramic tile pieces. The ceramic tile color has dramatically changed from a rust/white to a olive green/ cream/black tile.
"I must say, it's like opening presents on Christmas each time I lift the kiln lid." says Diane. "Sometimes it's so exciting to see the finished product, but on other occasions, it's a disappointment to see a large piece cracked, or a glaze didn't turn out like I expected."
When the kiln is unloaded, the pieces are laid out to make certain they will fit the customers surface area.
As you can see from the picture above, not enough pieces were made. More background pieces will be fired to complete this unique ceramic tile order. When all the pieces are complete, they are laid out on a table to view the overall design. It's not uncommon for the artist to make changes once all pieces are laid out. We want our ceramic tile product to be perfect.
2' x 3' custom horse mosaic
Once all the ceramic tile pieces are assembled I apply a ceramic tile film to the face of the tile. This keeps the pieces in place for the finally installation. See Film Mounted Tiles for details.
Finally, the sheets of tiles are carefully packaged between layers of bubble wrap, and shipped to you our valued customers! Note: Some tiles are rolled in bubble wrap depending on shape. Either way, they should arrive unbroken.
Click the finished tile picture above for a close-up of this horse ceramic tile mosaic.
"Diane, Thanks so much, I love the
dog print prototype. I appreciate your correspondence through this design
process. That is a GREAT way to do business. Thanks again."
If you would like to place an order at that time, click the email me links in the right column. There are instructions, as to what information I need, to get from you, to process your order, and for you to pay.
Most tiles ship the same day as payment.
I look forward to hearing from you!
For more information on making ceramic tiles, visit The Big Ceramic Store, tip #30.
Tiles with Style
360 Leatherwood Hollow Road,
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