Pressing On

       

Well, we’re wrapping up two months in quarantine. Back in March when everything shut down, I ordered 4 boxes of clay from Seattle Pottery Supply thinking it was 100 pounds. Much to my surprise, 4 boxes of clay is actually 200 pounds. While I wasn’t sure I’d have space for the eight bags, I found the space and now I’m so glad I made the mistake. This clay is keeping me sane. In addition to pressing dozens of tiles for several new panels from existing designs, I’ve designed three new animal tiles. There are a lot steps in the making of a finished tile but the design phase is by far the most fun.

The dolphin and llama were inspired by fabric patterns. The baby bird was inspired by the House Finches currently building a nest in the Clematis vine above our patio. This isn’t the first year this pair of finches has nested in our vine. They were here a year or two ago and it was so much fun to see and hear the babies.

Be sure to check back in a month or two if you’d like to see the finished boards.

Installing a Ceramic Tile Mural – 8 Simple Steps

I recently corresponded with an art teacher named Ashley from Cumberland Regional High School in New Jersey. We were planning to do a video call next week to talk about the process of installing an outdoor ceramic mural. Unfortunately, because the Coronavirus has brought everything to a standstill, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I do, however, want to pass along my experience in mural making to Ashley and her students with some photos and notes. This health crisis will eventually pass and I really hope they get an opportunity to make their mural.

   

   

 

Installing a Ceramic Tile Mural

Materials

  • Tiles (fired to cone 5 or higher if outdoors)
  • Hardie board
  • Masonry screws
  • Fiberglass mesh tape
  • Fortified thinset (premixed recommended)
  • Aluminum angles
  • Construction adhesive
  • 1×2 Wood strips (width of mural)
  • Tile spacers
  • Painter’s tape
  • Grout (premixed recommended)

Tools

  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Paper or sketchbook
  • Straight edge for cutting Hardie board
  • Utility knife and spare blades
  • Level
  • Power drill or corded hammer drill
  • Hack saw with miter box or Dremel saw with a metal cutting blade
  • Small trowel
  • Rubber grout float
  • Tongue depressors (applying grout)
  • Buckets
  • Sponges
  1. Design

Lay tiles out on a flat surface to determine the size of your mural. Determine locations of the tile courses; measure them from the bottom of the mural. Mark this information on the Hardie board or on a separate sketch, with the dimensions, to refer to later.

  1. Cut Board

Once you’ve determined how large your mural will be, measure and mark the Hardie Board with a pencil. Using a straight edge (a 2×4 works well), cut the board with your utility knife.

  1. Install Board

Using a level and one or two helpers to hold the board in place, drive the screws through the Hardie board into the subsurface. If the subsurface is wood, a power drill will work but if the subsurface is concrete, a hammer drill may be required.

  1. Prep Board

Fill any screw holes with thinset.  Apply mesh tape over joints (if using more than one sheet of Hardie board). Coat mesh tape with a thin smooth layer of thinset.

  1. Aluminum Edges

Measure the perimeter lengths of the installed board. Using the hack saw and miter box or Dremel saw, cut the aluminum angles to fit the edges of the Hardie board (see detail of angle ends to make a clean corner). Glue the aluminum angles to the edges of the Hardie board with construction adhesive. Keep the angles in place with painter’s tape until dry.

  1. Determine Starting Point(s)

Start from the bottom and work up. Use tile spacers between the aluminum angle and the first row. Optional step – Cut and install 1×2 wood boards, using the level, at key courses in the mural design (refer back to your original layout sketch). This will allow you to work on several areas at a time.

  1. Set Tiles

Begin setting the tiles. Start in the center of the course and move horizontally to the outside edges, use the trowel to “butter” the back of each tile with thinset and push firmly against the Hardie board. Tiles will be adjustable for about 10 – 15 minutes depending on temperature/humidity. Once the first horizontal band is set, move up a row. Keep your level handy and check often. Refer back to the sketch and use tile spacers to make sure the rows align with those in your sketch. This way you’ll be sure to have the proper amount of space by the time you get to the top of the mural.

  1. Grout

Once the tiles are set and dried, cover the outside edges of your aluminum angles with painters tape for protection, and begin applying grout in sections. Depending on the type of tiles used this can be done with either a rubber float (if the tiles are flat and smooth) or tongue depressors (if the tiles are sculptural). You can wipe most of the grout from the tile surfaces with a dampened sponge while the grout is wet. Carefully remove painter’s tape while the grout is still wet. When the grout is dry give the tiles a good cleaning with a sponge and warm water.

Helpful Tips

  • Check the weather. It’s easier to tile on a clear, dry day.
  • Wear nitrile gloves when using thinset and grout.
  • Draw courses and key tile locations directly on the Hardie board with pencil before you start tiling.
  • It’s nice to have flexible areas of your mural where you can fill in tiles to adjust for courses that don’t quite match up to your sketch. For example, I used circular tiles fill in the area between the orca tile pattern and otter tile pattern. I was able to use as I many as I needed to fill that left over space.

Going to the Dogs

    

  

 

  

As some of you know, I make primarily two different types of tiles – tessellating animal tiles and sgraffito pet portrait tiles. Here are a few of my recent custom portrait tiles.

Because the tessellating tiles and portrait tiles are so different in technique, I’ve decided to open a second Etsy Shop. It’s called “ScratchingDogTiles” and you can go to this shop to order a portrait or to browse my current collection of shelter dog tiles (a portion of the sale of each shelter dog tiles is donated to local animal shelters in the Seattle area).

https://www.etsy.com/shop/ScratchingDogTiles

I Couldn’t Resist

     

So, after throwing what seemed like a hundred cylinders in my class these past two months, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to make things.

Inspired by the book Ceramics for Beginners, Animals and Figures by Susan Halls, I decided to make some animal containers using wheel thrown cylinders. With a title like “Ceramics for Beginners”, what could be easier? Well, as I discovered, many things are easier. Here are a few of the challenges that I encountered:

First, my elephant’s back legs and my sheep’s butt blew off in the kiln. Either I didn’t score them well enough or they weren’t completely dry when they went into the kiln. I was able to salvage the elephant by sticking with low-fire glazes (to minimize warping) and then gluing the legs on after with epoxy. With some carefully painted underglaze lines and splatters, the glue lines are barely noticeable. All I could do for the sheep was sand down his backside and then, using a dremel tool, carve a subtle tail where there was once a sculpted tail.

Next, the lids on my kangaroo and seal fused to their bodies during a cone 5 glaze firing. Guess I didn’t clean up those areas well enough before placing them in the kiln. Fortunately, the kangaroo survived but the seal broke while trying to detach the lid 😦

So, besides improving my throwing skills, what this class has really taught me is that I need to be a lot more careful and that, when working with clay, most problems can be solved (more or less). 🙂

Conquering Fears

  

Brrrrr, when the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, my studio space gets cold and dark.  January is the perfect time to take a class in something that I’ve tried a few times but never really had the patience for – Wheel Throwing. This time around I’ve decided to focus on process rather than product. I see the class as an opportunity to “practice my scales”. Since I don’t plan to make many pieces, I won’t need to find places to store my amateurish pots and, at the same time, I’ll get a good workout recycling all that soggy clay at the wedging table. More photos to come (or not).

Tile and Art Festival

    

I’ve spent the past month creating my latest tile boards. These will be on display at the 14th Annual Tile and Art Festival on November 2nd and 3rd at the Mt. Baker Community Club in Seattle. I can’t wait to see what my fellow tile makers bring this year. I’m especially excited for the “Salish Sea” juried show. My entry “Ghosts of the Salish Sea”, shown above, depicts sea otters which once flourished in the waters along the coast of Washington. If you’re in town that weekend be sure to check it out – this show features some very talented people.