After months of spraying and layering underglazes and glazes, I’m so happy to finally post this series of panels. The baby birds are the only tiles in this series that were designed this year; the other panels were explorations of new colors and patterns. I’m especially pleased with the Ray panel. I’ve always liked this tile but, until now, had never set aside the time to make a large enough panel to display them properly. After overcoming years of being afraid to experiment with color, I now find it a challenge to show restraint. I’m glad I was able to hold back on this piece.
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.
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
- 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)
- Measuring tape
- Paper or sketchbook
- Straight edge for cutting Hardie board
- Utility knife and spare blades
- 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)
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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).
These tiles, including my brand new elephant design, will be available for purchase at the Artisan Tile NW Tile Festival this coming weekend. Hope to see you there!
To order online:
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.
I haven’t posted any of my tilework for awhile but I’ve been working on a few different things. I’ve got the concept for “Garage Panel 2” done but I’ll save the sketches for that project for a separate post down the road. The panel will, once again, feature animals of the Pacific Northwest. I’ll be using the orca tiles again but in a different way. I will also include the octopus tile I designed last year. I was never happy with the way the octopuses interlocked so this year I designed a squid companion for them. I’m using this incredible underglaze that Amaco makes called “Flame Orange”. It holds up to a cone 5 firing so much better than their other reds and oranges. I also designed a pair of interlocking sea otters that will float above the deep sea creatures. I’m showing them clustered together but there will be a lot of blank tiles separating them on the panel.
Although I won’t be incorporating it into the garage project, I recently redesigned the flying fish tile I made last year. This version is a bit more sculptural and a little less grumpy than it’s predecessor. I’ve also been experimenting with stamps to make ceramic frames. They’ve proven to be more challenging than I anticipated (lots of warping and cracking) but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. I’m hoping to make a few to display more elaborately detailed individual tiles.
Look what came out of the kiln today – my first insect tile planters!
I made this series of insect tiles to use on the upper panel of my garage project. It will be awhile until I have the time to do that project so I decided to make some planters with these tiles in the meantime. I’ve made planters from tiles before but they were much larger and used many more tiles. These are relatively quick to make and nice for small house plants. I’ll be posting them in my Etsy shop soon, except for the yellow one. I’m keeping that one for myself. 🙂
To see a demonstration of how they’re made check out the video on my Etsy shop “About” page: https://www.etsy.com/shop/GoodPressCeramics
Well my kiln broke last weekend so tile production is on hold until Seattle Pottery Supply sends someone out to fix it. In the meantime, I’ve been playing around with stamps and vessels. I made a few new stamps and I’ve been experimenting with pressing them into different types of clays. The act of pressing can be a little tricky. I think the patterns look better when they’ve been pressed deeply into the clay but this often results in cracking during drying or firing. Hopefully, some of the clay bodies I’m testing out will be more resilient.
I’ve been enjoying the new slab roller so much that I decided to buy an extruding gun. The Super Duper Clay Gun (yes, that’s what it’s called) is amazing! It only comes with a small round die but you can purchase additional ones. They even sell a set that allows you to make hollow shapes. It’s really, really fun. So far I’ve only used it to make feet for a couple of vessels but I can’t wait to make other things with it.