Tile Mural Project - Part 2

CUTTING THE PIECES

Because I'm fitting this project in between everything else I'm doing these days, I only cut a few clay pieces each day. It's a small, intimate, almost childish activity -- not really that far removed from simply pounding out Play Doh on a kitchen table and carving it up with a butter knife.

The clay is rolled out between two slats of wood on a pillowcase, using a kitchen rolling pin.

The clay is rolled out between two slats of wood on a pillowcase, using a kitchen rolling pin.

The next step is to flip the pieces over, using two pieces of sheetrock, because once rolled out it can never be touched directly with the hands until the clay is dry. On the back, I inscribe the number of each piece as well as some grooves to help the tile grip the mortar.

Here they are, face down on a chunk of wallboard near my wood stove.

Here they are, face down on a chunk of wallboard near my wood stove.

Finally, when they're more or less dry, I flip them over. They're lovely and chalky, a pure white. This is a porcelain clay that fires at stoneware temperatures, and it has beautiful working qualities.

This is a different set of tiles than the previous photos showed, obviously.

This is a different set of tiles than the previous photos showed, obviously.

On a table in my studio.

On a table in my studio.

Mostly I've got the tiles laid out on the studio floor, since there are so many of them, but the photo I have handy is this one of a few tidily set on this little table.

Tile Mural Project - Part 1

MAKING THE PATTERN

An island friend commissioned me to make a tile mural for the 38 square feet (in four panels) of wall behind her woodstove. We talked about what she had in mind, and both of us were swept up in a vision of the amazing possibilities offered by handmade tiles. An image of water, she said. The ocean, the flow and rhythms of it. Here's the drawing I came up with (just on typing paper, taped together) for the project:

I took the photo with the drawing laid out on the grey boards of my front porch. The colored-in parts are simply to show the way that various colors can define the flow across all four panels. All the tiles will, of course, be colored in the final mural. The colors of water, with blues and greys and greens.

I took the photo with the drawing laid out on the grey boards of my front porch. The colored-in parts are simply to show the way that various colors can define the flow across all four panels. All the tiles will, of course, be colored in the final mural. The colors of water, with blues and greys and greens.

I brought the drawing to her, and she liked it. The next phase was to measure the exact dimensions of the four pieces of cement board that currently make up those surfaces, and to create life-size patterns - one for each panel. Three of the panels are five feet high. (The current cement boards will be replaced with new ones to hold these tiles - more about that step later.) Below is one of the full-size panel patterns, drawn on a piece of Tyvek, with each pattern piece numbered. It's five feet high and 40 inches wide.

Laid out on my not-very-clean livingroom floor. I made a few minor changes in the lines, to make them flow better than they had in my original sketch.

Laid out on my not-very-clean livingroom floor. I made a few minor changes in the lines, to make them flow better than they had in my original sketch.

The numbers on this panel start at 90, because I've already numbered two of the other panels on their own pattern sheets. This sheet goes up to 198. I'm guessing that I'll end up with around 260 tiles, all told. Each one different. The next step is to trace each pattern piece onto a piece of paper, and cut it out. That way, I preserve the original Tyvek pattern sheet, so I can lay out the clay tiles on it. I'm using cheap typing paper to make my individual pattern pieces. Below are a few of these pieces, traced but not yet cut out.

I do this part in my livingroom, because it's warm and convenient. I'm trying to do as much work here as I can, before I get to the part where clay dust starts floating around and I have to move my operations to my studio.

I do this part in my livingroom, because it's warm and convenient. I'm trying to do as much work here as I can, before I get to the part where clay dust starts floating around and I have to move my operations to my studio.

I'll add the next steps in another post soon.