I wanted to share with you how one of our kitchen projects is turning out, first off because the project itself is mostly done, but also because it is a good example of just how crazy we are with home renovations and sheer dedication.
In Arts and Crafts homes, tiling is a very important feature. Original homes often had amazing hand-made artisan tiles, and the best modern renovations and replications of A&C homes often feature high quality handmade tiles. There are many extremely talented craftsmen who still create them in the USA, and getting the most lovely tiles is an expensive prospect. So what do you do when you are stingy, artistic and, frankly, a little insane? You make your own art tiles.
Dan hand-carved a few larger pieces which are not yet finished and will be featured in a later post. This post details how we are making smaller accent tiles in a less time invasive, reproducible way that almost anyone can do. This is a method we came up with ourselves and is not something that they teach you in art school!
Step 1- Design and Carving Stamps) We used linoleum blocks (normally used for print making) to make stamps for clay, so that our designs could be easily reproduced and consistently the 2×2 inch size we needed to fit with the standard square tile size. After a design was made, it was then transferred to the linoleum block using paper and pencils by pressing down on the opposite side of the paper as the pencil marks, thus leaving a graphite impression of the design on the linoleum.
Step 2 – Transfer to Clay) After the drawing was transferred to the linoleum block, we used Speedball brand linoleum cutters to carve out the tracings. Voila – instant homemade stamp!
From there, we rolled out the our clay to a uniform thickness, using thick sheets of plexiglass as a depth guide. After, we hand-pressed the stamps into sheets of clay, and then cut out the edge of each stamp using a clay knife.
After this step, we let the clay dry out for about a week before the next step…
Step 3 – Firing and Glazing)
We are fortunate enough to have a contact who has a kiln that they are letting us use. We haven’t gotten crazy enough to buy our own kiln (yet!). The tiles were first fired without a glaze, then we brought them back home to hand glaze them, and took them out again for their final firing. This is the end result:
Now we have an assortment of accent tiles, hand-made with love, that we will eventually incorporate into our kitchen backsplash.
A Final Word on the Designs
The imagery that we chose for these tiles was very important to us. We wanted to keep with subject matter that would have been appropriate for the Arts and Crafts era, but that was also meaningful to us. We decided on only plants and animals that are native to Pennsylvania, which we felt would make our kitchen design grounded in the region which we love and call home.
Among the depictions are our state bird – the ruffed grouse, the rare trillium (trilliums are native to PA and also very important in classic A&C designs), the cicada (a local insect, but also a symbol of good luck in Southern France, where I lived for a time. No home in Southern France is complete without a good luck cicada, or ‘cigale.’), our state plant – the crownvetch, our state tree – hemlock, dragonflies, forget-me-nots, and much more. We have since designed even more tiles featuring a wider range of species.