Tag Archives: tiles

Cat. Just a Cat. That is Enough.

A clay tile done in October, 2017. For details on the creation process, look here.

For details on what this cat is thinking…you will just have to guess. Cats do not tell.


Faces in Clay – Two

More clay faces made in October, 2017. For information on the process, look here.

Faces in Clay – One

Here are clay tiles I made in October, 2017.

I made my own tiles from terracotta clay (I mention this because sometimes I use commercially-made tiles). I roll out the clay, cut it into approximately 6″ squares, and fire it once at cone 06.

Then I use Velvet underglazes to created the faces. First I apply a layer of black and let it dry. Then I add the colors. I scratch through them when they are still wet to reveal the black (the thin lines you see); I also leave space between colors (the larger black irregular areas). I don’t draw anything out beforehand – I just go right to it.

Another firing at cone 06 and we’re done. Faces looking at you!

Artifact Tiles – Part 2

For Part 1, look here.

At the end of the first post, I had put the tiles into the kiln for their glaze firing. Opening the kiln is always exciting – a combination of apprehension and hope. I had fired these tiles at cone 05, appropriate for the glaze/clay combination I was using. The firing took about 6 hours and I then had to let the kiln cool over night.

When I took out the tiles, I was happy. There were no failures of the materials (meaning nothing exploded, ran, blistered, cracked, etc.)

I’ll show you the tiles and discuss my thoughts. But remember, I consider none of these tiles saleable or even much to look at. I did get a lot of good information from them, though, and that is what I wanted.

This first group is composed of yellow and light green underglazes, on terracotta clay, with the bluebell glaze. You can see the breaking effect.

I was also happy that many small details were preserved, such as the slots in the screwheads. I had thought they might be filled up with glaze and washed out. Even better, the tiny threads in the large screw showed up. That’s great news for designing later on.

These are all black underglaze, the left two with Transparent Pearl and the little one with Bluebell. Additionally, the left tile is white clay, the other two, terracotta. Different clays react with glazes and underglazes differently.

This purple group is a mix of clays, underglazes, and glazes. The two on the right are both white clay tiles, and the underglaze seems thin to me (could be my fault in not applying enough or it could be how it interacts with the glaze). But I like the color combos, thinking they have good potential.

This red group pleased me. Top left is terracotta/red underglaze/pearl glaze. Its neighbor is white clay/red underglaze/bluebell glaze. The bottom one is terracotta/red underglaze/bluebell. You can see that changing the clay makes a real difference. I like the white clay example very much for the clear red color, but the terracotta clay adds a certain depth to the color. Hmmm…

This green group is interesting to me. All are terracotta clay – The left two are the same green underglaze color called leaf green; Bluebell glaze on the left and Pearl on the right. But the far right one is a very much darker green underglaze, with Pearl glaze, and yet it looks much like the other two. Once again, you cannot predict what results you will have when you start combining things.

These tiles are both terracotta clay and an underglaze color called Electric Blue, with Pearl glaze on the left, Bluebell on the right. What I like about this duo is the rich blue color both of them have, one a little warmer than the other. And you know, as a straight underglaze, Electric Blue is a very harsh bold color, not my favorite. Here it really does a nice job.

These are both terracotta clay and a chocolate-brown underglaze. The different glazes are readily discernible. I really like both of these. A lot.

This is a terracotta tile, medium pink underglaze, Bluebell glaze. I am very happy with this tile; it is what I need I think I need to be shooting for in terms of raised and lowered areas. It is easy to see how the glaze is supposed to work and there is a great level of detail retained. Some of the other tiles had a lot of open areas – this one is more successful because of its busyness, I think. My challenge would be to include this amount of detail in coherent designs. Well, I think with practice it is possible.

Now I will show you my failures. Interestingly enough, most of them are on white clay. I do think the terracotta clay adds body to the underglaze color, no matter what color it is, and that is important in setting up contrast.

Plus, some of these color combinations are just – ugly.

There are other combinations I haven’t tried yet – I didn’t have enough tiles. Let’s say I didn’t like that white clay/avocado/Pearl tile, for instance, but I haven’t tried terracotta/avocado/Bluebell, have I? There is still more adventure waiting for me.

Now, the question is, do I want to go further with this avenue? I think so. On the plus side, it is a different creative process from my pictorial tiles. The tiles themselves are somewhat sculptural and the design process is very different from painting a scene. Choosing objects to impress would be challenging and fun, and there is the possibility of working in a series (the kitchen implement series, the basement toolbox series, I think you get it…!!!)

On the negative side, there are a lot of not-so-interesting parts to the production process. Painting on the¬†underglaze and glaze has to be done in steps with drying time in between. It’s not quick. The thinking part of creating these tiles ends when the tiles are made and the colors chosen. But, I also find doing this kind of work soothing, if I am not in a hurry. Rote work is not always a bad thing.

My conclusion? I’m intrigued enough to explore further. I think there is plenty I could do with this idea and I like the change of pace it offers. So… I hope to show you more of these artifact tiles in the future. Thanks for reading and following me on this foray into something new.

Artifact Tiles – Part 1

A few weeks ago, I was buying some clay at the Ceramic Shop in Norristown, PA. My attention was attracted by a display of sample tiles for Amaco Lead-Free Low-Fire Opalescent Glazes.

I mention the whole name so that you can look it up if you want. I’ll do my best to describe it in concise terms – these glazes are designed to “break”, meaning they are used on tiles with relief, the glaze color collecting in the low spots and the underlying clay or underglaze color revealed in the higher areas.

I was intrigued. I thought I’d buy a couple of jars of it (I chose Bluebell, a turquoise color, and Transparent Pearl, a white) and see if I could make anything of it.

My first thought was to make relief tiles similar to ones from the past – here is an example:

But I didn’t want to go back to doing something I feel I’ve done enough of. My more recent tiles have resembled small paintings:

and I enjoy doing them. I don’t want to move away from this style of working. I like the process of making them and I like the results.

Still, I was curious and it doesn’t hurt to try out something new. If nothing else, I’d know to stay away from this line of inquiry in the future!

I needed to think about my work process. The product literature emphasized that these glazes were to be used on items with relief – there is no point in using this kind of glaze on a flat surface as the breaking effect will not occur.

It also recommended using terracotta clay or else doing an underpainting with an underglaze color. Well, I had plenty of Velvet underglaze on hand – that’s what I have used for years in all my tile work.

All right. Now what would my tile designs look like? I was not sure how much small detail would survive in this process. I have found that glaze tends to smooth out details. I decided to try impressing various objects in clay, making marks of various depths, patterns, and sizes to get some idea of how things might work.

I rolled out both terracotta and a white clay (both are low-fire, or earthenware, clays and are suitable for use with these glazes. As you may know, clay and glazes have to match as far as firing temperature). I pulled out a box of odds and ends and started pressing into the clays.

I did not worry about the shape distortions of the tiles or invest much design sense. My goal was to make sure I had enough variety to get an idea of what looked best.

I ended up with a good array of tiles. They dried for about a week and then I fired them at cone 06 for their initial trip to the kiln. Here are the terracotta tiles:

and the white tiles.

Next, I tried to figure out how I’d manage the color/glaze combinations. I had two types of clay, two glazes, and a lot of Velvet underglazes. I thought about things for a while and made some lists.

Then I started putting on the underglazes.

I had an elaborate scheme to get as many samples as I could, but I got a little mixed up. Still, it worked out in the end all right. As I went along, I photographed each tile and made a list of the underglaze/glaze combination, so that later on I could see which ones worked and which were less successful.

I then separated the tiles into two glaze groups and put them on the table in these groups (20 being Bluebell and 10 being Transparent Pearl).

I glazed them, putting on three coats as recommended, and loaded them in the kiln, planning to fire them at Cone 05.

What happened? I’ll tell you…soon…

Two Favorites

I visited the city on Wednesday, August 9, the city being my city, Philadelphia. My husband had a meeting at his downtown office and I decided to take the ride in and go look around.

It was a beautiful day. I rarely go into Philadelphia anymore, but for many years I was here every day – I worked in several different locations (for the same employer) in Center City and in the historic district. I also drove all over the place for my job, so I know a lot about the entire city; but it’s the hub of things I want to talk about today.

On this walk, I visited two of my favorite art pieces, both public art. I’ll show you a little bit and then, if you are interested, you can find more info on the internet or…you can visit Philadelphia!

All right. We’ll start with some relief sculptures on this building.

It’s the US Courthouse (now Robert C Nix Federal Building) and the William Penn Annex of the post office. The building is quite large – it extends a half block on Market Street and goes all the way through the block to Chestnut Street.

The reliefs I am interested in are along the 9th street facade. They were the work of Edmond Amateis and commissioned by the government through the WPA to ornament this 1930’s building.

They depict mail delivery and show it taking place in far-flung locations. I have always loved these sculptures for their style and beauty, and for the idea that mail delivery unites the world, with people working hard to get a letter where it needs to go.

Here they are: they are arranged in two pairs. You will notice a difference in the look of the reliefs – two were in the sun and two in shadow.

First, the cowboy and the city postman:

Next, mail delivery in the tropics and in the far north:

Every time I am in the neighborhood I stop to take a look. For more information look here.


Now, my other favorite. It’s Dream Garden, a huge mosaic located in the lobby of the Curtis Center at 6th and Walnut Streets, right next to the Independence Hall complex. I worked in a building around the corner for some time and when I needed a respite, I’d come over and visit the mural.

It was designed by Maxfield Parrish and created by the Tiffany studios. Many many small pieces of glass, iridescent, opaque, all glowing. It was installed in 1916 in this building, at the time the home of Curtis Publishing (Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post). The building itself is fascinating and beautiful, but I am showing you just the mosaic today.

As a note – there are a lot of pictures on the internet, better than mine – here is its official entry by its owner, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The mosaic was almost lost to the city about 20 years ago, when its owner died and the heir proposed selling it to a Las Vegas casino. In a complicated transaction with public donations and the cooperation of other beneficiaries under the will, the mosaic became the property of PAFA and is now protected as a historic object.

I noticed some “band-aids” on the mosaic that were not there when I last saw it.

A bit of research told me that construction elsewhere in the building had shaken the structure a year ago and damaged the mosaic. I can’t find details on what the restoration plan is, except that it is being studied for repair. I feel better knowing it is in the care of a museum, at least. Anyway, my pleasure was not diminished by the “band-aids”.

All right, now you’ve seen them. My favorites.