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You take plain tiles, hand-paint your one-of-a-kind designs.

You take plain tiles, hand-paint your one-of-a-kind designs Few things spark a room as hand-painted tile can. You can commission an artist to execute your ideas or, with a little enjoyable effort, create your own one-of-a-kind display. On these four pages, we show two ways to go: painting designs on commercial tiles or throwing a tile-making party that starts with a mass of clay and ends with a custom backsplash.

Painting on previously fired tiles--experimenting

on samples first

Developed by tile artist Susie Georgeson of Lake Tahoe, California, this project starts with careful testing to discover which tiles and glazes are compatible and what colors look like after firing. Buy small amounts before making a larger purchase.

Beging with a visit to a tile store, choosing from white or off-white glazed tiles (painting on colored tiles may give muddy results). Mat-finish tiles have more "tooth" and are easier to paint on than high-gloss samples. As you scan the shelves, consider incorporating bull-nose, trim rail, and other trim pieces to give your project a finished appearance.

Your next stop is a hobby shop or a ceramic supply store (look in the yellor pages under Ceramic Equipment and Supplies) that can fire tiles and sells brushes and low-fire glazes ($1.35 to $3 for a 4-ounce jar). It helps if the shop has a knowledgeable ceramist who can advise you on which glazes to use and analyze the results of your test firing. As you choose glazes, note which are safe for food containers (these should be used for kitchen counters).

On your test tile, apply glazes in thick and thin coats (step 1). A true red is probably the most difficult color to achieve, and red glazes must always be applied thickly. Once you've painted it, take your tile to the hobby shop for firing.

Creating your design

Once you've chosen your colors, draw a full-size pattern on paper, taking care to consider how edges and corners will match up during installation. Clean the surface of your tiles well with rubbing alcohol; the slightest amount of oil from a fingerprint can make the glaze draw back and pucker in firing. Using a hard pencil, outline your design lightly on the tiles.

Mix glazes thoroughly and transfer small amounts to jar lids. For smooth application, glazes should have a syrupy consistency. If necessary, thin with a drop or two of water; the thinner the glaze, the more transparent it will be when fired. As you work, apply glazes in even strokes so they dry flat; any lumps will run in firing. As with watercolor, lay down transparent washes first. To paint over a color, let the first color dry completely, then apply the second in a single quick stroke to avoid picking up the first with your brush. Any mistakes can be cleaned with a damp rag or sponge.

The firing: use a commercial kiln

To transport tiles for firing, handle gingerly, laying tiles without overlapping on rigid trays or plywood. Depending on the size of the tile, expect to pay between 40 and 80 cents each; some tile stores offer quantity discounts. You may need to reserve kiln time in advance.

For installation instructions, consult Tile Remodeling Handbook (Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, Calif., 1988; $6.95). Or look in the yellow pages under Tile-Ceramic Contractors if you'd like professional help.

Invite some friends, start

with a lump of clay

Peer closely at the tiles on this kitchen backsplash and you'll see--among other things--unicorns, cowboys, and a swimmer floating on the sea. All were made at a party staged by ceramics artist Caroline Hoefling; finished tiles were installed in the kitchen of Portland architect Mitch Gilbert and his wife, Margie Kircher.

To stage your own party, follow the steps shown here. After making, tiles take one to three weeks to dry, then require two firings--one to harden the tile, another to set the glaze.


As you organize your party, measure the area to be covered, then find a hobby shop or ceramic supply store that sells low-fire clay ($4 to 8$ per 25-pound bag) and fires handmade tiles. (A bag and a half of clay made enough tiles to cover the Gilberts' 18-2 by 84-inch backsplash.) Check with the hobby shop to see if firings need to be scheduled in advanced.

For each guest, also have a patch of canvas (clay peels off easily), two 18-inch strips of 1/4-inch molding, a plastic template the size of the tile (sides of gallon milk jugs make good templates), and a kitchen knife for cutting. Have guests bring their own rolling pins.

After your first firing, tiles get two or three coats of transparent gloss glaze (about $5 per pint at hobby shops).

The party: rolling, cutting, decorating

Before guests arrive, divide clay into 1-pound chunks patted into balls. Have guests eliminate air bubbles by pounding the clay over canvas with the palms of their hands (step 1); don't fold clay, since this traps air. Cover unworked clay with plastic to prevent drying.

Next, referring to steps 2 and 3, roll clay to a uniform thickness, then cut out tiles. You may need special templates for odd-shaped pieces that wrap around electrical outlets, plumbing fixtures, or windows.

Guests can then decorate tiles, stamping or carving the surface for an indented pattern (step 4) or building on the surface with pieces of sculpted clay (step 5). Imaginations can run wild, but make sure tiles retain their original shapes.

Transfer decorated tiles with a spatula to a flat, portable surface (plywood scraps are ideal); don't stack. If you distort a tile, nudge it back into shape. Keep tiles out of direct light to prevent curling.

After the festivities: drying and firing

In a day or two, when the clay is leatherhard, trim bulging edges with a paring knife. Depending on your area's humidity, drying takes one to three weeks. In arid climates, tiles can dry too fast and buckle; lay a cloth over them to slow the process. To gauge dryness, hold a tile to your cheek; if it feels cooler than room temperature, it needs more time.

Next, take tiles to the hobby shop for a bisque firing. Firing costs depend on the size and number of tiles, and vary from shop to shop. At this stage, after drying but before being fired for the first time, tiles are extremely fragile. Carry them on their drying platforms and place on old blanket on top to prevent sliding.

For the second firing, brush two or three coats of glaze onto tiles, allowing 30 minutes between applications. For installation, refer to last paragraph on page 74. If tiles have shrunk slightly, make up for it with a broader grout line.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Printing tile and making tile
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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