Magazine article Sunset

You Take Plain Tiles, Hand-Paint Your One-of-a-Kind Designs

Magazine article Sunset

You Take Plain Tiles, Hand-Paint Your One-of-a-Kind Designs

Article excerpt

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. …

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