Sunday, January 30, 2011


Recently, a colleague asked me about choosing a tile for her kitchen backsplash, so I rattled off a few tile places for her to check out. The next day, she came back and told me how much she had loved the colorful, hand painted tiles on the Avente Tile website.

Birds and Nests

Although she expressed an interest in getting beautiful tile, she said her husband was pushing for white subway tile. He was worried that if she chose something that wasn't plain, she’d get tired of it. Yet, she didn’t seem enthusiastic about going with something ordinary.

So that got me thinking… Why would she get tired of a beautiful tile that she loved, but not get tired of one she didn’t care much about to begin with? What is the thought process around this idea? Isn’t this why rentals are always painted beige—something that neither delights nor dismays?

There are people who truly love beige and subway tiles, and by all means, they should go for it. But I worry that many people choose these options because of a fear of commitment. Perhaps, if they go with the easy—the least common denominator—it feels safer than taking a stand and choosing something unusual?
Nothing wrong with this--as long as you love it.
Still, wouldn’t it be more likely that if my colleague picked what she really wanted, she’d wind up happier in the long run?

We discussed this today, and she wondered about trendiness in making her selection. It's a valid concern, but in my opinion, it's pretty easy to spot trends—they are the designs and colors that become very popular all at once. (Uh, like subway tile, for example...)

The styles that are unique and timeless are the ones that speak to the individual heart—a preference based on what truly makes one happy. Perhaps it takes bravery to make that decision, but to me, picking a tile that you love seems the safest option.

Bird of My Heart -- 6" x 7"

[OK, subway tile lovers, see the comment box? Go on, let me have it.... ]

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Blue Moods

Two days ago, while on a walk, I was struck by this amazing winter sky:

It reminded me of the light blue cement tiles that were so popular in Florida years ago. They had just a hint of white, wispy pigment--like smoke winding on the surface--and I even think they were called "clouds" or "nubes". I'm not sure why they appealed to me so much, but I always liked the idea of floors that looked like the sky.

At this point, my walk turned to thoughts of tile, and it occurred to me that I haven't dealt with color as a topic for this blog. Our culture tends to associate certain colors with emotions and this concept fascinates me because sometimes the connections seem quite random. Other times, depending on the context, they make perfect sense. So, with the beautiful sky as my inspiration, this seems like an appropriate time to show you some blue tiles that I like.

This dark blue porcelain would be peaceful and soothing in a bedroom. The surface of this tile seems to change color depending on the light. Right now, the room where I sleep is painted a navy/plum color and although it can be somber, I enjoy the darkness it provides.

Atlas Concorde -- Plentitude -- Blue Avio
30.5 cm x 91.5 cm white body wall tile

The color blue is often associated with melancholy. Picasso's famous blue period depicts the emotion perfectly. From 1901 to 1904, he used a predominantly blue palette to express themes of hardship and misery.

La repasseuse, Pablo Picasso
Paris, spring 1904. Oil on canvas
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 

I get why the woman looks so sad--I hate ironing too. But blue doesn't have to connote angst or despair. The sky on my walk was certainly a mood booster, for example.

Here's a cheerful bathroom in gorgeous shades of blue from Tile of Italy:

Miss Fap -- extra glossy white body porcelain
rectified 30.5 cm x 91.5 cm

Color theory is pretty complex, and I'll write about it more in another post. In the meantime, I hope that my musings on the color blue lifted your spirits today. :)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Simplicity and Complexity

As you know, I'm a big fan of art tile. There's something about each individual tile being made by hand, and a noticeable lack of perfection, that really appeals to me.

Boneyard Brick by Trikeenan in Smoke, Coldfront and Frost
Speaking of smoke, this one blew me away because it looks so sculptural and twisted:

Zima by Artistic Tile
Although my past few posts have dealt with decorative tiles, I also appreciate the simplicity of a well-crafted field tile.
Muse by Oceanside Glasstile

This last one seems as if it would be dull because of the dark color, but the way the light reflects off the textured surface makes it fascinatingly complex. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tree Tile

Last night I posted about the moon. Later, it occurred to me that there's another moon tile that I'd like to share. This one by tile artist, Nawal Motawi--


Nawal and her brother Karim are very cool tile friends of mine, and although Karim isn't involved in the business any longer, they worked together for years. 

Nawal at work on a mural

These tree tiles remind me of the Pacific Northwest. They are so sublime and lovely that people frame individual tiles to hang as art.

Pine Landscape

According to the Motawi website, "The designs are brought to life by a tile-making process which is a journey itself.... The artful tile—the outcome of this shared obsession—is evidence that this duo and their artisan team is at the top of their craft."

No kidding. This is some seriously beautiful tile!
Pine Landscape Mountain
Happy Tu B’Shevat!

Full Circle

Lately, I've been thinking about circles... Maybe the influence is the beautiful full moon tonight?

On my phone, I have the simplest, zen-like game. Basically, you just try to draw a perfect circle with your finger. After each attempt, the game gives you a score. Drawing a perfect circle is much harder than it seems and takes patience and concentration.

Sara Baldwin designs the most gorgeous glass mosaics. This pattern is from New Ravenna for Ann Sacks
Today, in a moment of tedium, I was able to find a peaceful place by drawing a few circles with a pencil, ultimately connecting them. Naturally, I began to think of circle tiles that I especially like.

This nineteenth-century drawing depicts the mosaic floors as they existed in St. Denis cathedral in the twelfth-century. The interlocking circle pattern on the right is from the Chapelle de la Vierge.

From the Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle

Speaking of historical tile, this majolica design comes from the late fifteenth-century della Robbia workshop, and is from the Loggias of Raphael in the Vatican. The Borgia Pope, Alexander VI most likely imported the taste for Moorish patterns from Spain.

Of course, I'm not completely obsessed with history. There are some cool contemporary tile artists making circle tiles too.

Here's a groovy one by another one of my tile friends, Mary Anderson of Bon Ton Tile in Minnesota:


And finally, one last tile, also by Mary Anderson:

And that brings us... 
you know---

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Peaceful Tile

For Leah Zahavi, the path to becoming a tile artist has been an inspiring journey. Her history as an artist informs her tile work, enriching it with texture, meaning and beauty. 

Inner Piece - Single Red Flower

Zahavi began her path to tile, first as a fiber artist and then as a university art instructor. Later, she was a museum curator and educator for a Tibetan museum. In addition, because her mother is the internationally recognized mosaic artist Ilana Shafir, Zahavi was exposed to the world of mosaics. 

“As an artist myself, I realized that the materials available to mosaic artists seemed rather limited," said Zahavi. "I felt that I could expand the textures and patterns of their mosaics. So I decided to create a line of inspiration pieces that mosaic artists could use.”

Zahavi got feedback from several mosaic artists who had purchased her pieces, but didn’t have the heart to break them for use in their own work. So she came up with the slogan “If it ain’t broken, break it!” But despite her encouragement, Zahavi still found that her work sat on other artists’ windowsills--intact. Eventually, she decided to start a tile line of her own
Inner Piece - Rippling Waters

Zahavi uses her skills as a textile designer to create patterns, ornamental forms, and imagery in clay. She also often employs the structure of a Mandala, which has a concentric composition with tightly balanced geometric shapes and a ring of protection. “Tibetan Buddhists believe that Mandalas transmit a positive energy to the environment and to the people who view them,” she explains. 

Inner Piece - Sunset

Thus, she named her line “Inner Piece” because it is evocative of “peace” and yet, is only part of the larger structure. Says Zahavi, “I like the idea that my tiles can enhance the environment, spiritually and aesthetically.”

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Moorish Tile History

Lately, I’ve been thinking about history… and, you know me--

I’ve been pondering Moorish influence in Spain and how the region inherited rich traditions from Islamic artists and craftsmen who worked in cities such as Cordoba, Granada, and Seville from the 8th to the 15th centuries. Towards the end of this era, Moorish art combined with the Christian culture, and this mixed art form is called the Mudejar style. The result of this cultural marriage is that southern Spain became a mecca for gorgeous wall tile.

In Seville, the Alcázar has many fine examples of Mudejar style tile.
This panel was commissioned by Peter the Cruel in the 14th century.
There are several differences between tile that was manufactured in the rest of Europe and Moorish tile. Islamic art forms do not use figurative motifs, making the Moorish designs purely abstract. Also, the color range is much broader and brighter than with European inlaid tile, which was prevalent during this time period.

In addition, the method of production was also very different. Whereas the rest of Europe cut the tiles from raw clay before firing them, in Spain the tiles were fired first as a large slab, and then cut. Because this method eliminated shrinkage, Moorish craftsmen were able to lay the tiles with very thin grout lines, allowing for a high level of intricacy.

The Alhambra in Granada is an example of the Mudejar style, an artistic mélange of Moorish and Christian culture.