Friday, October 3, 2008

Ceramic Tile Update

For the past few months, I have been slowly working on ceramic tile at the UNM craft studio. I try and make it in for a few hours (2-5) a week but lately I have been so busy with everything it's been tough. One of the goals I made for myself at my birthday was to learn how to make ceramic tile.

First I grabbed a lump of clay from the "pug" clay. This is a giant, clean, garbage can filled up with mixed together and processed clay left over from other projects. The clay is still totally malleable, since it hasn't been bisque (first) fired. I use pug clay because I don't know enough about ceramics to be able to tell what kind of properties in the different clays (red, brown, white, porcelain..?) I am looking for yet. The pug machine is pretty cool, imagine a carrot juicer that takes a clay mixture, takes out just enough water, mixes it, and squirts out recycled clay ready for use. I think it's great that we can just throw our unfired pieces into water and they will be turned back into usable clay so easily. The process makes you totally fine if you mess up and have to start again, since nothing was wasted.

After kneading the clay a bit, the next step is to roll it out with giant rollers that have height adjusters on each side. For me, 3/8 of an inch thick works well. After they are bisque fired, they shrink down a bit to maybe 1/4 of an inch thick. I then sliced the tile to the dimensions I wanted (mainly 4 inches x 4 inches, with a couple 6x6 and bigger) and let it dry until leather hard. Not bone hard, as I learned and the director Zane mentioned. After it hardened, I trimmed it up with a straight edge tool to make the tiles more uniform. Then bisque firing, glazing and glaze firing. For the firing, we put our work on shelves for Zane (the director) or Randy (the ceramics technician) to load and unload the kilns. It's really easy to tell which shelves to use, and everyone is nice about telling you if you have something on the incorrect shelf.

These tiles will go on top of a decorative stainless steel table my parents gave to me. The glass on top of the table cracked with a much too heavy (and under supported) fish tank many years ago, and I finally threw away the cracked glass. My plan is to cut a piece of tile board to fit into where the glass used to go, and then either mortar or mastic the tile to the tile board after I read up on tiling and determine the proper adhesive. Choosing a great grout to complement the colors will be important as well.

I am very proud of how this last batch came out.

I realize that now I love New Mexico.

The Zia symbols will go on the corners of the table, with the same size tiles proving a border between Zias. Inside that outline, I plan on arranging other sized square tiles in some sort of interesting geometric pattern. I may create some triangle tiles to make it look cool. I need to either buy and cut the tile board, or draw out the outline on my plastic table or a big piece of paper. If these tiles don't get laid out exactly how they need to go, there will be a surplus of some sizes and a shortage of the other sizes needed to fill in gaps. I have a lot of fun going into the craft studio, working on this project and talking with friendly people from much different backgrounds.

When I dipped the tiles in "blue purple" glaze, let them dry for 15 minutes, dipped them again in blue purple, let them dry at least a day, then dipped them in "clear bright" they came out great. Whenever I brushed on any of the glaze, they didn't look quite so hot. Between my father and myself, we will be able to find an interesting place for the tile seconds.

There are enough tiles in terms of square feet, but I really need to make sure the dimensions are correct. More posts will be coming soon as the project progresses!