The Odinist Art of Nordic Tile

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Leif K Spørck is a master tile craftsman who makes custom tiles that really are works of art. Leif is proud of his Norse heritage, from which he derives his natural love and affinity for Nordic tile designs. Here you have a rare opportunity to be an virtual apprentice to a master tile craftsman. There may be some Odinist craftsmen or women reading this who feel drawn to take up this fascinating art form, either as a hobby, or as a trade. If so, this step- by- step article on how to create custom tiles is definitely an excellent place to start.

 

If you wish to order your own custom tile from Leif, you can contact him at Tel. 231-271-5101, or by email at: info@sporcktileart.com

“Three Gods” Tile Design is Carved, then made into a mold.

Making ceramic tiles is an ancient art.  Historically, tiles have been made from clay, which has not changed over thousands of years.  I have been making tiles for 10 years, but I also grew up with a father who is a potter and my experience working with clay began when I was very young.   Making a tile can be very simple or very complex.  A tile can be made simply by slapping clay into a flat form, or you can use a piece of equipment called a slab-roller, where a piece of clay is rolled by a wheel into a slab and the slab can be cut into perfect squares.

Tiles have two primary uses.  The most common type of tile is a plain tile that you see on floors, backsplashes, pools…etc…The second primary use is for an artistic accent.  I make art tiles, or commonly called accent tiles.  An art tile is simply a tile that has an artistic quality about it.  For thousands of years civilizations have made art tiles.  The most common form of art tiles are made from clay that depict scenes or symbols painted on the surface.  The tiles that I make are very special because they are both painted and they are carved in relief.  To both paint and carve tiles is not a method of tile making that many artists pursue because it requires an extra effort!  Let me describe how I make a tile…

How to make a tile:

1.) The first thing you need to do it gather your materials.  You will need:

a.) High Fire Clay

b.) Molding Plaster

c.) Ceramic Carving Tools

d.) Exacto Knife

e.) Wooden Box with no top or bottom

f.) Ceramic Kiln

g.) Paint Brushes

h.) High Fire Ceramic Glazes

I.) Wax Resist

J.) 5″ X 5″ Piece of Cardboard

2.) Take your clay, and if you do not have a slab-roller, a rolling-pin will also work.  Take a piece of clay and roll-it-out until you have a slab of clay about 1/2 inches thick. Next, use the 5″ X 5″ piece of cardboard and your Exacto knife to cut a perfect square of clay from the slab that you just rolled.

3.)  Once you have your 5″ X 5″ square of clay the next step is to carve your design! There are many different ways to carve a design in clay.  If you are carving a design for the first time you should start by using a photograph or an image that you like.  Take the image or photograph and place it on the piece of clay.  Then use the Exacto knife to poke holes through the paper, tracing the image that you would like to become your tile. After, you have traced the image in the clay it is now time to carve the design, using your carving tools carefully remove clay from around your design making it 3 dimensional.  Carve your tile for as long as you like until you are satisfied with how it looks.  This carving is your master mold…make sure you like it because this is your last chance to make it perfect!
Leif the Lucky book as inspiration

One of the books Leif drew inspiration from for a Nordic Reindeer Tile design.

4.)  Once your have finished your tile the next step is to make your mold.  Take your wooden box and place it on a flat surface like a clean tabletop, making sure that the table can be scratched and worked upon.  You need to secure the box to the table.  To do this you need a handful of clay, and where the box meets the table, you need to smear clay into all the cracks.  You will be pouring plaster into this box and you do not want the plaster to leak out of the mold.

Put larger chunks of clay on the outside of the box to make sure that it does not lift up once the plaster is poured.  When the box is secure, put your tile, design facing up, into the center of the box, laying it on the table.  Mix the plaster according to the directions  Once the plaster is mixed you need to spray the tile with a mist of water which helps get the plaster into all the small crevasses of your tile’s design.  When it is wet, slowly pour the plaster into the box making sure that plaster is at least 2 inches thick, preferably thicker, for added strength.  Let the plaster harden for approximately one hour.

5.)  Once you have waited for approximately one hour, the plaster will be hardened and it is time to clean the mold.  To clean the mold the first step is to remove the clay tile that is imbedded in the plaster.  There are many ways  to remove the tile from the mold, what is important, is to remove all traces of clay from the mold.  When you are finished cleaning the mold it must now dry for several day.  If you can put it near a heat source that will speed up the drying process.

6.) Once the mold is dry you are ready to press tiles.  It is time to get the clay out and tear a chunk off to press your first tile.  With your hands you need to press clay into every nook-and-crany of the mold.  You will have to learn what works best for you, but if you put one hand on top of the other hand, like you are giving CPR, this seems to work best.

Once you feel like you have pressed the clay sufficiently, you will now need to take a piece of fishing line and pull the line through the clay cutting off all clay that is stickup about the surface of the mold and then use a carving tool to scrap any excess clay from the mold and to smooth the surface to your liking.

If this is the first time you have pressed a tile into this mold and if the mold is dry, it should take about 15 minutes for the mold to be ready to release the new tile.  If you have been using the mold and if the mold is moist, it may take an hour or more for the tile to release and you will learn as you practice.  When the tile releases from the mold be careful not to bend or misshape the wet clay.  Set the new tile on a piece of drywall and let it sit for 24 hours…..

 7). Once freshly pressed tile has been sitting on the sheet of drywall for 24 hours it is time to trim the tile and drill a hole in the back of the tile so that it can be hung on a wall using a nail.  There are many tools that you can use to trim a tile so it is best to pick the tool that you like best.  What you need to do is take the tile in your hand and with the other hand you need to take the tool and cut off the rough edge on the bottom of the tile, you will need to do this to all four sides.

Once you have trimmed the tile you can now drill a hold in the back of the tile and this hole will be used as a hanger.  You will need a drill bit that is anywhere from 1/8″ – 1/4″ in.  Using a drill, drill a hole in the back of the tile, you will need to make sure that the hole is centered, so that it does not hang at and angle, and you will also need to make sure that you drill the hole at an angle so that the tile can hang on a wall using a nail.  Remember, the nail will be coming out of the wall, pointing up, at an angle! Once you are finished, you will need to let the tile dry for approximately one week.

Odinist crafts and Nordic Tile

The reindeer he chose from its pages…

Step 8 – After a week or two…Once you are confident that your tiles are thoroughly dry it is time to fire them in the kiln for what is called a Bisque Firing.  You will need to make many tiles, because you want to use all the space possible in your kiln.  My kiln holds approximately 200 5″ X 5″ Tiles when I fire a bisque.  You can stack your tiles 3 high…sometime 4 or 5 depending on the type of clay you are using.

I suggest buying a kiln that is computerized and comes with automatic programs that allow you to select the temperature you wish to fire the kiln and then automatic shut off occurs.  These types of kilns have many safety features and it allows you to work on other projects while the kiln is firing.  If you would like to do it the “old fashioned” way, you can buy a kiln without a computer and use a tool called a “Cone” that allows you to control when you shut the kiln off.

Once your kiln is loaded and ready I suggest firing the kiln to a temperature of 200 degrees and hold it there for at least 12 hours and this will allow moisture to evaporate.  If you can remove as much moisture as possible, before you rapidly increase the temperature, little to no cracking will occur!!!  I fire my bisque firings to Cone 06 or 1832F.

Once your kiln reaches top temperature let it soak at this temperature for 30 minutes to ensure that all areas of the kiln have reached the desired temperature.  Turn the kiln off when you are ready and let it cool.  Let the kiln cool until you can pickup the tiles without a glove and unload the bisque firing.

Step 9….  Once the tile have been removed from the bisque firing you can now paint and glaze the tiles.  Tiles can be glazed in many different way, you can make it complex, or it can be very simple!

If you are a beginner I suggest buying your glazes from a ceramic supply company.  Do not spend a lot of money, just a dozen standard colors and maybe one or two glazes that are interesting.  Glazes come in many different colors and types.  I recommend “High-Fire” Glazes, specifically Cone 5 or 6, when you buy clay you will also need to ask questions to make sure you are buying “High-Fire glazes.

A Cone is a tool that is used to monitor the temperature of your kiln.  I fire my bisque firing to Cone 06 (1832 F ) and when I fire a glaze I use Cone 6 (2232 F).  Depending on which type of kiln you purchase, you may need to buy Cones to aid in the firing process!

Once you have a kiln, glazes, and cones….it is time to start glazing tiles.  There is one more ingredient that you will need and that is a material called “Wax Resist”.  When you are first beginning it is highly recommended that you keep the glazing process simple.

If you look at my tiles you will see that most of the time I am performing intricate, hand painted, detailed work, but when I first started I did not hand-paint my tiles, in fact, some of the most famous/modern potteries and tile makers do not hand paint their tiles, rather, they simply dunk their tiles in buckets full of glazes, or spray the tiles with a spray gun.

Hand painting takes much more time and knowledge of the glazes…so if you are interested in hand painting tiles, then I suggest experimenting with painting once you have learned how to dip a tile in a bucket of glaze to achieve a uniform, mono-colored, tile!

To work towards your goal of making your own tile, using the method I recommend, which is a simple dipped tile in a bucket of glaze to produce a simple colored tile the first action that you will need to take is to sign your name and date the bottom of the tile.  The reason why you sign and date your tile first is due to the wax resist that needs to coat the bottom of your.  The wax resist can be purchased from a ceramic supply company. Once you apply wax resist to the surface of a tile a glaze will not stick to the surface that has been coated with wax and that is why you must sign and date your tiles first!

To sign your tile I recommend using an Iron Oxide and water mixture.  Make the mixture of Iron Oxide and water thick enough so that you can use a brush to write your name and date on the back of the tile so that it is clearly visible.  Now sign your tile!  Once the tile is signed it is time to coat the back of the tile with wax resist.  Use a brush and coat the entire bottom of the tile with wax resist and then also coat the sides of the tile, and make sure to only apply the wax 1/2 way up the side so that some of the glaze will melt and color side of the tile!!!  Once the tile(s) are signed and waxed it is best to let the wax dry for about 30 minutes-1 hour before we begin the glazing!

Step 10 – Now that you have signed and waxed the bottom of the tile it is time to glaze.  Chances are that if you bought glazes from a ceramic supply company then you probably only bought pints sized containers.  There is nothing wrong with pints, but with a pint, you cannot dunk the tile into the container to glaze it.  Also, you want to make sure the pint is not too thick…you may need to add water to give the glaze a consistency that will allow it to flow into all the crevasses of the tile.

Begin glazing….you can either take a brush and brush the glaze onto the tile, or you can get pan and pour the glaze onto the tile, letting the pan catch the excess glaze, and then use a brush to work the glaze into all the crevasses.  You will want to repeat these steps until you are confident that the tile has a sufficient coating of glaze.  It will take practice and observations to come to a point where you understand the properties of the glazes.  In fact, it might take 2 or 3 kiln firings until you can compare several attempts at using a specific glaze, before you become an expert at any one glaze.

After the tiles is glazed you will need to let it sit for roughly 5 to 10 minutes, or until you see that the glaze is dry. Once the glaze on the tile is dry you will need to use a sponge to remove any excess glaze that may have stuck to the bottom and sides of the tile.  Use your wet sponge and remove all the excess glaze that you see….and if you do not do this then your tiles will be ruined because they will stick to the kiln shelves!!!

Keep glazing your tiles until you have enough to load your kiln.  Once the kiln is loaded you are ready to fire the kiln.  Remember you can pick any temperature you like, but I recommend that you buy Cone 6 Glazes and if you do, then you will need to fire the glaze firing…the glaze firing is the final firing that occurs after you have glazed enough tiles to fill you kiln….to Cone 6, or 2232F.

Fire the kiln! Once the kiln reaches temperature and it turns off, or you turn it off…depending on what kind of kiln you are using, then it becomes time to wait until the kiln cools.  It need to cool to about 150F before you can open it and remove the tiles…you can remove them soon, but it can be hot and you have to be careful not to burn your fingers…again it takes practice to learn when you can start unloading kiln!

Odinist crafts

Finished Nordic Reindeer tile!

That concludes the basic process on how to make a tile 🙂 !

 

I hope you enjoy this process and I hope some of you go for it!!!  🙂 !

By Leif K Spørck

 

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