When 6 months work comes together it's really rather special...
Since January I have been working on a ceramic project very different from the normal mugs and plates which emerge from my kiln. I was asked to create a bespoke tile mural to sit in the centre of an already beautiful family kitchen, in a gorgeous farm house set in the idilic Somerset countryside... Gulp!
I had never made tiles on this scale before, I have of course made flat items - plates and platters - but tiles are a very different beast. Unlike dinnerware, tiles need to tessellate; dozens of geometrically identical shapes need to sit on a single plane to create a whole. As my GCSE Maths teacher will tell you, me and geometry are uneasy bedfellows and pottery pals will concur in the fact that flat things are very tricky to make; clay has a 'memory' and whenever possible clay particles want to revert back to their natural, unorganised, shambles (I think there is something in physics called 'chaos theory' which explains why but that's for another day). When making tiles they must be kept flat at all times, as soon as they are cut - moving them around is a big no no - bend a wet tile, no matter how gently, the clay will 'remember', and as soon as it's fired the tile will warp.
The brief was to design a Mulberry Tree mural which was then to be interpreted onto stoneware tiles - hand-made by yours truly. I drew upon my painting experience (I did a BA in fine art) to help me come up with the design. I researched the Mulberry Tree form, shape, colours and drew inspiration from Van Gogh's 'The Mulberry Tree' paintings. Working with the Threlfall family I came up with the design. As soon as the sketch was finalised I set to work...
I had a few hairy moments, having to remake most of the first 30 tiles I made as upon firing they were just too wobbly. A kiln load of over-fired tiles was a particularly tricky weekend. And on install day, the prospect of all 135 tiles sliding off the wall, down behind half a ton of Aga never to be seen again was sweat-inducing to say the least - but we got there!
Unlike even the most 'handmade' tiles bought from a manufacturer, my tiles are a bit wobbly, and due to the variations in shrinkage rates, their dimensions ranged some times by as much as a few milimeters - for me these were all anxiety-inducing facts but in reality it's these elements gave the tree it's 'life' and dynamism; if I had used manufactured tiles it would not have the same spirit.
Installation Day...click image above to see work in progress :-)
To the uninitiated this is essentially an elaborate kitchen splash-back but my Mulberry Tree evolved into something much, much more. It was an installation. A piece of my heart and soul went into it, and like a real life tree, it has a soul. My Mulberry tree will sit watching over family meals, Christmases, triumphs, tragedies, dramas, joys and all in between for the next few hundred years. The feeling of getting such a positive reaction from the Threlfall family is indescribable.
I'd like to say thank you to them for their faith and patience during the creation. And to Kevin Tolman of Kevin Tolman Decorating who is the best tiler this side of...well anywhere!
Click on the image above to scroll through and see more pictures of the Mulberry Tree.