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“Little Tree of Four” Kitchen Backsplash

  Another happy customer from Natalie Blake Studios!  

"Our kitchen project is finished,

and the “Little Tree of Four” is installed.

It looks absolutely beautiful and is the highlight of our kitchen! "

G. Szegedy

REV Gizella Szegegy Backsplash_0390

Little Tree of Four ceramic porcelain hand sgraffito carved backsplash.

REV Gizella Szegegy Backsplash_0388

No maintenance tiles, that are easy to clean using any household cleaner and a scrubby, or wipe with Windex.

Color fast tiles, that are heat and water resistent.

Perfect to use in a kitchen near a stove or sink.

REV Gizella Szegegy Backsplash_0389

Custom designs and sizes for any backsplash commission available within 6-12 weeks from receipt of deposit. Natalie Blake Studios designers will work with you to find the perfect image and colors to fit in your custom home. Please contact the studio by phone at 802.254.9761 or email at info@natalieblake.com.    

We did it!

Ceramic Tile Murals Tell the History of a Tampa Neighborhood

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake

Mural I

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake     handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake Natalie's public art grant installation in Tampa, Florida is complete!  Natalie and Nick rolled back into the studio last Thursday after spending 18 days on site mortaring and grouting 3, 6' x 15' ceramic tile murals onto concrete walls that run the perimeter of a new mixed-use development in Tampa.   This installation was made possible through a generous public art grant awarded to the studio in 2013 by the City of Tampa, and Trio at Encore LP.  Through this grant, Natalie researched the history of this largely African-American neighborhood and then traced its 200-year history in a series of three large murals. Through interviews and consultations with several historians and community members, Natalie compiled a rich history of this incredible community. She then translated these collected stories, using a blend of abstraction and realism onto three, 6’ x15’ murals comprised of 18” square ceramic tiles.   The title of the piece, "The Gift of Gathered Remembrances," is inspired by Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel.  In this book Prechtel recounts the story of a people who are deeply secure in their cultural identity because of their daily remembrance and reverence towards their ancestors. As Natalie says, "It is so awesome to make clay tiles.  As I move into making public art, I appreciate more and more that my ceramic tile murals can be part of the story-telling.  The tactile quality of my carved tiles means that the viewer can appreciate the work through several senses.  I love the permanence of tile too.  The mural not only relays the history, but becomes part of the history as well.  It's an art form that we shouldn't lose." In a playful moment, Natalie carved a replica of the Encore development into the third mural. Then, on the wall that lines the development she carved a little sun, the recurring element in each mural.   You'll find her signature in the lefthand corner of the second (middle) mural.   handmade, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake Natalie Blake carving ceramic tile wall art IMG_0520 After months of carving, glazing and firing 120, 18" x 18"  tiles, we were ready to begin the installation. Nick Marchese, Natalie Blake Studios' installer, and Alan, his assistant, drove the tiles to Tampa to begin the job. The installation got off to a rocky start as Nick and Alan were delayed by rain and thunderstorms for the first two days. But after a few fitful starts the project got rolling.  They prepped the concrete walls by scoring them (slightly scraping the concrete surface so that the tiles would adhere better).
Trio at Encore development

Before: The concrete walls onto which the murals would be mortared.

After a week Natalie flew down to relieve Alan. By that time many tiles had been mortared to the concrete walls and the mood on the site was much better! Nick used the ultimate thin set for porcelain and glass tiles.  The mortar is so strong that it is used for tiling swimming pools. In fact, a crew of workmen who were installing a swimming pool on site, came by to watch Nick work and were impressed with his choice of mortar.  After admiring the mortar (as tilers will!) they hung around to admire the murals too.
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Nick installing tiles

installing ceramic tile murals Natalie Blake Studios The work site quickly became a hub of colorful activity. Natalie and Nick (and all other workers on the development site) had to wear bright, fluorescent shirts and hardhats for safety. The murals themselves were glazed in rich colors and the concrete walls around the murals were stained in lush orange, blue and purple.
Natalie on the work site

Natalie on the work site

Nick not only installed the tiles, but also created a beautiful "frame" of stained concrete around each mural. First he applied a deep orange acid stain to the entire concrete wall.  Then he and Natalie went back and, with small sponges, dabbed on a soy-based stain in blues and purples. This "faux finish" look was then sealed with a soy-based product that created a beautiful sheen. He and Natalie were very happy with the results.
handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Nick staining the concrete walls

 
handmade, ceramic tile wall art by Natalie Blake

Nick staining the concrete wall

There were other visitors to the work site: Three older Black women who lived in one of the apartment buildings in the complex dropped by one day and told Natalie that they'd grown up in the neighborhood. So Natalie invited them to look at one of the murals.  Natalie heard them laughing as they peeked under the protective tarp at the tiles.  They were traveling down "Memory Lane" as they saw Natalie's depictions of historical events from their lives. Then one of the women, her hand raised as if in a High Five, exclaimed to Natalie, "Memories!"  For Natalie this was the most special moment of the installation. Natalie and Nick also received kudos from representatives of the Bank of America (a major funder) and the Tampa Housing Authority. "It's greater than my expectations," said David from the Tampa Housing Authority. Melissa LeBaron, Tampa's Public Arts Coordinator, also dropped by and was so relieved to see that the last box of tiles had arrived safely from Vermont. (the backstory is that some of the tiles had cracked during the firing process--due to a bad batch of clay--and the studio staff were hard at work remaking those tiles in order to get them to Nick for the installation) Natalie and Nick really enjoyed their time in Tampa. For the most part the weather was beautiful, though quite hot! Because the sun beat full blast on their job site starting at about 1 pm everyday, they began work at 7.
dawn on the job

Driving at dawn to the job site

As Natalie says, "We were honored to be part of this amazing project to revitalize this important neighborhood. There's so much history here; the ancestors are watching and waiting to see how it will all turn out.  We made our own offering to the ancestors; with the leftover mortar and grout Nick made his "heavy hearts" and we put them in special locations. Now, it is up to the residents to breathe new life into this neighborhood.  We trust they will."
concrete sculpture by Nick Marchese

Nick's "Heavy Heart"

Watch this video clip of the unveiling of the murals:   Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.06.50 PM The Gift of Gathered Remembrances, I, II, III
handmade, carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Gift of Gathered Remembrances, I

handmade, carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Gift of Gathered Remembrances, II

handmade, carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Gift of Gathered Remembrances, III

One of our favorites!

Our signature Dahlia is featured in this penthouse apartment

We worked closely with Cravotta Interiors (Austin, TX) to create this custom, hand sculpted, ceramic tile mural for the entry of a penthouse in the Four Seasons Residences in Austin, Texas. The Dahlia mural is comprised of 14" x 14" tiles, carved in our unique, gestural style. The vibrant, Persian Red glaze contrasts with the darker, slip underneath to accent the free-flowing design. The designer had the tiles grouted in place as a backdrop for a sitting area.  We just love it when designers feature art in unexpected places! Thanks Cravotta Interiors! You can read more about this project here.   handsculpted, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake      
handsculpted, dimensional tile by Natalie Blake

Dahlia, handsculpted, sgraffito-carved, ceramic tile

 
handsculpted, dimensional, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake

our signature sgraffito-carving creates a textured look and feel

The story of a custom kitchen backsplash

The story of our Tree of Life backsplash: from commission to completion

kitchen backsplash tile by Natalie Blake Last year at this time (December 2012) a couple from Washington contacted us to discuss commissioning a custom kitchen backsplash. They'd seen our website and found images of our Tree of Life that they really liked.  They emailed us the image that they liked best, commenting on how they liked the way the roots looked, and the overall shape of the tree. They also asked whether we could make the piece in cream and brown, to complement the stone in the stove area. After getting the measurements of the wall where the backsplash was to be installed, we Photoshopped an image of our Tree of Life into the image of their stove area.  We determined that 4, 12" x 12" tiles would be the best size for the space. This size would also allow for a 1" border tile to set the piece off from the rest of the stone backsplash.  We recommended that the tree be offset, rather than centered, to mirror the asymmetry of the stovetop: Their response was "So beautiful!  The tree design is fantastic!" Once we had the design nailed down, we worked more on the glaze color to use. glaze colors by Natalie Blake StudiosThey emailed us images of the stone that would comprise the majority of the backsplash. Based on this image, and their request for cream and brown, we sent them 3" x 3" color chips of our yellow and our cream glazes and showed them how each glaze would look against their stone. We all agreed that the cream glaze would be the best choice for the piece.  The piece was completed about 6 weeks later. We sent the couple an image of the tiles, fresh from the glaze kiln:  
handmade, ceramic, art tile, backsplash by Natalie Blake Studios

Backsplash, glazed in cream

  Their response: "They look so beautiful!!! We can't wait--thanks for keeping us appraised on your progress. We couldn't be happier:)" They asked us about what sealant we'd recommend putting on the tiles since they are installed behind the stovetop.  While all of our tiles have a low sheen that is scrubbable it's not imperative that a sealant is used. However, if a client wants to seal the tiles we recommend using Miracle, 511 Porous Plus, Natural Look Penetrating Sealer. Here are images of the piece, installed. The border tile that was used is tumbled Turkish Travertine, available at most tile stores. handmade, ceramic kitchen backsplash tile by Natalie Blake
handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic, backsplash tile

24" x 24" Tree of Life kitchen backsplash

"We could not be happier with how our tile backsplash turned out...we are so grateful to have found you for our project. We wanted this to be the focal point of our newly remodeled kitchen & to have it be a representation of something important to our family. This is perfect!! Thank you again for working with us to make this happen! We’ve had a few holiday gatherings this month & have had SO many people ask where we got these beautiful tiles!!!  They really set everything off perfectly." --Brad and Kim, Washington State handmade, custom, ceramic backsplash tile Photo(10)    
   

Ceramic Wall Art Tile Installed in New Kentucky Hospital

handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blakehandmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Nature-based designs and soothing colors: these were the criteria that the art committee of the new Owensboro Health Regional Hospital (Owensboro, KY) used to select art for the new hospital.   Natalie Blake Studios was honored to create ceramic wall art tile for the hospital. In developing guidelines for artwork, the committee used research about art in healthcare.  "The purpose of the artwork is to provide positive distractions to help patients leave the stress of the moment and respond better to treatment, ” said Barbara Harriman, President / Creative Director of Distinctive Art Source and an art advisor working with the committee.         "Putting the right art in place supports patient care, and can even lead to shorter hospital stays," she says.  "Studies indicate that patients need less medication and exhibit more positive attitudes when exposed to artwork featur­ing natural surroundings," she notes. “We want to create an experience to keep patients close to nature and support the architectural serenity designed into the space.” Harriman commissioned three ceramic wall tile triptychs from Natalie Blake Studios  for the hospital's 5th floor family area. Each grouping of 3 tiles were to be installed in a wooden, recessed panel.  The ceramic art discs are each 18" in diameter; the square tiles are 8". All are glazed in rich, natural colors to complement the wood niches and the fabric colors in the room. "Natalie Blake’s textural representation of nature’s elements beautifully complemented Owensboro’s warm interiors featuring natural stone and wood. Her ability to customize the size, color and design of each tile made her work a perfect fit on this project. It’s always a pleasure coordinating commissions with Natalie and her team." ~ Barbara Harriman, President / Creative Director of Distinctive Art Source. handmade, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake Studios  

Making a custom, kitchen backsplash

Our most recent backsplash…we call it Little Tree because we customized the tiles, making 7" x 7" tiles in order to fit the entire tree in the space.

handmade, ceramic backsplash tile

handmade, ceramic backsplash tile

A homeowner contacted us to order a custom-made, ceramic tile backsplash to go above her kitchen range.  She gave us the dimensions of the wall space that she wanted to fill, minus the size of the "rod" style tile in black, wrought iron, that will border the custom tiles we make. We then determined that she'd need 7" x 7" tiles, allowing for the groutlines.  When she said she wanted the Tree of Life design we Photoshopped an image of a Tree of Life mural on the image she sent us of her space.  She loved it!
Photoshopped image of Tree of Life backsplash

Photoshopped image of Tree of Life backsplash

  She approved, and we've started the piece.  We will work with her to pick glaze colors, first by sending her a sampling of 3" x 3" color chips so that she can see the actual glaze colors before making her choice.  
handmade tile, Natalie Blake, ceramic tile, backsplash tile

Beginning the tiles: sketch and tools ready!

We've started making the piece by first rolling out the tiles, and draping them over our forms on the table to give the tiles our signature undulation.

Click on the image below to watch a short video of this process:

 
backsplash tile, Natalie Blake

Tiles drying on molds to give them their undulation

Here we are carving the piece:
backsplash tile, Natalie Blake

Sgraffito-carving

backsplash tile, handmade tile, Natalie Blake

Carving

  Here's the final piece, fresh from the kiln.
handmade, ceramic backsplash tile by Natalie Blake

7" x 7" backsplash tiles

  We just received (Dec 10, 2013) 2 images of the piece being installed. These images show the tiles in place, but not yet grouted. Stay tuned for more images! handmade, ceramic backsplash tile by Natalie Blake installed, not grouted 2  

Working on a Public Art Project for Tampa, FL

  Natalie Blake Studios was honored to be selected to create public art  for the City of Tampa, Florida's "ENCORE!" project, a 40+ acre mixed-use redevelopment district in Downtown Tampa.  Our studio will create and install our handmade wall art tile on three concrete walls, each 20' long, that run around the perimeter of ENCORE's Trio apartment homes.  Our tile murals will face the newly renovated Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which will serve as a gathering place and will feature a stage to be used for local musicians, outdoor cinema, and other entertainment purposes. Encore Site

The Trio is located on Central Avenue, which is historically significant to Tampa. Historically known as The Central Park area, this area is a rich blend of cultural influences, events and musical achievements that collectively hold much of the community's and region's African American history.

From the late 19th century until the mid 1970s, Central Avenue was the principal business and entertainment district of Tampa's African American community. During segregation, Central Avenue provided a necessary alternative community; a bustling area of town with schools, churches, thriving businesses, movie theaters, bars and nightclubs, some featuring major headliners of the black entertainment circuit. Celebrities, such as Ray Charles, James Brown, B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Nate and Cannonball Adderly, all played on Central and Ray Charles made his first recording on Central Avenue.

Natalie has been learning about the history of the area and using this history to inform her mural designs. In Natalie's own words, "I feel incredibly honored to be a part of this project. When I met with the art committee members in Tampa recently, I was struck with their willingness to work with a a white girl from Vermont on the creation of art to capture and commemorate the mostly-black  history of Central Ave.  While in Tampa, I met with Melissa LeBaron, Tampa's Arts Program Division Coordinator, and Fred Hearns, a local historian, who helped to educate me about the history of Central Avenue from 1820-1967. I'm designing three murals, each to capture an historical period. The first mural will focus on the period from 1820-1920; the second mural focusses on the period 1920-1967; the third from 1967-the present and future. This first sketch highlights the early history of the area, when Tampa was small. Then the railroad came to town and the population started to grow.  The sun will be a feature of each mural. In the first mural the sun is rising; in the second mural, during Tampa's "heyday", the sun is high. In the third mural (sketch not shown) the sun's rays will become steps, leading into the future.  We all believe that Tampa has a bright future and I'm thrilled that my art will be part of that future."
Sketch for Tampa public art mural

Sketch for Tampa public art mural

  Here is a section of the first mural carved,  but not yet bisque fired or glazed:   handmade, sculptural wall art tile as public art by Natalie Blake   This second mural sketch shows the sun's rays, like spotlights from the Apollo Theatre, shining on the vibrant, cultural elements of the area.   tampasketch2    
Natalie, with Fred Hearns and Melissa Baron

Natalie, with Fred Hearns and Melissa LeBaron

     

Pattern

Patterns are everywhere in nature. While we don't set out to deliberately create patterns in our ceramic tile art, sometimes they emerge on their own, as this pattern did in our latest Tree of Life mural. According to Cynthia Parker-Houghton, Designer at Natalie Blake Studios, the pattern in the tree trunk revealed itself during sgraffito carving. Our latest work, this Tree of Life mural will be installed in a custom-built home in Wilmington, VT. The texture and dimensions of this tile art, also custom made, will be a source of beauty – and a chance to get lost in the patterns of nature.
Tree of Life ceramic tile art, unglazed – Natalie Blake Studios

Patterns in this Tree of Life took shape on their own.

 

Detail of sgraffito carved, ceramic tile art by Natalie Blake Studios

 
Girbaldi, handmade carved ceramic vessel

Everything about Girbaldi, one of our ceramic vessels, is handmade in Vermont.

Our ceramic artwork is nearly always inspired by nature, and especially its patterns. Whether in the petals of a flower, on the trunk of a tree, or ripples moving on water, the patterns are what we're really after when we begin sgraffito carving. Below are some intricate and honestly astounding patterns that Mother Earth loves to make.
Salakfruits

Snake Fruit from the Salak species of palm tree native to Indonesia, Malyasia and Brunei

flower

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Ungerleider

It's not surprising that art is inspired by nature, given the diversity of pattern and color that nature produces.  Here are a few tile patterns we love. We've pinned more on our Pinterest page. Share yours with us!

wall art tile wall art tile wall art tile wall art tile

 

Butterflies!

   
handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Natalie Blake Studios butterflies

One of the most pleasant surprises of spring is seeing the first butterflies of the season.  We had a spate of gorgeous, sunny weather the past few weeks and it seemed to bloom butterflies! We've been inspired and just had to create a swarm of butterflies (yes, that's the technical term for a group of butterflies!)  We've made ceramic butterfly tiles in all shapes, sizes and colors. With 20,000 species of butterflies to choose from, we certainly had plenty of inspiration. Our butterflies are each handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic with our unique backing for easy hanging. We've glazed them in beautiful, bright, Spring colors to lighten and warm your wall.     There are so many interesting facts about butterflies.  According to Wikipedia: "The ancient Greek word for "butterfly" is ψυχή (psȳchē), which primarily means "soul" or "mind". In Chinese culture, two butterflies flying together symbolize love. Artistic depictions of butterflies have been used in many cultures including Egyptian hieroglyphs 3500 years ago. In the ancient Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan, the brilliantly colored image of the butterfly was carved into many temples, buildings, jewelry, and emblazoned on incense burners in particular. The butterfly was sometimes depicted with the maw of a jaguar and some species were considered to be the reincarnations of the souls of dead warriors. The close association of butterflies to fire and warfare persisted through to the Aztec civilization and evidence of similar jaguar-butterfly images has been found among the Zapotec, and Mayan civilizations.
Today, butterflies are widely used in various objects of art and jewelry: mounted in frames, embedded in resin, displayed in bottles, laminated in paper, and used in some mixed media artworks and furnishings. Butterflies have also inspired the "butterfly fairy" as an art and fictional character, including in the Barbie Mariposa film."
   
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A Vermont butterfly
Photo credit: Elizabeth Ungerleider, Brattleboro, VT

    Here is one of our favorites:  Northern Checkerspot, 26" x 26", $750
handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic butterfly by Natalie Blake Studios

     Edith's Copper, 26" x 28", $900  
Butterfly VI

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic butterfly tiles by Natalie Blake Studios

Working on a mural

  Natalie is working closely with a client to design a wall mural for the client's living room.  Using tiles we have in stock, Natalie has designed this piece, comprised of 16", 14" and 12" tiles. The client emailed Natalie an image of the rug in the room; the vibrant colors in this mural play very well with the client's color scheme. According to Natalie: "I really enjoyed putting this grouping together and could have kept tinkering and moving all day.  The spacing is, of course, not correct, but this is really just a first take on colors, design and general layout."       handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake