Tag Archives: ceramic wall art

“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

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Little Tree of Four ceramic porcelain hand sgraffito carved backsplash.

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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.

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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.    

Perry Harvey, Sr. Park

A History Through the Art

Perry Harvey, Sr. Park, Tampa, FL Located at 900 E. Scott Street, the park is a place where generations can come together to share the history of the Central Avenue, through art, music, and cultural attractions.

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Clay Tile Murals by Natalie Blake Studios

The Encore!® trio of murals, was made by Natalie Blake Studios This Public Art Installation was commissioned by the City of Tampa and Bank of America in 2014 as part of the Perry Harvey, Sr. Park.

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History of the Scrub and Central Avenue

City-of-Tampa-Perry-Harvey-Park-Natalie-Blake-Studios-H "The Scrub, once Tampa's oldest and largest African American neighborhood, traces its history to just after the Civil War, when newly freed slaves built homes in a scrub palmetto thicket outside of the Town of Tampa. The heart of the Scrub was the Central Avenue Business District."

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~ Visit ~

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If you are in Tampa, Florida be sure to visit the park, and wander through the neighborhood! If you see the three Natalie Blake murals, send us your photos so we can add them to this post! Thank you!

Perry Harvey, Sr. Park 900 East Scott Street Tampa, Florida Information for Perry Harvey, Sr. Park: Phone: (813) 274-8854 Email: specialevents@tampagov.net

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Residential Backsplash

We just received some photographs of a custom backsplash we did for a client in 2014. I am sure that she has waited a long time to put up these tiles, but now that she has them, she can enjoy them for years to come!                     Their kitchen is fully renovated, and she has sent photographs of her Natalie Blake Studios tiles above her stovetop. Doesn't it look gorgeous? We can make custom tiles to fit your interior ~ with endless designs and over 40 glaze colors, let us work with you to make your environment glorious.                       Our tiles are the perfect medium for a backsplash. Contact the studio so we can help you with your design, and answer any questions you might have.

My teeny-tiniest inspiration

Handmade tile designs inspired by the microscopic world

I often get asked where I get my inspiration.  I was inspired by a couple I met at the American Craft Exposition (Evanston, IL)  a few years ago.  Founders of McCrone Associates-- internationally recognized as a world leader in microscopy and microanalysis--Don and Jane Brooks asked me to design a piece inspired by microscopy for their  employee lounge. I researched  imagery of 400X magnification of things like salt, metal, rabbit fur, anthrax!, spores, aluminum....whatever the amazing world of microscopic images could inspire in me. Like little abstract paintings, my carved porcelain wall art tiles captured the marvelous texture, complexity and composition that this microscopic world produced.  I made more than 100 circular tiles, ranging from 4-21 inches in diameter. Click here to watch a great Youtube video of my tile-making process.  My partner, Nick, and I flew out to Illinois to do the installation.  I love working with Nick because he's not only a master craftsman with a great eye for design (his line of furniture will soon be showing in our new Fulcrum Arts Gallery, in Brattleboro, VT) but he also designs and engineers each new installation to perfection.

handmade, carved, ceramic wall art by Natalie Blake

Making final arrangements while on sight, I spent hours adjusting and tweaking my design to fit the space in the best way. Taking off my shoes helped me ground myself so I could see the work and the space more clearly.

handmade, carved, ceramic wall art by Natalie Blake

Nick makes perfect adjustments to the placement of the disks on the walls.

handmade, carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

While at McCrone Laboratories, Don asked me to make a pattern with all the round tiles that we chose not to put in the long swoops in the display commission space. Here I am laying them out in large gestural swirls to install on a stairwell where students from Don's Microscopy Institute walked to and from class each day.

handmade, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake Studios

The study of microscopy inspired a new dimension in my sculptural wall tile and ceramic work. One of the best parts of my job (and my life) is that I get to travel not only around the world, but through different layers of our complex human and natural existence to find inspiration.

handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Making a Tree of Life mural

  Once again our popular, handmade, carved, ceramic Tree of Life wall tile art will adorn a public space: this time a church in Florida.  The piece, measuring 36" x 36", will be hung in the lounge at the church. Cynthia Parker-Houghton, studio designer, created this piece. We thought it would be fun to document the process of making this piece. handmade, carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake     The first step in the process is laying out the handmade forms over which the clay tiles will drape, thus creating undulations in the tiles.  Here's what Cynthia says about this step: "The reason I stay interested in this tree icon is because it is familiar, comforting, grounding. And I think these qualities are especially important when the piece will be displayed in a sacred space.  When I lay out the forms, I always start with the trunk--the forms flow out from there and down into the roots.  I get the feeling that these forms represent the flow of energy from the nutrients in the soil to the roots, up the trunk and out the leaves. Because of our carving style--we carve away the black slip to reveal the white clay underneath, the piece has an energetic look to it.  You can imagine the wind and the particles flowing around it. "
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Laying out the forms over which the tiles will be slumped. This will create the undulations in the tiles

   
forms laid out

These forms create the "skeleton" of the tree

 
tiles on forms

Clay tiles take the shapes of the forms beneath them.

  After the clay is laid over the forms we paint on the slip:   handmade ceramic tiles DSC_0002 2   After the slip dries we begin carving, using a special tool that removes the darker slip. handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake   Cynthia Carving tree handsculpted, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake   Here's what Cynthia has to say about carving: "I get inspiration from nature.  As I'm carving I'm not thinking of a specific species of tree but the "feeling" of the tree-- the sturdiness or the delicateness or other qualities that the tree embodies.  I can feel those as I'm carving. There's always a little personification too: like this is the body of the tree, these are the arms. My carving style is a kind of dance. I use my whole body when I carve. If I just use my hand I don't have the grace.  So I use my shoulder, my whole arm, my trunk,--there's a flow to it.  The lines I choose to make are based on that flow. Sometimes it's appropriate to make small, tight lines, but generally I use more fluid, flowing lines."   The final steps are bisque-firing and glaze-firing, which takes about a week.  We then glue on our custom backings for easy hanging.  Start to finish, the process takes about 4-5 weeks.  

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself, in which I have goodness, and discernment, and never hurry through the world but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, "Stay awhile." The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say, "and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine."

    -Mary Oliver

   

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

What size should my artwork be?

  Unless you work with an interior designer, it may be difficult to know what size wall art will look best in your space.  When it comes to finding the right size wall art, there are a few tips to keep in mind so that you don't overwhelm (or underwhelm) your space with your art: In general you should work around furniture, using the general rule of covering 1/2 to 3/4 of that area with your artwork.
  • One guideline is that the artwork should take up 4/7 of the selected space.  Here's a math trick to help you figure that the size of the art you need:
  • Measure the width (or height) of your wall space, in inches.  Multiply that number by .57
  • So, for example, if your area is 36 inches wide, you want to look for art that's 20-21 inches wide.
Here's an example of an appropriately-sized mural for this wall. The width of the wall is 96". Using the calculation outlined above, the artwork for this wall should be 54" wide. This ceramic tile mural, Live Oak, is comprised of 12" x 12" tiles, with 1/2" spacing between tiles. So the width of the piece is about 50".  You can see that the mural fills the space nicely, with a nice "frame" of wall around the piece so that the room doesn't look cluttered by the artwork.   sculpted, carved ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake   In the example below the width of the wall is 144".  Using the calculation, the mural should be about 82".  The mural is 75" wide.  Even without using the calculation we can see that the piece fits in the space. A large room such as this, with high ceilings, can take a larger piece of artwork.  The benefit of a ceramic tile mural like this one is that the work can be appreciated from a distance, or up close to see the carving lines. sculpted, carved, ceramic tile mural   ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake   Feel free to contact the studio if you'd like help determining what size ceramic mural would fit your wall. Our tiles are made in sizes from 12" -20" square.  If you send us an image of your wall/space we can Photoshop a mural into the image to give you an idea of what the piece will look like.                                          

Architextural tiles

sculptural, custom, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake We developed this line of tile to showcase at the 2014 Architectural Digest Home Show.  It was a big hit!  Each tile is handmade, carved in our signature sgraffito style. The bold, gestural lines accentuate the sculptural undulations in the tile and almost read like topographical lines. These tiles can be grouped in any configuration, customized in any of our sizes from 12" - 20" square, and glazed in any of our 33 rich, luminous glaze colors.   ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake   An interior designer in south Florida is commissioning these tiles for a residential, exterior installation. 15, 12" x 12" tiles will hang as panels and 6, 18" x 18" tiles will be grouted in as a backsplash in the outdoor kitchen.   sculptural, custom, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake       sculptural, custom, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Beautiful installations

These 14" x 14" sculptural, ceramic art tiles were installed at the Stonebridge Country Club, Boca Raton, FL in 2009.  They've been one of our most popular installations with their rich, persimmon glaze and abstract designs.  A designer from Florida recently came by the studio and said that she'd seen this piece in "her" country club and  now wants to order an abstract design for one of her residential clients.  
Handmade, sgraffito-carved ceramic tile by Natalie Blake

42" x 42", Stonebridge Country Club, Boca Raton, FL, 2009

  Another great installation: 18" x 18" abstract blue tiles. The carving lines and ripples in the tiles complement the ripples in the water.
handmade, ceramic wall art by Natalie Blake

Blue Ripples, 72" x 126"

                     

Details, details, details!

  ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake We're not bothered by the details here at Natalie Blake Studios. In fact, we LOVE the details!  It's the detail of our work that draws the viewer in. From a distance our murals have a bold, sculptural presence. But lean in and notice that each line on every tile has been carved by hand. Like brushstrokes on a painting, our carving lines add movement and texture to the work. You can actually feel the texture.  This tactile quality of our work adds yet another dimension to our art.                 carving a ceramic wall art tile We achieve this textured carving by using the ancient technique of "sgraffito," which means "to scratch" in Italian.  First we brush a layer of slip (a creamy mixture of clay, water and pigment) onto the clay. After the slip dries, we carve through this layer to reveal the lighter-colored clay underneath.       Ribbon Tools       We use a ribbon tool to do our carving.  These miniature sculpting tools are made of fine ribbon steel, heat-treated for maximum strength.   For more detail on our tile-making process, check out our Youtube video, "Carving Curved Clay"  
ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Closeup of the Tree of Life mural, showing undulation of tiles and sgraffito-carving

ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Sgraffito-carved tiles, air drying before going into the bisque firing

carved ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

carved ceramic wall art tile

Sgraffito-carved tile

carving a ceramic wall art tile

Natalie carving a ceramic wall art tile

 
ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Outdoor installation of ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios