Mudéjar Ceramic Tiles

After the reconquest of Toledo, Spain in 1085 CE, there were many Muslim people still living in the region under Christian rule. These people were called Mudéjar. Mudéjar artisans were employed to build and decorate new Christian churches erected in southern Spain, and they utilized their tradition of elaborate pattern-making and ceramic tilework in the architectural structures.

Mudéjar art in southern Spain flourished in the 14th and 15th century. After Columbus discovered the new world in 1492, many Mudéjar artisans (as well as Christian artisans schooled in the traditions of Islamic design) migrated to areas of New Spain where Mudéjar styles survived into the 16th and 17th centuries.

The House of the Marquis de Rivera (called the “Casa de Pilates”) in Seville, Spain, contains some examples of tiled courtyards and rooms that exemplify the overall effect of Mudéjar ceramic tile decoration.

There were several styles of ceramic tiles used in Mudéjar architecture, including “arista” (or “cuenca”), “cuerda seca” and “majolica” tiles (developed later, in the 15th and 16th centuries).

Both arista and cuerda seca tiles have raised ridges which separate glaze colors. The Museum With No Frontiers describes how arista and cuerda seca tiles are made:

Arista Tile Example. Source: Museum With No Frontiers

The cuenca o arista technique imitates tile mosaic. While the pattern of tile mosaic is made by cutting and assembling polychrome glazed tiles, the design of tiles worked in cuenca o arista technique is made by filling small pattern fields formed by thin strips of clay with different glazes. Where the glaze flowed over the frame, the design does not stand out clearly

Source: [http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;se;Mus01;15;en&cp]

Cuerda Seca Tile Example. Source: Museum With No Frontiers

The cuerda seca technique involves pressing a patterned mould gently onto the surface of the clay; the outlines and boarders of the pattern are then coated with a mixture of manganese-oxide and grease to prevent the different coloured glazes from running into each other. After completing the application of the greasy substance and the coloured lead-based glazes, the tile is fired. While the coloured glazes fuse themselves to the body of the tile and harden, the greasy mixture burns away leaving a clearly defined unglazed outline, ‘cord’, round all the compartments that make up the design.

Source: [http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;uk;Mus04;50;en&pageT=N&cp]

Maiolica ceramics were developed in the 15th centuries and widely produced. With this stylistic innovation, artisans were able to apply colors directly onto ceramic tiles coated with opaque white foundation. This direct, painted application gave birth to a burst of tile production throughout Spain and, ultimately, wider Europe.

Maiolica style tile (Source: Museum With No Frontiers)
Source: [http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=object;ISL;es;Mus01;45;en&pageD=N&cp]

Mudéjar artists employed various types of tile into these architectural structures in southern Spain. Many decorated buildings remain in decent to excellent condition. I am planning an expedition through Andalucía in Spain in early 2022 to explore and photograph remnants of this marvelous era.

Clay Used in Archaeological Conservation (Volubilis, Morocco)

I’ve always been an admirer of ancient mosaics found throughout much of the ancient Roman and Byzantine world. Although mainly constructed out of small pieces of stone, at times ceramic pieces and glass pieces were included in the mosaic construction.

Volubilis ruins, Morocco. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Subhros.. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0).

I stumbled onto a video showing the conservation of mosaics at the Roman site of Volubilis in current-day Morocco. Volubilis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, noted for the fine preservation of architectural elements and mosaic floors in a picturesque setting. I visited the site about 40 years ago, pre-restoration of the mosaics. Even then it was stunning.

What interested me in this video was the return to an ancient material (lime mortar) used by the Roman-era creators as a better foundation for mosaics than more concrete, which earlier restorers used at the site.

You’ll also see how conservators employ clay in the restoration process of these magnificent mosaics.

More information about this conservation project can be found in an article by Yousra Rebbani on the Getty Museum website.

I’m attaching some photos of mosaics from the site which I found on a blog article from Mosaic Blues.

Ceramic Tiles at LaGuardia Airport

I recently passed through LaGuardia airport in New York and couldn’t help but notice the huge installation of ceramic tiles in Terminal B. The tiles cover over 25,000 sq. ft. of wall space. What a wonderful greeting for ceramic lovers the world over!

The work is a tile mosaic designed by painter Laura Owens, featuring details from 80 sites associated with NYC such as the Empire State Building, city buses, the Stonewall Inn, the John Lennon memorial, and the Statue of Liberty.

Here are some details of a vendor cart to give you a sense of the detail involved.

Vendor cart is located at the bottom of this image
A close up of the vendor cart
And a further drill down into individual tiles that form part of the vendor cart

The work was commissioned by LaGuardia Gateway Partners in partnership with Public Art Fund for LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal B. I found additional photos of the installation on this Fireclay Tile website.


Margaret Bohls – Artist Profile

Margaret Bohls is an innovative ceramics educator and artist. Her work reflects her deep interest in form as it has been interpreted through history. Margaret teaches in the Ceramics Department at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NB. I spoke with her about her academic activities as well as her personal work. I was particularly intrigued with the structure of her course on the history of ceramics, and that’s what we discussed first.

JW: Can you give me some background about the history of ceramics course you teach?

MB: It’s interesting how little information there is about historical ceramics and how little we know about the what time frame objects were made in and the circumstances of ceramic production. Art historians don’t typically teach the history of ceramics, and that’s one reason why I am teaching it. I teach it as a studio art class, not an art history class. I lecture, and in addition to lectures students choose particular ceramics objects from history to reproduce during the course. The students do independent study of those objects, both in terms of materials and process, but also in terms of culture and historical context. The course is structured as half lecture and research, and other half is making.

JW: That’s really interesting. I studied Art History and we never had a class like that. Do students try to replicate their chosen object in both material as well as process?

MB: Yes, students try to replicate both the materials and the process of making their object, within the limitations of our studio setting. They can be as extensive in their research as they choose to be. And I encourage that. Some people focus on getting the form just right. Others really focus on replicating the materials and surfaces just right. And some students are more focused on doing the written research about the culture and the people who made the original object. So there are lots of different access points to those selected pieces for the students. I encourage the students to pursue what most interests them, although they all make a piece and write about each piece that they make.

JW: Is that a typical way to study ceramics in a university setting?

MB: No, it isn’t. Especially since the 1950s the idea of copying or replicating a piece of art work has been frowned upon, especially in university art programs. So I took a risk in creating this class. Historically, painters learned by copying and potters also learned by copying. In Japan, for instance, you learn by copying your master’s work until you master it yourself, and then you move on to do your own work. So I think it is a craftsperson’s way of thinking about things, and not necessarily a contemporary art person’s way of thinking about things.

I think this way of educating is very effective. It’s as if my students are apprenticing themselves to an ancient artist in some way. It’s a great way to learn process and technique because there’s such a steep learning curve in learning skills to manipulate ceramic materials. Having to also conceptualize the work at the same time is very difficult, especially for undergraduate students.  When we give undergraduate students assignments we see a steady progression of skill and technique. As soon as we stop giving students assignments and they have to develop the idea for the work on their own, there’s always a big drop-off in their work, both in terms of the amount they produce but also in terms of skill.  When something is fully conceptualized, it’s actually much easier to make. The hard part is figuring out what the piece is all about, in detail. So this method teaches them the complexity of objects in terms of the thought that’s gone into the form and surface of an object – without having to come up with that concept on their own.

JW: That’s a great segue to your own creative process. Your approach seems to be to study objects – particularly objects of a culture or period – very intently and boil them down into some essence – I think you call it “distilling down to critical visual and formal characteristics.” Can you tell me about that process?

MB: It’s hard to say what I do, exactly. I look in a particular way. It’s the way that I look that’s important. I see very particular things in what I’m studying.

I’m not interested in all aspects of each set of historical things that I’m working from. I’m really looking for a particular aspect of it that I then develop and elaborate on in my studio practice. 

My work is grounded in an abiding interest in historical vessel forms, and in the social context of these objects.” Margaret Bohls

JW: And do those aspects change?

MB: Yes, it does. But it mostly has to do with form and form language. How objects, the form of objects, communicate, and what they communicate – as opposed to surface.  Art historians almost always study the surface of ceramic objects – the decoration. I am mostly interested in how forms evolved and the language of form.

JW: You seem to have a very deliberative approach to making, as opposed to an intuitive, spontaneous style.

MB: Well, yes, I do. I’m an academic. I’ve been teaching for over 25 years and before that I was in school. My approach in part has to do with how I teach – the idea is important. I try to develop the idea along with the objects themselves. It’s also a function of how I pay for my research. I have to write long narratives about what I’m going to do before I do it in order to get funding and support from the University. So that forces me to think through in advance.

JW:  It seems that you’ve used this research as a way to explore various cultures and places around the world.

MB: Yes, that’s true. It’s very typical thing for academics to do. We get money for travel because it forwards our research. The University supports it because it helps us make international connections which is helpful for our programs and for the University.

JW: I noticed that you work in series. What prompts you to start a series, and do your series ever end?

MB: It’s true. That’s sort of my M.O. My work changes rather drastically on a fairly regular basis. The fun for me is figuring out how to make something in the first place – figuring out the form, figuring out the surface, getting it to communicate what I want it to communicate, and development. Once I’ve “perfected it” (in my mind) and answered the questions I originally had, then it doesn’t hold much interest for me anymore.

So some of my former series have lasted longer than others. Sometimes that is because it’s what I became known for and that’s what the galleries that were selling my work wanted or people who hired me to teach workshops expected me to do. 

My last couple of series of work, the porcelain pieces, I was well over those pieces before I stopped making them. It took the support of the University (I changed jobs and came to the University of Nebraska) to wrap that up. Number one, I didn’t have enough time in my schedule to make functional pottery in the way that a studio practice requires. So I switched to more sculptural work which I could do more episodically. And importantly, I didn’t need to be selling that work. I’ve allowed myself to switch and I’m slowly finding venues for my new work.

JW: What’s next for you?

MB: I just did a series on Etruscan forms and had that exhibition at the Museum of Nebraska Art. That’s more sculptural work. I have been invited to participate in the Saint Croix pottery tour in Minnesota next spring, so I’m now in the process of adapting those sculptural forms and some of my previous forms from the Modernist Series into functional pots. Summer was a very productive time for me in the studio because I could go there and work every day.  Now I’ll start working on surface designs for those forms.

More of Margaret’s work can be viewed on her website.

Replication as a Learning Tool

I started my artistic career as a painter, where a long-standing tradition is to copy the work of master artists as a way to develop skill as a painter. That tradition is not as firmly established the contemporary ceramics world, which is strange because potters are generally very open to sharing their techniques and processes.

I recently came across several instances of replication as a learning tool in the ceramics world.

The Ceramics Program at Harvard’s Office for the Arts recently held an 8-week zoom class drawing upon items from the various Harvard Art Museums’ collections. A master potter, Denny McLaughlin, examined and then replicated objects including a pitcher from the 15th century, an Etruscan kantharos, and a Roman beaker. In consultation with conservators from the museums, McLaughlin sought to recreate pieces and in so doing, recreate the processes of earlier ceramic traditions. More on this course is available in a Sept 15, 2021 article in the Harvard Gazette.

The Southwest Kiln Conference is about to host their annual get-together from September 23-26th. Attendees at the conference will participate in an open trench kiln firing, replicating the firing processes of early potters in the American Southwest. There are also lectures on “Painting pottery the Ancient way,” “San Juan redware,” “Prehistoric images of butterflies, bugs and birds,” and and a discussion on organic and mineral paint materials. Organizers include Andy Ward, Bob Casias, Cherylene Caver and Kelly Magleby, all of whom offer courses on techniques employed by earlier Southwestern region potters. Andy Ward, for example, has courses on finding and processing natural clay; coil building; finding and making natural paints, slips and pigments; and others.

Some of Kelly Magleby’s earlier workshop descriptions give you a sense of what and how she teaches: going out into the Utah desert for 7 days to find and collect everything needed to make and fire pots in the wild.

Another indicator: Kelly also teaches Anasazi style pottery at the annual Rabbitstick Primitive Skills Conference.

More information on the Southwest Kiln Conference can be found on their website. Here are links to websites of each of the organizers:

Bob Casias: Pottery of the Ancients

Andy Ward: AncientPottery.how

Cherylene Caver: CLC Studios

Kelly Magleby: Kayenta Fire

Stuart Gair – Artist Profile

I’m attracted to the stark, almost Spartan, forms of Stuart Gair’s pottery. He simplifies forms, driving that simplification further and further towards abstraction. He leaves surface decoration to the vagaries of soda firing (although he tells me he carefully places each pot in the kiln to achieve certain surface effects). The results are meditative, almost Zen-like objects of tremendous visual interest.

JW: You have simplified forms – but quite a few different forms (e.g., vase, teapot, globes, spaghetti jar, etc). Where do you come up with ideas for these different forms – especially the more unique ones like spaghetti jars, envelope vases, folded vases?

SG: Ideas for forms come from many different places. Always thinking about sculptural qualities such as balance, edge, light, shadow, minimalism, and how the object occupies space. All the while, trying to balance everything with function and how its used.

It’s important for me that the piece functions but I often try to challenge conventional forms and ask the user to think differently.

Particular examples are the vases I’ve been working on such as the envelope vases and the box vases with the small opening. The idea is to pack the vase with flowers so they stand upright and don’t droop over the vessel. This way, both are elevated. The opening is a particular size to constrict/highlight the green stems and kind of frame them with the grey pot. So that’s something I’m always thinking about.

I tend to look at older Japanese and Korean pots, Mid Century (American and British and Scandinavian) ceramics, glass, and metal objects for inspiration. Also, any sculpture and geologic inspiration from the world around me here in Colorado.

JW: You say your forms are influenced by a study of Scandanavian and Shaker design. Have you always worked with these sources of influence or did that evolve over time?

SG: I started off looking at a lot of American pots from the early 19th century and that informed a lot of my forms. I worked at a historical reenactment village in Ohio called Hale Farm. I dug my own clay there, fired my first gas kilns and learned a lot about making through repetition of producing historically accurate wares.

JW: You list a long list of exhibitions on your website – and appear to do many shows each year (I count 19 in 2015 alone). How do you approach exhibitions and shows? Are they primarily vehicles to sell your work or market yourself?

SG: Earlier on, I applied to shows to get my work out there. I wanted people to see what I was making on more than a local scale. Now I pretty much only do exhibitions that Im invited to . Other than the solo shows, theyve never been about selling work…more about getting it out there in the world. Most income comes from online sales, commissions, and workshops.

JW: You’ve also participated in a number of residencies. How are the different residency programs different (or are they different)?

SG: They’re all different and I have highly valued my time at those residencies. Early on, I was the Salad Days artist at Watershed where it was my task to complete 500 plates for an annual fundraiser (salad days) the following summer. This experience taught me the value of routine and repetition while working with clay. Without that experience, I would not have nearly as much discipline in the studio. Was also my first residency and I met so many people while there that I’m still friends with and we’ve been able to help each other out in many ways, both personally and professionally.

I went to Harvard which was more of a teaching residency and very demanding of my time in that regard. I loved it. I was able to teach a lot of different classes and there were a lot of professors from other fields that were taking my classes which was really interesting because of what they brought to the table. Whether History, anthropology, geologists, et cetera. Each one had a different take on clay in general and their approach and insights were always fascinating.

Archie Bray was also a very different experience in that it was a totally immersive experience and it was the first time I could focus solely on my own studio practice and the evolution of my work. Also became much more business oriented during my time there. Learned a lot from my cohorts and visiting artists who came through once a month. Taught me how to be self sufficient and has been a driving force for my decision to leave academia and pursue a career as a studio potter next year.

JW: Can you tell me about your process?

SG: Most forms are thrown and altered either by paddling, pushing, or cutting. However, I often use molds for forms like my plates, pitchers, and folded dishes. I’ve also begun slip casting recently. The soda firing process is a huge part of my work, While many artists spend ample time carving, drawing, or glazing their work, my surface decoration comes from meticulous placement of each pot in the kiln. It is important that each firing is only my work because particular pieces are created to be paired with other pieces in the kiln and in particular locations. I typically draw rough sketches of how the pieces will be placed in the kiln prior to loading.

More examples of Stuart’s pottery can be found on his website.

Ben Carter’s Tribute to Michael Simon

This morning I listened to Ben Carter’s podcast “Tribute to Michael Simon” (episode 389). The original recording was in 2014, and Ben recast it this week because Michel recently passed away.

I was very, very impressed with the podcast interview. I highly recommend it. Seriously, take an hour walk and listen to this as you stroll along. The reflections captured, the self-doubt and yet strong confidence will bolster your soul.

Ben Carter is outstanding at eliciting interesting ideas in a casual conversational manner, something I tried to point out in my own interview with Ben Carter in February 2021. What are equally impressive here are the comments and observations of Michael Simon. I found Michael intelligent, curious, hard-working and vulnerable throughout the interview.

Here are a few images of Michael’s pots I found online. They just scratch the surface of this artist’s body of work, since he worked for decades. Many more can be found with a search online.

George Rodriguez – Artist Profile

George Rodriguez is a Seattle-based ceramic sculptor who creates large-scale pieces and environments that reflect his personal journey and also reference his Mexican-American heritage. George grew up in El Paso, TX, and spent time in his youth in both El Paso and Ciudad Juarez across the border in Mexico, visiting family.

I love the sense of scale that permeates George’s work. I sense monumentality both in the physical size of his pieces, but also in the character of much of his work. I’m reminded of ancient cultures that used large sculptures as architectural elements to reflect the grandeur and power of their civic or religious function.

George sent me some photos of his workspace that highlight the physical size of some pieces.

You can get a sense of how George combines these large-scale pieces to create ceramic “environments” in an article describing George’s 2019 show entitled “Reflect and Gather” in Seattle. (Two images from the show are displayed below).

Photo by James Hamois
Photo by James Hamois

JW: Have you always worked at large scale? What attracted you to large pieces?

GR: I’ve always enjoyed working large. In undergrad at the University of Texas El Paso, I worked to the limitations of the largest kiln. I would make these 3ft tall figures. This is before I really knew about making things in sections.  I enjoyed the engineering of the sculpture and the challenge of making the clay balance. In grad school at the University of Washington, they had a kiln I could stand in. I took that as a challenge and my first sculpture was a large matador boy figure. Since then, I learned a lot about large scale ceramics. I love how physical it is and that it involves my entire body. I love the planning it takes to map a large-scale piece and figure out the steps to make it happen. I love that I need to exercise patience and listen to what the clay needs. I have definitely been rushed and lost my fair share of work.

JW: You have a series called “Urban Guardians” consisting of multiple heads and multiple bodies. Viewers are able to move the heads around, exchanging 1 head for another on a body. Where did you come up with that idea of “interactive” or participatory sculpture?

GR: The series for Urban Guardians came together in 2019 and 2020. The title stemmed from two large sculptures (a rat and a pigeon) that I wanted to display prominent and regal. I was thinking about the way we interact with monuments and how the viewers perceptions are changed by the artists. Rats and Pigeons are often seen as pests, but I wanted to change the narrative to them being resilient and worthy of display.  

I was also thinking about the complexity of people and how our taste, emotions, convictions are always changing. This led me to want to give the viewers more power in creating their own small monument. One day I might want to see a skull head on the sphynx, while the next day I want to see a luchador head instead. I also think that when the viewer has the ability to create and make decisions, they will look closer at the many options available and maybe discover something new. Plus who doesn’t want to touch the art in a gallery.

JW: You have another project involving participation of different artists. Will you tell me about that project, El Zodiaco Familiar?

GR: El Zodiaco Familiar has been in the works for about 3 years. This is the fifth series in the reinterpretation of the Chinese Zodiac into a Mexican zodiac. In an homage to its origins in Chinese folklore, I wanted to reimagine the classic zodiac animals as analogous creatures of Mexican origin, and thus bridging cultures and creating new narratives. I always planned for the last series to be a collaboration with other artists that identify as Mexican or Chicanx/e. I wanted to include artists that work outside of the ceramic discipline.

Included in the collaboration are painters, photographers, poets, tattoo artist, animators, potters, political cartoonist, printmakers, jewelers, mixed media and installation artists.  Each artist has imbued their collaboratively-imagined sculpture, corresponding to the zodiac animal of their birth year, with personal perspective, folk tradition, and an intimate feeling of celebration. 

I was curious how the 13 artists in the collaboration would react to their given animal. While each sculpture is as distinct as its maker, taken together, the twelve pieces vibrate with deep resonances of the familiar. Each collaboration was unique as the artists lived across the US with one artist living in Mexico. There were a lot of conversations, and no two collaborations worked the same. Some artist came to my Seattle studio and worked in person, while others received the work in the post and shipped it back when done. It’s been one of my favorite series to work on because it is about community building and I feel like I gained some good friendships.

JW: You grew up in El Paso, studied at UTEP and frequently visited relatives in Mexico. Are you familiar with the ceramics from Paquime (also called Casas Grandes)? There are some things in your work that remind me of some of the spirit vessels from Paquime.

GR: I am very familiar with Paquime. As an undergrad student, my professor Vince Burke took a handful of students to Paquime for a 4-day trip to work with one of the Quezada brothers. This is when I found out where this beautiful pottery came from. We worked with some low fire clay and learned a few techniques. It was a fun trip of discovery.

I grew up in the southwest in a very Mexican household in El Paso TX and there is some imagery on that pottery that was part of my daily life. I think that some of those symbols and spirits are passed on through family and ancestry. I feel like the art from this region is in my blood.

JW: You’ve said that you work is about you trying to portray yourself, and your self-image is always evolving. Can you point me to some pieces that represent some of those different sides of your heritage and personality?

GR: I like to create self-portraits because they act as time markers. My first sculpture in beginning ceramics was a portrait of me with puzzle pieces. In grad school, I made my portrait into a large ceramic piñata.  After the 2016 Presidential election, I created a self-portrait that presented my emotions in “State of the Union”.  

Most recently, “Seven Indulgences” is a large urn with my portrait and my sins.

When I’m not being completely literal and adding my face, I lean on my Mexican heritage to represent me and the ideas I want to present. The Quinceañera dress has made an appearance multiple times and represents my family because my mother is a seamstress and would make my sisters dresses. The luchador shows up as a guardian and the cactus as my home.

One of the biggest impacts in my work happened because I had the opportunity to travel the world in 2010 in thanks to a fellowship I received in grad school. This Bonderman Travel Fellowship expanded my world view and allowed me to realize how interconnected we are as humans on a global scale. I was able to make connections of imagery from cultures that were separated by vast distance across oceans. I am not only Mexican and from the US, I am a global member that can share traditions and cultures that are not only the ones I grew up in.

JW: Can you tell me something about your process? You work in such large scale I’ve got to imagine you sketch out ideas about a piece before you start building. How much of your work is planned in advance, and how much spontaneous?

GR: I plan a lot before I start on a sculpture or a series. I usually start with research and conversations with people. My work references historical sculpture, different cultures, and social political issues. I want to make sure that I’m not appropriating and misrepresenting any imagery I might use. After research comes drawings and sketches. I sketch different angles of more complicated sculptures but mostly I use the sketches for scale. I mark out the height and width to reference while building. The slab work is the easy part. I build hollow with interior support structures depending on the sculpture. My spontaneity come with my use of sprig ornamentation. I go in with an idea but that could change to contour the form better or to add different meaning. After bisque firing, glazing is like paint by numbers. I want the colors to add yet another layer of information.

Museo de las Americas

There is a small museum just getting started in Denver, CO called “Museo de las Americas.” The Museo was founded in 1991. It celebrates Latino art and culture.

Part of the Museo’s collection are a few pre-Hispanic ceramic pieces from what is now Mexico. Although not a large collection, and perhaps because it’s not a large collection, I found myself pausing to look closely at some of the forms: hunchbacks, warriors, zoomorphic vessels. The detailing is exquisite, as with the beads and surface decoration on this figurine of a dancer from the Colima culture.

Note to the left the dancer’s mask, which is detachable from the figurine. Notes from the Museo explain that dance was an important part of ritual in this ancient culture (which thrived around 500 CE). Clay figures like this document dance performance and are thought to serve some educational function. The Museo tells us that “themes of duality are inextricable from everyday life in ancient America. When the dancer dons the mask, they are transported to a liminal space, where they are both, yet neither, the dancer and the spiritual figure they are impersonating. This spirit-human hybrid is what the artwork strives to embody.”

Another example I enjoyed was this hunchback figurine, also from Colima (100-250 CE). Vessels representing hunchback figures are believed to represent dwarfs or shamans.

Again, this is a modest collection of ceramics, but I enjoyed the items. Here are a few additional items for your viewing pleasure.

Ceramic Decals – Enduring Images

Enduring Images is a Colorado-based company that produces ceramic decal printing systems as well as well as offering their own printing equipment to print custom decals for customers. I spoke with this company about their products and services. They walked me through their product line and how potters can use this technology for artistic purposes.

Mitchell Spain – ceramic “cans” using decals printed on an Enduring Images’ printer

Enduring Images modifies certain types of digital printing equipment to apply inorganic pigments to ceramic surfaces. These inorganic pigments will not fade over time, even when exposed to UV rays and prolonged sunlight. Most commercial printers use organic pigments, which will fade over time. While there are a few commercially available printers that contain iron oxide in the black toner, Enduring Images’ equipment allows users to use the full spectrum of colors.

Customers can purchase the printers themselves (for example ceramic artists Mitchell Spain and Mariko Paterson, discussed below). Alternatively, clients can send Enduring Images their digital photographs or graphics files and Enduring Images will print and apply decals onto ceramic surfaces.

The largest customer group using these printing services are tombstone makers. They send digital photographs to Enduring Images and the company prints those images onto round, oval or square ceramic tiles for mounting on tombstones. Photographic images of the deceased that don’t fade over time are a significant product improvement for tombstone monument-makers.

Other commercial clients use these printing services for tiles and other architectural ceramics. Many customers also hire Enduring Images to manufacture their custom-printed dinnerware. A few examples follow.

Of more interest to me, personally, are the artists who are tapping into Enduring Images’ commercial printing products to create interesting ceramics. I will highlight two artists here.

Mitchell Spain

Mitchell Spain is an amazingly creative ceramic artist in rural Iowa. He grew up on a farm, and passed time rummaging through the detritus left behind successive generations of farmers. His trompe l’oeil techniques incorporate that imagery from rural America, particularly imagery of discarded and decaying automotive products, into his work. In the video below (from the Enduring Images website), he describes how he uses an Enduring Images printer to create decals for his work.

Mitchell looks to be rolling out a line of customizable decals for placement on various ceramic forms he makes. You can see more information on his website. Here are a few images of his earlier pieces:

Mitchell Spain – small flask
Mitchell Spain – large flask
Mitchell Spain – mugs

Mariko Paterson

I absolutely love Mariko’s energy and enthusiasm, evident right as you view her Forage Studios website (“Expect the unexpected and whenever possible be the unexpected”):

Mariko explains in this video (again from Enduring Images’ website) how she adds decals to her ceramic work:

I encourage you to explore Mariko’s world – which includes some super-creative elements like her “Eat, Clay, Love” project. Here are a couple of images of her work, one showing printed decals, nicked from her website:

Mariko Paterson
Mariko Paterson

More information on Enduring Images’ products and services is available on their website. I visited their offices in Golden, CO, a few months ago and was impressed with their openness. Mary Beth Manwiller, CEO, invited me over and I ended up speaking with Ron Manwiller, COO, for over an hour about the chemistry and engineering of these printers. I was genuinely impressed with how Enduring Images wants to help ceramic artists to incorporate digital imagery into ceramics – and use available technology to sustain their livelihoods.