My son was apprenticed at the time to a local potter, who was a great source of information and help. I found out that we could order plain, bisque-fired 4" square tiles from a ceramic supply company, and I could paint them myself. While the tiles were on order, I worked on the layout of the backsplash and the design of the tiles.
With the house under construction, I had the opportunity to plan the spacing of the tiles, and the placement of the outlets in the backsplash so that they wouldn’t interfere with the pattern of the decorative tiles. It was quite a challenge to figure it all out – let’s just say I hope I don’t ever have to do it again!
For the botanical designs on the decorative tiles, I was lucky enough to find a book called Medieval Herb, Plant, and Flower Illustrations, which has nearly 300 copyright-free botanical illustrations of herbs and flowers that I could use as a starting point for my designs. The drawings are based on a series of woodcuts from the 15th-century. I selected drawings of herbs and plants related to cooking, but couldn’t resist including a few others that I just liked the looks of.
I also had to design the field tiles that would fill in the spaces between the botanicals. I experimented on paper and finally came up with a motif that I liked. Where four corners meet, a secondary pattern is formed.
For the kitchen countertops, I planned to use a matte finish ivory tile, but I was stumped about what to do with the front edge. When I hit upon the idea of repeating the cobalt blue of the decorative backsplash in hand-painted edge tiles, my design was complete!
After sketching out each of the 35 botanical tile designs on paper, I transferred them to the plain white 4” tiles. Then came the most challenging part – painting over the pencil lines with the cobalt underglaze. I had to be extremely careful not to smudge my work. If I made a mistake, the only way to correct it was to scrape away the glaze with an X-acto knife. Handling the tiles and packing them for transport to the kiln was tricky, too. An inadvertant move could wipe out hours of work.
At the pottery studio, I coated each tile with a clear glaze before loading them into the kiln for firing. As the lid of the kiln closed, I remember having such a knot in my stomach, so worried that, if something went wrong, all my work would be ruined. It had taken me two months to paint the 35 decorative botanical tiles, 260 field tiles, and 65 edge tiles. (Plus I also designed and painted twenty 6” square tiles for the fireplace surround, which I’ll show you in a later post.)
When the kiln was opened, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. My tiles had survived the firing and looked wonderful! I couldn’t wait to install them!
All of my planning had paid off, and the installation went smoothly. I just had to take my time and not rush things. The whole project was a LOT of work, but it was worth it to me. Every once in awhile, I stop and look at my kitchen and marvel at the fact that I so blithely undertook such a challenging and time-consuming project. But I LOVE my blue and white tiles, and I get to enjoy my pretty kitchen every day. It's everyone's favorite place in our home.
Coming up next ...
... the breakfast room fireplace surround that coordinates with this kitchen backsplash.