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Designing in Ceramic Tiles

a lucrative craft for graphic designers

Perhaps you've followed some of our articles on self promotion and freelancing, well along those paths, all creative people will need to be aware of the rapidly changing economy throughout the year to come. As the economy slows down, consumer goods get more expensive, and the U.S. dollar becomes smaller and smaller, creative services are one area which will take a substantial hit. Creatives will be finding it more and more difficult to get good money for their work. Unless you're entrenched in the ivory tower of the ad agency world, creative services will be at the top of business budgets to get cut. But more about that later.

Tiles by Jennifer RocheI was recently visiting the quaint city of St. Augustine, Florida, and noticed a trend in signage which reminded me a lot of Santa Fe -- and an article I wrote in DTG a dozen years ago. Being the oldest continuously occupied European-established city, and the oldest port, in the continental United States, it would seem logical that ceramic tile design would be flourishing here. The Spanish influence is strong here, and the Spanish have a thousand-year tradition in producing some of the finest fired ceramic tile work in the world.

I asked a shopkeeper using a beautifully designed ceramic sign where it came from, and that lead me to the inviting studio and shop of Jennifer Roche.

Personalized tile art by Jennifer Roche

A true eye-opener, Jennifer's gallery had literally hundreds of superbly crafted ceramic products for all kinds of uses. What intrigued me however was the crafting of signage. From these examples you can see the work is not only beautiful -- but offers a lot of freedom and opportunity for expression.

All of Jennifer's tiles are hand painted and fired right in her studio. Many feature scenes from St. Augustine, but many others are reminiscent of Italian and Spanish motifs as well as early Victorian and Art Nouveau designs. (Detail)

The beauty of the work makes these perfect for address plaques, name plates, and anything else that you want to make special -- not to mention gifts for weddings, anniversaries or house warmings. The hidden benefit that you don't immediately see is the fact that properly glazed and fired ceramic tile will last a long time. Some say indefinitely. (Detail)

gallery art sign

A little history

Little is known about who invented the process or how it came into being, but fired roof tiles have been dated back as early as the 3rd millennium BC in Lerna, Greece. The earliest finds of roof tiles in archaic Corinth (Greece), where fired tiles began to replace thatchet roofs. Since these tiles were obviously fire-proof, news of this building product spread rapidly throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.

decorative tiles incorporated into mosiace
Along with this process as a building material, creative artisans recognized the medium as a way to produce weather-proof art. The building craft began creating artistic expression from pieces of broken tile -- incorporating the pieces together -- giving birth to the art of tile mosaics. In the United States, decorative tiles became in vogue, especially in southern California, in the 1920s and 1930s.

This has become an excellent medium for signage and other markings because it is virtually maintenance-free, and never needs replacing. It also has a beautiful handmade quality that almost everyone loves. See more of Jennifer's handcraft in this sign for herself, each tile being approximately 6-inches square; and in this example of the gallery sign shown above.

Now, let's take a look at where you can go with this...


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