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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Nothing Says Romance Like Skeletons in Love

Tortuga Tile Works has many Day of the Dead tiles to choose from, but the most popular are always the romantic ones.  Whether it is a depiction of a couple or two portrait tiles that go together, people like the idea of eternal love.

This year I will be debuting the 2014 Valentine's love tile at the Indie Craft Bazaar at Revolution in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday February 9th.  Usually the new love tile is kicked off at Retro Indie Market, but this year they aren't having that show, so I was glad that Indie Craft Bazaar scheduled a show for that weekend instead!

There are many tiles to choose from and you can see them in the Valentine's Gallery on Facebook.

Just send me an email at  I will be taking orders all this last week of January.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Innovations Discovered at Coverings

Tortuga Tidings has been through a whirlwind of events the past few weeks.  First a week at Coverings, the international tile and stone show, in Orlando, then straight to a rollicking time at the Miami Rum Renaissance, and then the following weekend at the Indie Craft Bazaar in Fort Lauderdale.  Although very different all three shows were abundant with amazing people and products.  In this week's post I would like to specifically draw attention to a few of the highlights from our week at Coverings.

We exhibited in a row of some really creative people. The friendly and ingenious folks from Decos on Demand, Heka Products and Smart Spacers made our week an informative and fun experience.

Decos on Demand have created a solution for that fickle mindset that stops people from permanently installing decorative tiles. Their solution is to install their deco pods in a tile layout and with the aid of a simple magnetic backing, homeowners can change out the accent tiles as their taste vacillates. The metal pods come in several colors to blend in with the grout so the removable tiles look like they are permanently adhered and grouted into the layout. This seems like the perfect thing for Tortuga Tiles!

Our other neighbors had products for aiding in installation. I am looking forward to my next batch of mosaics made easier with round spacers that roll as you set the tile and a bucket with a sponge ringer attached.  No more fussy spacers that fall over and get stuck in the grout and no more wrist strain! Any DIYer about to take on tile projects should consider all three of these products!

While at Coverings I also met and became acquainted with several other artisan tile companies and I will be highlighting them in coming weeks.  In particular, Medicine Bluff Studio out of Cincinnati and Red Rock Tile out of Nashville.  Additionally, Oscar & Izzy offers tiles with bright retro graphics.  If you are fans of Tortuga's Atomic collection, you will probably like these as well.

Overall, we at Tortuga Tile Works, had a fulfilling week at Coverings, meeting and connecting with other manufacturers as well as distributors and design professionals.  We look forward to embracing new developments in the tile community and the design world and will continue to pass along our finds. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Mosaic Methods from History

The art of creating tile mosaics reaches back through history.  We started talking about tile history last month looking at Babylon and the longevity of their glazes.  There are many ways of creating mosaics, in Babylon they made glazed bricks that fit together into compositions.  The Islamic world continued this tradition and is well known for its elaborately tiled architecture.  In this post I would like to touch on one of my favorite Islamic periods, the Seljuk period (1071-1229[1]) Their artistic traditions form a solid bedrock for mosaic history that can be traced to numerous styles  throughout the world.  Additionally I would like to share one of my own methods of mosaic construction.

 “The Anatolian style of Seljuk architecture was in full bloom by the 13th century. Seljuk mosques, medreses (theological academies), tombs, and palaces were lavishly decorated with exquisite tiles. Examples of such tile-clad structures can still be seen in the Seljuks' capital city of Konya as well as in the cities of Sivas, Tokat, Beysehir, Kayseri, Erzurum, Malatya, and Alanya.”[2] They would create large single colored glazed slabs and cut geometric pieces out of them after they were fired using chisels.  The tiles were laid out into patterns face down and a plaster mortar was poured over the back creating slabs of mosaic that they then installed.  [3] 

This technique is difficult and tedious, however, (and) the multi-colored technique came to be preferred.  Up to the middle of the sixteenth century multi-colored tiles were made in glazes of various colors.[4]

Our preferred method of mosaic construction is to press out individual tiles and assemble them after they have been glazed.

 Additionally,  Tortuga Tile Works creates mosaics that are part press molded and part slab rolled and cut.  This technique allows for individual one of a kind compositions.  A large slab is rolled out. Detailed tiles such as koi fish or waterlilies are pressed out and arranged on the slab and then the slab is cut while it is wet to accommodate these pressed tiles. Waves and texture are then sculpted and pieces are sliced.

 Before the tiles are fired.  A picture is taken, a numbered key is created and then each piece is marked with a corresponding number.

 After the tiles are bisqued and glaze fired, the mosaic is put back together like a jigsaw puzzle.  They are then transferred to hardy board,  laid in thin-set cement, grouted and sealed.  For more information on the cement and grouting process, please see the about section on my website.

[2] Turkish Ceramics:History of Turkish Tile from
[3] Herbert, T. & Huggins K. (1995) The decorative tile. (pp. 11) London: Phaidon Press Limited.
[4]Arslanapa , Prof. Dr. OKTAY from Ottoman Souvenir: Tile History

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fish Tornado Backsplash

Click photo to enlarge
Now the great tastes cooking on your stove top can be paired with your great taste in art.  Make a style statement with your stove top back-splash!   This piece is made up of 32 tiles that create the effect of a swirling school of fish. This Fish Tornado mosaic is low relief porcelain glazed in rich hues of cobalt.
Click photo to enlarge
It is available mounted on hardy board to be hung or placed similar to a painting. It can also be ordered with a mesh background for direct installations, where you cement and grout it into place.  Additionally individual four inch square tiles can be ordered to be used as an accent with a plain background. Contact for pricing and ordering information.
Click photo to enlarge

 It's brilliance will shine no matter what type of sauces you throw at it.  The durability of finish has always made tiles perfect for the kitchen.  This year I will highlight tile transformations throughout your home and garden. Be sure to watch for unique Tortuga Tile design options each month!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tile on Location - Armory WallTogether

I would like to take some time this year to appreciate and tout some amazing tile installations in our world.  I thought I would start off with a truly inspiring mural at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach.  I first encountered this mural a few years ago while loading in for Art Rock.  The texture and complexity of the tile work really grabbed my attention.  The mosaic is made up of fragmented pieces of glass, mirror and tile.  The pieces of tile are all hand-made and you can feel the love and sense of community vibrating from it. 

Some of you may already be familiar with the Armory or lived here while it was being created, I was still in Louisiana so was not in the loop.  I have now learned that it was a project done in 2006 to engage the community and as a deterrent to graffiti.  Alyx Kellington was the lead on the "WallTogether" project, and about 400 kids helped to make it possible. [i] There was also a second phase, which added 300 square feet and was coordinated by Lesley Davison.  It was unveiled in 2008. [ii]
The following video is a great overview of the project:

In the video Ms. Kellington explains that the group that worked on this was of divergent cultures and backgrounds and yet by the end of it they were all friends.  She also explains that the mosaic has several languages pressed into the tiles and that art in itself is a universal language to which anyone can  respond.[iii] They have certainly succeeded, as it is difficult not to respond positively to this massive wall of vibrant energy.

Additionally, she attributes Isiah Zagar as the inspiration for the overall feel of the mosaic.  Isiah Zagar is a mosaic artist who has been creating amazing murals throughout Philadelphia for the past 40 years.  He has created Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, a labyrinth of interior and exterior mosaics that takes up half a city block![iv]  I can only imagine what it must be like wondering through this magical installation and I am certainly putting it on my bucket list! 

The WallTogether project is a very impressive undertaking and really seems to have served its purpose in bringing people closer together, now it stands as a monument to collaboration and is a beacon of inspiration to all those who encounter it.  If you haven't seen it, you should check it out during one of the numerous events held at the Armory.
Phase I was funded in part by a grant from the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties in addition to the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Publix Super Markets Charities.[i] Phase II of “WallTogether” was made possible by a grant form the Palm Beach Country Club Foundation, The Community Foundation and Rush Philanthropic Foundation and Publix Supermarket Charities. “WallTogether,” a project initially funded by a $25,000 grant from the Community Foundation’s Mosaic Fund was made possible by monies raised during the Palm Beach! America’s International Fine Art & Antique Fair’s 2006 Vernissage. [ii]

 [i]  Slatkow & Husak Public Relations, Source: Armory Art Center (2006, October 13) Armory Art Center Announces Walltogether Project, from

 [ii] Ilene Adams Director of Marketing & Public Relations, Source: Armory Art Center ( 2008, May 8)   Armory Art Center Announces the Unveilling of Walltogether - Phase II, from

 [iii] PalmBeachFilmTV, (2009, October 1) from

 [iv] Philadelphia’s Magic Garden (2012) from

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Japanese Manga meets Roller Derby!

Ever since my mother visited Japan and brought me back a thick manga book a couple of years ago, the idea of trying my hand at some big eyed, long legged ladies has been rattling around in my head.  I recently cleaned my studio and sitting next to that manga book were some designs for roller skates that I have been wanting to make.  It hit me that a manga roller grrl could be just the thing.  So I give you my newest tile:

available online in my new collection of Sugoi Tiles (Sugoi means "wow" in Japanese)!
Incidentally, this might be a good time to mention that our local team the Gold Coast Derby Grrls has a bout this Saturday night, February 4th at 6 pm at the Skate Zone in Palm Beach! If you haven't been before, you are missing out on some exciting action.  You should definitely check it out! If you can't make it this weekend they have another bout in Fort Lauderdale on February 18th.

I also have discovered that there is Roller Derby in Japan.  Check out the Kokeshi Roller Dolls on Facebook  They are Asia's first WFTDA apprentice team!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Glazes that Endure the Ages

As I often mention to people at craft fairs, I make most of my own glazes.  I like having the control over how saturated and transparent they are. Plus as long as I keep my raw materials stocked, I don’t have to worry about running out in the middle of a glazing day. I just make more of what I need.  

Many of the glazes have a similar base of ingredients much like making a cake, you always have flour, eggs and milk.  Where it gets interesting is the color, opacity and sheen, which are controlled by the addition of a variety of minerals.  These minerals have been mined for thousands of years and although our knowledge of materials has grown, no one uses plutonium for red so much anymore, some things are as old as the ages, ingredients like red iron and copper.  I use red iron to get a variety of yellows and I use copper for green, turquoise and blue glazes.  These glazes are vibrant and I am sometimes asked if they will fade.  Although our South Florida sun is awfully bright, the answer is generally no.  Just like Gothic rose windows, glazes are glass and behave quite different from paint.  To further underscore this point, I thought I would share a few examples from art history.

Overall, every culture on earth has created their own unique ceramic wares, whether it be pottery, tile or sculpture.  Egypt produced glazed tiles using copper as a blue colorant as early as the fourth millennium BCE.  An example of their tile work can be seen below in this image from the temple of Medinet Habu near Tell al Yehudia dating from 1180 BCE.[i]

The best known example of historic ceramic tiles date back to 575 BCE.   The Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way from the Great Ziggurat of Babylon’s Temple to Bel are adorned with ceramic tile. [ii]  Glazed in yellows and turquoises, the copper and red iron are still holding true after two and a half millennia.

Trends come and go, but ceramic tile is an enduring classic that is not only durable but imbues a surface with lustrous depth and a connection to the Earth and our history.  I am continually inspired by the gorgeous color created from a mixture of chalky, dull minerals and a whole lot of heat, and I hope you are as well.

[i] Herbert, T. & Huggins K. (1995) The decorative tile. (pp. 11) London: Phaidon Press Limited.

[ii] Tansey, R.G. & Kleiner, F.S.  (1996) . Gardner’s art through the ages (10th ed.). (pp. 57-58).  Fort Worth, Orlando: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.