Thursday, November 03, 2011

custom order

Many ceramic artists I know hate custom orders, won't even take them.  There is the hassle of making something that you have maybe not made before, meeting the customer's expectations on an item that they have not seen before, getting stuck with extra custom work if the first one you make doesn't come out, and the stress of all of the above.

I love taking custom work, because I get great ideas from customers and I don't mind letting clients do my thinking for me.  This year my custom work has included a cake topper, a set of plates shaped like butterfly wings, and extra large bird pitchers, which turned out so cute I will probably get a mold made and put them into production.

Last summer I agreed to create a 16"x 20" tile backsplash for a long-time client in their newly-renovated kitchen.  I felt some reluctance because I have made single tiles exactly 6 times, and making a cohesive panel of tiles sounded like a pain in the ass.  But I couldn't come up with a reason to say "no" other than I like my ass pain free, which is not really a good reason when it comes to making stuff.

Turns out the hardest part was just making the tiles. Making hand-cut tiles that are perfectly square and all the same size is freaking impossible.  After working over each tile one-by-one I got them to pretty much all fit in together:

I stored the tiles between sheets of drywall so they could hopefully learn to stay flat and get to the leather-hard stage.  Starting last Monday, I spent a couple of hours every morning while it was still nice and cool in the studio, working on the design.  It's been relentlessly warm and beautiful here in Oakland, and part of the trick is making sure the tiles don't dry too quickly.  By Friday I had this:

Then I applied some underglaze:

The great thing about custom work is that I always learn something new.  I've been making this style of relief-pattern work for years, but I learned a new way to do the flower petals that gives them much more depth and texture.  Now, the tiles are tucked away on a shelf where air can pass beneath and between the tiles, drying ever so slowly, with no warping-- I hope!


  1. These are beautiful. I hope they survive the drying and firing with no warping. Look forward to seeing how they look when they are installed.

  2. lovely tiles whitney and i think you are definitely in the minority when it comes to taking custom orders. i was surprised to see that we have something in common i hadn't considered before... i like my ass pain free too.

  3. You really don't do anything the easy way do you!? Beautiful tiles, makes me want to put up a backsplash in my own house.....
    If I make something especially for someone or for a show entry that I really want to do, it blows up in the kiln :(

  4. Best wishes on your tile firing! I hope you post the finished product.

  5. Absolutely beautiful.

    I've been really intimidated by tile-making for quite some time, so this is especially impressive to me!

    Custom orders are such a huge pain in the ass--they really are--but I find them so rewarding that I can't stop taking them either!

  6. Whitney! Those tiles are just beautiful! I agree about the custom orders....I sometimes create my best work when a friend suggests something they'd like or a custom order comes my way. This way of working really sparks my creativity.

  7. wow they're amazing! I've never tried making tiles before - my local pottery supplies place has a tile cutting but theres just so much that can go wrong. My fingers and toes are crossed for you!