by Larry Faucher
Artisan Tile Northwest
Painting on pottery is almost as old as civilization itself. Blue glazed bricks have been found in ancient Egypt as far back as 4000 B.C. In China glazed ceramic tomb figures were made during the Shang-Yin dynasty (1523-1028 B.C.) In Mesopotamia glazed bricks were used in the ancient city of Babylon in the 6th century B.C. It was the Islamic potters of the Middle East, especially the Persians, who brought hand painted tiles to a high art form from the 8th to 13th centuries A.D. Persian, and later Turkish, potters adorned mosques, palaces and other public buildings with vivid tiles. Knowledge of Islamic tile making spread widely during the Crusades and the Ottoman invasions of southern Europe.
Islamic tile techniques, especially the use of an opaque white tin glaze on an ordinary clay on which to paint bright colors, was adopted in Italy, Portugal and Spain. Italian potters who immigrated to the Netherlands in the 16th century gave a start to the Dutch tile industry, which shipped tiles worldwide until the 19th century. The very first glazes were blue in color and were made from copper. Turquoise, light green and yellow glazes were also popular. Ground metal oxides added to glazes gave a variety of different colors. The introduction of cobalt blue in the 9th century created dramatic blue and white tiles. It was used extensively in buildings throughout the Middle East, in all Chinese wares, and later in Dutch and English tiles to mimic Chinese porcelain.
Hand painting underglaze is probably the oldest and most popular form of tile painting. The white coated tile is painted with colors and then covered with a transparent overglaze to fix and protect the surface. Another form of painting uses colored glazes applied directly on a bisque tile. This is more difficult as it requires keeping the different glazes from running together. A third method of painting involves painting on top of a glazed surface with additional colored glazes or enamels (China Painting). Each layer of color is typically fired before the next layer is added. This form of painting can create great depth and subtlety of expression – very like oils on canvas.
Handmade Tile Association
34 Thirteenth Avenue NE
Minneapolis, MN 55413