The beauty of art tile

Art tile, hand mold and specialty tiles are like life. On very close inspection you can find what is commonly perceived as a flaw or imperfection on individual pieces. If reviewed alone, each piece may not be precisely finished or is oddly sized, appearing out of place, even in the middle of hundreds of similar pieces struggling to blend in neatly with the whole.

But after a while you become accustomed to working with the pieces and you begin to appreciate the imperfections. You have a feel for it and know the right place for each piece. It requires patience, experience, and some trial and error to produce a desired outcome. Along the way you may move, change or eliminate pieces as you evaluate the project. At various stages, you step back to view the big picture and to gain perspective on your work in progress. That is when you appreciate the unique qualities of things you had previously perceived as flaws. Those things are now what make this a work of art, never to be duplicated because each piece of the whole is one of a kind.

Years ago, many commercial toilet room tile projects were pretty routine. I don’t miss 4-1/4” x 4-1/4” core toilet projects or 8” x 8” tile in mall food courts. We used to get excited if a designer threw in an accent color or accent band to break things up. Occasionally, you would have a chance to show your technical chops on a high-design corporate cafeteria project that featured some hand-crafted or specialty tile materials. Those projects allowed you to appreciate the incredible amount of diverse materials available to create new masterpieces. We enjoyed those challenges and were always excited to work on projects with special tile. Being awarded the project was just the beginning, then the hard part came – you had to get it done!

In preparation for complicated projects, you would ask yourself:

  • Did we do our homework? 
  • Are we familiar with the installation instructions? 
  • Did the distributor give us all the information we need to know to avoid surprises later? 
  • What special considerations are required to prepare the substrate? 
  • How about the tile material itself – how well does the material cut? 
  • Do we have the right tools to cut and finish it? Bargain dry-set mortar won’t do the trick. 
  • What kind of setting materials do we need? 
  • Did we carry money for upgraded setting materials? 
  • Does the tile need to be sealed? If yes, then, which sealer? It’s HOW MUCH? 
  • Did we charge enough? 

Every one of those questions may have a costly answer. If you did not consider those questions before you priced the job, you probably did not account for all of the costs associated with many specialty materials. 

The questions above are not a comprehensive list. It is however a short list of mistakes I have made over the years bidding and installing specialty materials. Each one costs some dough to fix. But in the end, it was well worth it to produce some truly unique and beautiful installations. 

The most memorable and often valuable lessons are learned the hard way, through experience. All of those experiences make you better for your next unique project. Once you begin to get a feel for the different types of issues to consider, you find ways to work with more challenging materials and installations. You become engaged in the trade in a very different way.  The hard-won experience hopefully helps you to know some of the answers you need ahead of time. You already have paid a price to learn them.

Just like focusing on the imperfections of an individual tile, don’t let the day’s crisis du jour affect your ability to step back and appreciate the big picture. When you do, you will likely find your day is filled with many blessings. Often it is the unique flaw or anomaly that contributes to real beauty. They are exactly what contributes to what you admire most about your work in progress. Pushing through the difficult parts is what makes you better

Hope you and yours are safe and well.

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