I had the opportunity of speaking with a local tile maker last month and watching him transform clay into original works of art. Forrest Lesch-Middelton is a pottery enthusiast who also teaches art classes out of his workshop in my hometown. A few years ago, he began creating architectural tiles for both residential and commercial buildings.
Forrest was gracious enough to spend the time explaining his method and how he turns a lump of clay into lovely custom tiles.
Forrest smiled and held out a handcrafted coffee cup as he welcomed me into his studio. We talked about travel and the sources of inspiration for his pottery and tile designs while I admired his creations while admiring him in his studio.
Forrest’s designs blend contemporary geometric patterns with exquisite repetition and flow along with elements from old civilizations. He went me through the steps he takes to create the custom tiles.
The creation of patterns involves transferring a computer-illustrated design to a screen using a photo-sensitive emulsion and printed negative to create a repetitive pattern (called Iznik).
Starting with specialized clay, Forrest uses a pugmill to extrude it into ribbons.
Clay strips are arranged side by side in a work area, then painted with slip (liquid clay).
A screenprinted sheet is precisely applied to the clay, pulled back to show the pattern underneath, and then the pattern is freshly adhered to the strips of clay.
To ensure that every tile is registered equally, Forrest aligns the screen printed transfer.
The picture is then transferred from the paper to the clay using a rubber rib.
Each tile has a slight variance, which is expected during this process, but this is what gives these handmade tiles their allure.
The strips are now delivered to the roller cutter, which is then precisely adjusted to trim each tile to the right width once the pattern has been transferred.
Following cutting, the tiles are allowed to dry on drywall for a few days before being sanded and burned in the on-site kiln, which reaches temperatures of 2300 degrees. The tile is once more sanded to remove any burrs and flaws after being fired.
Although it takes a lot of time, making handmade tile results in the most exquisite handmade work. When I first walked into the workshop, this Shenandoah pattern, which was specially produced and was about to be transported to a client, was one of the patterns on show.
While Forrest frequently uses earth tones with dramatic contrast, there are other color options for tile patterns.
Forrest developed a method he calls “volumetric image transfer” in which, while his pots are still wet and being thrown on the wheel, he transfers screenprinted pattern and imagery onto their surfaces. This requires him to shape the containers from the inside so as to not disturb the pattern. Visit his online pottery shop to see more of this approach revealed.
Forrest also showed me the most creative method of shaping translucent tiles using sand and sound waves; he utilized this method to produce a complete collection of tiles, hence the name Soundwaves Collection.
Interviewing a creative who is passionate about what they do is one of my favorite things in the world. It was such a pleasure getting to know Forrest and seeing his work up close. I am always surprised watching artists in their hands-on processes.
Here is an image of the Alborz pattern applied on a wall. Isn’t it gorgeous?
Read more on visiting his website about Forrest’s qualifications, achievements, and experience. Find additional tile images in his tile portfolio for custom orders. Keep up with FLM Ceramics on Instagram for news and motivation!