For Block Shop sisters Hopie and Lily Stockman, one of the things that was so exciting about this collaboration was applying their design vernacular to a brand new surface with a longer lifespan and entirely different application than their beloved textiles. To bridge the gap between woodblock print textiles and handpainted tile, we relied on our in-house Innovation Lab. We swung up to the Lab to hear from Ceramic Engineer, Mark, Product Development Engineer Abby, and Lab Assistant Liz about how the Block Shop x Fireclay Tile Handpainted Collection was made and what it took to bring this inspired collection of ceramic art to life.
Meet the Innovation Team! Mark, Liz, and Abby
How did you adapt elements of block printing to ceramic tile?
We tried different techniques in the development phase to adapt the feel of block printing onto ceramics. Fireclay and Block Shop both use similar colors in their palettes, so no glazes had to be developed for this collaboration, just the glazing process itself. We eventually landed with using our handpainting technique, a method that is already implemented within production and that we are very experienced at.
During this process, the dryline is screen printed on bisque tiles, and glaze is then painted into the exposed areas using an applicator tip, resulting in large single-color areas of glaze being separated by contrasting solid lines. The large color fields and graphic lines of the block prints lend themselves well to translating into our handpainting process.
What techniques were used to create the tiles?
These tiles follow a similar production cycle as our normal glazed tile line, with the exception of the method we use to glaze them. We start by mixing and extruding our clay body on site, which is then cut into the tile size needed, in this case, either 6x6 or 4x4. The tiles are dried and then fired once in the Roller Hearth Kiln (RHK). The roller hearth is a 90 foot long, continuously firing kiln with a maximum temperature of around 1980 degrees Fahrenheit. Tiles are fired very quickly in this type of kiln, with a firing time from end to end of around 70 minutes. Once out of the kiln, the bisque tiles are sent to the Handpainting Department to be decorated with glaze. The tiles are first screen-printed with each pattern using a hydrophobic line we call “dryline”. The dryline resists the water-based glaze when it is applied in the unglazed areas. Once the glaze is applied and dries, the tiles are fired one last time in our large Periodic Kiln or "Big Kiln" (BK) which is programmed to ensure glaze surface quality meets our handpainted quality standards. It's this firing that produces the glossy finished tiles!
Can you walk us through the screenprinting process?
The patterns are printed onto a transparency and then placed on screens that have been prepped with a photo-sensitive emulsion. The prepped screens are exposed to light, which burns the pattern into the screen. The screen printer places a bisque tile under the burned screen, and using a squeegee, pulls the dryline ink across the screen, printing the pattern onto the tile. After the dryline is applied, they are ready to be painted with glaze.
How are these tiles fired?
Unlike our other handpainted collections which are fired in more traditional, longer-firing electric Skutt Kilns, these tiles are fired in the
Big Kiln which can hold up to 1200 square feet of tile in one firing!
How does working on a collaboration differ from what you usually do?
For other product launches we've worked on, there is a back and forth that happens during the development process, normally internally between Innovation and the Creative Director. It was exciting to have fresh input on colorways or pattern ideas from parties that do not normally work within the confines of the tile realm.
This collection is all about configuration. Was it challenging working with so many possibilities?
Yes. We went through lots of rounds of testing with lots of different patterns and colorways. It was difficult to keep them all straight. We probably have a few hundred prototypes in the lab that did not make the final cut.
What makes the collaboration work so well?
We like the way that Fireclay’s colorful palette pairs with Blockshop’s bold patterns.
What's your favorite tile from the new Block Shop collection and why?
Liz: My favorite tile is Roundabout in Fresco because I am a big fan of green tones and I like the endless patterns you can make with this family of patterns.
Abby: I like Squiggle the most. I like how bold and fun it is.
Mark: Roundabout because it is the most interesting and I have never seen another tile like it.