Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing a local tile maker and witnessing how he turns clay into handmade works of art. Forrest Lesch-Middelton is an artist and educator who has a studio in my hometown – he discovered pottery at 14 and a few years ago started making architectural tile for private homes and businesses.
Forrest was kind enough to take the time to demonstrate his process, and how he transforms a lump of clay into beautiful bespoke tiles.
Forrest welcomed me into his studio with a smile, holding a coffee cup he crafted himself. As I looked around his studio admiring his work, we spoke of travel and the inspiration behind his pottery and tile patterns.
Forrest’s patterns draw upon motifs from ancient civilizations but also incorporate modern geometric designs with lovely repetition and flow. He walked me through the process of how he makes the bespoke tiles.
Patterns come from a screenprinting process which begins by illustrating the design on a computer, forming a repeat pattern (this is Iznik), then transferring it to a screen using a photo sensitive emulsion and printed negative.
Forrest starts with specialty clay that is extruded into ribbons using a pugmill.
Strips of clay are laid together in a workspace, then painted with slip (liquid clay).
A screenprinted sheet is transferred to the clay with precision, then peeled back to reveal the pattern beneath, now freshly affixed to the strips of clay.
Forrest lines up the screen printed transfer so that each tile is registered the same.
He then uses a rubber rib to transfer the image from the paper to the clay.
Imperfection is to be expected in this process, each tile has subtle variation but it’s why these handmade tiles have so much appeal.
Now that the pattern is transferred, the strips are brought to the roller cutter which is then set precisely to trim each tile to the correct width.
Once cut, the tiles are left on drywall to dry for a few days, sanded, and then fired in the on-site kiln which reaches temperatures of 2300 degrees. After being fired the tile are sanded again to remove any burrs and blemishes.
Making handmade tile is a time consuming process but renders the most beautiful handmade work. This was one of the patterns on display when I entered the workshop, the Shenandoah pattern custom made and soon to be shipped to a client.
Forrest produces a lot of high contrast earth tone palettes, however tile patterns are available in a variety of colors.
Forrest created a technique dubbed “volumetric image transfer” where he transfers screenprinted pattern and imagery onto the surfaces of his pots while they are still wet and being thrown on the wheel, requiring him to shape the vessels from the inside, so as to not disturb the pattern. See more of this technique revealed by visiting his online pottery shop.
Forrest also demonstrated for me the most inventive process of using sound waves and sand to create shapes on translucent tiles, he used this process to create an entire collection of tiles, hence the name Soundwaves Collection.
One of my favorite things in life is interviewing a creative who is passionate about what they do. I am always amazed watching artists in their hands on process, and it was such a delight getting to know Forrest and observing his work up close.
Here’s the Alborz pattern installed on a wall. Isn’t it stunning?!
Read more about Forrest’s expertise, accolades, and experience by visiting his website. Find more images of tile you can custom order in his tile portfolio. Be sure to follow FLM Ceramics on Instagram for updates and inspiration!