The technique used for hand painting Spanish tiles

Ever wondered how Spanish artisans hand paint tile? I did. When I first arrived to Spain in 2009, I was in awe each time I Spanish restaurantentered a restaurant and saw the walls and murals. Spanish tile has an artisan look and feel to it, very different from the States, where most all the tile is from mechanized factories that produce an industrial look and feel. I

Upon arriving to Spain, since I was accustomed to remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, one of the first thoughts that occurred to me was that “Spanish tile should be in the US market”. And since that first “great idea”, I have learned a lot about Spanish tile and some of the issues involved, but I still believe there is a healthy niche market in the States.

To learn about the tile, I started visiting factories, meeting the owners and attending a several trade shows. Quickly, I realized that the number of factories producing hand painted tile was dropping each year, and really only a hand full remained – several of them around the Sevilla area. To my knowledge, all the factories that produce hand painted tile are small businesses, family owned and operated

One of the first factories I visited was “Ceramica Artistica Sevillana Antion Gonzalez”. Try saying that fast 🙂 There I met Antonio and Jose Luis who were very open and friendly. Jose Luis took me under his wing and showed me around the factory and explained the various processes. I love factories and could spend days poking around factory floors learning about process flows and production. Ceramica A Gonzalez has an incredible exhibit room at the factory, and they also have a small store in Triana, Sevilla where they sell to the public. In 2014, a Discovery Channel team from “How it is Made” spent a couple of days filming the process of making hand painted tile at Ceramica A Gonzalez. There was a publication date, but it has since been moved back I think. Still, if the video never sees the light of day, I am so glad it was made for prosperity sake. The art of hand painting tile has lost ground to industrial production and we may find in a few years that factories no longer exist, and only a few “mad” craftsmen in their studios and workshops actually continue to paint tile.

Looking at hand painted Spanish tile you might imagine that each tile is free hand painted every time, but that is not the case. If you look closely at hand painted tile you can see small variations in line widths, brush strokes, color tones and color densities, but in general each tile with the same design looks very similar. This would not be possible by free handing each tile. There are several steps to producing hand painted tile in Spain. The first step is to determine the size of the tile to be painted and select the desired design. Then several “padrons” or patents of the design are produced on a heavy, durable tracing paper (which are the same size as the tile to be painted). Once the design is traced on the patent, it is perforated with a heavy pin so you end up with many small holes in the shape of the design.

hand painted Spanish tiles

The next step is to place the patent on top of the tile and lightly tap a dust bag over top of the patent. Since the patent has many small holes in the shape of the design, the dust passed through the holes, leaving an outline once the patent is lifted

Spanish hand painted tile - applying dust

The use of patents allows the painting of any design. So as you can image, you can send a photograph to the factory and request A pallet of colors for hand painting tile.a mural. The photo is divided into number of tiles, and a patent is prepared for each of the tiles, allowing a very close replication.  Incidentally, the artists that paint the Spanish talavera (“the original talavera”), also use this same technique.

Now the tile is ready for painting by the artist. The unpainted tile are stacked next to a painter, along with one sample tile fully painted and fired. The artist will follow the color scheme of the sample and paint each of the dusted up tiles. Normally, painters work on tile that are placed against a board almost in a completely vertical position. Painters use several methods to steady their hands but typically a stick or thin staff is used, which rests on the floor and can be pivoted.Spanish artisan hand painting a tile.

Spanish artisan painting a tile

The painters pay special attention to the paint they use and also the density of the paint they apply. If you look closely at hand painted you can see the brush strokes of applied paint.

Hand painting a Spanish tile2

Once the tiles are painted, they are dipped in glaze, and fired.

Factories pay special attention to how the tile is packaged and this is because in many cases the pieces are linked, and also have a a specific end cap and/or corner pieces. Each order is carefully prepared, with several replacement pieces so that in the end the result is beautiful, just as pictured.

Spanish tile painters

I welcome comments and questions.  I never tire of watching artisans at work and I love talking and writing about them.  If you live in the States and are interesting in products painted by Spanish artisans, please visit our webstore at www.cactuscanyonceramics.com.

Thanks for reading. – Steve

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