Handmade Tile Variation
In nature, no one leaf or branch is the same as another, but they all come together to create a beautiful tree. In our world of handmade tile, no two pieces will be perfectly the same but they all come together to create a beautiful tile project.
We embrace the fact that our clay is of the earth. We take time to personally cut and glaze each tile. When the tiles are ready to be fired, we heat the kilns to almost 2000 degrees and let the natural elements combine. Differences of even a couple of degrees or layers in the kiln can make one color have different shades and/or mottled effects. Once the 24-hour process is complete, we take out the tile and revel in each tile variation. We view any dots, flashing, or crazing that may occur as beauty marks that highlight the natural process of working with the earth. We encourage you to lay out your tiles and enjoy the one-of-a-kind variegated tile made just for your home.
Below are our current high variation colors:
Robin’s Egg 701R
Our Robin’s Egg is one of our highest variation colors. While it truly is one glaze it can present as two distinct colors. The first color is a light opaque turquoise color while the second color is a dark translucent gloss. While some tiles are one extreme or another many exist somewhere on the spectrum of these two colors. If you order a project in this tile you will receive a blend of these colors.
Jade Moss 603R
Jade Moss is Arts & Crafts matte glaze We consider it high variation because it has a mottled texture. Throughout each tile, there are random flashes of yellow-green and areas of dark green. When used on a project the combination of light and darks creates a dynamic and dimensional field of tile.
Coco Moon 610r
Our Coco Moon tile is part of our Arts & Crafts Matte series. Coco moon has an underlayer of opaque blue topped by a flaky copper, mottled effect. While the flaky copper bursts are at random they also border many of the tiles as that is where the glaze is thinnest. No two tiles are exactly alike which makes it high-variation.
Our aptly named Northshore glaze, like our Robin’s Egg, varies in both color and finish. This blue glaze fluctuates between a grey matte color and a glossy deep blue color. Northshore tile seamlessly adds dimension to a space and keeps the eye focused on them.
Coffee Cake 802R
Coffee Cake is part of our Arts & Crafts Matte series. It has a mottled, sand-like look that can be a pale yellow or a deeper almost brown shade. It also has white flashes as well as occasional brown spots on it.
Quail’s Egg 812R
Our Quail’s Egg glaze, much like its namesake, has naturally varied spots throughout. While the background color is a matte green brown tone that stays fairly consistent the blue spots throughout fluctuate in terms of size, scale, and frequency. It is a great choice if you like high variation tiles with unique, eye-catching accents.
Aurora Borealis 604R
Aurora Borealis is a high variation glossy color. It fluctuates between shimmery blue-green glaze with hints of turquoise and bright teal color with deeper blue spots. Most of the time it is a marriage of these two but it occasionally jumps to one end of the spectrum or the other.
Creating a Bungalow Livingroom from scratch
These brave explorers set out to create a quintessential bungalow wall complete with a tiled fireplace, built-in cabinetry, and symmetrical windows. While the majority of this post will focus on the tiling part of their expedition, we first wanted to show the hard work it took to get there!
When one window closes...
It is easy to feel stuck with the oddities of your space. A weird jut in the wall, a confusingly short hallway, or, in this case, a big central window.
Here the homeowners' plans felt impossible until, during the pandemic, they decided to replace the siding and windows. Keeping that in mind, they decided it was now or never for getting their dream bungalow wall.
Firstly, they mapped out where they wanted the new windows and fireplace to go. We suggest mapping out for tile as well; it is a great way to get a clear visualization of the space. In addition, you can spot problem areas and tricky measurements. Next, they took out the window, filled it in, and began creating the fireplace area. They made sure to leave room on either side for those quintessential bungalow built-in cabinetry. Next, they cut out the new window placement and inserted the historic beveled windows. They then installed the cabinets and the space was ready for our favorite part...the fireplace!
Brainstorming to ordering
The homeowners wanted to use our tile, but first they ordered one of our sample packs to choose a color. Once they saw the tile in their home with their lighting they decided to go with Pesto. Next, they needed to figure out what design they wanted.
To begin, they measured and sketched out the facade and the hearth. They then used butcher paper to sketch out those dimensions to scale. Next, they began figuring out the tile size(s), pattern(s), accents, and trim they wanted.
The homeowners decided on a look inspired by our Davenport pattern. They downloaded a PDF of that pattern to use as a reference point and began mapping the tiles out. They decided to use 2" x 8" tiles as the field, with 2" x 4" pieces on the ends to help create a running bond pattern. For the decorative band, they used two rows of 2" x 2" tiles with a band of 1" x 1" tiles above and below. For the accent tiles, they used our 4" x 4" Medieval Floral tiles in Pesto. The fireplace protrudes from the wall by 2" so they choose our L Trim to finish the edges. Once everything was mapped out they gave us a call.
We wrote an estimate for them and made sure they would have all the tile and trim they needed plus our recommended 10% overage. Once everything was approved it was time for us to start making the tile.
The tile was made, packed, shipped, and delivered! Before installation began the homeowners opened all the boxes and checked the tile. Next, they began laying out the tile on the floor to evenly spread out the natural variation and confirm the design. Then, it was time for installation to begin.
The homeowners started with a strong base of concrete board and then mixed up the mortar until it had a peanut-butter consistency. Next, they took a notched trowel and spread out some mortar on the concrete board. To guarantee full coverage they “back buttered” the tiles (thinly apply mortar to the tile back). They then began placing the tiles and used spacers to create equidistance between tiles. Once all the tiles were placed they left the mortar to set for 48 hours.
Next, it was time to grout. For handmade tiles, sanded grout is recommended and for cool color tiles, a cool-toned grout is recommended. As Pesto is a matte glaze, the homeowners put grout release on the tile so no grout got stuck. Next, the homeowners taped over the three-dimensional Medieval Floral tiles to help speed clean up. They put on rubber gloves and used a rubber grout float to fill the joints completely. Then, they wiped the tile off with a towel and let the grout cure for 24 hours.
Finally, the fireplace was complete and ready to be used!
Interview: Tile Letter
There are lots of ways to make tile. There is the commercial, precision, factory approach that minimizes imperfections and variations and provides a tile with predictable edges, minimal warpage, and glazes that can be easily and frequently replicated for volume production.
And then there is the approach taken by Josh Blanc, and Clay Squared to Infinity, the 26-year-old handmade tile studio in Minneapolis. Blanc frankly glories in the surprises and serendipity offered by the clay and glazes he and his six employees transform into original works of art – and the resulting installations that feel native to their clients’ space. The tiles are distinctive, original and offer an organic, living feel to them, whether they are installed in a Victorian Craftsman, Mid-Century, or contemporary home.
From attic to internet
Tiles from the Cosmic Cloud series illustrate the almost magical relationship between clay and glaze adorning this blue bathroom[/caption]
Blanc started Clay Squared to Infinity in his tiny 11′ x 11′ attic studio in November 1996. During the intervening years, Clay Squared was housed in an old bar, and then the Keg House in the Historic Grain Belt Brewery where it resided for 14 years. Five years ago, it purchased a 12,000 sq. ft. building on NE Howard Street in Minneapolis. Three years ago it began developing its showroom and studio in a 3,200 sq. ft. portion of the space, renting out other parts of the building.
The main equipment Clay Squared uses to make tile is a Northstar extruder and rolling pin, though it has added a CNC machine and Peter Pugger over the years.
Also, key to the company’s growth has been Blanc’s own investment in hiring quality people, promoting tiles through quality photography, and developing full-color brochures and planning guides. He also is well established on the internet with a feature-rich website and online shopping experience.
That internet presence was a sensation during the pandemic, resulting in a “massive influx of work,” he said. “We have doubled in size mainly due to our internet presence, with all the tools we created to help clients answer their questions and solve their tile challenges to create the tile installation they are looking for.”
Low-tech methods, inspired design
Blanc has an intuitive way of designing his tiles, informed by architecture, art, and historical designs. He decorates tiles with Medieval Floral carvings or antique stamps that he’s purchased or made on the CNC machine. Blanc uses low-tech, manual techniques and tools like pizza cutters, X-Acto blades, rolling pins, extruder and sheetrock boards.
“I like to work very fast and I like expressive ways clay and glazes work together,” he said. “I don’t seek to control the clay and glazes, as I am more interested in finding anomalies and one-of–a-kind glazing blends to see what they create. The Cosmic Cloud series shows this process best. When I have seen my tiles installed, it informs me that making tiles that show the materials, the kiln’s magic and the handmade nature of the tiles are a process to creating a mural for a specific space.”
Clay Squared creates tile for many clients with circa 1890s-1950s homes. The team explores the client’s goal for their space and offers tools like planning guides and free samples to take home or order from the website to determine what works in the home. It even offers a design service to help clients visualize the tile design in their space.
“They then can see their vision come to life and customize the design to personalize it for their home,” he said. “The goal is to help make our tiles feel like they were original to the home.” Turnaround time on orders currently is between six – 10 weeks.
Further explore the process of making tiles at https://youtu.be/-Rn34NF29pY.
Clay Squared got requests to match tiles for repair almost from the beginning. But clients were often unhappy – the color might be right, but not the sheen or vice versa, Blanc said. So he partnered with companies that were original makers or had mastered reproductions like Heritage Tile, B&W Tile, and Tile Restoration Center.
Blanc and Clay Squared have also forged a close relationship with the Tile Heritage Foundation over the last 20 years, chiefly with Blanc’s development of the Handmade Tile Association that he founded and ran from 1999-2016.
“We produced 17 annual directories, 16 Minnesota Tile Festivals, two national tile conferences and two tile maps in Minneapolis with Tile Heritage Foundation (THF) as the main sponsor,” he said. “The THF was a main collaborator on the annual Handmade Tile Association Directories with the use of a historic tile for the cover every year. Joe (Taylor) and Sheila (Menzies) would write articles on historic tiles to coincide with the contemporary tile makers to connect the two worlds. I have been a member of the Tile Heritage Board since 2015 as well.”
Clay Squared is a friend to the trades, designers and dealers. It offers trade discounts to dealers, and provides all the finishing touches that make a designer’s job easy and imbue a complete look to a project: bullnoses, mudcaps, base coves, and end caps. “We minimize the need to cut tiles and have great options for transitions,” Blanc said. “The finishing pieces are what make tile installation look fabulous.”
Blanc credits “the amazing people” around him that helped him succeed. “I was lucky enough to have some of the best tile contractors like Jan Hohn and Kerber Tile (both NTCA Five-Star Members) along with others to install my work,” he said. “I work in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District with 1,200 artists and resources around me that have made our tile adventure so much more exciting. Tile making for me is not an individual business; it is a community-driven process. It has been all about relationships and learning how to continually make better tiles and enjoying the ride it takes me on.”
Tile Road Tripping
Over the holidays, Layl, Josh, and our daughter Elliot took a road trip. We drove from Minneapolis to Vancouver, BC, to see our oldest daughter. Along the way we stopped at several pottery, tile, and art places. One highlight was stopping at Medalta Pottery, where Elliot was an artist in residence in 2019. It was an amazing place with original beehive kilns — now used as a museum.
Traveling through rural Canada by car was a wonderful experience. We were able to pack our car with all of our necessities, so we had little contact with others. (OK, we did stop for Tim Horton donuts three times — it was a must!) When the border guard asked where we were going — knowing where we came from — he was shocked at our idea to drive 2000 miles across the Canadian tundra. The mountains, prairies, and badlands were all amazing to take in. There was an incredible amount of wildlife to enjoy: eagles, coyotes, hawks, big horn sheep, antelope, and deer. It always kept our interest.
This trip was a great refresher of ideas, and fuel for the soul.
25 Years Of Clay Squared
Some of Josh's earliest work included variations on our popular Medieval Floral Tiles. He started making them alongside other hand-carved tiles which he sold at home show at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
While we have done lot of amazing projects over the years we did not do it alone. We have been lucky to have great employees and interns that have helped make Clay Squared what it is today. Here are photos of the 20 employees we have had since 1998!
Practical Preservation podcast
On this week’s episode of the Practical Preservation Podcast, Danielle spoke with Josh Blanc of Clay Squared to Infinity in Minneapolis Minnesota. From their website, “Clay Squared crafts handmade tiles in many shapes and colors for kitchens, bathrooms, fireplaces, and as art tile. We feature tile by local and national artists and offer the largest selection of historic reproduction tile lines in the US.”
Danielle and Josh discussed matching historic materials and why it is better to preserve and restore than renovate and redesign historic properties and homes. They also discuss why buying from small businesses is better for your historic home.
You can find Clay Squared online at www.claysquared.com, on Instagram @claysquared, and contact them by phone 612-781-6409, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Diary of a Tile Addict
Clay Squared was featured by the Diary of a Tile Addict in September. Here is what they said about us.
“There is no end to the amount of incredible tiles out there. It seems as if each day we are finding something or someone new, and its almost always worth sharing. And today we’ve got our eye on another company… Based in Minneapolis, Clay Squared‘s artist hub creates a range of handmade tiles in all sorts of shapes and sizes, patterns and glazes, as well as made to match authentic reproductions of period pieces.”
October 2021 Layl
Layl is now running her intro classes through Airbnb Experience. Multiple dates available including:
Saturday, October 16th 1:00 to 3:00If you have an expired Groupon you can still use it at one of these classes. Just email email@example.com to let her know you plan to attend.
September 2021 Clay Squared Newsletter
Believe it or not, Clay Squared is turning 25 years old on November 5th! It is almost unfathomable that we have been able to play with clay for so long. It all started in our attic studio, an 11’x 11′ foot space. We blasted off (very slowly at first), occupying four studios over the course of 25 years. Now Josh’s and Layl’s studio is 3000 square feet, and we own an arts building! The adventure has had many stories of success and failure, experiments and big ideas, and it has been a wonderful time. None of it could have been done without all the great people who worked for us and helped us over the years, and all the people who purchased our work, helping us achieve our dreams of being full time artists.
September 2021 Layl Newsletter
Fall seemed to arrive exactly on September 1st this year! I have been canning lots of tomatoes and we are starting to think about cooler days. For now we’ll enjoy one of the best months in Minnesota. With all the challenges in the world we hope you and your family are safe and also enjoying some perfect fall weather.
August 2021 Clay Squared Newsletter
The Cosmic Rain Bathroom
August 2021 Layl Newsletter
Art to Change the World presents
A Pop Up Palette Party hosted by
August 8th, 12-8pm
July 2021 Clay Squared
Most summers, and throughout the year, Josh looks for interns to join us and learn the Clay Squared tile making process. This summer we are taking on two interns at the same time — Emily and Oliver!
Emily is a student at Minnesota State University of Moorhead. She is majoring in Studio Arts Drawing & Illustration, and minoring in art therapy. Emily has been learning how to be a kiln master by unloading and loading the kilns and learning how to glaze tiles. You can see her work on Instagram at.@skhellatonart
July 2021 Layl Newsletter
Owatonna Arts CenterHealing Arts Gallery Show
July 1st to October 31st
Pictured: “There were even Windows in the Clouds- Chapters of Childhood”
June 2021 Clay Squared Newsletter
We have created downloadable and printable drawing versions of our most popular projects. This is a great way to see all the aspects that make up a kitchen or fireplace. We have many customers write in there own measurements and scan them back to us so we have figure out the amount of tile you need. Click here to read more
June 2021 Layl Newsletter
Old Courthouse Arts Center
May 2021 Clay Squared Newsletter
Randy is our latest crew member to join Clay Squared to Infinity. He has an extensive art and clay background; graduating from MCAD, a photographer, painter and a docent at the MIA. Randy also has worked at many pottery and tile places in Minneapolis, notably 212 Pottery, Dock 6 Pottery, and North Prairie Tileworks. His extensive background in art and clay have been very helpful for him in jumping right into projects and working in the studio. We look forward to seeing how good he is at foosball!
May 2021 Layl Newsletter
Friday May 14, 5pm to 10pm
Saturday May 15th, 12pm to 8pm
Sunday May 16th, 12pm to 5pm
We will be participating in the scaled down 2020 Art A Whirl this year. We’d love to see your masked faces if you are up for an outing! If you aren’t, Layl is also participating in the online version along with many other artists.