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Are handcrafted cement tiles overrated?

Undoubtedly, crafting an art on cement tile is an intricate process, the diligence of ingredients, mixing ratios and artisan skills in pouring colored pigment concrete mix - every step in the process needs patience and passion. The brass metal mold design is bespoke and requires continuous upkeep.

Daminder Kaur

What makes cement tiles exclusive and artistic - Are handcrafted cement tiles overrated?

Time flies, here I’m on a chilly January morning, contemplating is art really an overrated commodity? 

In the last five years of journey of watching Lioness Tile grow, I'd had the privilege of working closely with the practitioners of the design and craft community and one theme that stood out is the pricelessness of transforming an incredible idea of design into reality. The feeling of joy a designer has when seeing their idea on the handcrafted cement tile, or hearing from proud homeowners living in their spaces with bespoke patterned cement tile or the glittering chef’s eyes who is appreciating backsplash walls with cement tiles are moments beyond time or words.

Undoubtedly, crafting an art on cement tile is an intricate process, the diligence of ingredients, mixing ratios and artisan skills in pouring colored pigment concrete mix - every step in the process needs patience and passion. The brass metal mold design is bespoke and requires continuous upkeep. To learn more or see the full process, check out our website.

Recently we did a tile making workshop with Ted Burdett and his students from University of Illinois, USA. Ted is an experienced industrial designer and design educator whose passion lies at the intersection of design, sustainability, and entrepreneurship so I picked his thoughts on this topic in the form of the following question. Needless to say, art is a cross cultural and universal creative expression!

  1. How do you define art and do you think it is overrated?

I define art as a creative act in which a person exercises a craft while expressing self. I think that any creative act can be considered art when the craft applied reflects rigorous practice and the person creating invests something more than time – self expression, the struggle of the creative process, their personal point of view – into the work. I don't think that art is overrated but I do think it is sometimes misunderstood. I think that practicing or appreciating art is vital to being human.

  1. What is the role of art, design and skill in a handcrafted cement tile?

Art, design and skill all seem present in handcrafted tiles. Skill is obviously present in the quality of the tiles – having seen the process first hand I appreciate the technical mastery needed to produce each tile. Each one is a little different and as a result they feel as though they reflect something personal about the maker. The stencils used in the process, while exceptionally well crafted, are hand-made and also reflect the hand and skill of the maker. Having worked together on stencils, I've seen how the design process – especially communication between the designer and artisans – is essential to arriving at feasible outcomes. I imagine this process – and the communication between client and interior designer or architect – is also instrumental in creating positive outcomes in the spaces where the tiles are ultimately installed.

  1. How is Indian heritage reflected in cement tile?

Cement tile is originally a Moroccan technique, I believe. However I see many elements of Indian heritage expressed in cement tiles. When our UIC Design class spent the day making tiles at Lioness we were struck by the vibrancy of the colors and color combinations present in the shop and in the tiles. This was consistent with the way we were amazed by the use of color nearly everywhere we traveled in India. It is impossible to ignore the links between many of the tile patterns to elements in the architecture, historic and contemporary, that we observed around Jaipur and beyond. Most meaningful to us however was learning about the story of the artisans who produce the tiles. Their personal journeys and what those journeys reflect about India's past and potential futures were profound for us to learn about.

  1. What inspired UIC students to make their own designs for cement tile?

I think that our students were mainly inspired by curiosity when they designed patterns for the stencils you produced. I don't think that any of us had a really good understanding of how the patterns we created in the computer would translate to a tile. All of the intermediating factors – the material of the stencil, the hand of the mold maker, the skills and techniques of the artisans, and the materials themselves – were all new to us and it was amazing to see the way those elements shape the resulting design.

  1. How would you describe the feeling of the UIC designer on seeing the tiles of their design?

Honestly, I think that a couple of months later, our students are still processing the mountain of emotions they experienced during the day we worked together. Seeing the tiles of their own designs they felt pride, but they also felt wonder. No one knew what to expect and they were struck by the beauty of the outcomes – not simply the look of design but the beauty that resulted from the collaboration. 

  1. How did the UIC visit impact the Lioness Tile artisan community? 

Their smiles spoke louder than words.They all are so grateful seeing how their work is appreciated around the globe which motivates them to be more and more creative. 

Happily, I would say, the value of art isn’t just commercial but its intrinsic in terms of skills, knowledge of know-how and local community engagement (spirit of a B-Corp).