Milwaukee – April 7, 2021 — Yesterday afternoon, the tile artisan team of Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile and Stone Works, Grafton, Wis., and Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile, Homer, Alaska again joined forces for part two of the “Coverings NTCA Artisans in Tile – Live Broadcast – Unleash Your Inner Artist.” Mark Heinlein NTCA Training Director moderated the event, Lee’s wife Jane, and son Shae offered camera and technical support and Dragonfly apprentice Maria Meyer – along with Heinlein — helped cut and prepare some of the pieces for the project.
Whereas the livestream last week focused on the New Orleans cityscape mural the NTCA artisans created for the 2020 edition of Coverings, yesterday’s presentation centered on the new stone and porcelain mural the team is creating for Coverings 2021 in Orlando.
The two Certified Tile Installers gave insight into their process of designing and developing this mural, choosing materials, templating methods and a reveal of parts of the design that will be installed as completed art piece to be broadcast live to attendees at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando during the Coverings 2021 show, July 7-9.
Glimpse into the mural theme
Nordstrom explained that the design was inspired by the Florida location, and the stone colors available to the artists. The 2021 mural will feature an alligator design, but viewers will have to attend the show to see the full glory of the piece, which is expected to be approximately 4’ x 6’ finished size.
Nordstrom and Callewaert did share some of the materials they are working with – which were all donated – porcelain panels with blues and greens cut into elongated subway tiles for the background, Café granite and labradorite stone for the gator itself and honey onyx among the chosen materials.
The artisans described how they examined the stone and decided on the colors. Often a single piece of stone with a high color variation would be used for the main colors and other shades within the stone would form the shadowing through the piece. “We turned it into four different colors from this one color of Café,” Nordstrom said. Other stones featured garnet tones, lights and darks and iridescent shimmers.
The duo talked about inspecting stone for veins and working around those, since they can cause the cut piece to crumble. “Turn it sideways and see where the vein is,” Nordstrom said. “Stay off that vein or it will fall apart on you.” And Callewaert offered a useful tip, with a little humor: “The most intricate pieces you have, make sure they are out of the softest material.”
Whereas some materials needed to be milled from 3 cm to 3/8” to match the thickness of the other materials in the Gator project, premounting the pieces provided important benefits. Materials that were thinner could be mounted to a foam board. “I often put the pieces upside down – the difference will be on the back of the tile, and when you set it, the mortar will absorb it,” Nordstrom said. He also discussed a mesh mount method that uses a waterproofing membrane that also puts the thickness discrepancy to the back of the piece, while the front remains perfectly flat.
The team advocates premounting pieces to make them easier to work with. They are also presenting proposals to the NTCA Technical Committee to have a premounting standard approved, with documentation that will appear in a future issue of the NTCA Reference Manual. Nordstrom pointed out that this is a useful method in every day traditional installs as well as art projects — such as a decorative band in the shower. Premounting pieces in the shop and bringing them as a unit to the jobsite speeds the project along and saves time. Callewaert named LATICRETE Multimax Lite and Platinum as excellent mortars to use with mosaic work, finding them easy to compress.
Vinyl templates: huge time savers
Callewaert and Nordstrom also discussed a new method of templating the project. Instead of the time -consuming process of drawing the design, enlarging it to scale, tracing the pieces, cutting them out and identifying them all, taping them to the tile or stone and cutting around them. On this project, a vinyl templating method was employed. The image was given to Shae Callawaert, co-owner of Milwaukee Signs & Designs, who created a vector image of it from which a vinyl template is generated. The vinyl template includes a 1/16” grout joint around all pieces, which can be adjusted as needed.
Vinyl template pieces adhere easily to tile or stone. The vinyl template provides a consistent 1/16″ grout joint.
“A Sharpie® line is never as consistent as this,” Lee Callewaert said. The vinyl comes with two sets, so one can be used as a master – and as a backup in case pieces from the working template get warped or damaged or need recutting. The vinyl clings to the stone or tile wet or dry, and is tremendously cost efficient in saving days worth of hand drawing, cutting and labeling. Using the old method, “It would have taken two days just to get to the point of cutting tile,” Nordstrom said.
After pieces are cut to template dimensions, they are put through a shaper with a diamond wheel to smooth and soften sharp edges. Nordstrom displayed an intricate piece cut out of porcelain panel on the ring saw by Dragonfly apprentice Maria Meyer, to illustrate Meyer’s skills and also the level of intricacy of the cuts for this pattern.
Dragonfly apprentice Maria Meyer cut a complex shape from porcelain. Meyers’ piece illustrates the cutting intricacy on the project. After pieces are cut, they are smoothed in the shaper.
The full reveal planned for Coverings
The final piece will be revealed at Coverings at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, from July 7-9 to show attendees. NTCA’s Heinlein said, “We will be live in Lee’s shop in July and we will livestream the whole time for Coverings.
Callewaert added, “We chose to do it here, because it’s hard technically to pull it off at Coverings – so many tools and such that we need that are right here.” Heinlein said there will also be live feeds for those who cannot attend Coverings, but the feeds to the show floor will offer opportunities for attendees to interact with the artists. There will be nine live presentations planned over the course of the three day show, including an evening “party with the artists.”
Bird’s eye view of developing design, with Jane Callewaert on iPad in background. An assortment of the main materials for the Gator mural.
The finished mosaic is expected to have in excess of 600 pieces. It will be an art piece to adorn a wall and will be auctioned off to the highest bidder to help fund the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation (CTEF) that provides instruction and training and operates the industry-recognized Certified Tile Installer program.
“I highly recommend getting a CTI – it benefit in ways you don’t even understand,” Nordstrom said of the certification. “It benefitted me mentally, and changed every way I ran my business. Something every tile installer should do.” Callewaert added, “Years ago it was the union with the apprentice program — and you were a journeyman, meaning you passed certain test. [The CTI] IS the new standard. For a long time there was nothing…the market was flooded with everyone doing everything and this pool of tile setters who may or may not be tile setters. [The CTI] has to happen so we can protect our trade. You’ll be asked, ‘Are you CTI qualified?’ When we see failures – these people are not CTIs. It’s important for the industry; for the future of the industry.”
Get in on the excitement! Watch the video on Mark Heinlein’s page at https://www.facebook.com/mark.heinlein.5 or check the NTCA YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXxHJ1G3fz0JQTBu-Xwyq8g/feed
Editorial Director and Senior Writer for TileLetter and TileLetter ARTISAN
Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11. Her journey has taken her through a career in publishing and publicity, landing her the editor position of TileLetter and its special publications in 2006. Her goal is to educate, inspire, recognize and encourage those in the tile industry -- especially the tile and stone contractor.