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Visalia Ceramic Tile employs installation artistry for high school triptych

The eye of the tiger

This stunning mosaic is a beautiful way to take a school mascot to the next level, adorning the school’s facade in a display of pride and spirit.

When Lemoore Union High School in Lemoore, Calif., started renovating its campus, the powers that be decided to adorn a brand new academic building with a mosaic of a tiger, the school’s mascot. 

This building offered three panels for decoration in a series of three archways. The center panel – 9′ wide x 14′ tall – contained the fierce, strong head of the tiger, facing front with blazing green eyes, while the other two panels flanking the tiger – each 6′ wide by 12′ tall – showed a sunset scene.

Grout staining by the Visalia Ceramic Tile crew eliminated the high contrast grout colors in the dark tiger stripes.

The mosaic itself was custom-fabricated of glass mosaic tiles by Boston-based Artaic. The company uses innovative robotic technology and design tools to customize, design, and fabricate architecturally-significant mosaics and unique field tile solutions. This project used 24 colors of Artaic’s 1/2″ Vitreous Glass tile. 

“This tile type offers over 180 color choices, making it ideal for this mosaic’s vibrant colors and details,” said Kait Paradowski, Design Director of Artaic. “The school had a vision for an inspiring sunset and the engaging eyes of the tiger, and that type of creative challenge is what our designers love. We added metallic tiles to bring the sunset to life, as well as adding blends of green metallics to the tiger’s eyes to make the intense gaze pop.” 

Paradowski explained that “The design is created on our proprietary software, Tylist™, and then assembled using robotic technology on 12″ x 12″ sheets that are ready for installation. This stunning mosaic is a beautiful way to take a school mascot to the next level, adorning the school’s facade in a display of pride and spirit.”

Artaic delivered the paper-faced mounted tiles to the site with an easy-to-follow install diagram, where NTCA Five-Star Contractor Visalia Ceramic Tile set about installing it. 

Boston-based Artaic fabricated the three murals that would adorn this new academic building at Lemoore Union High School.

So, the installation should be a complete snap, right? Not so fast!

The wall had already been flattened and ready for installation. This step was very important, said President/Operations Director Sam Bruce. “Even though they are small tiles, grout joints can open up and look bigger,” if the wall isn’t perfectly flat. 

Artaic wisely provided extra color tiles since some of the pieces inevitably fall off during installation. But the bigger challenge was eliminating sheet lines, especially in the fading evening sky depicted in the sunset panels. Bruce said it was necessary to cut off the last row of every sheet of tiles – top, bottom, left and right – and hand-set those rows to keep the look of sheet lines to a minimum. 

“That helps, but it doesn’t take care of everything,” Bruce said. “It’s not an exact science.”

Grabbing the tiger…by the grout!

The project brought about unique challenges that led Visalia to employ its creativity and artistry. For instance, working with paper-faced tiles gives an excellent bond between the glass mosaic tile and the specified Bostik Glass-Mate Glass Tile thin-set mortar. However, Bruce said paper facing also can make the design really hard to see. “You can’t tell what the finished product is going to look like until it’s grouted,” he said. “You can feather the pieces, but you can’t quite tell.” 

Installation craftsmanship was employed to adjust mosaics to reduce sheet lines.

That’s where three Visalia crew members came to the rescue, to execute the art of artisan tile setting. Daniel Brown, Eric Dotta and Ryan Barton fine-tuned the mural by tearing out some pieces and replacing them, then grout staining with an Aqua Mix Grout Colorant in Natural Gray, Pewter, Charcoal Gray and Black to “tame” the contrasting colors of Bostik Dimensions grout #H610 Opal in areas where the contrast was too extreme, such as the dark parts of the sky and the dark tiger stripes. 

“You have so many colors; it creates pronounced grout lines,” Bruce said. “There is an artistry that went into [the grout staining]. It’s not just about doing a good job setting tile. It’s really almost like painting.”

The crew worked magic, and also set owner-supplied mosaic accents in a band across the top of the arch columns as well as insets. Eight days after the installation began – after combining the standards-based craftsmanship of proper tile installation, hand-setting individual tiles to reduce sheet lines, and the artistry of crafting the grout colors to reduce color contrasts in the design – the Lemoore tiger sprang to life, framed by the beauty of the California sunset, all captured in artfully-installed glass mosaic tile. 

The murals feature the school tiger mascot, flanked by a sunset scene.
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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.

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