Making artisan tile molds from clay

Today, I wandered over to the arts centre after an appointment downtown. I wanted to pick up a mold I’d made. It turned out well and I’ve added it to my collection and now have four. For some reason, they are all of white clay. Since I’ve started making the molds, I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to pass on. What do they say these days? “Pass it forward.” I use quite a bit of clay to make the molds and I make sure the clay is well-wedged. Because of the amount of clay I use, the molds are also heavy. I want them to be sturdy enough to step on, if need be. Most of the time, I make the impression on the table, but some times I use the floor. A mold is a reverse of the original. Make sure the original is exactly what you want because that is what will ‘take.’ After wedging, make a thickish slab, then, place it on a board. Make the slab big enough to have good-sized margins. Sprinkle cornstarch on the slab to act as a release agent, then carefully press the tile you are molding into the clay. Using even pressure, press down to the depth you want. Let go. Place another board on top of the board, slab, tile stack. Now, flip the whole thing. Remove the top board, then carefully lift the molded slab, placing it on your work surface. Score the back heavily to prevent warping. Carefully turn it over and place on a board onto which a dampened paper towel has been laid. make sure it’s completely flat. If any distortions exist, fix them. Also remove, open up, or fill in any lip or area that would cause clay removal to hang up on any edges. Then dry slowly, very slowly. I want to make sure they’re bone dry for bisquing and that means that some of the ones below have dried six months. Cover it with more damp paper toweling, then place under plastic. Move it into the damp room. Change the damp paper on top now and then. Dry as you would any greenware, just do it slowly. The way I figure it, if I am extra cautious, my mold will turn out well and be very useful. Because of the long drying time, if you use good clay, the mold itself will become moldy. Mold burns off the white clay completely when fired; however, it does stain the terracotta. By the way, using a mold isn’t cheating. It’s efficient. I can make and alter new ones using the base tile as a starting point. Each tile is also finished individually and no glaze treatment looks the same. A tile made from a mold is still handmade. So, here goes…I’ll talk about each, one-at-a-time.

Mold for Trees tile

This was the first mold I made and it is used for my “Trees” series. I have made four different tiles using this mold: “Snowfall,” made with terracotta, “Northern Lights,” “Golden Hour” and “Blue Hour,” both made with white clay. When I began making tiles with this mold, they fired to about a one-inch thickness. I can make 1/4″-1″ with this mold.

Mold of Sunrise tile

I had trouble with my “Sunrise” tile mold because there were ‘overhangs’ on it that would prevent the clean removal of a tile. I Dremeled the top edges of the perimeter to make it easier to use. Afterward, I promised myself to be extra careful in the future. The ‘frame’ of your tile has to slip out of the mold easily or there will be too much distortion. This photo itself is distorted…the tile is square. The original tile is shallow, so the finished depth is a little over 1/4″.

Mold for Escutcheon tile

This is my sweet little Escutcheon tile mold. It’s a door plate for a skeleton key. In the Olden Days, they were highly decorated and this is the first of a series. The tile works well and I had no problem with it. The finished depth is about 1/2″ for these tiles. This pic disorts the bottom; it’s actually symmetrical.

Mold for Sheaf of Wheat tile

This was the last mold I made and the most complicated. I had to go back and make sure there were no overhanging bits that clay would catch on as I lifted the mold from the clay. This is very important and I can’t stress it enough. I actually didn’t see this problem on this particular tile until the Ceramics Department manager clued me in on it. This is a new mold and I have yet to use it. The original tile is about one-inch thick, maybe more, but the ones I want to mold, save a couple, will probably be about 1/2″ thick.

About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
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2 Responses to Making artisan tile molds from clay

  1. Pauline says:

    Jan, I thought the ‘sheaf of wheat’ mould turned out really well. All your tile moulds are strong and they are going to be so much fun for you as time goes bye, exploring different glazes etc.
    I was disappointed today that your flower piece of mine cracked, I have some more in the making and would like to donate one to you.I think I can cure the cracking problem. Thanks for your help at raku u today. I think it went really well. When can you go for a coffee? bye for now. P.

    • Jan says:

      Thank you, Pauline…yes, I’m excited, especially since I have my area set up here now (sweet). Setting up was fun and I appreciated that I could contribute that way…great on the tile and will write about java… xx

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