The most anticipated projects of the year for my sixth grade students is the theme selection and creation of a ceramic tile mural. Starting around January, the sixth grade teachers and I start bouncing around some ideas. This year, we considered Egyptian Art (no gold underglaze available), Rainforest, Endangered Animals and a few more. I ended up with a Kimmy Cantrell inspired mural all because of Donna Staten’s Pinterest boards on the artist. His work was relatively unknown to me before I discovered Donna’s pins. After her inspiration, I did a bit more research and decided that his art was perfect.
Cantrell’s art is understandable for kids, offered many opportunities for individual creativity and the tile-making process could focus on individual tiles instead of the collaborative themes that we have done in the past. All key components when deciding on a mural theme.
I’ve done ten murals in 13 years. I know how much work is involved, what steps are the most efficient, what to do when things go wrong and how to involve our school district for help.
But in summary, I can tell you that there is more prep on the teacher’s part than work done by the students. The day before the mural-making session with the students, I prep the materials like making the clay tiles, organizing tools, re-hydrating my underglazes and writing some steps on the white board.
It only takes me about 4-5 hours to do the prep for this type of mural, but collaborative murals in which the children work in groups to create a collection of tiles, takes much longer.
The first step to all murals is to figure out what the children’s tiles will look like. For this year’s mural, each child drew their design on a piece of paper that is cut to the same size as the tile. I spoke about Cantrell’s art and created a handout to use as inspiration.
After drawing on the paper, the children transfer their designs onto a flat tile using extra tile bits for add-ons.
Some mural themes take longer to build, so painting is usually done at the bisque stage. But this year’s clay building was relatively easy and didn’t require much time. We painted directly onto the wet clay. (I use Laguna clay and underglaze.)
As children finished with building and painting their clay tiles, they added their names somewhere on the front and placed the tiles on a shelf to dry. A parent helper took control of cutting and texturizing the borders and as students finished their tile, they were free to help paint and build the border tiles.
Drying time usually takes about 7-10 days but weather was dry in Santa Barbara during our clay session and the tiles were dry in about 5 days. It helps to cover with plastic to slow down the drying time and prevent cracking.
After the tiles dried, I fired to cone 06, glazed with Duncan Dipping Glaze and fired again. Then the district guys took over, laying out the mural and measuring for a wooden frame. They built a frame and hung it on an exterior wall, using a framed system and backer board. They adhered the tiles from the bottom up, applied grout, sealed the grout and washed it sparkling clean.
Mounting instructions vary depending whether your mural will be indoors or out, and what type of climate you love in. Any local tile expert can tell you exactly what type of products and system to use for your climate.
This was by far one of the fastest mural to make (much to the delight of my sixth grade teachers!) but it took a bit longer for the district guys to mount the mural. See all those intricate mosaic pieces between the tiles? Mike and Frank lovingly cut and crafted over half of them using the kid’s leftover tiles and placing them just-so between all the masks. They are the best guys to work with and I’m very grateful for them.
I love the abstract and mosaic quality of this mural and I won’t mind saying, it turned out far better than I thought it would!