Get Inspired To Introduce Clients To Artisanship In Tile Installations

Joshua and Lee and the Coverings project - 16x9

Two master craftsmen demonstrate the skills and techniques of creating tile art at Covering’s IDE

By Lesley Goddin, Editor TileLetter


In the tile industry, a lot of emphasis is put into technical excellence, flawless installation and following standards for long term performance.

These are all critically important aspects of installation. But sometimes the “art” that is inherent our industry and the value it brings can be overlooked. Yet after all, the long-term amazing beauty of a flawless tile or stone installation is breathtaking and unforgettable, and brings incomparable value and pride to the client, the craftspeople who created it and the trade.

NTCA has partnered with two master craftspeople for a groundbreaking series of sessions detailing a step-by-step process of creating a complex mosaic mural that will become the stuff of legends, right on the show floor during Coverings.

Lee Callewaert of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, Grafton, Wis., is teaming up with Joshua Nordstrom of Tierra Tile in Homer, Alaska for a powerful demonstration of artistry and craftsmanship that tile offers in the hands of masters.

The abstract for the project describes its goals: “This live demonstration will focus on the endless possibilities of incorporating artistic designs into your tile installations.  Tile contractors can offer their clients something truly unique and personal that distinguishes the project from ‘the norm’ and highlights the artistry in tile craftsmanship.  Enhancing your quality installations with custom artistic details or features is one way to elevate your reputation as an ‘artisan’ and command a higher price for your work. ”

To that end, these two artisans will create a hand-cut tile mosaic mural that will be approximately 4’ x 4.5’. It will consist of at least 250 pieces and will be scribed into the field tile on the back wall of a module the NTCA training team is building to emulate a shower.  Two side walls with field tile will receive four distinct artistic custom corner treatments that are designed to be accomplished with beginner and intermediate skill levels. Templates of these four designs will be available for sale, with proceeds benefiting the Ceramic Tile Education Foundation.

Another excerpt from the abstract delineates the skills that will be addressed in the demonstration.  “Live demonstrations will include techniques for templating, including patterning, labeling and organizing, as well as fabrication, mounting, and scribing…Joshua and Lee will also discuss how they identify opportunities with clients to add handcrafted tile art to an installation.”


Three magical days in Wisconsin

Callewaert – who won NTCA’s inaugural Tile Setter Craftsperson of the Year Award in 2019 — and Nordstrom – a highly-acclaimed artisan, discussed this project for months prior to actually meeting. The next step was to put their heads together at Dragonfly’s shop  for three days in early February to design, plan and begin to fabricate the parts and pieces that will comprise their interpretation of the riverside New Orleans cityscape at twilight.

It was a family affair for the Callewaerts . His wife and business partner Jane was on hand to witness and document the process of preparing for this project, while their son Shae and his girlfriend Ashley recorded the entire process on two Go Pro cameras, and silent edited feed from this collaboration will be playing during the presentations.

The two artisans were totally in synch and seamlessly worked together in this prep phase. During the three days in Wisconsin, Nordstrom and Callewaert designed the feature piece and developed the model and patterns, duplicating them so each has a master to work with in the intervening weeks before Coverings. The design was then divided so each artisan can continue fabricating their half at their locations.

“They discussed and agreed on all materials and methods, for perfect synergy and installation precision,” Jane Callewaert said. Tile was selected, many pieces coming from samples or Callewaert’s own supply.  Materials include Red Onyx for the sky, polished porcelain for the water, matte porcelain, Hirsch Glass Tile in five colors, Organic Rug porcelain 12” x 24” in four colors, and 12” x 24” Anthracite Stonewall porcelain tile in three shades for the field tile. Blackstone International, Pewaukee, Wis., and 21st Century Tile, Butler, Wis., supplied some of the materials.

All pieces were labeled their respective sections and will be mounted for shipment to Coverings.   Nordstrom left with what he needed; the rest was shipped to him in Alaska. While onsite, they fabricated the sky portion of the mural with the Red Onyx. They designed the four corner features for the side walls. Most of the piece will be pre-mounted on HydroBan sheeting and installed at the show, where the fabrication demonstrations will be done by Dragonfly junior setters JT/Jonathan Kelsey and Maria Meyer and projected via live feed while Nordstrom  and Callewaert describe the process. NTCA trainers will assist with installation.


The schedule – watch, learn and be amazed

This series of sessions, called Artisanship in Tile Installation, will take place at the Installation & Design Experience, Booth # 3757, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Coverings. Be advised – these will be standing-room-only sessions, so be sure to arrive early. The sessions are as follows.

Monday: Templating in Action

At the end of this session participants should be able to:

  • Describe the process for designing a tile installation, making patterns, and creating templates from your patterns.
  • Utilize various tools for templating.
  • Identify appropriate materials to incorporate in artistic tile designs based on desired aesthetics and complexity of cuts required.
  • Label and color code pieces of the tile for identification.
  • Create and use a design pattern that can be manipulated into multiple patterns for different uses and spaces.
  • Be inspired to advance artisanship in the trade.
  • Identify opportunities to introduce clients to artistic designs in tile work.

Tuesday: Fabrication and Scribing for Complex Designs

At the end of this session participants should be able to:

  • Recognize different methods and tools to scribe and shape tile.
  • Identify methods to back and pre-mount your tile pieces.
  • Be able to “read” your material so it can withstand fine fabrication..
  • Identify opportunities to introduce clients to artistic designs in tile work.

Wednesday: Installation of Artistic Artwork

At the end of this session participants should be able to:

  • Determine different prep considerations based on tile materials being used.
  • Map the surface and plan layout of artistic tile installations.
  • Transition the installation from art piece to field tile.
  • Make informed decisions about grout selections for your artistic tile installation.
  • Develop a market for artistic tile installations in your area.
  • Identify opportunities to introduce clients to artistic designs in tile work.

Bart Bettiga, NTCA Executive Director said, “We came to them with an idea, but they have taken this and turned it into a friendship and a collaboration.” And Jane Callewaert added, “A special relationship has formed over a shared passion for inspiring others and furthering artisanship in the trade.  It is rare that two artists could paint one picture.  But these two truly are brothers from another mother in the NTCA family.  SO much was accomplished that made it possible for them to continue the process together yet miles apart.  Their feature piece for Coverings is going to be epic!”

This is a must-see and historic event in New Orleans this year. Don’t miss it!

Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works has entered the Coverings 2020 CID awards.