Point of View: Xenia Taler

I am honored and excited to bring you the latest in decorativity’s artist Point of View series…please welcome ceramic tile artist Xenia Taler!

Xenia and her partner Steven design and execute their own line of hand made tiles out of their studio in Toronto. I came across Xenia’s work in a boutique a fear years ago and was totally entranced. It captures that combination of rustic and modern that sums up my favorite design aesthetic. Xenia’s tiles are well-known and well-loved, and her images have been translated onto stationery and home accessories. Her birds and trees are iconic, yet she continues to evolve as an artist and this year’s line is full of fresh and creative images. I’m thrilled that she shared her point of view with us–she took my questions in a really fascinating direction and gave thought-provoking answers about art and the creative process. Read on for Xenia Taler’s Point of View!

What first inspired you to become an artist, and what inspires you today? I have always been drawn to art but I initially tried to avoid it as a career. I was afraid to pursue the life of the artist with its financial uncertainty, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to do anything else. I find inspiration in every aspect of the visual world, both the manufactured and the natural. I like to look at painting, fashion, gardens, architecture or just random things that catch my eye. I am also fortunate in that I am able to pursue the images that interest me by having my own line, and that allows me the freedom to experiment.

What is a typical day in the studio like? The first thing we do is clean up the mess we left the day before. We are always trying to have as much work as possible ready to load into the kiln for the overnight firing so we tend to keep going until it’s time to go. There are so many things to do each day. Some days we slipcast vases, others we press tiles or pug clay. There are usually 2 or 3 activities going on at once. Someone is always painting, and often someone is spraying glaze and someone is packing. It’s a very small studio and everything is on wheels. We move equipment that is not being used out of the way but it still gets pretty congested. Every day is a bit of a race and the day goes by really fast.

What is the creative process that goes into designing the tiles? I keep a sketchbook and I am a compulsive doodler. If a doodle looks good I will toss it in a drawer. A few times a year I go through my sketches and doodles and try to develop designs into a collection. Sometimes I am inspired by a new glazing technique, mostly my inspiration is random. Once I have picked a design I want to develop I will try and simplify it or alter it in such a way that it can be done with glaze. This generally means getting rid of finnicky details. I will then try it out on a tile. I cannot really see the colours until I take it out of the kiln the next day. Glazes look very different before they are fired and no matter how many color palettes I keep around, it is very hard to predict how the glazes will behave when they are layered over each other. Sometimes I will have to do a design over and over until I get the right colour combination.  When I run into technical problems Steven offers to ‘fix’ the glaze for me. This often involves new glaze experiments that create new problems! To be fair, he usually does fix it.

Are there any designs that you consider personal favorites or signature pieces? My favorites always change and are usually the most recent . Right now I like Octopus Americanus and Butterlips. These were one-offs and are not part of the line. I also like the Hen and the Magic Cat I did for Urban Outfitters. Probably the Bird on Vine would be a signature piece.

Octopus Americanus, Hen and Bird on Vine

What are the best, and most challenging parts of creating and selling handmade art? The best part is the complete independence. The most challenging part is managing the production both in terms of technical difficulties and price constraints. As with any production method, but especially in ceramics, there is a constant need to be extremely vigilant or problems will crop up. Often there is nobody we can go to who can help with these problems so we have to figure them out ourselves. They can range from glaze defects to issues with casting, warping, cracking, and so on. There’s a lot of trial and error which can be quite costly. In terms of market constraints, we have to compete with manufactured merchandise and merchandise made off-shore. The exclusively hand made market is just too small to support our business. So in order to reach a wider market we are forced to slightly underprice what we do. It works as long as we stay extremely efficient. It is definitely a challenge to produce a high quality, hand made art product, and to do it repeatedly, but staying independent is a great motivator.

What is on the horizon for you and your business? We will be included in a new book that will be published by Thames and Hudson in 2011, The New Artisans. Also, I am presently working on a line of hand embroidered textiles for Aid to Artisans. The designs will be done in cross stitch and will be produced in Egypt. They will include pillows and place mats and will be shown in January at the New York Gift Fair.

Thanks, Xenia, for sharing your point of view! I know it’s impossible for me to choose a favorite product, though the little birds, chicks and trees were what first caught my eye. I love the fresh look of the 2010/2011 line, especially the Rain or Shine series.They have so many new designs  – vases and picture frames and Christmas ornaments – and will be adding updates to their website soon. Be sure and visit their site for more, and also see a large portfolio at Lilla Rogers Studio. These stunning tiles make a lovely addition to any home!


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