A Touch of Greenery

Mercury Mosaics is a collective of artists, craftspeople, administrators, and graphic designers linked through a common purpose to create something meaningful with tile. We make a curated variety of geometric patterns in our standard production line and work on a lot of custom installations, including handbuilt planters that add splashes of live greenery in spaces where you’d least expect it. Those of us who live in the Midwest truly appreciate any touch of greenery during the cold winter months. These particular planter designs came to be when we were working with a long-term client. Their designers, who typically thought outside the box, wanted a tile installation with an element of greenery sprinkled throughout. Each handbuilt custom planter requires a very patient approach, which is much slower than our current production tile, and is often a nice way to slow down and make pieces that are very intentional and project specific.

Preparing the Parts

We build the planters with the same shape as our popular large hexagon tile, so that they can be sprinkled into feature walls for clients to enjoy something a bit unexpected.

1 Cut the pieces for the trapezoid-shaped shelf and the 3 triangles that will compose the box of the planter with the templates.

2 Use an X-Acto knife to cut 45° angles on the edges of the three triangular pieces.

We begin all of our tiles by extruding ¼-inch-thick slabs out of white earthenware clay. This is done so that the clay is a consistent thickness throughout a batch of tiles. Let the clay sit between drywall boards and stiffen to leather hard. The drywall allows the clay to dry evenly from all sides and from top to bottom. The parts for the planter consist of a hexagonal base, 3 triangles for the walls, and a trapezoid for the central shelf. Using templates, cut out a hexagon for the base and the 3 triangles that will compose the box of the planter (1). You can cut the triangle templates out of paper and laminate them so they will hold up to repeated use. If you don’t have access to a laminator, packing tape works well. Label the templates with permanent marker: center, right, left, and shelf. Since we cut out hexagons on a very frequent basis, this template was made by a metal fabricator. The sides are a thick-gauge steel and we’ve used athletic tape on the top to make it softer for ergonomics when in use.

Next, cut 45° angles on the sides of the three triangular pieces with a utility knife (2). To ensure everything fits, a dry assembly is recommended before joining. Fine tune as needed. Tip: It’s important to fit and attach the triangles to the face of the hexagonal base tile as opposed to its edges. The thickness of the base will later be used to secure the tile into the installation, this will leave room for consistent grout application.

3 Cut a 1/2-inch diameter hole out of the trapezoidal slab. This is centered and where your air plant will be positioned in the planter.

4 To ensure everything fits, dry assemble the parts before joining them. Refine the pieces as necessary for the best fit.

To create a shelf for an air plant to sit in (see 9), cut a hole out of the trapezoid with a hole punch (3). The placement of the hole is centered on the trapezoid. The size of the hole should be approximately ½ inch in diameter. The tile planters aren’t intended for plants that need roots embedded in soil, and function best for aesthetic purposes with a faux plant or a low-maintenance air plant.

Assembly and Firing

Once all the slabs are refined to fit together (4), it’s time  to assemble the planter. Score the angled cuts and the areas on the base tile where the shelf and triangles will be attached, then score the edges of the cut slabs. Attach the shelf to the base first (5), then secure the left triangle to the hexagonal base (6). Next, attach the right triangle. Finally, attach the center triangle to finish the walls. All five planes are now one handbuilt piece.

5 Score and add slip to both parts, then attach the trapezoid-shaped shelf to the large hexagonal base.

6 Next, score, slip, and attach the triangular slab walls to the trapezoidal shelf and the hexagonal base.

7 Smooth the edges with wooden tools and rubber ribs to create a smooth transition on all the planes.

8 The finished planter smoothed and ready to slowly dry before being fired.

With the structure completed, it’s time to smooth the edges (7). We like to do this with wooden tools and rubber ribs. Use your best judgement to create a smooth transition on all the planes (8, 9). Once the planter is refined, cover it with plastic and leave it to dry slowly. When fully dry, bisque fire the planter.

Finally, apply glaze. We recommend brushing on several coats of glaze, covering the face of the tile base, all sides of the box, the top of the box, the top of the trapezoid-shaped shelf, and the edges of the hole. Glaze fire to cone 06.

Ideally, once these handbuilt tile planters are complete, they easily fit into installations alongside our large hexagonal tiles as accents with splashes of greenery. They are a great way to bring the outdoors inside. Enjoy!

9 Handbuilt planter shelf showing the ideal, centered placement of the hole. Note the beveled top edge of the triangular walls.

10 Viola! The finished tile with a deep green glaze, installed alongside standard large hexagonal tiles.

Installation

For installation, we recommend following our handmade-tile installation guide which can be found on our website under the resources section: https://mercurymosaics.com/pages/resources.

Mercedes Austin is the owner/founder/mover and shaker of Mercury Mosaics. It’s a special factory, studio, and showroom located in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.

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