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An ancient art form brought to life in the hands of talented artist, Mel Chambers.
Alchemy Tiles brings back to life the thousand-year-old craft of inlay tiles, with each one individually carved with inspiring poetry, quotes and images by Mel’s own hand. As one of the only creative tile makers in the UK still using the ancient 13th century technique of hand carving and inlay, her work has become exclusively unique. Her bespoke interior design in the form of individually created tiles has provided an opportunity for customers to have something created just for them, each piece personal and from the heart.
Her innovation and unique skills have not gone unnoticed, and despite the challenges that this last year has presented, Mel Chambers of Alchemy Tiles is delighted to have been named ‘Best Hand-Crafted Tile Company’ for 2020. She is the proud winner of the SME Southern Enterprise Awards for extensive expertise and skills, dedication to customer service and client satisfaction with an on-going commitment to excellence and innovation. What’s more, she’s been nominated again for 2021! “Keeping this ancient tradition and craft alive and taking it to new heights is what gets me out of bed in the mornings and creating beautiful pieces and bespoke interiors is what makes my heart sing,” says Mel.
Mel was trained in the techniques by Iris Milward of Poetry Tiles just before she retired in 2013, and has gone on not only to keep the ancient technique alive, but to develop it further in new colours and designs, specialising in bespoke kitchens, bathrooms and fireplaces. As part of her ethical and sustainable practice, a new opportunity has been created to use her craft as a force for good. She has developed several exclusive ranges for various Cornish conservation projects and charities, donating all the profits to each cause. Plant One, Prickles and Paws Hedgehog Rescue and Cornish Black Bees are just some of the projects she is working with, and she’ll be launching these pieces at her annual exhibition in Port Navas from 27th to 30th August this summer.
The heart of Alchemy Tiles is about you, the customer, and creating something that is not only personal, but that stands the test of time. By keeping this magical ancient craft alive and using it as a force for good, Alchemy Tiles continues to have people and the planet at the heart of everything it creates.
In a time of great uncertainty, many small businesses have struggled to survive, but being ever the optimist and always finding a silver lining in every cloud, local Cornish artist, Mel Chambers, of Alchemy Tiles, has used the time afforded by the current pandemic wisely, to develop her work to even greater heights.
Although you can normally find her at shows and exhibitions across the UK, her time in isolation in the studio has flowered into stunning new colours and designs, particularly for kitchens, bathrooms and gardens, as well her new online shop.
Mel combines her passion for clay, ancient techniques, philosophy and poetry with her deep ethical and sustainable business ethos to create works of enduring beauty. Each and every tile is hand carved freehand into the wet clay, before being inlaid with coloured clay created from her own unique recipes. The full process from start to finish takes a minimum of two weeks for each piece, but due to this ancient craft, the colours and inspiring words will last eternally.
As one of the only ceramicists in the UK still using this stunning 13th century technique, Mel is not only keeping this old craft alive, but taking it to new frontiers!
So, if you’re looking for something that is bespoke, unique, original and expresses just what you want from the heart, then let Alchemy Tiles create the magic you’re searching for.
We catch up with Mel Chambers at Alchemy Tiles and discover some of the secrets behind her expert tile inlay techniques.
After meeting Mel Chambers at Alchemy Tiles a few years back, we revisit this vast and ancient technique as it takes on a whole new role in her repertoire.
Since moving to her new Studio in Mawnan Smith, the space has allowed Mel to develop the technique further and she has gone on to specialise in interior work with kitchens, bathrooms and fireplaces – or just about anywhere that there’s a surface to decorate! With her skillset as a talented draughtswoman she has the ability to create bespoke and unique pieces for any space, shape or home. This includes everything from unique back splashes to exquisitely detailed fireplace surrounds.
Mel works closely with each client to establish what kind of images and words resonate and have meaning for them, as well as ensuring it fits with the surrounding décor. The real magic, however, is in the carving, which is all done freehand.
Rather than painting the tiles Mel uses the ancient inlay (or ‘encaustic’, as it’s technically known) technique, each piece is carved free hand into the wet clay before being filled in with coloured slip (running clay with oxides and stains added). Not to mention that all the colours are her own unique recipes, which she has developed over her career, continuously bringing new colour ranges out each year. Once the inlaid clay has dried, the top layer is scraped back, revealing the design underneath. After a long drying process the tiles are then glazed with a clear crackle glaze and fired raw (only once) very slowly.
When all the tiles are removed from the kiln, a stain is washed over the tile to highlight the unique crackle effect of the glaze. The whole process can take from four to eight weeks depending on the design and because the colour is actually fired earth, embedded into the tile, the colours will never fade or lose their vibrancy. Indeed, archaeologists are still uncovering ancient floors today that are thousands of years old and still as beautiful as the day they were laid.
What makes these creations so special is that because of the way they are made, using raw organic materials, no design can ever be replicated – making each piece a bespoke unique creation, held eternally in earth and time.
We take a look at the work of fantastic local artist Mel Chambers and discover the incredible art of inlay tiles.
Cornwall is well known to be an artists’ haven thanks to its incredible natural light and breathtaking landscapes. Indeed, our regular gallery pages demonstrate the amazing and varied art available across our fantastic county. It was in this section that a local artist caught our eye; amidst painters and sculptors to come across someone specialising in a lost art was intriguing.
“The whole process for each tile takes a minimum of two weeks, which is an amazing dedication to the process!”
Mel Chambers is a self-taught artist who uses the ancient 13th-century technique of inlay tiles to create amazing and inspirational tiles. She blends beautiful images, inspiring quotes and poetry to create completely unique and bespoke pieces that are impossible to replicate.
Inlay tiles are technically known as encaustic tiles, which means ‘to burn in’ as the colour is fired clay and embedded into the tile. In fact, due to the hard wearing and everlasting way the tiles are made, no self-respecting monastery would have been seen without an inlay tile floor, as no matter how many pilgrims walked over them they would never fade away. Indeed, ancient tiles are still being discovered today, fully intact and just as beautiful as the day they were made.
The art of Alchemy Tiles is that each tile is individually hand carved into wet clay. Coloured slip (runny clay with oxides and stains added to it) is then inlaid on the top to sink into the carved areas. Once the slip dries, the tile is scraped back to reveal the image and script underneath. The tile is left to dry and then glazed and fired raw, only once and very slowly over three days. Once the tile is removed from the kiln a stain is wiped over to highlight the crazing within the crackle glaze. The whole process for each tile takes a minimum of two weeks, which is an amazing dedication to the process!
These beautiful tiles can be used and enjoyed anywhere as they can be made specifically for any space and with almost any design. So, whether it’s a kitchen back splash, bathroom, fireplace or an individual tile for a loved one, they can be made bespoke to you, with your own meaningful message. A message that will be held eternally in earth and time.