I am so pleased and excited to visit with one of my favorite Etsy artists, Linda Ellett of L'esperance Tile. I have been a fan of her work for a long time, and I wanted to know more about her. Simply put, I am blown away with everything she has accomplished and is still accomplishing - it's absolutely amazing. So pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and settle in for an interesting artistic exploration AND a big finish with a very generous giveaway!
I really enjoy my morning tea; my favorite is Constant Comment or Earl Grey. Every other Friday morning I meet up with my friend Sara at the local coffee shop and we have our “Chai Tea Chat”. My afternoon tea break is usually a vanilla chai or chai latte.
FK: Great! I'll pour for us both while you give us ALL of the online sites where we can find you ...
My Etsy shop is http://www.etsy.com/shop/lesperancetile
My blog is “She’s so clever!” at http://linda-ellett.blogspot.com/
My personal Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/lellett?ref=profile
My fan page on Facebook is http://www.facebook.com/lesperancetile
My Twitter page is http://twitter.com/lesperancetile
My Flickr page is http://www.flickr.com/photos/linda_ellett/
My website (under construction right now, new look coming soon) http://www.lesperancetileworks.com/
FK: Wow - that's quite a list! I'm curious - what does “L’esperance” mean?
L'esperance means "Hope" in French, a tribute to my Grandmother, Elizabeth Hope Collopy, whose great-grandparents came from Canada and anglicized their name from L'esperance to Hope. I started the business with a $1000 inheritance that she left to my Mom when she passed away, and which my Mom gave to me. Some very strong, caring women in my family!!
FK: What is your art education background?
I completed my BFA in Ceramic Art at Alfred University College of Ceramics in 1979. After becoming addicted to tile during an apprenticeship that summer at The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, PA, I established L'esperance Tile Works three weeks after returning home and have been making tiles ever since.
After returning home from college and my apprenticeship at The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works I moved into a lovely Victorian brownstone in downtown Troy on Washington Park. My husband Don and I were married in October of 1987 on the steps of the Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol Building in downtown Albany, which is made of carved stone columns and banisters depicting the local floral and fauna – breathtaking! We fell in love with the space after completing a reproduction of a historic fireplace for the Lt. Governor’s office.
FK: It looks to me like the work you show on Etsy is smaller and more personal. Am I right about that?
I opened my Etsy shop in Sept of 2006, after my father told me about Etsy. I had a very active Ebay business, where I sold seconds and overrun tiles, and he thought Etsy might be a good place to sell. I immediately was drawn to the layout and look of the site, and how easy it was to set up shop. But I decided that this was the place to let my creative, personal side of tiles rule. I had been making small ornament tiles for Christmas gifts for family and friends for a few years. I didn’t really spend much time on my Etsy shop until the following year, when I began to learn that to have a successful shop you need to put energy into it. It seems simple now, but it didn’t occur to me that if you don’t list and keep things fresh, buyers won’t find you!
So – you’re right – my Etsy shop is all about the tiles that aren’t available to our distributors, my small tile ornaments, and the pottery that I was inspired to create just for my Etsy shop. I also have focused on gift tile lines for the Etsy shop that have become very popular. Examples are My Victorian Postcard series, including “Sailing Away.”
Victorian Valentine Tile Ornament - Bird with Love Letter
FK: I’d like to know a little about Lesperance Tile Works. It sounds like a big operation.
It’s been over 30 years since I founded L’esperance Tile and we’re still going strong. I started out using local red clay that we dug from the nearby banks of the Hudson River and carved my tiles with inspiration from nature – flowers, plants, birds, etc. I sold my tiles to local home owners and through a local tile company for the first few years.
Then, in 1981 I connected with an architectural firm who asked me to reproduce a fireplace that was missing from a historic site in Elmira, NY: the Arnot Art Gallery. I used historic photos and a few tile samples that were found in the basement to recreate it. With that I entered the restoration world and found I liked it! Don and I began to exhibit at shows that focused on historic restoration and reproduction and really created a name for ourselves in tile reproduction. L’esperance Tile is in five State houses, including the Lt. Governor’s Office in Albany, NY, and the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, OH. We also have tiles in many historic homes, including the Mark Twain Home in Hartford, CT (2 fireplaces), The James Thurber home in Columbus, OH, and the Daniel Webster Home in MA.
In 1992 we met one of the owners of Waterworks at a tile convention and became one of the core tile offerings at Waterworks based in Danbury CT, with 30 showrooms in major cities around the country. We sell most of our tile through their NYC and West Hollywood showrooms, to clients that include John Cusack, Barbara Streisand, Ben Stiller, Sean Connery, Lorne Michaels, Al Roker, Jay Leno. A lot of celebrities have our tile in their homes, but we’re still waiting for that party invite! *grin* Our tile is also featured in two Hollywood movies: “The Game” with Michael Douglas, and “Duplex” with Ben Stiller. The upstairs bathroom where the little old lady lives is all our tile!
Although we grew steadily with the Waterworks sales force putting our tile out into the world, we unfortunately don’t get to see most of the installations for ourselves. But there has been a conscious effort to keep the business small enough to be part of the production team, which I thrive on.
We have between 3 and 12 employees, depending on the demand of the jobs in the shop. For the field tile production (plain glazed tiles with no pattern) we extrude our clay into long ribbons that get marked and cut by hand, dried between plaster boards, edges get sponged soft when the tiles are dry, bisque fired, glazed, and refired to either 1950 F, 2050 F or 2165 F, depending on the glaze we’re using. Decorative tiles get pressed on our hand press from the blank ribbons of clay and treated in a similar manner as the field tile.
Victorian Greeting Card Ornament
FK: I have seen your flickr page showing your process. Can you give us a brief explanation?
To create a decorative tile I first put the design into Photoshop and make sure it’s the right size. The wax original needs to be 11% larger than the finished tile because our clay shrinks that much. Then I pour a wax blank – I use discarded candles that my Mom brings me from her church, melt them in an electric pot, and pour the hot wax into a flat enameled pan to produce a blank wax that measures about 11” x 17”. Then I take the printed image and trace over it onto the wax. After I lift the paper away I have a line drawing of what I’m going to carve. That’s when the fun begins! After I’m finished with the carving I set it up to pour a plaster mould, which after drying gets pressed into the wet clay with our handpress. Photos of the process (and Abbey the cat overseeing the action) are here on my flickr page.
FK: I was first attracted to your site because I love the arts and crafts/art deco/art nouveau styles. And your fossil tiles are wonderful! Do you do a lot of research to get the ideas flowing? It looks to me like your tile art and colors are period authentic, and yet they look very contemporary at the same time.
As far as my glazes go, I love glaze calculation and have over a dozen base glazes that I’m constantly tinkering with to get different results, at all different temperatures. Some of the glazes like to be brushed, some we spray on, and some we dip. I also use commercial glazes if they fit the puzzle of reproduction. We use the technicians at Alfred University to do our materials testing for us, as some projects need the material to meet certain standards. We just completed a large tile restoration project for the MTA at the Ocean Parkway train stop in Brooklyn, NY, which had to be certified for exterior freeze/thaw conditions.
We love research and spend a lot of time studying the original English and United States tile producers. In 1984 I won a grant to research medieval and Victorian tiles in England, and Don and I spent a month exploring cathedrals and abbeys all around the country – it was amazing. I took photos of the tiles and I have a set based on some of the Medieval images.
FK: You definitely work hard!! Where’s your “quiet place” when you need a break from creating – somewhere you go to rest, refresh, meditate?
But my favorite places to chill and rejuvenate are the nearby Adirondacks, in summer/early fall, swimming or canoeing/kayaking on the northern waters of Lake George near Huletts Landing. I out-last everyone in the water – I stay in until I’m a prune!
In winter I enjoy cross country skiing at Garnet Hill in North Creek, or long walks in the woods behind our house that follow along the Kaydeross creek. Sometimes my cat Abbey will join me.
FK: What part of being an artist is the most gratifying to you? What part is hardest for you, or that you dislike the most?
The finished work is so gratifying that it fuels the creative process for me. Whether it’s reproducing a design that someone else originally created, or designing tiles myself, it’s such a long process to get to the final product, that when the tile finally emerges from the kiln, glazed and complete, I’m inspired to start new ones. I can’t always anticipate what the glaze will look like on the completed tile, and it’s most usually a real treat to see one for the first time, and very rarely…not so much!
And, of course…I LOVE my Etsy customers – they are an amazing group of people! It’s so delightful for me to see some of the same customers back in the shop over and over, spreading the love of my tiles to their friends and families.
Trying to price my work fairly to make a profit is always a challenge. Keeping track of employees and their personal problems isn’t that much fun.
FK: What do you do when you’re not being an artist? What activities do you enjoy?
Well, honestly, I don’t think that being an artist is something that gets turned off and on. I think I live a creative life……I’m the one who is making sand castles when I’m on the beach, creating fairy houses out of sticks and moss when I’m camping, and finding the dragons and giants in the clouds when relaxing on the hammock.
My husband and I both come from large, fun loving families, and hanging with them is great entertainment. Even though we only have one son, we both have 4 siblings, 7 in-laws, 9 nieces, 5 nephews, and 2 great-nephews! And, both sets of parents are still healthy and happy, so our family parties are great fun and last well into the evenings. We like to vacation and party with our families and friends as often as possible. We’re fans of eating out, going to the local film forums, and seeing local live music - Café Lena’s is a great place in Saratoga.
I couldn’t decide which tile to enter into the giveaway, so I’d like the winner to decide, with a gift certificate of $40 for anything from my Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/lesperancetile
FK: That's a wonderful gift, Linda. Thank you!
Here's how you can win that generous gift certificate. You have several opportunities to enter your comments. They must be entered as separate comments in order to be counted for the random drawing.
First entry: Visit Linda's shop, come back here, and enter a comment about your favorite piece. http://www.etsy.com/shop/lesperancetile
Second entry: Enter a comment if you signed up to follow Linda's blog (or comment if you already follow). http://linda-ellett.blogspot.com/
Third entry: Enter a comment that you signed up as Linda's fan on both Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/lesperancetile) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/lesperancetile).
Fourth entry: Enter a comment that you signed up to follow my blog (or comment that you already follow). (See column at right to sign up.)
Fifth entry: Enter a comment that you signed up as my fan on Facebook (www.facebook.com/anotherbrightidea).
That's FIVE chances to enter for the random drawing!!!
More than five entries will not be counted. I will use random number generator to pick a winner after 12 noon EDT on
TUESDAY, JUNE 29.