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Courtesy of Carolyn Payne
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Courtesy of Carolyn Payne
Ashland University Memorial Chapel
Carolyn Payne’s art shows up in all kinds of places, from way up high on the Country Club Plaza clock tower at Kansas City to way down low on wine cellar floors. The size of her works varies widely, too. A Payne creation might stretch across an entire building façade or measure only a few inches square, and the subject might be anything from a city history to a blue heron in progressive stages of flight. The one constant in her artwork is her medium. Carolyn paints all of her works on ceramic tile. “My background is drawing and painting,” Carolyn says, as she explains why she uses manufactured tiles instead of making her own. “I’m using tile as my canvas.”
Even using manufactured tile, Carolyn spends several hours on small pieces and several days or weeks on large projects. For her commissioned works, she begins by talking with her clients about their vision for the artwork. She then makes some sketches, and after more communication, she draws a detailed illustration on tracing paper and transfers the drawing to the tiles. She numbers all the tiles on the back and marks them with a directional arrow to make fitting them together later easier.
Once Carolyn has drawn on the tiles, she uses a centuries-old technique called cuerda seca to bring them to life. She applies wax lines over the drawn lines and then fills in the spaces with colored glazes using brushes and squirt bottles with fine tips. The wax lines create an etched look and keep the glazes from running together, so the colors and images remain distinct. Next Carolyn takes the tiles to her kilns. She has five, plus one test kiln, and the larger ones hold up to 150 tiles. The firing process changes the brilliancy and intensity of the glazes, and Carolyn often fires her tiles several times to achieve a desired look. She fires most of her tiles around two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. They heat for 12 hours and then cool for 12 hours in the kiln.
“So you have to wait 24 hours before you know what you have, and then you may have to start all over again,” Carolyn says. Before founding Payne Creations Tile, Carolyn earned her master’s degree of art from the University of Kansas and then taught elementary art for eight years at Kansas City. She started her business in 1984.
“Payne Creations had humble beginnings,” she writes in her biography on her web site. “I started in a two-bedroom, second-floor apartment. I used tile to depict historical scenes of Kansas City. I designed and glazed the tiles, then ran a few blocks to the basement of a friend’s house where I had my first kilns. After making trips back and forth to the kilns, carrying tiles up and down two flights of stairs, I soon wished I had picked a lighter media. I had nothing but a vision, but at the least, I needed work space. So I applied for a business loan from my hometown bank with the help of my parents’ signature for collateral. Eventually, I bought a house that was suitable, and since then I have added 1,500 square feet. It has become the permanent art studio for Payne Creations.”
Carolyn expects to work with ceramic tile for the rest of her life, and she expects her work to last several lifetimes. “That’s what I love about the medium because it’s one of the most permanent art forms known to mankind,” she says. “With proper installation, tile will last forever.”
Visit www.paynecreations.com for more information.