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  • The Horse Lady

The Best Laid Plans

Like everyone else during the pandemic from which we are all suffering, I have been possessed of a need to control my environment, mostly because I am staring at it a lot. For the first weeks, I puttered. Fixed that little bit of baseboard that had come off. Planned twenty sewing projects. I couldn't do much with the horses, because the pandemic so for has coincided with our muddiest season of the year. And then I seized the day.

We live in a big house in the country, with in floor heating fueled by a wood furnace outside. It has high ceilings and massive picture windows on the south side that provide passive solar heating. There are cherry cupboards throughout the house, particularly in the kitchen which is part of the great room. I loathe cleaning, but I like washing these doors with Murphy's oil soap, and watching them glow.

I've never been happy with the kitchen, however, partly because the cupboards there have taken the most wear and tear in the seventeen years since the house was built, but also partly because of the back splash. I have always had the feeling that the money just wasn't there to do it justice. So we have stunning black granite counters, but the back splash was sponge painted. It was beautifully done mind, but it always seemed understated compared to the cupboards and counters. I have always wanted to tile it.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I went to Lowes and bought 300 simple white tiles, 4.25" x 4.25". Oh a blank canvass........

I went directly from Lowes to Michaels, as both were still open then. I bought six bottles of alcohol ink, three different greens and three reddish browns. The idea was to complement the green paint that is in the room now, and a lighter green we hope to paint it later, when the size of the job stops scaring us. The idea of the browns was to tie in with those glorious cupboards. And not far into the project, I added gold.

For those that don't know, alcohol ink started as a fountain pen ink for calligraphy. Then presumably, somebody spilled a bottle and discovered its airy, misty, magical effect on everything from paper to canvass, and finally, to tile. Having seen this on my journeys through pinterest (I'm the Alice to their wonderland), I had decided this was exactly what I wanted to do.

While the pinterest articles told me how to do things, they often didn't tell me why. I knew I had to paint, then seal the tiles, and many of the articles recommended epoxy resin. So, having done my research, when I was at Michael's, I bought a general use sealer.

I was really happy with my first few tiles. Each one a work of art, produced by drops of ink on the surface and manipulated by blowing through a straw. The ink dries very quickly and the result is very satisfying. (See above tiles on the window sill to make room for more on my work surface). I made a bunch, then laid them all out on a garbage bag spread over the counter, and got out my sealer spray.

Did you know that many spray paint products, including spray varnishes and sealers, contain alcohol to keep them from gumming up the nozzle. Yep, they do. And you know what they do to alcohol ink? It's not pretty. They reactivate the ink and then they spray it all over the place.

Okay, back that truck up. Back to pinterest to find out what kind of sealant I could use that wouldn't wreck the ink pattern. When I revisited all of those articles, I found that they all, absolutely all, recommended one sealant only. It's called Kumar Varnish, and it's made by Krylon. Krylon is an American company and most Canadian outlets don't carry it. Especially since by this point, we in Ontario were shut down tight as a drum.

I searched all over the internet and finally in frustration I contacted Krylon through their web site. A nice lady wrote to me and told me that they had one company that ordered from them in all of the Ottawa Valley. It's called Multi Crafts and Gifts, for those that want to know, and they are in the East End of Ottawa. When I contacted them, the lady was fabulous, and we did a clandestine in between the double doors kind of thing. She also supplied me with a UV protectant, which made sense given my passive solar heating (sometimes solar sweltering).

Back to work I went, with a vengeance, confident that I now had what I needed. I worked assembly line style, painting all of the tiles I needed before laying them all out in our workshop before spraying them with the magic potions.

The first problem is that I discovered that even though I had carefully stored the painted tiles in boxes with paper towel to cushion them, alcohol ink is extremely fragile. Like chalk. Like there are about thirty or forty tiles with imprint from the grain of the paper towel. You can't go backwards, so you might as well go forwards.

By the time I had sprayed varnish and UV protectant on all of the tiles, there were probably seven layers of protectants on them. This would be lots to protect them, right? I mean, seven layers...........

People who know about these things (my Dad for one) tell me that a ceramic tile does not have enough "teeth" to hold even seven layers of spray-on plastic to protect the fragile alcohol ink underneath. I found this out when I began to install tiles, as you see above. On the wall to the right you will find the top leftmost tile has some of the pattern rubbed right off. Well, if you can't see it take my word for it. I felt rather sick at this point.

So 250 tiles went back out to the work shop and were spread out on garbage bags again. We mixed the resin and painted it on all the tiles. It did look pretty cool, all shiny and wet. Remember that word. Wet.

I occasionally remember that it is often helpful to read the instructions of the products you are using. This would have been a time when reading the instructions would have been a good idea. Our workshop is usually about 12C in March. When three days went by and ninety five percent of the tiles were either sticky or not cured at all. Goopy. They were Goopy.

There are a few things to remember with resin. 1. Follow the directions 2. Measure carefully 3. Cure in an environment warmer than 70F. 4. Follow the directions.

So all 250 goopy, sticky tiles came into the house, and were very carefully redone according to the manufacturers directions. At time of writing there are about 25 that just wouldn't cure, so they will make an ignominious appearance at the end of the driveway.

See the copper tiles in the middle? I was afraid it was going to be too busy, so I had experimented with copper and gold, as well as copper foil. My husband didn't like any of them, so they only appearance they made was behind the stove. The white layer at the bottom was my surrender to my fears of busyness.

If you have ever laid tiles (this was my third project) then you are familiar with the wet saw, the little plastic spacers which go "ping" off the wall while you are across the room, and the presence of mortar and grout in places you really didn't think you were exposed when you go to bed at night. My nails will recover, and although my hands are raw, it's nothing that the constant hand washing and moisturizing cycle of Covid 19 can't overshadow.

So would you like to see the finished product?

I sure am glad that's over. Do I like it? Oh yes, it makes my lovely cupboards pop. Would I do it again? Truthfully, I love the technique, and I love the eventual results. Would I ever do it on this scale again? Oh no, I don't think so. Well, mostly the answer is no. Unless there is a wall downstairs that needs tile......

Now back to my real job.

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