Mission Tile West

How Traditional Talavera Hand Painted Tile is Made

Staircase - 132 - 2Talavera tile is a bright, colorful, hand painted tile that has been a staple of traditional Mexican architecture and design for centuries. The tradition was brought to Mexico by Spanish colonists in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that the uniquely Mexican spin on this hand painted tile ventured back out onto the global scene. The Olguin family from Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato is widely credited with spearheading the first efforts to export Mexican Talavera tile to world markets. Today many Talavera workshops continue to make hand painted tile the old fashioned way.

Mixing the Clay

The first step to creating an authentic Talavera tile is making the clay bodies, or “arcillas.” This is done by mixing powdered clay with water in wells lined with concrete blocks. The mixing is all done by hand using a stick. When the mixture is fully combined, it is transferred to decantation wells, where the clay dries a bit, absorbing the water more fully. According to the most traditional methods, the clay must then be danced on with bare feet in order to knead it and give it the perfect consistency.

Creating Tiles

Once the clay is ready, it gets rolled out onto steel stables with metal rolling pins. The smooth clay is then cut to shape using mesquite wood tile forms. The cut tiles are called “jahuetes.” They must dry in the shade for about 8 days and dry out fully before they get fired in a concrete kiln. Traditionally, this would have been a wood-fired kiln, but many workshops now make a nod to modern amenities and environmental concerns and use gas kilns instead.

Adding Hand Painted Designs

The fired tiles then get painted with bright, colorful, high-gloss glazes to create the signature Talavera tile designs. Because each tile is painted by hand, Talavera tile can rightfully be called a work of art. Each piece shows its artist’s hand in minor variations in the design, and these small differences keep walls of Talavera tile from looking too sterile or perfect. You can really see the human touch in Talavera tile.

Designing with Talavera Hand Painted Tile

Talavera tile can be used just about anywhere, particularly in Spanish Colonial or Mediterranean style buildings. Some popular uses of Talavera tile include accent pieces for terra cotta floors and patios, as well as bathroom walls, kitchen backsplashes, pool surrounds, and stair risers. Talavera tiles are often paired with Saltillo tiles, another traditional Mexican tile.