Introduction: Porcelain Wall Art

About: John is a San Francisco-based sculptor specializing in creating geometric, tactile wall installations.

Inspired by the pattern of skull fissures, I wanted to make a make a piece of wall art that would capture the unusual beauty of this organic joinery.

For the material, I chose an ultra-thin porcelain tile for its resemblance to a hard shell, and for its minimal appearance. It's a single tile measuring 40in x 40in, with a thickness of only 3/16 of an inch. There's a certain novelty to the product because of it's thinness, which is achieved by extruding the material versus pressing it, according to the manufacturer Kerlite. (the pieces even come as large as 4ft x 10ft!)

To cut the material, what better machine to do it with than a waterjet. The kerf of the cut (.040 in) is the perfect width, and I could run a single cutpath through the material.

Step 1: Creating the Vector Drawing

Using several images of skull fissures as a reference, I drew the pattern in Illustrator using the Paintbrush tool. When everything was to my liking, I prepared it for the Omax waterjet machine by adding extra anchor points (Object>Path>Add Anchor Points) and saving it in Illustrator 8 legacy format.

Step 2: Test the Cutpath and Clean Up Files

Before plowing through a $150 piece of tile, I ran a full sized test on a piece of 1/4in ply. Sure enough, there were several places where the cuts were too narrow and would 'pinch' the material off. I widened the gaps directly in Omax Layout by shifting around the anchor points.

Step 3: Full Sized Waterjet Cut

Once the files were cleaned up, I ran a full sized cutpath through the material with a piece of ply underneath for support. Success! The cut took about an hour, and measured almost 50 feet long (if it was straight). I dried off the surface and taped everything together to avoid any movement while I transferred it on to the backer material.

Step 4: Install Backer Material

I cut a piece of 3/4in ply with beveled edges and painted it matte black. The bevel keeps the wood out of the sightline on the wall, and the black will fade into the shadows.

With the tile placed on the ground backside up, I applied adhesive and set the backer board into place. I like Sikaflex because it comes pre-tinted black (so if any oozes out, it won't be noticed), and because it's a very strong adhesive that stays slightly flexible. Because of the large surface area and relatively light weight, only small dots of adhesive were necessary to affix it.

Step 5: Install French Cleat

I cut my own cleat from a piece of 3/4in ply and installed it to the backer board with screws. This type of bracket is very easy to install, super strong, and will allow the piece to be aligned horizontally on the wall.