| By Sarah Burton
| Video by Amanda Oien & Brielle Farmer
While going to school for a degree in fine arts, Carly Quinn was in need of a job and ended up working part time for a local artist making tile. What began as a way to pay the bills soon had her undivided attention.
“I fell in love with the technique, and after graduation from college I bought my own kiln,” Carly recalls. She continued tile making on the side while beginning her first full-time job as a graphic designer, but it didn’t quite satisfy: “I was designing temporary tattoos for those vending machines you see, as well as a couple other design jobs, but I was so unhappy I decided to quit.”
Carly saved enough for a small studio, which she shared with another artist, and got to work. “It was the craziest thing for me to do, and I knew I had to get the word out, so I built my own website, created an online Etsy store, and called a bunch of magazines.”
“I was so unhappy in my career, but every single day after work I would go home and make tile.”
When timing was right, she opened her shop—Carly Quinn Designs—and it has become quite an attraction for visitors looking for that perfect bit of Tucson to take home. Carly puts it simply: “I have achieved my dream.”
Her technique is self-taught for the most part, based on a Moorish technique from the 1300 and 1400s called cuerda seca (dry cord). “I knew there had to be a name for how I was making my tiles, and eventually I found it.”
She begins on a blank canvas of terra-cotta-colored base tiles from Italy, which she then draws on with a proprietary wax resist pen. Once dried, she colors in between the wax lines with liquid ceramic glazes. She allows the glazes to dry before placing the tiles into one of the four on-site kilns.
“Firing at 2,000 degrees causes a chemical reaction, so the ceramic turns into glass and fuses to the base tile,” Carly explains. “The end product is weather-proof and will last forever, staying bright and glossy.”
This piece was originally published in our 2018 Artistic Triumph feature.