The ceramic works of Studio GdB flow and vibrate, the retina tickled by their rich colors and bright, graphic patterns. Some designs seem to reflect the physics of light and color in the natural world; one imagines rolling raindrops on a windowpane, or dappled sunlight falling on the ground through the leaves of a tree. Other designs recall the algorithmic beauty of tropical seashells. From their “little factory,” as they jokingly call it, in Den Bosch in the south of the Netherlands, Gilles de Brock and Jaap Giesen are drawing attention for their mesmerizing tiles.
A shared love of design and interiors—plus Gilles’ fascination with printing techniques—led to their first attempts at commercial ceramic glazing. While studying for his master’s degree at Amsterdam’s Sandberg Instituut, Gilles experimented with applying a CNC airbrush printer to both paper and textiles. This caught the attention of artist Koen Taselaar, who asked him to explore this technique to print tiles for a potential subway station installation in Amsterdam. Taselaar, who had prior experience working with ceramics, introduced Gilles to the European Ceramic Work Centre, a famed resource for ceramics experimentation, innovation, and knowledge. Although the subway project never materialized, this newly acquired know-how lit a fire for glazing that really caught.
Gilles and Jaap—who had previously worked at an international art gallery and as a vintage furniture dealer—decided to join forces to develop ceramic products of their own. But none of the conventional techniques could meet their desire to capture the beautiful colors they had seen on the walls of historical buildings throughout southern Europe. So they decided to develop their own methods and tools.
Three years of experimentation resulted in a custom-made printer that allows for the computer-controlled application of liquid glaze directly onto ceramic tiles in biscuit state (semi-manufactured, baked once without glaze). The machine works as a digital printer, allowing for quick changes and thus making small- to medium-size commissions realistic and feasible.
Many variables affect production. First the design in Photoshop, rows and rows of black-and-white pixels. Next the direction and speed of the nozzle, plus how—and how much—liquid glaze is applied to the biscuit, determined by software Gilles and Jaap wrote themselves. Then the composition of the glazes and pigments. Lastly, the conditions of the kiln (oxygen percentage, temperature, humidity), the baking temperature, and the number of baking runs.
Things don't always go as expected. But happy accidents—such as the weird textures metallic components can create when not baked at exactly the right temperature—often lead to discoveries that, in turn, lead Gilles and Jaap in new design directions. (Their Instagram account can be read as a log of their trials, successes, and errors.) And by investing in an oven that enables them to precisely duplicate the previous baking run, these happy accidents have become repeatable.
The tiles that result from this process balance mechanical precision with a stunning handmade quality. By changing the orientation and interval of the tiles—or combining them with motifs from other series—the client can play his or her own pattern design game. The possibilities are endless...
Harmen Liemburg is a graphic designer, screen-printer, and educator based in Wageningen, the Netherlands.