Artist Profile Story by Amy Newman
Growing up in Battle Ground, Washington, Josh Nordstrom, owner of Tierra Tiles in Homer, says he had little interest in school, describing himself as more of a “doodler” than scholar. Except for when it came to pottery.
“Pottery was the only thing that really jibed with me in high school,” he says. He took all the classes his high school offered, and over the course of three years learned the basics, including how to sculpt, glaze and operate the kiln.
This passion continued after graduation. He created sculptures and other pieces using a kiln he purchased at a garage sale, experimenting with technique and learning through trial and error. But pottery was something he did on the side; it was work in construction that paid the bills.
That changed in 1999, when a friend asked Josh to create some tiles for an apartment renovation. Although he had no experience making tiles, Josh said he was willing to try. Using blocks of clay, he made each individual tile by hand, and created realistic looking imagery by pressing alder leaves into the still-damp clay prior to glazing and firing.
That experience planted the seed in Josh’s mind that he could combine his artistic skills with his construction work, and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become Tierra Tiles. “That was the whole inspiration,” he says. “If my friend hadn’t asked me to make tiles, I might not be where I am today.”
Today Josh creates hand-cut tile art, or mosaics, that are used for backsplashes, showers and bathrooms, even home entryways. It is something he says he is “super passionate about,” and when he’s not creating, he’s thinking of everything that can and cannot be mosaicked. He works from a 30-foot yurt on his Homer property in between his current day job – that of stay-at-home dad to his two young children.
Josh’s mosaics aren’t the typical mosaics you often see in gift shops or large murals, he says. Traditional mosaics often use either broken tile pieces or small half-inch by half-inch squares are pieced together to create an image. Other times, the image is hand-painted across a series of larger tiles.
Josh does neither. Instead, each tile in Josh’s mosaics is hand-cut, like a jigsaw puzzle. When put together, the result is a fluid image which, from a distance, looks more like a painting than hundreds of individual pieces of interconnected tiles.
Hand-cutting each tile piece is more intricate and time-consuming than the traditional broken tile mosaic method – Josh estimates he can put in upwards of 250 hours on a backsplash from start to finish, and sometimes has thousands of individual tile pieces to assemble – but once complete, the image is almost lifelike. In a mosaic Josh installed in his home shower, a bear treads water above an unsuspecting pool of salmon, its enormous glass talons looking as though they will leap off the wall at any moment to strike. While the technique makes the entire process more challenging, Josh says he never had a desire to do it any other way.
“Every artist has their own art form, and that’s just kind of what I chiseled out for myself,” he says. “It’s what sets me apart from everyone else.”
Josh’s passion for his work has garnered him public recognition, which is what he says every artist craves. He was selected to design a sandhill crane mural for a City of Homer public restroom, and a fireweed mural at the Homer City Hall; both were chosen under the city’s one-percent for art program. Currently he is working on a mural for the floor of the Homer Harbormaster’s office.
“As an artist that’s what you want,” he says. “You want people to talk about you. It gets your art out there; it’s a stepping stone.”
Josh’s goal is to get to the point where he can focus on only a couple of murals each year. But for now, he is enjoying creating his mosaics in between life as a stay-at-home dad. And he is well aware of how his life as an artist has come full-circle.
“It’s kind of ironic that something I used to get in trouble for at school, I’m now making a profession out of,” he says.