Sharons tile styles aim to brighten up the kitchen scene
Some artists work on canvas, others on paper or board, but
Sharon Bethell likes to work on tiles, creating scenes to be
displayed at the very heart of the home. Tessa Gates reports
SMALL businesses quite often come about by chance. For Sharon Bethell the route to starting Scenic Ceramics, her decorative tile business, started with a visit to the dentist.
"I was at home after having my wisdom teeth out and decided to try painting on glass -I had been given the paints as a present. I have always painted and drawn and enjoyed doing the glass pictures. Then someone who had seen a cockerel I had painted asked me if I could do something similar on tiles to go behind an Aga, and things took off from there," explains Sharon, who works in the conservatory of her home at West Beggard, Herefordshire.
* No kiln firing
She found an enamel paint that would produce a good effect on tiles without the need to be fired in a kiln, although it does have to be baked in the oven.
"This makes them less expensive than kiln-fired tiles and they are hardy enough for use behind the Aga and easily cleaned with non-abrasive cleaners, the sort you would use on an enamel bath," she says.
Once Sharon had decided there was commercial potential in painting on tiles she attended a small business course, through which she met a butcher who felt her work was just the thing to decorate his shop. "He wanted a Hereford bull, 6ft by 4ft 6in and sign-written with the name of his shop, it was a real baptism of fire," recalls Sharon, who enjoyed the challenge and the knowledge that this piece can now be seen in Gladwin Family Butchers in Bromyard.
Her tile scenes are ideal for other food outlets including farm shops, but it is in the kitchen that most of them are shown to best effect. "Agas are nice things, but whenever I see one I feel it would look better with something behind it," she says. "I mostly paint birds and animals but customers can have whatever they want, as design is painted to order."
When someone commissions a piece for an Aga, Sharon needs to know its colour, where the chimney pipe is and the dimensions of the area the tiles are to cover. "I need to know what they want included in the design and often I work from photographs of the customers animals, etc," explains Sharon.
* Design sketch
Next she will sketch out the design and send it off for approval. She paints freehand onto 6in tiles – a size which she finds allows the paint to flow nicely, although she can work on any size. "I can change things right up to the time the tiles are actually cooked," Sharon says. "My designs tend to be naive, cheerful, bright and folksy but they dont have to be. I can do whatever the customer wants."
She will also paint plain tiles to create a border – often matching the colour to that of the Aga, although sometimes clients want something just a little bit different. "I did a pheasant scene for one chap and the surrounding tiles had to look like a Cotswold stone wall," says Sharon. Judging by the photographs she has of this, she achieved the effect very convincingly.
A typical Aga piece takes her about a week to paint. Then the tiles are baked in the oven, a process that has to be done carefully with the tiles stacked in sequence as they will dry darker the nearer they are to the top of the oven.
* Charged by tile
"I charge by the tile, £5 for the pictorial ones and 90p for the plain painted tiles."
However, a special price was agreed for the poultry scene that now adorns the kitchen of a neighbouring farmhouse. "Part of the deal was that the farmer took away my muck heap," says Sharon, who keeps four horses. "Usually customers can expect to pay around £200 for an Aga piece."
Animals and birds feature most often in Sharons designs which she paints freehand onto tiles.
Most work is designed with an Aga in mind, like this one at Pomona Farm, home of Sharons neighbours Julian and Sarah Cotton.