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Black Rock Studio: The Fine Arts of Tile

Black Rock Tile Studio

Catherine Carroll lives and breathes all things clay in her Etobicoke studio.

By B.F. Dawes
Photography by Arash Moallemi

Black Rock Studio believes in the William Morris adage, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” The useful beauty of all things clay is what fired up studio founder Catherine Carroll to aim for the higher ground of education starting with Sheridan College, then the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD University), followed by the Banff Centre, and then Boston University, where she earned a master’s degree in fine arts. Carroll, the only artisan in her family, was a studio potter for 15 years before turning to tile.

Clay Tiles
LEFT: Tile-maker Angela Brock readies the clay for one of the studio’s custom moulds, designed by Catherine Carroll. RIGHT: Carroll makes original decorative tiles by hand.

She was raised in a large Irish family with four sisters and two brothers by her mother who came from Belfast, Northern Ireland and her father who hails from Bantry Cork in the south (Black Rock Road to be specific). So, it’s no coincidence her favourite tile colour is emerald green and her tile lines are all named after special Irish places that relate to her parents.

Clay tiles
Hand-glazed tiles ready for baking.

Now in their third year, Caroll finds herself and her staff of two, Angela Brock and Sue Ramirez, surrounded by all things clay, as “clay is endless,” another favourite saying. The tile-making process starts with the extruder and cutting for size and shape, then hand pressing into moulds created in-house by Carroll. A large collection of past numbered moulds are off to one corner. On the loading dock at Black Rock Studio sit two hundred boxes of wet clay, each weighing 20 kilograms, which is the reason most pottery studios are located on the ground floor.

Catherine Carroll
Brock checking glazes at one of three kilns, which operate at up to 2260 degrees Fahrenheit.

Poking around the studio reveals stacks and racks of trays each loaded like cookie sheets. The shaped and soon-to-be-baked tiles first need colouring — hand-brushed or sprayed pigments make each tile truly unique. The finished tiles have an innate warmth and tactile appeal. They look and feel special.

Black Rock Studio
The tile studio now has a showroom (by appointment) to see their one-of-a-kind tiles up close.

Black Rock Studio operates each day filling orders of artisanal ceramic for residential and commercial use on floors, fireplaces, countertops, backsplashes, bathrooms, vestibules, and perhaps a breezeway, in patterns from crosshatch to weave, herringbone and beyond. Next up is growing the business with a little more room for production, and a larger showroom for getting a closer look at these colourful works of fine art.

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