Spiritiles creator Houston Llew has created a handmade product with a loyal collector base. What makes them so appealing?
ABI: You use an enameling process to create your tiles. Tell us how you do it.
HL: The enameling process used is called vitreous enameling, which fuses glass to metal. It has been around since the Ancient Greeks. Through the ages, everyone used a different technique for their unique art, such as Faberge eggs and Art Nouveau jewelry.
The process of making a Spiritile begins with a clean, flat copper “canvas.” Then, finely ground colored glass is laid on the copper – it’s somewhat like painting with sand – very delicate and it takes a lot of attention to detail. This includes the image on the front as well as the glass stories on the sides. Then the copper and glass is fired in a kiln at 1500 degrees for a few minutes. The copper and glass fuse is then taken out, cooled, rolled, and mounted on a solid wooden box.
All of the Spiritiles have the same initial size and design – the story starts on the left, ends on the right, with the author at the top and my signature at the bottom. From there, it’s off to the gallery!
ABI: You’ve used smart design & marketing techniques. What makes your tiles so desirable?
HL: From a design perspective, Spiritiles are created based on the dimensions of the Golden Mean. When you first see a Spiritile, it appeals to the eye in multiple ways – its size, its image, and the way the light reflects off the glass and copper. When you pick up a Spiritile, it’s heavy. The solid frame gives it a depth and value in your hands.
When you read a Spiritile, its story will connect with a certain part of life. You may find the perfect tile for your mother, and a completely different tile for your friend. They are meant to connect with someone in your life – even if that person is you! Plus, Spiritiles are like candy… you can’t have just one. Once you start collecting, you can’t stop.
Another part of what makes Spiritiles desirable is that we love our galleries. It sounds funny, but they allow us to do what we love and create art everyday, so in turn we show that appreciation anyway we can.
ABI: How can Spiritiles be displayed or used?
HL: Spiritiles can go just about anywhere. The most popular way to display Spiritiles are on a wall, but they can free stand wherever you put them. I have a bunch on my mantelpiece at home, and some on my bookshelf. They’re fun to move around, rearrange, and group together.
ABI: You really promote the galleries that sell your work and go the extra mile to bring them business. Could you share some of the ways you do this?
HL: For starters, all of our work is sold through galleries and gift boutiques. We refer all retail sales their way. We’ll connect collectors who come our way to the galleries that work best for them.
We’ve seen a lot of success through the adage of selfish altruism – we promote ourselves through promoting our galleries. On our website, we have dedicated space to find Spiritiles in the gallery near a collector’s location. The gallery listings include basic contact information, but we also put up a picture of their Spiritile display alongside the information. I don’t think anyone else has done that yet. It’s fun to see how many different ways galleries display tiles, and it gives a sense of visual and personal connection between collector, gallery, and us.
We also send out collector’s guides with every tile, which gives information about the art, as well as stories and images of the entire current collection. The demand for collector’s guides is huge, and we work hard to make sure it stays up to date and packed with all the information needed to help galleries build collectors.
Also, we work with the best people. We sell to all the fun loving galleries. Stiff and up tight doesn’t work with our message. We work with the mantra “treat people the way you like to be treated,” so we believe in building lasting partnerships, not just relationships.