A focus on Arundel tile artist Jonathan Waights

Jonathan Waights

Jonathan Waights - Credit: Archant

Maker of the month


- Credit: Archant

It was clear from the outset that Arundel-based tile artist Jonathan Waights was going to have to earn a living through art. “My parents are both from Yorkshire but they met in Brazil and were living in Portugal by the time I was born,” says Jonathan of his upbringing. “I attended the local French Lycee but was later diagnosed as being extremely dyslexic. Quickly my teachers decided to let me sit and draw.”

Jonathan’s real education started when, as a teenager, he walked into one of the tiny tile-painting factories near his home and asked them for a job. “I knew art was going to have to be my career, and the Portuguese tile-painting tradition is very strong.”

After his apprenticeship Jonathan returned to London. In the late eighties he set up his company Art on Tiles, which he still runs to this day. “I never tire of what I do. In ceramics there is always something new to learn. All the commissions I carry out are bespoke and unique so there is no chance to get bored.”

Of his Sussex ties Jonathan says, “we moved here 14 years ago to raise our children and to be nearer my wife’s family. I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. I love the local landscape.”

When taking commissions, he says that every instance is different. “Sometimes they come with just an idea, perhaps a description of something they’ve seen, sometimes they have photos or a swatch of fabric or wallpaper. I also have a huge selection of past commissions, and often these will spark a discussion or an idea. I often sketch out a watercolour of their design and/or use computer software to show them how their tiles will look in their home. It is my job to realise their vision for them, creating tiles that they can take pleasure from looking at every day.”

As well as home owners and interior designers, Jonathan works with architects and building managers on larger-scale projects, where newer technologies can create exciting possibilities. Jonathan explains: “Printing designs onto tiles digitally used to be a very limited option and the results were not particularly good, but things are progressing fast. Combining the skills of the artist and the potential of digital imaging is making one-off huge scale, complex designs on tiles very feasible. Digital imaging makes it possible to create highly decorated walls of tiles which are metres in length, an impossibly time-consuming and expensive proposition if they were all to be hand-painted.”

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By contrast, he occasionally gets asked to paint a single tile, often a commemorative piece or a house name plaque. “It is a pleasure to do these too,” he says.

Although he works mainly from a purpose-designed studio in the garden, Jonathan does not tend to take his work home. “It took me years to get around to painting tiles for the space above our Aga,” he admits. “When I did, we actually chose a very simple idea, because it seemed appropriate for the house.”

Occasionally, Jonathan and his wife Sarah host tile-painting weekends, where keen amateur artists can have a go at painting Delft tiles using traditional techniques.

For details about the courses, or to discuss a commission, call Jonathan on 01243 552346 or go to www.artontiles.co.uk Jonathan is a founder member of The Bespoke Consortium, a group of locally based artisans working on bespoke commissions for homes and interiors. www.bespokeconsortium.co.uk