Today we’d like to introduce you to Soozee Van Dyke Woods and Tracy Chamberlin.
Soozee and Tracy, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
We both began with art pursuits in college. Tracy focused on jewelry making and metalsmithing and Soozee did it all–painting, drawing, collage, ceramics and jewelry-making.. We went on to various jobs until we met in 1998 in a water exercise class. We immediately began conspiring together to create. The ideas were abundant.
Our first joint endeavor was in jewelry-making. We participated in area art shows and sold in local shops. As much as we enjoyed it and had early success, we each worked solo in our own homes. All that wonderful collaboration went out of the process.
Then, we were asked to help with the local elementary school’s fundraiser by making something out of their 2nd-grade student-made tiles. We designed and constructed a whimsical and colorful raised dog-food-bowl with the tile inset. What fun to be in cahoots on a creative project! We both agreed that solo work was cool but not as fun!
After a bit of brainstorming, we arrived at the idea of making ceramic tile together.
Working with clay was so satisfying and had endless possibilities. It’s funny that we arrived at the idea of hand-making ceramic tile, practically turning a 3-d medium into 2-d, but the ideas seemed boundless. Together, we discovered our expression, and experimented with the process, and had loads of fun while learning our craft.
Our first public showing of tile was in 2010 where we were the featured artists at a local shop. We received incredible encouragement and such positive feedback that we continued on that pathway and are still enjoying it today.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
When is a process ever smooth? Lol. Great learning comes from failure and struggle. We appreciate the mistakes, because now we know… don’t do that again!
What sort of struggles? Well, having a kiln full of exploded bisque tile because we rushed the air-drying process beforehand is a rather unpleasant surprise. How many times did we have warped or cracked tile in the early days as we honed our process to have a consistent clay tile? Since we make our own tile from a 25-pound block of clay, without having a consistent tile-making process, we couldn’t even get to the fun of adding the colorful, whimsical imagery and glazing. We are happy to say we have 99.9% solved that warping/cracking problem.
Collecting the proper tools is also challenging for artists and craftspeople. We needed access to a kiln, a slab-roller, large workspace, shelving, clay tools, etc. The beauty is… the more we looked, the more we found what we needed.
Harnessing and controlling glaze in a 2250 degree kiln is always interesting. We can provide the glaze with consistent conditions, but nature has her humorous side, so we buckle our seatbelts and aim for success. Then we struggled with how to promote ourselves, how to create a logo, and making a presence on social-media while avoiding mediocrity.
As we began to show at art festivals, we struggled with how to display our tile. We knew we couldn’t have a table with tile laying flat, en masse. We attempted a variety of displays until… Eureka! After a long session over a pint, with paper, pencil, and the most outrageous and outlandish ideas we could come up with, (including our favorite–a forest of tile…), we arrived at our current display idea inspired by stadium seating, allowing the tile to safely sit upright, in rows.
And finally, each successful show brings the challenge of…we are just 2 people. We don’t take shortcuts so things take the time they take. The integrity we have for our process doesn’t allow us to make them any faster. People ask us, why we don’t hire out? The simple answer is, then it won’t be our work any longer.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Ramona Paloma Tile Studios – what should we know?
We are Ramona Paloma Tile Studios, located in the lovely nook that is Sierra Madre, within the vast Los Angeles area. We are 2 friends, making high-fired ceramic art tile. We laugh a lot, take daily inspiring walks with our dogs and love the adventure of working with clay. We make one tile at a time. Each piece is beautifully imperfect and one-of-a-kind. We embrace the notion of seeing “the hand in the work” and think our tiles wear this philosophy with enthusiasm.
Our easy-going humor, kindred spirit and a shared appreciation of the little things in life, inspire our creativity and amp up the fun, (sometimes… it even “goes to 11”). We are known for colorful, mostly animal-themed imagery with a splash of humor and playfulness. And when we lean into a more serious motif, it is still softened by our hand-drawn line, and use of color.
The biggest compliment we receive is a warm smile or a laugh in response to our work. We are proud to bring a well-made, hand-crafted piece of art that inspires smiles. At the art festivals we attend, many tell us that our individually-made tile are a wonderfully unique addition to the event… We feel honored to hear such praise.
Our motto is… Making happy… one tile at a time.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
We began our tile-making adventure at The Wheelhouse in Monrovia–an adult ed class through the Monrovia school district. While there, we met experienced ceramic artists who were gracious and generous with their advice. We showed our work for the first time there at a student show.
Belle’s Nest is a lovely gift shop in Sierra Madre that believed in us and provided the venue to show and sell our work on a larger scale. We still show our tile there. https://bellesnest.com
Our good friend and business mentor, Lori Koop in Sierra Madre, deserves big kudos for her nurturing support and letting us talk her into buying our shared kiln–which we share with her to this day. http://lorikoop.com
Creative Arts Group, a non-profit art school in Sierra Madre, has been a tremendous support and resource for advice, equipment, friendship, and as a venue for showing our tile. What a collection of warm and wonderful people who work there! http://www.creativeartsgroup.org
And we’d especially like to thank our families who endlessly support our efforts as roadies, who offer creative suggestions, are marvels at problem-solving, and they’re our biggest fans! And thanks to our myriad of pets (aka, the unpaid interns) who model for us and inspire us.
We wouldn’t be doing this at all if it weren’t for the people who appreciate our tile–many have become friends. Their enthusiasm for our imagery fuels our creative process.
- Ready-made tiles range from $33 to $87 each.
- Simple custom tile begin at $100
- Custom tile with complex imagery begin at $200
- Website: RamonaPaloma.com
- Email: RamonaPaloma.Tile@gmail.com