Copper in the Arts

April 2015

Spiritiles: Depict the Art and Wisdom of Everyday Life

By Jennifer Hetrick

Houston Llew SpiritilesSpiritiles No. 158 Aviator and No. 159 American Dreamer

Photograph courtesy of Houston Llew

Artist Houston Llew creates copper enamel pieces that depict the art and wisdom of everyday life with his miniature Spiritiles series. Now sold at galleries all over the world, Llew employs eight full-time artists at his studio in Atlanta who create each 8.5 inch by 5.25 inch wide piece by hand.

The images in them glimmer and brighten the spirit of anyone who finds themselves suddenly looking at one.

“They’re novel sized collectible enamel artworks used as a delivery mechanism,” says Llew who notes that each are created to convey a positive message not only through the images on their front surfaces but also through the quotes built into the sides of Spiritiles.

Vintage bicycles, wine and margarita glasses, high-heeled shoes, birds, flowers, beach scenes, an old-fashioned microphone, flip flops, suitcases, a mug of coffee and stargazing at the nighttime sky are just some of the images Llew and his team of artists craft by hand one at a time through their stenciling and glasswork with copper.

In one Spiritile where seven thick books are stacked on a wooden chair, No. 141, "Epic Tales," the quote included is "A reader lives a thousand lives." — George R. R. Martin. A Spiritile where a branch of maple leaves is shifting colors in autumn is No. 145, "Turning Point." Its quote is "It's funny how day by day little changes, but looking back, everything is different." — C. S. Lewis.

Llew opened the studio under his own name on January 1, 2009 after learning enameling from an artist named Zingaro in 2007. “I helped him in his studio and was always scribbling down notes,” Llew says for how those early days of learning helped him to prepare for when he began his own unique operation two years later.

The name “Spiritiles” is one he credits to his mother who told him one morning that it came to her in a dream, and they knew they’d found a perfect description for his one-of-a-kind creations.

Any given Spiritile may be the same image of another, but each has its own unique details from the preparation and heating processes, so they’re individualized, in a sense. Llew releases new Spiritiles seasonally, with usually four to six tiles per collection.

Llew studied business and economics and later had jobs which kept him well trained in accounting and bookkeeping logistics, which he says made for a perfect background in knowing how to run a business after he understood how art came to play an integral role in his career.

“All the colors you see in a piece are bits of finely ground glass,” Llew explains. And while many artists try to avoid crazing marks because they look like imperfections, small cracks which sometimes occur in glass, he and his employees create them intentionally and appreciate them for the character developed by them in each Spiritile.

Llew carries a small notebook in his pocket everywhere he goes so that he can write down or draw any ideas for new Spiritile designs in the future and often incorporates art-stirring thoughts for visuals from employees and other people he talks to in his days.

He says a lot of what makes copper a good metal in his line of work is how warm, malleable and soft it is, and he also enjoys how it shimmers.

“It walks a line between vintage and contemporary,” says Llew.


Houston Llew Studio, 675 Metropolitan Pkwy SW, Suite 4158, Atlanta, GA 30310, (404) 975-4317

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