Original, hand-made tiles that you would actually want to invest in can be hard to find, but ceramist Angela Evans' Brighton studio, which looks out over an aqueduct, is packed with a desirable assortment. It is a large studio, with one whole wall given over to windows, and strong colours and eye-catching designs call out for attention from every nook and cranny. Angela's moulds are taken from real fruit and vegetables and a bag of fresh peas still in their pods spills out on to the counter - each pod a perfect specimen thanks to a careful selection process carried out in her local fruit and veg market.
Angela sounds like a stallholder's nightmare. Not only does she handle everything extremely thoroughly before buying it, but she spends an age scrutinising each and every item. And she does not buy in bulk. "I bought one chilli the other day and was looking at it for ages before I bought it. When I was doing asparagus, the lady thought I was barking mad because I was looking at each asparagus and had them all out in a row. What I really should do is take a ruler with me to measure them, but I think that would be too much."
While still at college, studying wood, metal, ceramics and plastics at what was then Sussex Polytechnic, Angela was inspired by a set of photographs of frozen blocks of vegetables. She bought some blackcurrants, froze them, took a plaster cast and cut the plaster up into the dimensions of a tile. After her first mould, she never looked back. The early tiles were quite surreal but the only ones left over from this era are the carrots, the tops of which are lined up like an army of inquisitive eyeballs. But surreal did not sell, which is why today's collection is much more classic.
There are now 26 tiles to choose from in this range. The colours are realistic and the life-size fruit and veg so chunky that the tiles feel almost real. All the tiles share the same palette so that they can be mixed and matched according to taste. The ones which Angela uses to frame mirrors are much more abstract, as is a range of friendly little amoeba tiles. With both of these, the designs are inspired by found objects which have been used to make repeat markings.
Angela is a self-confessed hoarder and has amassed an impressive collection of seemingly useless objects which she cherishes because of their texture- making potential. She scours Brighton's pebbly front, beachcombing for the kind of objects that anyone else would simply grind underfoot. A bit of plastic tubing or a watch cog and Angela is ecstatic. "I have favourite things that I just use again and again. The watch cogs are so perfect, I use them all the time." A section of red plastic covered with little tubes is a particular favourite and gets pressed into virtually everything, providing a perfect background texture. "These are the really serious chaps," says Angela, producing a small container filled with a jumble of bits and bobs: old screws, a fountain pen nib and a golfing tee which she uses to make her "nipple" shapes.
"If you find a good little texture, it can bring on a whole lot of ideas," she says, poring over her treasures with almost dewy-eyed attachment. Some of the objets trouves are made into stamps which can be used repeatedly. "I put a bit of clay on the tile, and get my stamp and go splick," says Angela with relish.
The amoeba tiles draw on hazy memories of school biology lessons and resemble chirpy miniature space creatures. The tiles measure 4.5cm square and are made to drop in among larger tiles that have had their corners cut for this purpose. "The amoeba is a colour and texture thing. I get very up close about them and like the little surprise marks, and I love it when I make a little mistake that no one else notices."
Hand-made tiles do not come cheap but there is no comparison between them and their machine-made cousins, thanks to the personal care they receive. "The variation from tile to tile shows they have not been machine made," says Angela. "Every single one has that personal bit of attention."
Fruit and Veg tiles, 10cm square, pounds 9.50; Amoeba tiles, 4.5cm square, pounds 4.99 from Angela Evans (01273 672 260) or from Criterion Tiles, 196 Wandsworth Bridge Road, London, SW6 (0171-736 9610)