Philosophy Translated Into Design

Washram, Wash.-based mosaic artist Toms Royal became interested in tile when he owned a pottery-painting studio in Portland. “We began to offer classes in mosaics, so I had to learn how to do it,” he says. “I discovered that I enjoyed the medium and that it was a way to use my theories about design.”   


A native of Princeton, N. J., Royal studied architecture at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., and worked in architecture before turning to art. At the time Royal began working in mosaics, he was also studying Chinese philosophy and martial arts, and he became interested in applying Five Element theory to his designs. “It’s about breaking down your environment into primary elements,” he says. “I was thinking about abstracting that, so I selected five tile shapes to represent fire, water, wind, earth and metals.”

In his studio, Royal rolls out slabs of clay and hand-cuts the shapes, which then go through a multiple firing and glazing process. Once he decides on a theme for a piece, which he sells as Toms Royal Mosaic Art, the tile shows him how it should come together. “I have all the components,” he says. “The shape of the tiles helps dictate the composition and how the shapes relate to each other—how they collide and compete for space. Part of the mosaic-making process is dealing with how the shapes come together.”

River of Life (pictured), which depicts a Northwest environment, shows how using distinctly shaped pieces creates a flowing-looking, rather than static-looking, piece. “It’s very dynamic with the different tile shapes,” he says. “All the creatures have movement.” The 24-by-34-inch framed piece sells for $1,800. The 24-by-28-inch botanical piece Firework Bouquet (pictured below), costs $1,800. Royal’s custom work, which includes residential and commercial installations, starts at $125 per square foot.

Contact mosaic artist Toms Royal via his Web site,