Northern Print



The Northern Print Studios Gallery WC in Ouseburn, Newcastle Upon Tyne contains Willow Creek, a commissioned artwork made in 2009. The WC’s walls are clad with printed, glazed porcelain tiles of life size trees, a Willow Pattern plate sits in the tiling on the window sill – the washbasin contains a banded patterned border and a Willow Beauty moth.

The studios are housed in the renovated Steenberg building, originally part of Woods Pottery, which in its time produced a substantial quantity of blue and white printed tableware – landscape patterns and chinoiserie. It seemed appropriate thus to use ceramics and print to create a contemporary artwork reflecting both the current usage, and the building’s historic role in disseminating pattern and image. The work also references Thomas Bewick’s wood engravings. Bewick, who was based in Newcastle, revolutionized book illustration in the late eighteenth century – his beautifully observed images of birds and animals together with his vignettes of rural life are still familiar and popular over two hundred years later.

The original prints used as a source material for the confection were fine and small in scale – patterns and details from tableware (including engravings printed with the Northern Print etching press – used in Sweden at the Rörstrand Museum archive) as well as tiny details of Bewick’s vignettes from book illustrations. Drawing and cloning with digital tools Paul ‘grew’ the miniature into new life-size trees and foliage, creating a small wooded garden room, together with insects and birds, to house the WC.

Creation of the artwork involved the digital manipulation of image and pattern in Adobe Photoshop to create life size forms, which were then ‘tiled’ to create thirty-five different silk screens used to print over sixty A3 ceramic in-glaze decals. These were applied to ready-made glazed Wallendorf porcelain tiles before re-firing to 1250ºc in an electric kiln. At this temperature the print sinks into a melting glaze and turns deep cobalt blue, and as it cools the image becomes suspended in a thin layer of glass.

Printed blue and white ceramics have a long, mostly forgotten history as a disseminator of image and message, and whilst our perceptions of them have changed and faded over the years they still retain a familiarity – they form part of the cultural wallpaper in our minds.