Combining Digital Print Technologies with 18th Century Underglaze Ceramic Printing to Retain an Industrial Heritage Process

Lead Research Organisation: University of the West of England
Department Name: Fac Creative Arts, Humanities & Education

Abstract

This bid seeks to build upon previous research undertaken by Hoskins into the combination of the digital capabilities of flexographic printing technology and the earliest printing process first developed for the ceramic industry in the 1780s. In order to achieve this it seeks to collaborate with Burgess Dorling & Leigh (Burleigh), the last company to print underglaze tissue commercially, based at its Grade II listed Middleport pottery in Stoke on Trent.

The Princes' Regeneration Trust acquired the pottery in June 2011 saving it from imminent closure. The Trust's involvement has already saved 50 jobs, is maintaining the traditional manufacturing skills unique to Middleport, and preserving the historic buildings, collection of moulds and machinery. The Princes' Trust has specified that pottery production should remain at Middleport for the next 25 years. However there is a long-term issue with both the maintenance and production of printing rollers and plates, which in the past have been hand engraved.

This bid seeks to redress that issue by introducing the potential of printing traditional potters underglaze tissue, both printing and applying it in the same way as the 18th Century process, but creating the plate from a digital file. Thus reducing the time taken to engrave a roller from one month to less than a day to create a digital equivalent roller, whilst retaining the integrity of the final product. Burleigh requested the collaboration with the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at the University of the West of England, due to our expertise in the practical application and marriage of 19th Century printing processes, with digital technology.

CFPR aim to investigate the recreation of underglaze intaglio printing rollers and plates using the flexographic process. Our previous research indicated it was possible to create an intaglio plate for research demonstration purposes and some practice based creative uses. This project seeks to create a visual taxonomy of existing underglaze tissue printed examples from museum collections in order to create a benchmark against which the major part of this new research can be undertaken empirically. It aims to recreate the qualities and visual aesthetic of underglaze tissue using contemporary digital technology whilst retaining all of the craft and artisan skills inherent in the application of underglaze tissue printing . It will do this by creating a methodology for the creation of practical examples using flexographic rollers and printing plates. The physical results can then be compared and tested against the benchmark. The methodology will ensure that the results are both of a commercial standard and commensurate with the 18th and 19th Century examples highlighted within the visual taxonomy. In parallel and as a further benchmark standard, an investigation will take place into the potential of recreating hand engraved rollers.

This project offers the potential to retain important skills within the pottery industry and make sure that an extant and working Victorian Pottery remains a viable part of the community and the nation's industrial heritage. Academically this project seeks to capitalise on a unique research opportunity to retain, in full working order, an important part of Britain's industrial heritage concurrent to bringing that heritage in-line with the 21st Century. The project needs to be sensitive to the historic context of Burleigh's process in order for future historians to gain tacit understanding of an industrial process as it was practiced in the 19th Century.

Planned Impact

By building on earlier research by the applicants through the previous award and by collaborating with an industrial partner, we will contribute to improving the UK's economic competitiveness by creating a new, innovative process that has application to wider domestic and commercial sectors beyond the purely academic. The project will help to sustain a UK company and major employer in the ceramic industry by providing a high quality process that shortens lead times and adds competitive edge, whilst retaining historic skills that form the backbone of the UK's ceramic heritage. The UK ceramic industry needs regeneration due to the threat of competition from the Far East, the UK's heritage and specialist product sells into these markets and cannot be easily replicated.

In addition, the project will create innovative new artefacts, such as limited edition one off designer ceramics, thus creating a further product that is difficult to replicate and expanding into a new market. Its success will improve the competitiveness of Burleigh, increase their efficiency, create and retain new skills and jobs, develop increased capacity and reliability through the ability to make printing plates in-house, which will also decrease their lead times and make them much more responsive to market demands.

This project will contribute to the UK economy, Burleigh have always had a strong export market for their range as customers are aware of the English heritage of their products. However they have been unable to respond quickly to international market demands and pressures. The new process will allow Burleigh to quickly respond and be able to produce short-run, specialist items for the international market, thus increasing their export market. At the moment Burliegh does not have these capabilities and it currently takes them three months to produce a new roller for which they have to be sure of extensive market penetration before making investment into new technologies.

This project has the potential to create new jobs. Part of Burleigh's remit with the Princes' Trust is to create new apprenticeships but the company do not have the expertise in this particular area. Therefore jobs will be created by introducing this new process and these skills will be transferable to other companies.

The project will serve to enable the retention of the last working example of an early industrial process still extant in a completely original 19th Century factory, that only ceased using steam power in the 21st Century. The Middleport site is central to the regeneration of its immediate environs in Stoke-on-Trent, the City Council is committed to refurbishing and regenerating the surrounding area as a condition of the Princes' Trust Investment. Therefore the impact of retaining the 19th Century processes and the required skill base is crucial not only to Burleigh, but the future of this area of Stoke-on-Trent. Without this practice-led research, there is a real potential threat that the skills, the pottery and its commercial future will just die with the current generation, leaving an important area of the historic potteries without the current lifeline for future generations and the nation's industrial heritage, offered by the partnership of Burleigh, The Princes Trust and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

This project will make a valuable and as yet unknown resource available to scholars and industry - the online exhibtion and documentation of the project will be highly accessible via the CFPR website.
 
Description The research proved that it was possible to recreate a hand engraved roller via a digital process by scanning the original plate or roller and then using the digital scan to laser engrave a rubber composition roller that is mounted on a steel sleeve. The resultant roller can then be used in the traditional printing press in the same manner as the original hand engraved roller.
Exploitation Route This project contributes to the UK economy via the ceramics industry. Burleigh have always had a strong export market for their range as customers are aware of the English heritage of their products, however they have been unable to respond quickly to international market demands and pressures. The new process allows Burleigh to quickly respond and be able to produce short-run, specialist items for the international market, thus increasing their export market and reducing costs.
Sectors Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.uwe.ac.uk/sca/research/cfpr/research/traditionalprint/research%20projects/Combiningunderglazeburleigh.html
 
Description We collaborated with designers and engineers from Burleigh to develop a method of producing intaglio printed underglaze tissue transfers onto ceramic tableware, using contemporary technology to accurately replicate the traditional process. As a result of the project Burleigh will change their factory processes to use laser engraved rollers to support the use of the traditional hand-engraved roller. This will enable the company to increase their product range more quickly and cheaply in order that they remain competitive, whilst retaining and recording all of the traditional craft skills and attributes that are essential, both to this process and to the unique historic context that applies both to the company and the process. We were awarded an 18 month KTP with Denby Holdings Ltd/ Burgess and Leigh Ltd in 2015 to apply this pioneering academic research to Burleigh Pottery's underglazed tissue printing production to embed the process combining digital technology and traditional craft skills, to develop new opportunities for economic growth. Burleigh now have the ability to create new engraved rollers in a very short turn around time a matter of weeks rather than the many months taken previously. This is evidenced by a new range of 5 designs for the Ralph Lauren Company, which was completed in very short timescale rather the years it would have taken to engrave the rollers by hand.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Retail
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Further Funding
Amount £8,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of the West of England 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 06/2015
 
Description KTP
Amount £160,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2015 
End 05/2017
 
Description Chris Orr RA 
Organisation The Royal Academy of Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution The Royal Academician, Chris Orr, is a skilled etcher and lithographer, who collects early Sunderland ware. Chris had never made a ceramic engraved tissue print and was excited by the potential that the process offered to the fine artist. Chris made plates both by etching copper and by using drypoint plastic plates, both of which proved very successful and widens the potential of the process for artists and printmakers. In the final example of a contemporary version of a Sunderland ware jug Chris created a traditional etched copper plate to prove that the traditional process still has relevance alongside the digital. All artists involved in the project created a limited edition artwork that demonstrated a particular aspect of underglaze tissue printing or pushed the boundaries of the process, Printed at CFPR and glazed and fired at Burleigh
Start Year 2013
 
Description Cumbrian Blues 
Organisation Cumbrian Blue(s)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Paul Scott is a ceramic artist with a long history of using underglaze blue tissue prints as reference material for his own work that deconstructs the traditional and applies a contemporary social aspect to the work. Paul is also author of the seminal text, Ceramics and Print, which brought ceramic printing to the attention of many artists and makers in the 1990?s. Paul was chosen because of his history with underglaze blue printing and partly because he has a very strong reputation amongst ceramic artists for his work with ceramics and print. It was felt that by including Paul more artists would be inclined to try the process if it had been endorsed by Paul. Additionally although Paul had used underglaze blue as a reference material he had never actually made an intaglio print by the traditional methods. All artists involved in the project created a limited edition artwork that demonstrated a particular aspect of underglaze tissue printing or pushed the boundaries of the process, Printed at CFPR and glazed and fired at Burleigh
Start Year 2013
 
Description Higg + Bunn 
Organisation Falmouth University
Department University College Falmouth Incorporating Dartington College of Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Artist collaboration: Higg+Bunn is a partnership between Jessie Higginson and Katie Bunnell, who use both autographic and digital means of file generation to create surface decoration for ceramics. Katie Bunnell is the leader of the Autonomatic research group at the University of Falmouth. All artists involved in the project created a limited edition artwork that demonstrated a particular aspect of underglaze tissue printing or pushed the boundaries of the process, Printed at CFPR and glazed and fired at Burleigh
Start Year 2013
 
Description Partnership with Burleigh, Denby and the Princes Regeneration Trust 
Organisation Burleigh Pottery
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Burleigh Potteries the last company to print the traditional underglaze tissue process commercially. The partnership was to retain traditional skills whilst introducing digital technologies to replace hand engraved printing rollers. In addition to working with Burleigh, the project required negotiation with Denby Potteries, who are the current owners of Burleigh, plus all of the work undertaken in collaboration with Burleigh had to be agreed with the Prince?s Regeneration Trust. All parties have been in discussion to formulate a strategy for digitising the archive of existing plates and rollers and how some of that collection may be presented for public display.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Partnership with Burleigh, Denby and the Princes Regeneration Trust 
Organisation Princes Regeneration Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Burleigh Potteries the last company to print the traditional underglaze tissue process commercially. The partnership was to retain traditional skills whilst introducing digital technologies to replace hand engraved printing rollers. In addition to working with Burleigh, the project required negotiation with Denby Potteries, who are the current owners of Burleigh, plus all of the work undertaken in collaboration with Burleigh had to be agreed with the Prince?s Regeneration Trust. All parties have been in discussion to formulate a strategy for digitising the archive of existing plates and rollers and how some of that collection may be presented for public display.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Partnership with Burleigh, Denby and the Princes Regeneration Trust 
Organisation The Denby Pottery Co Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Burleigh Potteries the last company to print the traditional underglaze tissue process commercially. The partnership was to retain traditional skills whilst introducing digital technologies to replace hand engraved printing rollers. In addition to working with Burleigh, the project required negotiation with Denby Potteries, who are the current owners of Burleigh, plus all of the work undertaken in collaboration with Burleigh had to be agreed with the Prince?s Regeneration Trust. All parties have been in discussion to formulate a strategy for digitising the archive of existing plates and rollers and how some of that collection may be presented for public display.
Start Year 2013
 
Description Beyond Blue 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Symposium at the Victoria and Albert Museum 23rd January 2014. This symposium brought together leading academic researchers, industry experts and artists to discuss underglaze ceramic printing and its future. Presentations and practical demonstrations given by Experts from Museums, Crafts council practitioners, industry and Higher Education based upon research undertaken by Hoskins and Huson. A KTP has been awarded to allow Burleigh Potteries who are the last underglaze tissue printers in the UK to digitise their traditional process. Burleigh have used the practical demonstration as part of their international sales promotion including a recent British council sponsored event in Japan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.uwe.ac.uk/sca/research/cfpr/research/traditionalprint/research%20projects/Beyond_Blue.htm...
 
Description Shortlisted and highly commended for the THES 2018 awards, most innovate contribution to business 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The KTP project which was a direct outcome of this project was shortlisted for the THES awards. The KTP and this project are synonymous as the KTP directly followed on from the research generated from this project. The award noted that the project had directly influenced Burleigh's business and had made the company commercially viable.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.the-awards.co.uk/2018/en/page/shortlist