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Blueware by Studio Glithero

For their latest project Studio Glithero were inspired by the richness of science, classification and discovery during the Victorian era.  The result is a mesmerizing series of vases that marries ceramics with a traditional blueprinting process.

By Katie Dominy / 07-01-2010

Updating the 19th century blueprinting process for today.

Studio Glithero, the Anglo-Dutch design studio of Sarah van Gameron and Tim Simpson, has launched a new collection entitled Blueware. Designed for the Vauxhall Collective (a sponsorship programme for designers) under the theme Reinventing British Classics, the pieces seamlessly combine old and new.

Thinking about this theme, Studio Glithero looked back to the Victorian era  - a period of great discoveries in science and industry, when botanical and animal species from around the globe were classified and ordered, and at the same time chemistry, biology and physics were transforming life via the Industrial Revolution.

The duo studied the work of scientist Sir John Herschel, who invented in the 1840s the cyanotype or blueprint, a photography print process that produces a cyan-blue print. The process could also produce photograms - images made by placing objects directly onto the surface of a material soaked in light-reacting chemicals and then exposing it to light.

Where and when did the studio discover the Blueprinting process?

Our interest in design is focused on the moment a product starts to exist. We believe this is where the true beauty of the design is and that this is the stage that never becomes boring to the consumer. In this light we are always looking for new transformative materials and useful techniques. Blueprinting caught our interest ages ago but we knew we had to bring it into a three dimensional domain first to make it applicable in a design context. A period of experimentation started and the innovation on unglazed ceramics followed.

Where does the idea of attaching the leaves and flowers come from.

From the herbarium in Kew Gardens. There has been a historic tradition in Britain to document plant species by blueprinting. In the herbarium we visited Dr Rogier de Kok who introduced us to the methods to dry, flatten and document all these different species. In the collection there, you can find the samples of vegetation taken during the Dutch colonisation of Indonesia or, for example, species Darwin brought back home. Some folders haven't been opened for 500 years. We didn’t travel for our flowers. They are the humble weeds between the tiles of our pavements of North London, where our studio is based.
The pair then took these up to a specialist ceramic house in Stoke-on-Trent, home of the UK’s ceramic heritage, where light-reacting chemicals were embedded onto a range of white vases and tiles.

Is this project the first time the Blueprinting process has been used on ceramics?

As far as we know we are the first. Blueprinting is an early photographic technique and was the predecessor of the photocopier. The technique was used a lot by architects to copy fine line drawings of maps and plans.

For the tiles, botanical specimens were arranged on glass plates placed over the tiles. Exposed to UV light the specimens operate like a photographic negative and cause the tile to transform from white to a deep Prussian blue. The plates are flipped to achieve symmetrical compositions and ordered patterns.

For the vases, the botanical specimens were fixed to the surface of the vases using flower-pressing techniques. The vases were exposed to a UV light on a rotating spit, capturing the plant-life from leaf to root and again, causing the vases to turn a deep blue.
The strong clear white silhouette of the specimens that remain can be seen as a tribute to the classic British Jasperware tradition, most commonly seen in Wedgewood ceramics.   

And what pieces are in the collection?

In all there are four pieces; two types of vases (large and small), blueprinted tiles and a lampshade. Ideally we would like to launch the full collection during the furniture fair in Milan 2010.

Studio Glithero are members of the Vauxhall Collective, an initiative from the car company.
All Images © the photographer Petr Krejci


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