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An industrial craft reinstated: A printmaker's perspective on tissue transferware

Sheppy, Lisa

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Lisa Sheppy


Underglaze tissue transfer printing, termed transferware, is a genre of industrial printmaking on ceramics. This genre was practiced inside the factory and is described in my doctoral study as an industrial craft. Much of the knowledge surrounding this craft has been lost as the pottery industries have closed or have replaced printing on ceramics with newer and more cost effective forms of decoration. Unlike many industrial forms of printmaking tissue transfer printing has never made the transition from industry to contemporary art practice.

This doctoral research was conducted to unravel and interpret the industrial craft knowledge so that tissue transferware will become reinstated for contemporary printmaking practice. The foremost aim was to demonstrate its artistic value to artists working in the field of ceramics and print to enable it to become an open and accessible form of printmaking on ceramics in the future.

The study begins with an appraisal of tissue transferware, through studying historical records. These records reveal much about the historical context and how transferware became one of England’s largest exports, peaking in around 1850. However, whilst historical records provide knowledge of the lineage, highlighting the main producers, very little accessible information exists about the methods of production. The literature review positions tissue transferware within the Industrial Revolution and the division of labour, finding that knowledge of the whole process is therefore concealed from the literature. Much of this knowledge is tacit and held within the individuals who worked in the potteries. Mass production of tissue transferware has finished and many of those individuals are now deceased.

A multi-method research framework was used to gain insider knowledge of the methods of production. Oral history interviews documenting lived accounts from ex-pottery professionals have supported this investigation and enabled it to progress. This was reinforced with archival research which provided access to material relating to the production of tissue transferware. The printmaker’s scrutiny was at the forefront of this archival investigation, seeking evidence of insider knowhow, with an opportunity to observe, reflect and respond artistically.

A demonstration of a new method of tissue transferware for artists is the principal contribution of this study. Furthermore, insider knowhow has been preserved for current and future interpretations before being locked inside a closed factory. Material making and reflection-in-action resulted in emergent knowledge linking traditional, autographic, and manual material practices with the digital and mechanical.

The new method does not replace the original industrial craft but serves as a contemporary interpretation of it. In the concluding chapters the research has been materialised through a series of art works, produced with a palette of tools and materials familiar to artists working in the fields of printmaking and ceramics. This new method is open, accessible and within reach of future artists to realise its creative potential.


Sheppy, L. An industrial craft reinstated: A printmaker's perspective on tissue transferware. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Mar 24, 2022
Publicly Available Date May 3, 2023
Keywords ceramic transfer, printmaking, art and design
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