This gorgeous ceiling was created with en feuille printed papers, made by an unknown Parisian manufacturer around 1780. Une feuille de papier literally means a sheet, or piece of paper, and in this context means that the entire design was created by cutting the design from individual sheets of block-printed paper.
The dark and light grounds, the borders of flowers and fruits, the medallions and even the figure of Diana in her chariot were all cut out separately and pasted on the ceiling to create this wonderful image.
This method of creating custom, one-off installations was the best way at the time for clients and designers to bridge the gap between the bespoke mural and the printed image.
Print Rooms, as they became known, were a highly individual way of decorating walls in the eighteenth century. It seems to have been a trend limited in large part to Ireland and England. The charming and whimsical room at Castletown House in Ireland, above, is the work of the lady of the house; fifteen year old bride, Lady Louisa Connolly. That she took great pleasure in her design is evident in the balanced design of octagons, ovals, circles and squares, all embellished with garlands and bows for a fanciful effect.
These days, photocopies and clip art are substituted for the original mezzotints of old.
But why stop at cutting up scraps of paper?
Along with my business partner Mark, we saw that there was room for much improvement and advancement of the technique. I firmly believe that the artisans of a few centuries ago would have absolutely loved the digital revolution. The means they used were simply a reflection of the limit of the technology they had available at the time, nothing more.
So we developed the idea of modular designs created entirely on computer, then printed out in large sheets as custom installations. Why bother painting 60 rosettes on a frieze around a room when you can paint a single one, scan it into the computer, then print out rolls and rolls of the stuff? I mean; they're all supposed to be identical anyway, right?
I started developing my own library of hand-painted shapes. These were little individual sections of ornament, painted in black and white, that I then scanned into the computer and colored and jigsawed together at will on my screen. Anyone interested in those early experiments can check out this blog post on the topic.
Instead of the traditional 'cut-and-paste' technique of the Print Rooms, where the jigsawing of images was done by hand and on-site, we did all the jigsawing of our artwork directly on the computer screen. When we liked what we saw, we simply printed it out on rolls up to five feet wide, and pasted it onto the wall.
The experiment was working!
We decided to take it all a step further; to create artwork entirely on the computer, without any other tool whatsoever. Scanning hundreds of sheets of veneer, we quickly amassed an incredible library of wood textures. Then, using computer software we drew out our designs in the same way any artisan would lay out a design for marquetry: in simple back-and-white line drawings. These drawings were then 'colored' on the computer using our wood texture library, and custom printed onto sheets of Class A fire-retardant wallcovering.
In the image above, you can see the 'before and after' of the room.
When we got there, every surface was primed white. We started by hand-painting all the raised moldings in traditional faux-bois. This was because our printed sheets of paper would only adhere to flat surfaces. Then we simply pasted our custom printed papers into the panels, and along the stiles and rails to create this stunning look.
This image shows the incredible authenticity of the effect. This is not a photograph: It is a computer rendered design, imitating wood inlay. The wood textures, colors, even the blemishes and worm-holes, are all added in layers to create the effect of marquetry. This piece is then printed out onto any substrate (including plain maple veneer) and applied to your project. Make sense?
We feel as though we are just at the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more we can be doing to push Decorative Arts into the new century. I really hope this might serve as some small inspiration to those artists out there looking for new ways to rejuvenate a (let's face it) pretty antiquated field.
It's natural, when new technology comes along, to use it to simply re-create the style that came before. But what would happen if we were not limited by staid historic mimicry? What would it even look like if we took this new technology, this digital evolution, and cranked up the ambition to 11?