Potato printing art from North Yorkshire

Julia cuts a hen shape from a potato slice

Julia cuts a hen shape from a potato slice - Credit: Archant

How potatoes hit the high street in a very different way. Heather Dixon reports

Julia with her trademark red hen

Julia with her trademark red hen - Credit: Archant

Most of us can only dream of owning an original work of art by a celebrated painter but award-winning artist Julia Burns, whose figurative and abstract work hangs in private collections all over the world, had a novel way of bringing original art into the public domain – involving the humble potato.

Using a technique which is startling in its simplicity, Julia turned the age-old method of potato printing into a successful artisan business from her garden studio in North Yorkshire. It proved so successful that her paintings are now licensed to a company which supplies exclusively wall art to the high street.

Inspired by the stunning countryside around her family home near Helmsley, Julia creates individually crafted and personally signed paintings featuring the UK’s favourite birds, including hens, owls, pheasants and robins. But don’t be fooled. The crudely manufactured stars and squares of primary school memories are a world away from these clever and quirky originals, which are fast becoming affordable collectors’ items.

‘Most people, particularly in this current climate, can’t afford to spend hundreds of pounds on a limited edition print, let alone an original for thousands of pounds,’ says Julia. ‘I saw a niche for small, affordable pieces of art, sized to fit a standard modern frame, which would make original art accessible to all.’

All the ingredients for a Red Hen Original

All the ingredients for a Red Hen Original - Credit: Archant

The concept came about almost by accident after Julia was one of 248 internationally renowned artists invited to paint a picture which could be sold in aid of the Tsunami Fund. Struggling to think of a subject, she drew inspiration from a handmade Christmas card featuring a potato-print hen, which she made one particularly lean year to send to family and friends. The resulting picture was one of the sixty six ultimately chosen to be sold at auction by Sotherby’s. It raised £700.

‘The great thing about potato printing is that the overheads are low - all you really need is a potato, some paint and a table top,’ says Julia. ‘At first I worked at the kitchen table. As demand quickly grew, I moved everything into the spare room. Now I have a beautiful studio in the garden.’

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Julia uses Desiree potatoes for the best results and cuts out the negative shapes of her design to create a stamp, which she then layers with colour.

‘It’s great fun to do – I love the whole process and the abstract element of the shapes. It’s about creating scale, harmony and balance. Having the hens gives me inspiration – the way they move and interact together - but hens were just the beginning. These days I potato print anything from a whole range of wild birds to badgers, foxes, rabbits plus cats and dogs.’

The potato shape is ready for print

The potato shape is ready for print - Credit: Archant

She recently had a commission to produce exclusive giraffe images for Next and she has just created a set of four stunning black and white pictures of African animals – bringing her distinctive and extraordinary work almost full circle.

‘After developing the potato prints for 10 years I am now very excited to be getting back to my roots,’ says Julia. ‘Although the potato designs continue to evolve, I am also developing a body of abstract pictures and working on a number of private commissions which take me back to my first love of creating large, abstract paintings. In many ways, one inspires the other and keeps me motivated to develop new ideas and designs.’

Julia at work in her garden studio

Julia at work in her garden studio - Credit: Archant