In the past I’ve toyed with newsprint transfers offered by Isla Transfers. I enjoyed the experiments but am no means competent using them. So I sought out Jason Bige Burnett at Isla Transfers to ask him about his company and products.
First of all, newsprint transfers consist of underglaze pigment screen-printed onto newsprint and used to transfer the underglaze onto leather-hard clay. Tissue transfers are similar, but are printed on tissue paper and used to transfer underglaze onto wet, semi-dry, dry, or bisque-fired clay.
The photo to the right shows an example of an underglaze transfer onto a flat tile.
Jason and Cristina Cordova, both ceramic artists, formed Isla Transfer in 2013. They sell underglaze designs screen-printed onto newsprint and tissue paper sheets, as well as tools you need to apply the transfers onto clay. In addition to the fun “off-the-shelf” designs they offer, Isla Transfers will print an artist’s custom designs onto newsprint or tissue, allowing for great design flexibility. The company also provides online how-to instructions.
Some sample “off-the-shelf” design sheets from the Isla Transfer website are shown to the left.
Below is an example of how a transfer design can be deployed on ceramic pieces.
I spoke with Jason about the formation of the company and some of the products they offer. I also asked Jason for examples of what you can do with these transfer products. He pointed me to several artists who have used Isla Transfer products very effectively.
JW: Will you tell me more about the original idea for Isla Transfers and how you lifted that off the ground and transformed your original idea into a reality?
JB: In 2013 Cristina invited me to come teach a workshop in Puerto Rico. She had been organizing a workshop series called Travel Arte to provide contemporary craft instruction, particularly ceramics, to those living on the island. We were both living in the Penland, NC area and I was finishing up a residency at Arrowmont School of Crafts (TN) when she initially invited me. During the workshop is when Cristina’s wheels started turning and a month or so after returning back to the States she proposed the idea of marketing and selling this process and product I use for my own clay work. So we did. We created Isla Transfers to celebrate the island of Puerto Rico and where this partnership really inspired this move. We started off with very few colors and patterns and slowly built upon that as interest grew from workshops we taught and we had a better understanding of what students and audiences desired and suggested. It’s still in constant growth, and since creating Isla I’ve held different jobs, have relocated multiple times, and our growth still seems steady.
JW: Has there been strong demand for your transferrable underglaze transfer products? Have your products evolved much as you learn more about customer demand?
JB: Strong demand, sort of. There’s a lot of interest in image transfers for pottery. Newsprint Transfers, screen-printed underglaze on paper, have more of a specific window for application. Whereas, tissue transfers have more application options and some would say easier to use.
The products have evolved with customer demand, but what I appreciate the most within our model of conducting business is that everyone that works at Isla Transfers are studio artists themselves. We strive to put in the quality we can provide. That being said, we’ve taken smaller steps towards greater goals, and that has served us very well. To have met our customer demand we started doing custom orders, offered more options for color, and have incorporated artist limited edition series both to give our clientele something special, but also see what our audience enjoys. Finally, I’d like to add that it’s also where we fit in this ceramic image transfer business landscape. We have competitors who have other options, so many of our conversations is what is something different we can provide to the conversation? We see so many posts on instagram of our clients mixing up transfers from a variety of businesses and that’s pretty awesome!
JW: Where do your design ideas come from? I believe you studied graphic design and printmaking. Do you generate all the designs or do you reach out to external graphic artists?
JB: It’s a mixture. When starting off we wanted to offer eye catching patterns and familiarity so I incorporated old patterns of mine that I retired from my own pottery making and moved them into Isla Transfers.
Cristina has also designed several, and because we both teach they were more natural for us to use. We have reached out to external graphic artists and illustrators. We’ve introduced a couple thus far, one being Catie Miller, and have several more in the works. Our focus is to support artists, those purchasing our work, those we feature on social media, those who create patterns for us, and the working artists themselves like our employees.
JW: Do you still create ceramics yourself, or is most of your time devoted to running Isla Transfers?
JB: When Covid-19 hit the states and I went into unemployment here in Helena, MT, I turned a lot of my focus on creating online content for the Archie Bray Foundation and printing a ton of Isla Transfers. During this time I created a pattern for a video that I loved so much to make a seven color image transfer for Isla. I played with the stencils so much creating tons of color combinations, and then it hit me…hard. I wanted to print these on fabric. Very quickly I pushed clay aside and transformed my entire studio to working with fabric. My involvement with Isla Transfers was much heavier in the beginning, traveling to promote, teach workshops, screen-print all the stock, make all the inks, but as business grew so did my own pottery studio. We’ve had many assistants to take over production. Currently, and with much gratitude I have for Cristina and our current printer, I took a step back of being as involved when I was offered a long term residency at the Archie Bray Foundation. Right now most of what I do are Instagram live demos and reach out to potential designers.
JW: What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned through launching and running Isla Transfers?
JB: It’s been amazing to see how many of our clients and customers have taken something we created and they’ve put their own personal spin on it. That and how our product and process have inspired several of the same folks to find their creative voice and expand beyond. More to the point, for myself, it was finding comfort in seeing my designs on other people’s pots. Having written the book Graphic Clay I started seeing lots of work being made within the realm of what took me years to create. I changed the narrative in my head to “look at the permission you have given to others to explore and be creative through your own studio obstacles and those who have taught you what you now know” as well as understanding this is what it must feel like for surface designers who want their graphics and illustrations to be on items for the world to enjoy. It was a new appreciation and perspective of my work.
Jason pointed me to several artists who have done really creative things with Isla Transfer products, including these 3 artists featured below. (Each of these artists was extremely helpful and enthusiastic about Isla Transfers and how the products can be used creatively.)
Catie Miller, who describes her work with Isla Transfers this way: “The collaboration with Isla Transfers developed after spending a week at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts for Pentaculum in January 2020. I hung out with Jason in the studio for the week and we talked about all kinds of ideas including a collaboration for Isla Transfers. I typically hand-draw my own transfers using a slip trailing bottle filled with underglaze, while Jason is known for screen printing his designs. In deciding on what to design, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the precision that can be achieved from screen printing. I created designs with symmetry and small, densely-filled compositions. The Morris-Inspired “Miller and Micro Medallion designs” work well in a variety of applications, whether you want to fill in each shape or blanket the pattern with one single color. They also look great cut up, patched together, distorted, or as full sheet transfers. I’m really happy with the range of compositions and applications you can achieve with them.” (Catie’s website)
David Kenton Kring, who writes: “Here are 2 images of my favorite Isla Transfers creations. Jason is correct that I have started printing my own transfers. But they were a great launching pad for getting me comfortable with the transfer process. Both were created in 2019.” (David’s website)
Amy Brummond, who tells me, “I am a slab builder working with red stoneware clay. When I approach a blank slab I consider pattern, texture, and finally color. The first consideration, pattern, is often checked off the list by using one of my favorite newsprint transfer designs from Isla transfers. I use handmade and commercially available stamps to add texture to the base layer pattern, with the intention of adding color to these impressions during the next step of the process.” (Amy’s website)
JW: Jason, what are your future plans with Isla Transfers? Do you want to expand into any other areas or products?
JB: We are very much looking forward to 2021 and 2022! Multiple things are in discussions cause we have several plans in the works, BUT our audience will have to stay tuned!
JW: Is there anything you’d like to tell people about your experience with Isla Transfers – or about making products for potters – that I haven’t asked?
JB: It’s an absolute pleasure teaching in person how to use Isla Transfers. When I’d teach workshops on how to create them and use them it’s a gift to witness when someone experiences their ideas coming into fruition. It’s just as great to be equipped with the tools for those who don’t wish to print their own, but have us be an element within their creative process to get where they hope to be.