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The creative forces inside Belfast Telegraph’s new online art studio

Meet one of the local craftspeople whose work will be showcased in Belfast Telegraph's unique online shop

By Stephanie Bell

Published 01/12/2015

Potter Stephen Farnan
Potter Stephen Farnan
Peter Horan’s painting The Sligo Flute Player
Keith Drury Quare Bake Print
Black and White Ceramic Cow by Trevor Woods

Like all creative people, Stephen Farnan is constantly evolving and perfecting his art and, at 40 years old, is on the cusp of taking his unique Northern Ireland-inspired pieces right across the world.

But while he prepares to launch himself on the international market, the Belfast-based potter is being given a helping hand by the Belfast Telegraph with the launch of our brilliant new online shop, Belfast Telegraph Studio.

Stephen is one of a number of local arts and craft designers whose work has been carefully sourced for what is a first for the creative community in the province - a showcase website that can be accessed via the Belfast Telegraph.

BT Studio is a collection of the very best in local handcrafted products and artwork, all with a Northern Ireland influence as well as being locally produced.

The pieces, which range from art to pottery, cushions, candles and an array of other handmade crafts, will be available to the thousands of overseas readers and expats who log on daily to read the Belfast Telegraph online.

Stephen has spent the past two years perfecting a technique of putting his drawings onto ceramics, and has created a new range especially for the Belfast Telegraph Studio which includes our iconic Belfast Paper Boy picture, our historic head office in Royal Avenue, and the first front page of the first edition of the paper in 1887.

Originally from Armagh, Stephen studied art in Belfast and then added to his degree in applied and fine arts with an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College of Art in London.

He spent the next few years travelling the world before returning home in 2002 and opening his first studio in Benburb.

Three years ago he moved his business to Belfast, where he has a studio in Townsend Enterprise Park.

Since then he has become a much in demand artist and, in fact, his business has grown to the point where he now has two staff helping to fulfil commissions.

Stephen is renowned for creating exclusive, quirky ceramics. And he has brought this distinct ive style into award designs.

Some of his more unusual pieces include Baby on a Plinth, The Belfast Sink and The Porcelain Magazine, which are proudly displayed in the homes of a stellar list of celebs including Sir James Galway, Dame Mary Peters, Christine Bleakley, Graeme McDowell and James Nesbitt. As well as his now signature ceramic drawings, he is known for his innovative range of tableware, vases and bowls.

He describes how his new range of ceramic drawings, which will feature in the BT Studio, came about.

"I knew that being a potter was all I could or wanted to do and I've worked really hard to make it work for me," he said.

"About three to four years ago I looked at transferring drawings onto porcelain.

"Each piece is unique; it has probably taken us two years to perfect and refine them.

"It started when I put images of my drawings on Facebook as they evolved, and the sketches in the early stages seemed to capture people's imaginations.

"I just thought I needed to tap into that and develop it and that's when I started to put the drawings onto ceramic and it has really taken off." Another lucrative new venture has been colouring kits for adults.

This is a new craze which has seen adult colouring books hit the shelves as a therapeutic tool to combat stress and encourage relaxation.

Stephen has taken a fresh approach by producing maps of different countries and transferring drawings of some of their famous buildings or landscapes onto them. He explained: "It is a real craze at the minute and we have been doing line drawings of places like New York or Dublin and Belfast, anywhere in the world.

"We are then putting traditional pencil drawings, which are like caricature versions of different well-known places, onto the maps.

"They have become really popular and we are selling them independently and in a few shops.

"I think the reason why colouring has become so popular for adults is that it is a gentle process, a bit like watching brain dead TV, which is good for unwinding."

Having captured a healthy local market with his unique pieces, Stephen has now linked up with Invest NI to take his work to an international audience.

This ambitious step for the local potter came about after the success of one of his biggest ever commissions.

Last year his quirky designs caught the attention of a major insurance firm in America, which commissioned him to make 80 awards for a gala event in Vienna.

Stephen said: "Each of the 80 pieces was given to the company's top executives and was taken back to different parts of America.

"It made me realise that there was the potential for work outside of Northern Ireland and so I have been developing a strategy with the help of Invest NI to get my work out across the world.

"I will be attending a wholesale show in Dublin in January and one in Harrogate in the new year."

Meanwhile, though, the launch of the BT Studio could bring this latest business target a little bit closer.

Stephen is thrilled to have his work included in our collection for our new online shop, among other talented local creatives.

The idea behind the BT Studio is that local people with family living overseas can access a special locally-made gift to send to their loved ones, while expats can also pick up a piece of nostalgia from home.

Stephen said: "The Belfast Telegraph has a great internet reach with people from here who live all over the world accessing it every day to see what is going on at home.

"We are finding that more and more people living abroad want something to remind them of home, which is what the BT Studio is all about.

"For us as artists, it is a natural pool of customers to tap into which we wouldn't be able to reach, and so it will be a big boost for everyone involved."

Featured in the new online gift shop is a selection of Stephen's drawings on porcelain featuring a number of famous Belfast landmarks including the Albert Clock, Harland and Wolff cranes and Belfast City Hall, as well as the Belfast Telegraph range he has produced.

Setting out stall of online range

Belfast Telegraph Studio is a new online shop offering people the opportunity to purchase local art, crafts, gifts and textiles either for themselves or someone who has a shared love of Northern Ireland.

The online shop offers everything from modern contemporary pieces by leading local artist Keith Drury, whose distinctive work has appeared in the BBC series “The Fall”, to Irish landscape artist Jim McKee, whose work is full of life, colour and energy.

To mark the launch of the online shop, Belfast Telegraph Studio commissioned Stephen Farnan to create a limited edition collection for the Belfast Telegraph. 

There are three beautiful pieces in the limited edition collection which feature the iconic Belfast Telegraph building, a street sales vendor and the first-ever edition of the Belfast Telegraph. We anticipate high demand for these fabulous pieces.

Other work featured on the website includes a ceramic animal collection from Trevor Woods, Mount Ida Pottery — a fun range of sheep and cows inspired by the rural landscape and rolling hills of Co Down.

Aly Harte is a young, contemporary artist who draws inspiration from everyday moments, objects and places. Aly’s work on the website includes scenes from both Belfast and the North Coast.

White Chalk studio is the work of designed Lisa Dodds — Lisa marries built form with her love of colour and texture to create fresh, vibrant images celebrating some of Belfast’s best-known landmarks. Some of Lisa’s range available to buy online includes beautiful Irish linen cushions and fabulous shoppers which make the perfect gift.

Other gifts on the website include a fabulous range from the Bearded Candle Makers. Based in Belfast, they create all their candles in a workshop in their back garden.

Their Irish Collection, featured on the website, is a scent story of Ireland, based on their travels and memories of times spent on holidays in various places around Ireland and the world. 

Other gift ideas include beautiful 100% natural soap from the Belfast Soap Company — free from anything artificial and scented with only natural essential oils.

Check out the full range at http://www.belfasttelegraphstudio.co.uk

Belfast Telegraph

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