ABOVE An exuberant garden inspires the botanical block-printed designs Katharine Watson creates in her Portland backyard studio, where she employs an antique printing press and mid-century paper cutter (below) purchased on Craigslist.
TEXT BY MICHAELA CAVALLARO
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ERIN LITTLE
To an outsider, it might appear as though Portland artist Katharine Watson’s business was an overnight success. In addition to the botanical block-printed designs she sells on her website and via online artisan shop Minted, Chronicle Books offers her gilded stylized blooms on note cards, notebooks, and, as of last year, a hardcover journal. Around the same time, boutique wallpaper brand Hygge & West released two of her flower-packed prints in a rainbow of shades. Suddenly, it seemed, Watson’s work was everywhere.
In reality, Watson’s ubiquity is the result of years of toil. The wallpaper collaboration, for instance, had been in the works since 2018, while the journal project got underway a year later. “I always have a lot of things going on in the background,” Watson says. “These types of projects require a lot of work behind the scenes.”
Most of the time, Watson is head down, earbuds in, in her garage-turned-studio, where she sketches strawberries, lupines, sunflowers, and even humble dandelions in “organic patterns that are imperfect, but still follow a rigid grid.” She then transfers the images to hand-carved linoleum blocks she prints onto ceramics or onto paper with her antique press. For a digitally printed product, like wallpaper, tea towels, or the stationery available on Minted, she scans the lino print into Photoshop to create pattern repeats or zoom in on a detail.
As an international studies and studio-art double major at Ohio’s Kenyon College, Watson worried that painting was the only viable path for professional artists. But Etsy was gaining steam when she graduated in 2009, and she spotted an appealing niche. “Something clicked with printmaking,” she says. “It became this way of making art accessible — something I could offer to people, like me, who wanted to decorate their homes with products that have art on them, rather than selling a $10,000 painting.”
Since she was starting out, the influence of stark minimalism on home décor has waned a bit, in favor of a broader embrace of color and pattern. “I struggled back then to picture how my work was going to fit into homes that were light wood and plain,” Watson says. “I feel lucky that trends have shifted more toward maximalism.”
On your wall, or in your desk or kitchen, Katharine Watson’s products are destined to become perennial favorites.