Helena Seget – Thoughts

What's on Helena's mind today?

Creating Brain-Friendly Spaces

In this post I have news of two events I’m promoting during The Late Shows, which take place in Newcastle on Friday 13 May & Saturday 14 May (2022).  See:https://thelateshows.org.uk

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot, and doing a deal of research, about how publicly shared spaces can and should be recalibrated to be more user-friendly.  
An ambition of mine was to use this research to create places that are like an oasis in the city, where visitors can take time to process and realign, where the emphasis is on the person, not on the so-called ‘function’ of the place.
And now that ambition is going to be (at least partially) fulfilled! 

I’m creating two ‘experiences’ – one in Ouseburn at The Biscuit Factory (Friday 13th, 7pm – 11pm) and one in the city centre, at Tea Sutra Teahouse (Saturday 14th, 7pm – 9:30pm).  


Basically, yes, the visitor still turns up for a sit-down and a rehydrating cup of something, so nothing unusual there.  The actual experiment will be in trying to make the venue itself friendlier on the brain.

But visitors have to play their part too.  For a start, they will be asked to turn off their phones, and, while in the venue, to try to refrain from conversing, if possible.  Some people may not find this easy.

Visitors at Tea Sutra will be invited to make a £3 donation on entry (rather than pay for each drink) and will be served an infusion. The entry-fee idea means that the experience is smoother – less conversation when ordering/paying, and less unnecessary movement.
(For people who can’t get to Tea Sutra, co-owner Yoshi has proposed live-streaming the ambient sounds of the café for the whole time it’s open during The Late Shows – using the Clubhouse app).

In addition to providing a range of seating, visitors to both venues also have the opportunity to lie down


What will be different?

The sorts of things that need to be addressed in this situation, to make them friendly to the mind & body, are: the quality of light and lighting, spatial dynamics, sounds.  
Obviously, a lot depends on what is possible: the venues are already being very generous in giving this project time, and a place to carry it out. But, even so, there will be noticeable changes…

  • Emphasis on natural light, especially filtered through frosted glass or blinds, which diffuse the light.  When an Artificial light is required, we are looking for a single light source, as is the case with either the sun or the moon. There will be no overhead lights at all. 
  • In terms of sound, we invite visitors to avoid conversation, and to enjoy the sounds of a water feature as well as any distant, ambient sounds. 
  • For personal comfort, spaces where people can lie down will be provided, and sofas will have foot rests.



Underlying this experiment is research I’ve been carrying out.

In the last few years I have been exploring how features within the built environment can have an adverse impact on people’s mental energy levels and concentration. 

I’ve noticed in myself in recent years that my energy levels could plummet and rise again without warning.  I managed to identify the cause as the energy enervating design of the built environment, especially in public spaces (shops, offices, institutions, cafes etc).
This is a phenomenon recognised by the British Standards Institute, which attributes to it an adverse impact on people’s mental energy levels and concentration.
I have been involved with the BSI as a member of the steering group in their current work in this area, called ‘Design For the Mind’.


Buildings and spaces are designed currently for function, not for the person existing in them. This poor approach to design affects HSPs* in the population most adversely, but most of us feel its effects. 
Perhaps you recognise in yourself the following explanation which I found in my researches: 

“What happens when the brain is overloaded?

“It’s my term for what happens to the brain when it becomes overloaded with information, obligations and more data points than it can keep up with. You start to resemble someone with actual attention deficit disorder — distractibility, impulsivity, impatience, restlessness, irritability.”

“Nature doesn’t get rid of what works, so our brain hasn’t ‘evolved’ specifically – as much as been built upon. Our primitive brain, the one that serves to help us survive, is more powerful than the part of the brain that came later, the part that handles reason and language.” 

We had over 6-7 million years for our brain to evolve in response to living in the natural landscape. By contrast, it’s had very little time to adapt to the artificial environments of urban areas – less than 300 years! So, it’s no surprise that many people experience stress and tension within them, even if they can’t pinpoint the reason.

So, it would help the brain if we could identify the brain-friendly features in the natural environment, and transpose them into the artificial urban one. We can calm the mind.

(* HSPs are people who sit at the high end of the sensitivity continuum, and who are affected by their environments more than the majority of the population.)

Birtley Heritage Map

At last the ceramic plaque community-project that I was working on six years ago has come to fruition!

Though it was all finished by the beginning of 2012, the problem was securing the place for it to be displayed.
At first, we thought it might be in a public garden, but the authorities at Birtley (near Gateshead) have worked hard to get the permissions and find a suitable site for it, and it is now proudly presented in Birtley Library.

Rather than me rabbit on, here’s the official press release:

Artwork of Home

An artwork that remembers some of the great icons of Gateshead’s past is now on permanent display at Birtley Library.

Working with a professional artist, Birtley Heritage Group members came together to create the piece, which records their personal feelings about the history & landscape of their district.
The group’s chairperson Yvonne Armstrong said: “We are absolutely delighted that the Birtley Landscape artwork is at last on display in our own local library. Thank you to our councillors, whose community fund helped us to get it installed.
“This map was our first-ever project; we were so new, we were so naïve! But we learnt so much.

Birtley Heritage Group with Helena Seget

Birtley Heritage Group with Helena Seget (Helena holding the flowers)

The artwork is made up of porcelain tiles, all forming a map of Birtley district.
Fired into the tiles are depictions of aspects of the area that the group members thought were important to them – such as its coal mining industry, the Royal Ordnance Factory [originally the site of the Projectile Factory, which operated during the Great War], and historic houses such as Birtley Hall built by John Dobson in 1815.
Yvonne said: “We hope that by depicting only a small range of Birtley’s history on the map, it will jog memories and promote discussion about other aspects of Birtley’s fascinating and unique heritage”.

The group worked with Helena Seget, the award-winning Newcastle ceramic artist, whose works can be seen in galleries across the world. Helena said: “It was an honour for me to work with Birtley Heritage Group – to learn about the town about which they’re so passionate and to share with them my passion for art.
“I hope that the map not only inspires more memories, but might encourage an interest in ceramics too – and also exploring creativity in other ways.

Birtley Heritage Map in Birtley library

Birtley Heritage Map

Community artworks such as the Birtley Heritage Map arose out of Gateshead Council’s Arts Development Team 2010 ‘Soul Soup’ project (itself a response to the ‘Generations Together’ initiative, originally set up by the Department of Education).
‘Soul Soup’ was a way to bring communities together: to build trust, promote well being and also to address negative perceptions of age, through arts activity.

Issued by Soul Soup: June 2017


I must admit it was a happy time working with the ladies and gentlemen, and I learnt a lot about life as well as ceramics.

Thanks to Denise Envy, the Birtley Library manager for the photos.).
For more details, see the Birtley Library website – http://www.gatesheadlibraries.com/your-local-library/birtley-library

Spring Salon – Sunday 29th March 2015 10 am – 5 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing you all this Sunday! Yes, it’s time for the 36-Lime-Street Studios ‘Spring Salon’ again – when lots of us at the studios open up our workplaces to the public, and (as usual) put up certain select items for sale at special prices.
I’ve decided to really go for it this year and sell a LOT of my stock. I’ve been working on a big commission over the last few months, which is taking up a lot of room; so I need more space!
I’ve even decided to sell some of my moulds as well as some one-off pieces… getting more space is now the priority for me.
However, the main thing is to see you – so, if you fancy popping by, the studios-complex is open 10am-5pm on Sunday (29th March), and you can expect a big welcome.
PS – bring some Spring sunshine with you..

.Stitched porcelain collar                   Porcelain place names

Our spring salon sale

Well, whatever else anyone may say, for me the first day of Spring will be Sunday 23rd March!
It is the day of the Spring Salon Sale, which is taking place at the 36-Lime-St-Studios (from 10am-5pm) – and I’ll be taking part.

Memo pads - in porcelain.

Memo pads – in porcelain. Pencilled scribblings can just be washed off – to start again

The idea is that everyone in the complex will be opening up their studios, each trying to exhibit a range of work that might include ideas for some unique gifts.
After all, the event comes shortly before Mother’s Day; and just weeks before Easter for that matter.

In my studio (on the complex’s third floor) I’ll have my usual range of: ceramic shelves, porcelain jewellery, porcelain furniture and homeware (including my porcelain stationery range) – but I’ve been experimenting with variations on the forms, so you’ll see twists on themes that you haven’t seen before.

Paw prints for everybody

One experiment I’m quite excited about is paw-print casts in porcelain.

Last year someone asked me for an item made of pottery which would be a permanent reminder of their pet for them… so I persuaded their dog to place a paw into some wet clay – and I made a single, beautiful tile with the impression of the paw print in its middle.

Paw-print tile

Tiles showing the paw prints of Hamish, a Lhasa Apso dog

The fact that the print came from a real creature, one that had a name and a personality, deeply appealed to me.
Anyway, I’ll have examples of some of those tiles (from different pets – including rats, dogs and cats) on display.  If you too are interested in a paw-print tile, I will be on hand to explain how it can be made to happen for your pet.

I’ve also been developing my range of porcelain table-settings.  I have a set of place names now which features images of animals (a tiger, bird heads, and swallows from the blue willow pattern).  They are re-usable of course, as one just writes the name of the guest on the place-name setting – which can be then easily wiped off when the meal is over!

As I’m into table decoration right now, I think I’ll also display my ‘Crime Scene’-design plates, which feature silhouettes of dead animals.  (It’s a vegetarian angle…)


It’s always interesting to be asked to work with a creative company, and I’ve admired the work of the Newcastle firm Folded Square Origami for a long time – and now we will collaborate.

Folded Square creates rather amazing origami papers and kits (many of them in shapes of animals).

Origami rat

One of Folded Square’s origami rats

I’ve also been photographing the fur of pets (ones whose paw impressions have been used to create paw-print tiles), re-interpreting the results as graphic art, and printing off the designs on to paper.
So,  Folded Square will then create the same animal in origami (it could be a cat, for example) using the printed paper I supply.

Olive the Cat paper

This image was designed from a photo of the fur of Olive the cat – who was very patient in the photo session! I then printed it on to origami paper

Thus, side by side, the paw-print tile and the origami figure will be a form of portrait of the animal.

Folded Square will also be exhibiting for the first time.  They will be putting on a display in my studio of fantastical origami insects – which I can’t wait to see!

Animal theme

Do you know, now I look back at what I’ve written, I realise I hadn’t been aware that such a strong animal theme was emerging in this show.  I don’t know how I could have missed it.
Amazing what the subconscious can get up to…!

For more details about our Spring Salon event, nearer the time, see: 36 Lime Street Studios News

Some paintings, from the past

Recently I have had a look through some of my old watercolour paintings.
Some of my friends were surprised to learn that I once had quite a passion for watercolours, but I trained in art, so it’s not that surprising.

I suppose I mostly painted in times when I had little else to do.
In fact, most of the works reproduced in this post come from when I lived for a few years in Poland teaching at Wroclaw University.  This was twenty years ago.  I would spend the weekends and holidays with my aunt, who lived in a small town a few miles away.
The painting helped while-away the winter nights there – which are long and cold!

I don’t know why I brought them out of storage, but friends have been kind enough to say they like them, so I have been exhibiting some of them.

'Potato Aunt' watercolour by Helena Seget

‘Potato Aunt’

This piece is called Kartaflana Ciocia (Potato Aunt in English).  I loved my aunt, and enjoyed painting her.
She had a habit of preferring natural remedies when she ill; and whenever she had a headache she would bind sliced potatoes to her forehead – which you see here.
It worked for her…

The Room next to Mine, watercolour by Helena Seget

‘The Room next to Mine’

My aunt lived in a nice old house.  This watercolour shows one of the rooms.  I call it – unsurprisingly – ‘The Room Next To Mine’.

Apples on Sunday, watercolour by Helena Seget

‘Apples on Sunday’

This work, Apples on Sunday (1990), is one of my favourites.
Every Sunday morning my aunt would attend the morning mass, and whenever I stayed with her, she insisted that I go too.
But, after a few initial visits, I refused to go anymore.   However, my Aunt was unhappy (to say the least) and would refuse to speak to me for the best part of the day.
To avoid her ire, I would stay in bed until after she had left for mass; and then I would get up and enjoy the morning.
This picture is one that I took great pleasure in painting on one of these Sunday mornings.

'Lake Otmuchów, Opole', oil-painting by Helena Seget

‘Lake Otmuchów, Opole’ – oil on cardboard

My job at the university was to teach English to the staff, and, very kindly, they took me under their wing.
Polish people love to go off on trips into the countryside; and my late friend, Jacek Krawcynski, and his friends from Opole, invited me to join them on a few occasions.  I took my paints with me one time and painted this view of Lake Otmuchów, which is in the district of Opole.

'Rzedkowice, Silesia', pencil-drawing by Helena Seget

‘Rzedkowice, Silesia’

One of my last efforts in Poland, before returning to England, was this pencil on paper image of Rzędkowice, which is in Silesia.  It’s another view, this time from the Krawa Piątka (Fifth Edge’).  I drew it in September 1991.


It has been interesting looking back at these works. I’m even wondering if I should take painting up again.  However, I am so busy with my porcelain commissions, I don’t know how I’d find the time to start.

So… I shan’t have to make a decision on that for a while!

Pop-Up Shop at the 36-Lime-Street


At the weekend,  some of my porcelain work –  my notepads and shelves – will be on sale at the Pop-Up Shop at the 36-Lime-Street complex.
The shop has been organised by my friend Polly Westergaard of Y-I Designs; and features the work of a number of us designers including  Jamie Fry, Polly and myself.

It will be open Saturday 19th & Sunday 20th October (from 10am – 6pm both days).

It’s been set up to coincide with the bi-annual Northern Design Festival here in Newcastle – as you may have seen from publicity around the town.

I’m really looking forward to it. Polly is someone whose company I always enjoy, and I think she’s a talented designer too.
So, come rain or shine, I’m hoping to be enjoying myself! If you come along, please look for me; I hope to be around much of the time.

New work at the Late Shows

The recent Late Shows event, in mid-May, was really fun to take part in.
Lots and lots of people came along to look round the studios, including mine, at 36-Lime-Street, and I really enjoyed talking to everyone who visited.  Because the event always takes place in the evening, you see people you’d not usually see.
The idea is get the artists and general public to interact, instead of having the usual barriers, and it really worked.  I’m a great supporter of both this event, as well as a similar thing we do in the autumn called Open Studios.


My studio got quite crowded at times!

This year, there was also an exhibition – featuring the work of the makers at Lime Street – in the complex’s foyer.
Our enthusiastic curator, Maggie Walker, thought it would be good to theme it along the lines of responses to the ‘Arte Povera’ movement, which flourished in Italy in the 1960s.  She gave us a complete blank slate for creating our reactions to the ideas of Arte Povera, which was both challenging AND exciting for me.

Who’s Kidding Whom?

If you were one of those who came along on the Late Shows evenings, you may have noticed some artificial flowers embedded in the cracks along the pavement outside the studios building.
That was one of two such concepts I put together for the show, the other being a plot of rye-grass growing inside the main exhibition.


The plastic flowers lined the outside walls of the Lime Street complex

I thought it was a way to reflect Arte Povera ideas, because AP was very much an anti-consumerist movement.

On the one hand our demand for low prices for our food and other products encourages the manufacture of poor-quality, garish, artificial flowers.   Yet the natural appearance of the growing rye suggests something different – a purity or wholesomeness.


The rye sprouted very quickly, even in the exhibition space, it grew quite tall before we eventually took the show down

However, do these products actually differ?  They are both produced to maximise profits – even the rye is a commercially developed, thus ultra-economic, plant – and the result is the decimation of our natural environment.

And – can any of us honestly deny our own complicity in this consumer-led demand for quick, fast, cheap products?
Which is why I called the two works: ‘Who’s Kidding Whom’?

Birtley map on show soon

I received a lovely email recently from Yvonne, who chairs the Birtley Heritage Group.  Birtley is a small district near Gateshead, and has a thriving community sense, partly because of its mining past I suppose.

The group had asked me to work with them on producing a ‘map of Birtley memories’ – planned as a mix of the realities on the ground and of internalised impressions of the area. Psycho-geography, some call it. It was a fascinating project – which I thoroughly enjoyed working on with them -, and out of it came a porcelain tile-map (you can see in the picture below a detail from the map).


The group were so happy with the work – as were the Gateshead authorities – that plans soon were put in place to have it erected in the Birtley Library garden as a centre-piece there.

I have even been able to create an additional large tile (which depicts the members of the group) that is ready to be put up alongside it – so the whole installation will be a permanent tribute to the group as well as the district.

Because the work was finished off in my studio, I am looking after it, so I was daily expecting a call to take it over there to be installed.


However, the planning system is nothing if not complicated, and it has taken over twelve months to get approval for the project…

But – thank goodness! – Yvonne says she’s confident now that all the hurdles have been jumped, and we may even see the piece in place in the next few months.

It will look fabulous. Of that I’m sure.

Link: Birtley Landscape

Paw Print Tiles

It’s always nice to see one’s work turn up on review websites, but even I was surprised to see my ‘paw-print tiles’ turn up on a home-interiors publication in America.

My paw-print tiles were designed when I was working a while ago with a rat (a real rat).  I encouraged him to run across some wet clay, and the tiles were the result. They’re intended for bathroom or kitchen floors.


I even extended the idea to make it open to commission.  Some pet-owners liked the idea so much that they want to get me to work with their cats (for example) to produce personalised tiles.
I enjoy working with animals so I find creating this product a great deal of fun.


And now the Remodelista site has come across this work (I don’t know how!) and written a very favourable review. Thank you, Remodelista.

And then, in the way that these things do on the web, it was then picked up by an American animal-lovers site, Dogster   and an Australian blog, Sydney Life

Wow – international fame!

For more about my paw print tiles, see Helena Seget’s Paw Prints Page    

Coral by Bridget

There are a number of artists from this region whose work I admire, and one of them is Bridget Jones.

She works mainly in architectural glass; and her designs weave together image, pattern and colour.
 However, her interest in pattern also means that printmaking is an important part of what she does.

When we exhibited together, as a part of  a group, at The Granary last November (see my previous post titled ‘Berwick’s Burrell Collection‘), I really admired the way she had taken on the task set by the gallery.

In fact, to be honest, I so liked what she did – a lovely print on hand-made paper – that I had to have a copy myself. It was an extravagance, but, I thought, it was a sort of Christmas present to myself.


Bridget’s print is a way of responding to a detail in one of the Burrell Collection’s oldest paintings, The Lady in Black (c.1638). The detail that had fascinated Bridget was The Lady’s coral bracelet.
Coral is worn in many cultures to protect the wearer and ward off evil spirits.

In fact, in Chinese art coral is one of the eight ‘treasures’, symbolising longevity, good fortune and happiness. In the 18th and 19th centuries, coral was a very popular element in wallpaper and fabric design, and prints of coral were common.

Bridget’s print draws from images of coral and its structure. It takes colour as a central consideration, using greys, blacks and sombre tones along with skeletal trees and big horizons.

I’m very proud to have her work in my home.