Royal Academy of Arts – Picasso and Paper

Wow, what a lovely venue the Royal Academy of Arts is to work in. You can feel the history and the excellence in the air. So we were honoured to be approached by Creative Visual Consultant, Kate Henderson to work with her on the production and installation of graphics for the RA – Picasso and Paper exhibition. The show brings together more than 300 works on paper spanning the artist’s 80-year career.

The Graphical Tree’s part of the project was to provide expertise in realising Kate’s creative concept of using large-scale pieces across the designated RA spaces. This includes the graphical treatments of the grand stairwell, and applying a surrounding panoramic design to the large walls of the Vestibule room.

The stairwell and Vestibule room link the Royal Academy of Arts visitor entrance, Picasso and Paper exhibition space, and the RA retail store. The visitor journey starts as you step into Burlington House and ascend towards the exhibition, helping to make the experience an event in itself.

The concept for the grand staircase was to make each step feel like a stack of paper, stepping up to the Vestibule room, while ensuring the safety of individuals.

Public safety is paramount. Part of our role as specialist large format print and display suppliers is to advise on the best materials to use on a job – for duration of an event or campaign, as well as how graphics or signage might interact and effect the public.

Unfortunately, perhaps for this particular job at least, paper tears too easily. It’s also not a material that could be successfully applied to the curved and varied Burlington House stairs of the Royal Academy. Instead the steps were produced using a robust high-quality printable floor graphic substrate, applied with a secondary layer of anti-slip laminate.

The printed steps were trimmed to size at our production studio and collated before arriving at the RA. Each step was individually heat-wrapped to the surface, securing it safely to the floor. Applying graphics using heat is a time-consuming and skilled job, and much care was required to make sure the panels wrapped successfully around the curve of each step, and safely onto the flat surfaces. It is literally the process of warming the self-adhesive material so it is malleable and pliable enough to manoeuvre over an unusual surface – such as brick or stonework, for example.

In total, we produced 100 linear metres of floor graphics for this part of the installation.

Printed floor graphics for Royal Academy of Arts Picasso exhibition installed in London

The 5m high walls of the Vestibule were treated with collaged layers of eco-friendly, digitally printed, ready-pasted wallpaper. This material used is PVC-free and made using 10% post-consumer waste, whilst being manufactured using 100% renewable energy. The product is FSC certified, fire-rated and can easily installed and removed by just using water, and better still, it can be recycled after use. In addition to this, our printers use latex ink which is made up of 60% water. Latex is also completely biodegradable. You can read more about our environmentally friendly offerings here.

Because of the height of the room and the size of the printed graphic drops, we required a small scissor lift, large enough for a two-person crew to install the panels. Fortunately, we had a large clear floor space to lay out the panels and apply water to them before lifting them up into position for hanging.

This large room required 180 linear metres of printed wallpaper in total to complete the job. It takes a skilled set of installers to undertake a job like this, one that will get a lot of press and a large footfall of visitors. We do our best, on every occasion, to live up to our reputation of being a professional and competent graphics supplier and partner. All of the team’s skill and experience is used when fitting a job of this magnitude to ensure a fantastic-looking job at the end of the installation.

The whole installation of stair and wall graphics took an 8-person team 12 hours and was completed overnight from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. We think it was worth the effort.

Printed and installed wall graphics at the Royal Academy of Arts London

But, before all of that… there’s only way to start a project, and that’s with a conversation. After our initial introduction to Kate Henderson (who was introduced to us by fellow client The Invisible Man) we started one of many site visits to the RA to scope out the size of the job and the task at hand. This included discussing the creative concepts and how we might make them a reality for Kate and the Royal Academy of Arts.

One of the early site visits consisted of detailed measurement taking. This was especially important for the steps, which were all different heights and widths. There is also a set of protocols to adhere to with a venue like Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy. We need to make sure the history of the building is respected and the materials used do not damage the walls etc.

Once we were satisfied with the project brief and measurements, we were in a position to help create print-ready artwork from the creative concepts. We worked closely with our client on this, to make sure their vision was interpreted correctly. We were then ready to produce the printed graphics in a suitable way for the installers to fit correctly and efficiently.

Before the printing went into full swing we produced a number of colour tests, which we adjusted as required, before being signed off on-site at the RA in the actual light of the exhibition space. Once we have sign off, we start printing in a pre-allocated time slot, which has been prepped in advance during one of our regular studio production meetings. The final set of graphics are checked for quality, size and the correct number of panels, before being collated and packaged up ready for delivery and installation.

the graphical tree large format printing for picasso and paper production

And to sign off, how about a bit of fun supplied to us generously by the Royal Academy of Arts. They made this time-lapse video of the stair installation, with suitable music included. It’s been speeded up quite considerably, as you’ll see, considering the whole job took 12 hours to undertake.

If you have a project you’d like to discuss with us, whether it’s a large gallery production or a smaller job, we’d be happy to hear from you. Drop us a message at or call the studio on 020 7580 4405.

Picasso Royal Academy of Arts printed and installed wall graphics

Time-lapse footage courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts © Royal Academy of Arts 2020

Installation photography by Simon Jarratt

Kate Henderson can be found here

Additional creative production and initial introduction to Kate was by our friend The Invisible Man