Friday, 30 September 2016

Educational Posters for NZ kids

Growing up with prints of famous paintings on the walls at home should be considered part of our parental responsibility of bringing up kiwi kids who are culturally well-rounded. There is something about living alongside famous artworks everyday that makes them not just familiar but understood. Seeing a print everyday is a different and more resonant level of engagement than swiping through images from the internet, where initial impact is all important rather than a lingering contemplation.

However art education prints are not the only wall art available for kids rooms, kiwiana is big too as it features icons of kiwi childhood like buzzy bees, jet planes and playground rocket ships, often now remixed into something more than just nostalgic Pakeha recycling, what we are calling post or neo kiwiana where the artistic conversation with NZ's past moves beyond just nostalgia and the appropriation of commercial motifs.

NZ Map in the Maori language
Educational poster for 4-12 year olds
The kiwiana ABC poster released a few years ago has made us realise that our range of educational posters should not just be limited to art education as we all like to put some basic learning resources on the walls when the kids are young, maps in the bathroom, a counting poster by the potty in our family's case. When we researched the publishers selling educational posters designed for NZ children we realised that with about twenty titles specifically made for kiwi parents to buy we could add a purely educational strand to our collection of kid orientated wall art pretty easily. Thanks to publishers like Huia we now have the first of these posters arriving in our kids collection, starting with two cool new NZ and world maps in Te Reo by Wellington artist, designer and illustrator Josh Morgan.

I will be adding pictures and links to this article shortly, writing this away from the office in the midst of the drizzliest school holidays in living memory and my kids only have so much tolerance for Dad using the iPad for work (but expect me to leave them in total peace if it is their turn on devices!).

And here we have the illustration that was supposed to accompany this post "Toko Whenua: Aotearoa", a large (A1 size) poster of NZ with all place names and places of interest in te reo Maori.  It's a fun learning resource for families, schools and pre-schools with eye catching illustrations designed to inspire kiwi children to learn more about the country they live in and increase their Maori language skills as the name and talk about the features of different places.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Ends of lines - editions about to sell out

What is our Endangered Prints gallery all about?

When customers were first able to buy prints online from NZ Fine Prints back in 1999 one of the first galleries we created almost on a whim (and definitely with a whimsical name) has become one of the most frequently visited pages at - up there with NZ's currently top selling prints and what's new most months in page views.  It's rather odd name (endangered prints) has stuck so perhaps the high traffic to this collection is due to the puzzling listing on our galleries page being clicked on by curious first time visitors!

Quite simply the endangered prints gallery lets print buyers know which prints are in danger of selling out. 

When we sold through mail order catalogue pre internet this impending deletion/selling out was impossible to convey, so we would have to drop a print completely from our range if we forecast that there wasn't enough stock to cover sales expected for the length of time that the catalogue was current. 

Some customers find it curious that both limited and open edition prints can go out of print - and ask why can't we just print some more if the print is not from a limited edition?  So in this article we'll talk about how both kinds of prints become endangered and then at the end of the post you will find our list of prints that have made it onto this list over the past couple of months.  It's a cliche but true when we say to please buy now to avoid disappointment...

Limited Edition Prints

About to sell out - Tony Ogle's Anaura Bay print
Editions by their very nature are not going to be available forever.  NZ's most successful printmakers long term - for instance Tony Ogle, Dick Frizzell & Shane Hansen - keep a balance in the market between new artworks being made and older editions selling out.  This is a seperate issue from "edition size creep" where printmakers with sold out editions early on sometimes begin to increase edition sizes to a number that is simply too big for the New Zealand market to absorb over a reasonable length of time (in our view 2-3 years).  Top NZ printmakers like the artists above produce 2-5 new editions a year and sell out a similar number of earlier editions annually (see for instance a list of Tony's sold out editions by year here). This means the market for their work is kept in balance, preserving both the purchasers investment and keeping the artist's income at level that sustains their art practice.  This is not an artificial way of squeezing supply - making a large print takes weeks and even months after all - it just prevents an overhang of unsold prints developing over time if supply is greater than demand.

We have found that there is a U shaped demand for original limited edition prints.  There is high demand at the beginning, collectors of an artist's work are keen to add the new print to their collection, sometimes a scramble to secure a favourite edition number from the edition and simply the fact that you can be the first to have a cool new print on your wall drives early sales.  In the middle of the sales cycle print sales will settle down to a regular (and surprisingly steady) monthly sales figure until around 80% of the edition is sold out.  Then demand rises steeply, higher than at the beginning of the limited edition sales cycle, as buyers who have been pondering a purchase are forced to make up their minds and the very fact that this edition is proving it will sell out brings the more financially minded collector to the party.  When we are down to less than 5% of the edition being available the print goes into the endangered gallery.  Some artists increase the price as the edition starts to sell out too!  Knowing which prints are going to sell out creates real value for our customers and we are adding new limited edition prints to the endangered gallery every few weeks. 

Open Edition Prints

Reproduction prints also sell out.  Although technically they can be re-printed there are actually a host of reasons why this may not happen with a particular image. In no particular order...
  1. Most people who want a print of painting x by artist y now own the print and it is not economic to re-print again. The NZ market is tiny, short print runs are the order of the day.  However printed offset a print may still be printed in a run of 300+ prints.  Selling one a week for six years will probably meet the demand for a reproduction of a painting by most NZ artists.  
  2. The artist's contract with a publisher has expired, not been renewed or suddenly ended in acrimony!  Commercial publishers pay artists a royalty on each print sold (not the number printed), traditionally these were offset prints done in longish runs (up to 1000) and contracts stipulated that the publisher could keep selling prints until all physical stock was sold. However with digital (or print on demand) production when the contract (between 1-3 years) comes to an end for whatever reason the tap turns off pretty quickly.  We might have just one print left - or a pile on the shelf if it's a good seller - but either way we'll put the image into the endangered collection as we can't re-order it anymore.  This doesn't mean that the prints are suddenly more valuable, collectable etc, we are just signalling to print buyers that this image is about to go out of print - just like a book - and won't be available again unless it's on the secondary market (eg Trademe or auction).  It usually won't be available again and even in the rare cases the same image is re-printed later by another NZ publisher the format can change significantly between printings. For instance Mickey to Tiki has been printed in four different iterations, all in slightly different sizes and on changeable paper stock since it was first printed by the Christchurch Art Gallery from a print in their collection, followed by Image Vault (who dropped the 5/50 edition number that had been on the original print and was fatefully included on the initial reproduction), then Dick's World (they added the title and artist in the Frizzell font below the image and changed to a lighter paper stock) and soon it will be published by 100 Percent NZ as an A2 poster.
  3. We lose touch with an artist.  Yes, this happens even in the age of Facebook and LinkedIn!  We might purchase from our less mainstream suppliers as little as once a year, then when we re-order the artist has retired, moved or even passed away.  Then all the prints we have left from this artist are moved into the endangered category. 
  4. Publishers and distributors close down.  In just the last couple of years NZ has lost Thorndon Fine Prints and Stanford Arts.  We try and buy at least a couple of years supply of stock if we know this is about to happen but eventually we start to run out and the prints go onto the endangered list. Sometimes an artist whose work has been distributed by another company (like Timo) will get in touch, other times we just have to delete the print from our catalogue if we can't find a contact (we'd love to hear from you Ingrid Banwell).
  5. A self-published artist changes their mind about having prints made.  When a visitor to an artist's studio likes a painting but doesn't actually want to buy it a polite way to say no is for the prospective purchaser to say "if only there was a print of it,  then I'd buy one of those instead".  A few people saying this does not mean that there is demand large enough to make a print run viable. An artist can produce a few (expensive due to the small print run) test prints and find that these do not sell as fast as they expected.  The price is too high and their work perhaps not well known for a visitor to NZ Fine Prints to search for them by name.  Unless the subject has a wide appeal a print can get lost amongst 2500+ titles in stock and the artist loses heart and doesn't continue beyond the few prints initially sold.  Not all artists are as downcast as one who asked us to withdraw stock in July (despite us still having a few prints to sell) and then delete his name from our catalogue as "I have had a hard time being an artist and I don't think I will go down that line too often now.  I am so sorry but it is art that does not like me."!
  6. The print is deleted by the publisher for unknown reasons.  This is frustrating for us, particularly if the print is a good seller.  For non-NZ artwork we can usually find another supplier eventually, for instance we are out of Durer's "Hare" and Breughel's "Tower of Babel" after our Italian publisher deleted these ever popular prints from their catalogue but we should be able to substitute these with the same image from a publisher in the UK shortly.   For a NZ artist this is usually the end of the road - however we will actually publish a print ourselves if we think that something should be available even if it is not a mainstream commercial print (eg C.F. Goldie's famous portrait "A Good Joke" or Colin McCahon's key work "Northland Panels").
  7. The print is no longer available in all formats.  This is becoming an issue, an
    Canvas art print no more - paper version only
    artist may withdraw a print on canvas, but keep a print on fine art paper in production.  For instance painter Graham Young's kiwiana scenes such as his popular print of Auckland's Garnet Rd Dairy will only be available on paper going forward (despite the canvas version selling 10 to 1 compared to the paper version). We wonder if this is due to artists whose original paintings do not sell for much more than a stretched canvas print finding the competition from virtually indistinguishable reproductions a tough sell - particularly if they work with acrylic paints as they are really hard to tell apart from a printed reproduction.

Here is the list of prints that have had to be added to our endangered gallery over July and August.  The number of prints available to buy is the quantity we had in stock at 24 August 2016.  Link now broken? The print has sold out. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Alan Taylor 1933-2016, artist and writer. An obituary by Alister Taylor.

This post is by publisher and writer Alister Taylor (no relation to Alan). We were honoured to be sent this obituary by Alister for publication - Alister Taylor has always been one of our publishing heroes,  a pioneer in treading the entrepreneurial tightrope between art and commerce who created a body of work that's shaped NZ's cultural landscape of today.

Alan Taylor, one of New Zealand’s significant but virtually unknown artists and writers, has died. He was 83. He died in obscurity, destitute, ravaged by emphysema from a lifetime of heavy chain-smoking, still recovering from an earlier stroke. Even the art dealers and auctioneers who sold his work didn’t know of his death until I told them today. Nor did his friends. When I told Sophie Coupland, Director of Art at the resurgent Mossgreen-Webb’s in Auckland today, she said “Poor old soul.”

Born in the UK, Taylor served in the Korean War (1950-1953) as a young British soldier in the combined Commonwealth forces (British, Canadian, Indian, Australian and New Zealand), along with South Korean and American forces, against the North Korean and Chinese armies. He was taken prisoner and served several years in North Korean and Chinese POW camps, where he endured prolonged sessions of attempted brainwashing, a near starvation diet, disease and negligible medical assistance. More than 40% of Commonwealth and US POWs died in captivity. In 1953 the US Department of Defence claimed that more than 900 US prisoners remained in captivity after the North and the Chinese said all prisoners had been released. The South Koreans claimed there were 55,000 to 65,000 of their troops still being held by the North Koreans. Indeed in 1994, 41 years after the war ended, a South Korean soldier escaped from captivity in North Korea and over the next 20 years a further 78 former South Korean POWs escaped from North Korea. South Korea still claims the North has 565 prisoners from that long-ago war.

Scarred horribly from his POW experiences, Taylor was stunned by the negative reaction he and his fellow POWs were met with on their repatriation to Britain after their release. British army authorities suspected them of being converts to communism – the result of the “brainwashing” -- and they were shunned by the military and many of their former friends. Taylor took his first opportunity to escape and arrived at Auckland Airport at Mangere where he got as far as the local marae and fell in love with one of the Maori maidens there.

I first became familiar with Alan’s quirky naïve work when he began to send me cartoons for several magazines I had published: “Affairs” magazine for schools in 1969, the NZ edition of “Rolling Stone” in 1972, “The NZ Whole Earth Catalogue” in 1972, 1975 and 1977 and “The New Zealander” from 1981. Alan also sent his cartoons and drawings to others involved in the publishing process, including editors of student newspapers among whom was the barrister Hugh Rennie CBE, QC when he was editor of “Salient” and later at the “National Business Review”.

Alan lived on his minute army pension and became immersed in Maori art and travelled around New Zealand, visiting marae, meeting Maori informants who could teach him Maori history and art and photographing meeting houses. He was particularly interested in kowhaiwhai rafter patterns and many of the primitive colonial and post colonial period carvings. He was probably the first European to appreciate them and the first to describe them as “Maori folk art”.

Alan wrote frequently and was widely published, often in obscure publications but also by prestigious university presses in Hawaii and North America. His pioneering book “Maori Folk Art” is now a rarity and much sought after; it was first published in Hawaii and internationally and then in a much expanded edition in New Zealand by a long-gone English imprint Century Hutchinson in 1988. His 1966 book “The Maori Builds: Life, Art and Architecture from Moahunter Days” was published locally by Whitcombe and Tombs. His smaller publications, “The Maori Warrior”, “Maori Warfare”, “Maori Tattooing”, “Maori Clothing” and “Maori Weaving” were all published by Brigham Young University in USA but deserve a local collection of their own.

Alan was an avid protester and was always creating cartoons and images of protest: on the threat of nuclear war, against apartheid, against the Vietnam war, against All Black tours to South Africa and on the perils of allowing South African immigrants and the racial ideals they would bring with them to New Zealand. He gave me a set of unique water-colours – small works devoted to notable New Zealand artists, but they are so obscene I hesitate to hang any of them except in the lavatory; toilet humour.

He was always trading his current bits and pieces for survival and even when paid handsomely for his paintings or his acquisitions the money disappeared within a day or two. I remember him selling an ancient and beautiful ceremonial greenstone adze for several tens of thousands of dollars, but the next week he seemed as broke as ever.

His paintings were pointillist, primitive and powerful; they vibrated with colour. Many of them related to historic Maori incidents which he had researched intimately, others were of his favourite fish, the pukeko, hills, native bush, historic locations or legendary and Maori characters such as Captain Cook, Hongi Hika and Hone Heke. He gave my friend a beautiful painting of a teddy bear for his son Silas on his birth. Alan had a tender heart.

Alan was also a gentle character and a very generous man. Once I received a gift from him – a metal tin in the post in which lay a large greenstone tiki of the great Bay of Plenty chief Hori Pokai, who was painted by Goldie. Attached to it was Pokai’s gold watch-chain and a silver shield engraved with his name. Alan knew of my connection to Goldie and the books I’d written about him and thought I would appreciate the tiki.

For a time, almost every week, a cartoon or Alan Taylor drawing would flutter through the post. Whenever he knew I’d moved house or location he would send me a painting related to the new place I lived – Kororareka/Russell, the British destruction of Pomare’s pa opposite Opua while Pomare himself was a guest on board a British naval ship, Mount Hobson, Auckland -- all inscribed on the back with a suitable quotation and history of the place or of related identities such as Hongi Hika, Kawiti, Pomare I and Governor Hobson.

When Alan went to hospital in his final illness his son Fetulaki and his mates cleaned out Alan’s rooms up the stairs in Dominion Road in an area he had lived for decades. There is nothing left there to remember him.

For much of his life Alan’s paintings sold for less than a thousand dollars, rarely above $1500. Now that he’s gone, these exquisite and colourful records of our past will undoubtedly soar in value as the naïve gems left by colourful characters such as Alan Taylor so often do.

Alister Taylor

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Picture framing - layout options for online product pages

Framed print - black boxframe style - (Rita Angus' Cass)
Eagle eyed shoppers at may have noticed that along with the good folks over at our long time ecommerce partners Miva NZ Fine Prints have been testing several different layouts of online product pages over recent months.

Testing Picture Framing Options

As we move onto Miva's next generation responsive ecommerce platform our user experience team are working out the clearest way of showing the different mounting and framing options available on prints that we stock on the new responsive page template designs.

(It feels like we have been testing framing options on all our prints for so long, partly this is due to working on the behind the scenes systems to be able to frame (or stretch canvas prints) in a timely and efficient manner after we had our physical premises much reduced in size following our post earthquakes relocation to a different part of Christchurch.)

We also have not been able to resolve whether each main product page should have the same basic layout or if we should have three templates (for reproduction prints/posters, original prints and canvas prints).  The split testing on our site was designed to resolve this question as well.

A core belief is that we don't want to interrupt customers browsing the site for artwork with cross-sell demands where they are prompted to frame prints before they can checkout.   We have thousands of happy customers who have been content to purchase their prints directly without NZ Fine Prints necessarily framing their order as well.  Our aim is to offer a standard frame that suits the artwork rather than a custom frame with a multitude of options for a customer to configure.  We don't want to offer much beyond a good quality relatively timeless style of frame in black, white or natural timber.

For customers who want hundreds of options of moulding type, mat colour and framing styles we can't recommend custom framing heartily enough.  Having your prints laid out in a framing studio with framing samples in front of you means you can see both colour and relative size of the framing components in relation to your art print or poster.  We support the custom framing industry in NZ to the tune of millions of dollars annually and are only offering framing to cater for the percentage of customers we have identified who only want to purchase artworks ready to hang (an obvious customer is someone purchasing a gift).

Custom Framing still recommended for the majority of customers

Custom framing means that you can match an artwork more closely to the room where the print is going.  Since artworks are no longer built into the physical fabric of the room (yes, pictures were originally placed in built in frames and were part of the actual wall! We've written previously about the surprisingly fascinating history of picture frames back in 2010) we think there is greater value in placing most emphasis on the frame's relationship to the picture than to its surroundings as a picture can be moved multiple times or go through several re-decorations over the typical life of a modern (long life ink) reproduction print.

Our conclusions & what's left to do before rolling out framing on every print site wide

Thanks to all our customers who have feed back on the different designs.  We have decided to have just one product page template for both art canvas and paper prints, the mounting options will be referred to as "Framing Options" even if the "framing" is actually stretching a canvas print around an internal wooden stretcher frame.  It just seems to cause less confusion than using technical words like "unstretched" and "stretched",  awkward when a customer orders a canvas print that arrives carefully rolled in a tube rather than ready to hang if that was what they were expecting - or vice versa a gift being taken on the plane abroad is not rolled in a tube but in a rather large and cumbersome box!

We have some minor work to be done around a new mini FAQ that will go onto every product page plus a bit of programming behind the scenes to manage and inform the delivery timeframes on framed prints - we won't be carrying all the prints in stock pre-framed! Delivery timeframes should be less than 10 days for a framed print around NZ, a pretty quick turnaround but not like our standard delivery of 3-5 days nationwide.  There is also the issue of delivering framed prints outside NZ in a cost effective manner, unless the print has very large overall dimensions we can physically ship the order but the cost of air freight - particularly to the US and Europe - is pretty daunting.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

That's how we roll - packaging prints for delivery

Artists submitting work for the first time often ask "Do you want me to send my consignment of prints flat?". Customers are curious to know if prints are delivered rolled up or flat too, but nothing beats the intensity of discussion on this topic when two print retailers start talking about which is best!

Print with giftwrap and Airmail packaging
For the record NZ Fine Prints deliver prints carefully rolled in large cardboard mailing tubes.  This is despite NZ Post dropping their long-standing cylinder rate which meant we used to be able to deliver nationwide using their extensive network at a price less than the equivalent volumetric ticket.

[Framed prints have cardboard corner protectors added to the corners of the frames, the glass is faced with cushion foam board, with each picture wrapped in bubblewrap, then encased in corrugated cardboard and then another final layer of bubblewrap.]

Why have we chosen to roll prints rather than send them flat?  Long experience has taught us that a cylinder is stronger packaging.  The downside of rolling prints can be mitigated but flat packages are more easily bent or folded by the courier which means we have to replace the damaged prints more often than the rare occasion one of 3mm wall thickness tubes are run over.  Although it costs more to send (Airmail is calculated by weight) we use thicker and heavier tubes than those sold by some stationery companies as being suitable for posters or prints in stores (or in Post Shops for that matter). We like to say when asked about how strong our tubes are that they are the same type of tubes that were used to build Christchurch's famous cardboard cathedral!

ChCh's transitional cathedral built with mailing tubes like ours!
The two drawbacks of rolling prints are that the paper can be creased and the prints can be difficult to remove from the tube once they are delivered to a customer.  Avoiding creasing the prints comes down to three things, not rolling the prints too tightly (which means using mailing tubes of a sufficient diameter that the prints are not rolled into an unnecessarily small bundle), rolling the prints gently on a soft surface (we use carpet) and rolling with the grain of the paper, not across it.  The last one is the most critical and you can test this for yourself quite easily.  Take a piece of paper and attempt to roll it in one direction, then turn it 90 degrees and roll it the other way.  One way will be easier, the paper will feel floppier or softer to turn - rolling in the other direction you will feel a resistance - rolling this way against the grain of the paper can easily result in creasing of the paper that is difficult to fix as the fibres of the paper will actually break.

The second trick is to make prints easy to remove from the packaging.  We wrap the roll of prints in acid free tissue paper - that way they slide out of the tube.  Rolling a print or poster and dropping it into the tube without wrapping the prints means they spring open and line the inside of the cylinder.  This makes them difficult to remove from the package unless you are very careful and have lots of practice at reaching into the tube, holding the inside corner of the prints very tightly and gently twisting the contents so they contract into a smaller roll inside the tube before sliding the prints out of the tube.  This works but it's very easy to tear a corner off one of the prints if the wrong amount of pressure is applied, especially if the print is on a heavy but delicate cotton rag substrate.

One of the great things about our business is we are able to recycle nearly all our packaging for incoming prints from artists and publishers.  We get some pretty crazy boxes and recycled oddments like downpipes (spouting) and once found an artist's child had stashed a pair of underpants in the tube when Dad wasn't looking!  Most artists pack their prints with love as we will send back any prints that come in that have not been packaged to arrive in perfect condition.

The weirdest packaging for prints we have ever seen was when our sales manager purchased some exhibition posters designed by a well known NZ artist from the Auckland Art Gallery a few years ago.  She asked them to please ship them down to NZ Fine Prints as there were too many to take back with her on the plane.  The posters duly arrived in Christchurch a few days later a sad and crumpled mess. The shop assistant had rolled each poster into a plastic sleeve then popped them in a paper shopping bag with a courier ticket on the outside!