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!

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Maps as art in your home - the full interview

Maps as art in your home feature in "Weekend"
Over Anzac weekend there was an interview published by NZ House & Garden magazine editor Sally Duggan in Weekend magazine. She spoke to Antony Ellis here at NZ Fine Prints about the trend for using maps in interior decoration.

Below is the full transcript of the interview which has bit more detail than the edited version that appeared in the magazine. We have also illustrated this interview with a couple of the maps Antony mentions and of course linked to the actual maps that are for sale in our online catalogue.

SD How long has your business been going for? Can you give me a brief history....

AE NZ Fine Prints have been NZ's specialist art print retailer since 1966, it's our 50th birthday this year! Back in the 1960s New Zealanders were becoming much more aware of our unique visual culture and naturally began looking to our own artists to decorate their homes and offices. In 1969 it was the bicentenary of Cook's rediscovery of New Zealand, we published a large folio focussed on Cook's artists in the Pacific so we were publishing historical maps and charts almost right from the beginning.

Until the earthquakes NZ Fine Prints were in characterful 1880s era double brick warehouses in Hereford St in central Christchurch, we spent over $100k trying to keep our much loved buildings together after the first quakes but this was a hopeless task after February. Our gallery was behind the cordon and under the tilting Grand Chancellor hotel so it was a couple of months before we were given just six hours to load all our prints into trucks and shipping containers. After a mammoth job of sorting everything we then transferred all our prints to our new stockroom in Cashmere. We would have gone straight back into the CBD but the government confiscated our land for the green frame and we now probably won't ever return to the central city as the internet is much more important than foot traffic for a nationally focussed business like ours and post-quakes Cashmere has become a very lively and convivial part of town to work in!

SD What percentage of your business is online/remote sales vs instore sales?
AE Because we'd always used mail order catalogues to reach customers outside of Christchurch the shift to online retail back in 1999 was an easy step, we now have hundreds of visitors to prints.co.nz each week and pretty much only see thrifty Christchurch customers who would like to save $6 on delivery in store. With 80,000 prints on shelves or framed in boxes for shipping it is not a very exciting retail experience if someone just wants to browse!

Our largest markets are Auckland and Wellington followed by kiwis living overseas with a significant growth in Christchurch due to the rebuild - but only in the last 18 months as people nearly always leave buying new artworks til absolutely everything else in the home or office is finished.

SD What proportion of your print sales are maps? Has this changed over the years?
AE Maps are what's known as an "evergreen" product, consistently making up around 5% of the NZ print market year in year out with periodic spikes in interest. Before the most recent upsurge in maps' popularity sales last peaked during the America's Cup when it was held in NZ which created an interest in all things nautical. We always have a uptick in sales around Christmas but the big secret for map retailers is the phenomenal sales coming up to Father's Day each year, it's amazing how common your Dad's unique interest in old maps is!

SD What are your top selling maps? Has this changed ?
AE A large clear wall poster of New Zealand is a completely practical purchase in an office or school
NZ Map (Large Poster Version)
environment, we sell a lot of $29.95 posters that are simply pinned on the wall as a staff or student reference. But the majority of our maps are bought as wall decoration. But there is a dimension to a map that takes it beyond just being decorative. I have a map of the South Pacific above the bath at home, sure it's decorative but my 8 and 10 year old have an instinctive geographical centre to their sense of who they are just because they have looked at this map nearly every day of their lives. A map resonates and connects like this with the viewer over time, you value it more deeply the longer you have it as you invest more meaning simply by your changing relationship with the map, perhaps as a result of visiting some of the places on it or by learning more about the explorer's journey around the coastline.

Maps are the super dependable gift, we have customers buying maps for the work leaving gifts nearly every day, for instance someone heading overseas after a stint at the NZ branch office. Also as soon as you get a lease on the flat in London Mum & Dad send a NZ map to remind you of home!

The great thing from a business point of view is that guys who aren't "into art" at all are ok with maps. Maps are sometimes the only decoration a traditional kiwi guy feels comfortable getting enthusiastic about when it comes to choosing interior decoration!

Sometimes we like to suggest having a map in the mix of prints for a house because they are a grounded counterpoint to fluffier frills and fripperies. A map will help balance interiors if all the other decoration choices are being made by the female half of a traditional household which still seems a surprisingly common practice.

A map creates a sense of place, a context, and design wise a map or two sits happily with every style of interior decoration, if you look around every NZ home or office will have a place that's perfect for a map!

​SD Maps are turning up in all sorts of decorative incarnations (lampshades/ desk coverings etc). Do you sell maps to people for craft projects?
AE Incredibly versatile printing technology is amazingly widespread in NZ and the capacity to produce far outstrips the demand for traditional printed products. There are printers making really creative products by printing on fabric, steel and wood, personally I'd be tempted by a rug that's a topographical map of the South Island, that would be pretty cool to look at and educational for the kids to boot. Although we sell maps designed to go on the wall we happily sell maps for use behind splashbacks or to be displayed under glass on a coffee table, other people cut old maps up to embed into decorative jewellery like brooches.

SD Anything else interesting or diverting to tell me?
AE There are several different versions (by different cartographers) of the classic Cook's chart of New Zealand showing Banks Peninsula as an island and Stewart Island attached to the mainland. The
Classic Captain Cook Map of NZ
most decorative are by the Italian map-maker Antonio Zatta and the French Cassini family of atlas publishers, illustrated with tiny scenes or vignettes that are sometimes wildly fanciful depictions of New Zealand by someone who is relying on second hand accounts of what NZ and its people were actually like! The most popular map from Cook's voyages has always been the "Bayly" version [shown at right], it's not that decorative (it doesn't even have a decorative title or emblem which are known as cartouche) but all the place names are in English & Maori, it's accessible.

We recommend having a map framed with a warm white mat board and a natural colour timber frame, a wedge shape frame is traditional, or go for a square white frame with a white mat if you have a contemporary interior design. Either way a map will give you decades of enjoyment in a multiplicity of settings as you move house or office over they years which means they are ridiculously great value.

Maps are a very social artwork - they give people something to look at together and chat about for a few minutes! An art work that can help break the ice between people who don't each other well because location and history will either be something they have in common or a starter for ten about where they come from.

Aside from decoration maps are a uniquely functional artwork, you can put a map in a specific space to serve a practical purpose. A detailed map absorbs people's attention for a few minutes while they wait at reception, or by the bar or in the loo!

SD I think this is everything I need! Many many thanks Antony. Will call later if I think of anything else.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Collecting prints from NZ Fine Prints? An update.

Running a business in Christchurch as the city rebuilds is a challenge.  It's exciting seeing the new buildings going up and houses finally being repaired.  However the constant noise is wearing, roadworks droning on from streets away all day for weeks at a time, our new neighbour is having seemingly endless stone walls built, the tink, tink, tink of hammers and the snarl of stone cutting saws 8-6 six days a week for the past six months.

Forced to relocate from the central city to Cashmere by the government's confiscation of our gallery's land for the "green frame" (now being developed by Fletcher's for housing) we now relish the 21st century way of doing business close to home.  It seems like this is the way of the future for a specialised niche business that sells over the internet rather than through a traditional retail store (NZFP's roots are in mail order, not retail).

Post earthquake street art outside NZ Fine Prints' new home
Just after NZ Fine Prints arrived at 139 Hackthorne Rd a previous neighbour called the council about Jason Kelly's "Greenzone" artwork on the plywood fence around our collapsed garage which they thought was too big for a "business sign" in our part of town. CCC officials then came out, said "Greenzone" was (of course!) a piece of street art rather than a non-complying sign and they checked out that NZ Fine Prints complied with their regulations (employee numbers, selling online etc). They assured us that our business model fitted in with the pre-earthquake city plan and in fact, given our size and the reality that our customers purchased online rather than in store, we didn't even need a special post earthquake 5 year resource consent that some businesses had to apply for.

Today we've had another neighbour on our shared driveway concerned about someone coming in to pick up a print they had ordered and parking for a few minutes in a shared area common to our three properties.

Until we have our top garage rebuilt (which we are going to use for pickups and courier deliveries directly from Hackthorne Rd) we'd like to ask that customers collecting prints park at the top of our long drive and walk down if they are able to.  A little bit of extra consideration that will help us harmoniously coexist with our neighbours until we get our top garage re-built which will move all business traffic off the driveway completely. Yes, we are still waiting for our insurance company to get on with our claim five years after the quakes - but we are confident this will be completed by the end of 2016. Thanks.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Dumont D'Urville's artists & their prints of NZ

 Early NZ lithograph "L'Astrolabe in French Pass" 
Within the range of early New Zealand prints, there are no better or more significant French prints than those published after two voyages of L'Astrolabe under the command of Dumont D'Urville. His records are as important in their way as Cook's, and the prints published in the Atlas to each voyage are among the finest New Zealand prints.

Published at a time when French lithography was at its peak, they are superb examples of both artistic and accurate recording and the highest technical proficiency in drawing on stone. Originally published in black-and-white, many plates are now found hand-coloured, and it is believed some volumes were coloured for the publisher.

Dumont D'Urville was an extraordinarily talented man, with a wide range of interests. He had entered the French Navy in 1807 as a midshipman, and passed his examinations in navigation and mathematics to gain first place among 72 successful candidates. Simultaneously, for his own interest, he was studying Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, to which he would later add Spanish and Italian. His other great love was botany, and after an application to join Freycinet on Uranie was unsuccessful, he spent all available time studying botany and amassing a very large and important collection of plants.

In 1820 Dumont D'Urville sailed on his first voyage, a nine-month cruise in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea as an assistant in hydrographical research. He was present at Melos when the Venus de Milo was discovered, and it was through his influence that the statue was purchased for the Louvre.

The following year, promoted to Lieutenant, Dumont D'Urville at last set sail for the Pacific, with Duperrey aboard Coquille. The events of the period of almost three years that Coquille was away from France left a profound impression on Dumont D'Urville, and he could scarcely wait for his next chance to go to the South Seas. In addition to his duties as executive officer, he had been responsible for the zoological and botanical records, and later published accounts on these subjects earned him high praise.

L'Astrolabe: First Voyage, 1826-1829
Promoted to the rank of Commander in November, 1825, and commissioned to Coquille the following month, Dumont D'Urville began the long preparations for his own great scientific voyage. His instructions were to sail via the Canary Islands, round Cape Horn, to visit Australia and New Zealand before exploring further in the South Pacific, and to return to France via the Indian Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope. Even the dates for the various stages of the voyage were prescribed, though they were to prove very difficult to maintain.

Coquille was renamed L'Astrolabe for the voyage, and sailed in April 1826. Among those aboard were Lesson, the botanist, Barthelemy Lauvergne, Dumont D'Urville's secretary, whose artistic talent was pressed into service to record many zoological specimens; and young Louis Auguste de Sainson, the expedition's official artist, who was later to become a permanent clerk to the Admiralty.

L'Astrolabe spent almost three months on the New Zealand coast, moving from the north of the South Island up the entire east coast of the North Island. The expedition members were tireless in their recording: a report published after their return to Paris states (of the whole cruise): "There are a great many drawings designed to show the character of places, the types of men living in them, their costumes, arms, dwellings, etc.: eight hundred and sixty in all. We owe them to M.de Sainson.  If. . . we add four hundred views of the coast drawn by M. Lauvergne, the total number . . . will reach twelve hundred and sixty-six . . . [there is also a] fine collection of portraits of the natives which comprises one hundred and fifty-three figures . . . this collection calls for special attention . . ."

From New Zealand L'Astrolabe went to New Guinea and in February 1828 to Vanikoro, where the remains of La Perouse's ships were definitely identified. L'Astrolabe returned to France in March 1829.

Dumont D'Urville's pride and pleasure in the accomplishments of his expedition turned to dismay and bitterness when the Admiralty refused any recognition of the work of his officers and men: indeed, he charged the Admiralty with "indifference" and could not accept their lack of interest and support.

Over the next four years Dumont D'Urville himself wrote the entire text of the five volumes of narrative of the voyage of L'Astrolabe, and in 1835 saw the completion of publication of the whole account — twelve volumes of text and five albums. The Atlas included 32 superb New Zealand views.

L'Astrolabe: Second Voyage, 1837-1840
Dumont D'Urville's third Pacific voyage began in September 1837 when L'Astrolabe, in company La Zelee, sailed from Toulon. He was 47 years old, and the new expedition was both hazardous and arduous: these ships were to explore the South Polar region.
Print of Stars & Stripes flying over Russell in 1840

L'Astrolabe and La Zelee spent the months from January to March 1838 exploring in the Antarctic, discovering and naming Louis Philippe Land in honour of the King, and drawing many maps and charts which were forwarded from Valparaiso in May. The period to December 1839 was spent among the Pacific islands, but in January 1840, Dumont D'Urville took his ships south again into the ice, and the names of Adelie Land (for his wife) and the Clarie Coast (for the wife of Captain Jacquinot of La Zelee) were among those added to the polar maps.

From March to May 1840 Dumont D'Urville revisited New Zealand, approaching from the south and passing Stewart Island before again sailing up the east coast. The artist on this occasion was Louis Le Breton, a surgeon and naturalist, and gifted painter who was later to exhibit at the Paris Salon.

L'Astrolabe and La Zelee returned to Toulon in November 1840, and this time Dumont D'Urville had no cause to complain of "indifference". He was awarded the Gold Medal of the Geographical Society, and was promoted to Rear-Admiral, while his officers and men received awards from the King.

For the next two years Dumont D'Urville worked on the preparation and publication of the account of the voyage, and two volumes had appeared when, in May 1842, he, his wife, and their only child, were burned to death in a disastrous train wreck. The third volume of Voyage au Pole Sud was written by the expedition's geographer, Vincendon-Dumoulin. One of the prints included in this volume was “Entry to the Bay of Islands New Zealand” that has been republished by Thorndon Fine Prints. This shows the American flag of the time flying from the flagstaff later made famous by Hone Heke on Flagstaff Hill near Russell and is now available for sale online here.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Stanford Arts closes - end of an era for NZ art print distributor

For the last twenty years the name Stanford Harts/Arts has been part of the art print distribution scene here in NZ.

Originally this wholesale art print distribution business - publishing the "N.Z. Art Prints" New Zealand prints catalogue of kiwi artists - operated from Onehunga in Auckland, part of a larger enterprise "Stanford Arts" that supplied framing supplies, picture mouldings and framing equipment to the picture framing trade throughout NZ.  By the turn of the century Stanford Arts had two branches when another warehouse was opened in Christchurch.  The print distribution moved down to Christchurch and was run by Leanne Haglund, at the time of this shift we welcomed having another distributor so close by to us, just a couple of blocks away from we were located pre-earthquakes in Hereford St.

Popular "Auckland Essence" Print distributed by Stanford Arts
When international framing manufacturer and distributor Larsen Juhl purchased Stanford Harts' NZ operations the wholesale art print distribution business did not fit with the plans of the new corporate owners.  The print department was spun out as a separate business in 2007 and sold to Auckland businesswoman Janet Dalton who renamed the business Stanford Arts (cleverly dropping the H).

Janet had 22 years in the framing industry including owning her own picture framing shop for the 12 years prior to purchasing the print department from Larsen Juhl.  She continued to import on indent from a wide variety of art print publishers such as Bruce McGaw and Rosensteils, as well as wholesaling a growing stable of NZ artists such as Timo Design (Timo Rannali), Rob McGregor and Ingrid Banwell, an Auckland artists whose top selling print features in this post.  Janet was very adept at collating large numbers of different prints from many different suppliers into her weekly deliveries to NZ Fine Prints and it was with some sadness that we heard she planned to close her business in order to retire at the end of 2015.

We have managed, with Janet's kind assistance, to contact nearly all the artists whose prints NZ Fine Prints stock via Stanford Arts and look forward to continuing to make these titles available for purchase both through our mail order catalogues and online.  Unfortunately a small number of art print titles will have to be deleted in due course as stock is no longer available, we'll be posting these prints in our endangered gallery.

Picture framers looking for prints previously wholesaled by Stanford Arts are welcome to get in touch as we may be able to supply prints to them from our stock at trade prices now we are dealing directly with the artists concerned.

Here at NZ Fine Prints we'd like to take this opportunity to wish Janet a long and happy retirement, with more time to travel both here and abroad!