Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Cataloguing Prints - an update

After the earthquakes in Christchurch one of the jobs that got less attention while NZ Fine Prints re-organised behind the scenes was the cataloguing of new prints.  Since then it has been a huge relief to get our waiting list for artists who had submitted work down to just a few weeks after stretching out to several months during late 2011 and 2012.

We receive artist submissions most days and the guys answering the phone often get the call to find out what's involved in having reproduction prints made of an artwork after an artist is told they "should be having prints made of that painting".  (As an aside - sometimes this comment to the creator is perhaps meant as a compliment rather than commercial advice, we wonder too if it's sometimes a nice way of saying "no thanks" to buying the painting!).  It should be pretty straightforward to list new prints for sale but for most of the past three years we have had a backlog of at least 150 new prints waiting to be properly catalogued for sale both in our catalogues and at Prints.co.nz

The reason that listing prints is not quick and easy is because we put a great deal of effort into writing interesting listings for our new artists. In addition for each individual print listing we try and anticipate many of the questions print buyers may have in their minds as they are not in front of the print in a gallery but looking at a representation of the artwork on screen.

One blessing is that we no longer have to re-photograph 90% of the prints submitted to us because the ubiquity of digital cameras means artists usually supply us with .jpgs that are ready to use online.  Fifteen years ago we had a $1600 1.2 megapixel camera and a studio rigged with expensive lights and still couldn't take a decent picture of anything with lines in it!  Maps were my particular bete noire, all those decorative borders that had to be photographed straight on and completely level or the image would look distorted.  I don't recall a "straighten" tool in Photoshop back then. [We also didn't have the benefit of articles like "how to photograph a painting"!]

Glenn Jones "Gumboot Graffiti"
Kiwiana AND street art, or maybe Pop?
Apart from writing a good artist biography that combines the best of a background on their life with the drivers behind their work (like an artist's statement, but written by someone else) each print should also have a blurb, or what we call the "curator's comment".   This tells a person looking at the print a bit more about it, what the artist was thinking, how this print fits in to the artist's catalogue of work - for instance have a look at listings for recently added new NZ artists such as Glenn JonesHolly Roach and Sean Chen. We also spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to describe how the print was made - as we mix both reproduction and original prints, open and limited editions. In the next part of the cataloguing process we have to figure out the galleries or collections that the prints should be placed in.

You can still see glimpses of how we built up the online galleries originally, a very dry and academic classification of prints into movement (eg surrealism, or pop art), nationality and period. Since then whole new categories have emerged (step forward Kiwiana, Street Art) and we have added the ability to search by price and size.  Although we don't want to have our catalogue too finely divided up (because it would be tedious to browse the website if lots of the same prints were appearing in multiple collections) the number of galleries have somehow multiplied to  a list of nearly 80, the latest being portraits and still life.

We thought we were getting to the crossroad where we could either add more and more finely grained collections or try and reduce the number of galleries so customers can find the prints they are looking for more quickly.  However we think we have solved the problem (some small changes coming soon), it's an interesting intersection between indexation and usability that's exactly the kind of thing that keeps me interested in the job of cataloguing prints for sale after twenty years!