Monday, 12 December 2016

We worried NZ might run out of prints to publish (back in 1977!!)

To mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of NZ Fine Prints we have been delving into our company archive throughout 2016. We unearthed this gem of an article where one of the founders of our gallery (then trading as Avon Fine Prints) was found to be musing on the imminent demise of the business - because we would soon run out of suitable New Zealand prints to publish! Forty years later we are still managing to find new prints for our customers to buy, and the trend to a greater choice seems to be accelerating with more prints being published each succeeding year than ever before!  Don was great at generating publicity and the notion that success was spelling the end of a business should perhaps be seen in this light...

A twinge of regret now, but… Success spells the end of a business

Christchurch Star, November 19 1977, p16

A business which folds after a decade might not represent success to some. But when Don Ellis set up Avon Fine Prints Ltd in Christchurch he knew it was only a matter of time until the business destroyed itself.

So the demise comes as no surprise, but it still brings a twinge of regret.

In its wake lie at least 200 different limited editions of prints of some of the finest historical paintings in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific. More than 20 of these editions have sold out, some with spectacular increase in value. Another 60 or 70  editions have only between 10 and 200 prints to sell. (An edition usually comprises between 750 and 1000 prints.)

Once they’re gone, so virtually is Avon Fine Prints.

Print publisher Don Ellis in 1977
“Avon prints are not being completely phased out. New issues will possibly be made at the rate of one or two a year, and for a short time the paper prints will be made available to collectors,” says Mr Ellis. “It is also likely that another limited edition book or two will appear over the Avon imprint - but most of the Avon group’s activities these days are centred in the Capper Press, with its reprint books and New Zealand art prints; in Avon Picture Mouldings; in the educational division with its imported educational prints; and in Campbell Grant, best known for The Silver Shop.”

Most of the paintings printed by Avon Prints have been out of copyright - the work of very early New Zealand and Pacific artists. If copyright is still functioning, it is usually negotiable, or royalty arrangements can be reached.

At present Mr Ellis is trying to negotiate with a group of New Zealand artists whose work embraces the 1920s and 1930s.  Largely, Mr Ellis is guided by his own preference for paintings, although there is no foolproof way of knowing which works will win public approval as prints.

Some are much more popular than others - for no apparent reason, he says. “All the publisher can do is to feel for his market, have a good idea what he thinks should be done, ask other artists, critics, gallery directors for their opinions, distill all the information and come to a decision.”

Now that the early print business has come to an end, Mr Ellis looks forward to spending more time  working with Capper Press, a business which specialises in the reprinting of old books - particularly those which are extremely specialised. Among reprints to date are Freda du Faur’s book Conquest of Mt Cook, W.S. Green’s The High Alps of New Zealand, Sir Henry Brett’s White Wings, T.H. Pott’s Out in the Open, and numerous others. All these have a limited demand, but are fascinating in their own right, Says Mr Ellis. Among those he has personally found most entertaining and interesting are a couple on herbalists and doctors, and one called Colonists’ Guide: an Encyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, a book which includes advice on how to cook, how to grow vegetables, and generally, how to stay alive.

Many of the books which are reprinted are chanced upon or brought to light by members of the public; others are selected by the firm. Without a reprint many of them would either disintegrate through old age, or else perhaps be lost in archives.

Begun as a hobby, Avon Fine Prints is the only company of its kind in the world devoted wholly to the publication of historical maps, prints and charts in limited editions. Until this month the prints were available unframed, but now sales of framed prints only will be made.

Why the change? Says Mr Ellis: “The selection and publication of limited edition prints is an intensely personal choice; there are very few historical paintings left to do, and the prints done cannot, of course, be reprinted, so that this side of the business is coming to a natural close.” The balance of the limited edition print stocks are to be transferred to the wholesale and retail framing division of the Avon group of companies, the Picture Shop, in Hereford Street.

When Mr Ellis began the business, people generally had no idea what a print was, he says. Nor did they possess much knowledge or appreciation of New Zealand’s early works of art “People certainly wouldn’t entertain New Zealand prints at that time so we had to have a sales aid, and that in our case was the limited edition print. “We came in on a rise of historical interest in New Zealand - and it has been this which has sustained the interest in the prints. “People suddenly became interested in their town or environment and bought a print of their area. The set of four views Auckland 1852 by P.J. Hogan is one of the best known groups. “The prints helped people to become interested in their own indigenous New Zealand art, and we would like to think that what we’ve done has helped to further stimulate their interest.”

People buying the early limited editions did so in the knowledge that once the edition was sold out, there were no more available. It was a sought-after commodity. “The problem which occurs, however, is that at some time you must run out of suitable paintings from which to take prints.” And with this prospect looming, Mr Ellis started Capper Press about five years ago.

Mr Ellis’s interest in art stems from his childhood. As a young man he built up quite a collection of early New Zealand paintings and eventually decided to start his own business in prints. The Auckland series was one of the first printed and “it went like a rocket”, says Mr Ellis.


Consequently, the business was soon on a firm footing, and today can claim credit for the publication of at least 200 different prints.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Screenprinting with NZ printmaker Greg Straight

The printmaker Greg Straight working on his new edition
Catching Rays, a new limited edition print by NZ printmaker Greg Straight, encapsulates just about everything we like to see in a contemporary print by a New Zealand artist.

It's technically proficient, printed with great attention to detail, it has crisp lines and dense colour.

The artwork is large scale (it's on a full A1 sheet) and in a small edition (just 25 prints).

It depicts something unique to NZ in with a creative and distinctive artistic voice that is both thoughtful and decorative. The design on the rays wings may at first glance appear to be just a riff on classic Maori motifs but there is definitely something bat(man) like about the patterns on a second look.

Checking colours of the artist's proof
Catching Rays is also great value, you are buying a very large handmade print by a popular artist for just $300.

We also love the subject, New Zealand's sea creatures like sting rays haven't had as much exposure in contemporary art (compare the vast range that is available to buy in the ever popular native birds and native plants collections) but they deserve to be celebrated by our artists to the same degree.

Greg with his print "Catching Rays"
(available to buy here)
 Artist/illustrator Giselle Clarkson whose "Fish Species of NZ" print came out a couple of years ago is another artist whose interest in depicting NZ's sea creatures is making us wonder if a new kiwi wall art trend is stirring.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Mailing dates for Xmas gifts 2016

From now until Christmas is the busiest time of the year sales wise for NZ Fine Prints. Art prints are perennially popular Xmas gifts and making sure we deliver on time for Xmas around the world and throughout NZ has been something we have been doing for 50 years!!

Official mailing dates are below, these apply to our standard delivery service. There may be other delivery options available outside of our standard service/pricing so if you think you are running out of time please call us on 0800 800 278 in the lead up to Xmas, we may be able to work something out for you.

NZ Fine Prints Christmas Mailing Dates for 2016 are as follows:

Delivery worldwide at our standard rate of just $NZ15 (for any number of prints):

Australia

Please order your gifts by Wednesday 7th December 2016

UK & Europe, East Asia, North America & South Pacific

Please order your gifts by Friday 2nd December 2016

Rest of World

Order Xmas gifts by Wednesday 30th November 2016

Xmas Delivery to NZ Addresses

Standard Delivery for $NZ6 (for any number of prints)

We need to have your orders for prints being delivered as gifts for Xmas by 3pm Tuesday 20th December 2016

Deadline for next day courier delivery via CourierPost with guaranteed delivery for Xmas day is 3pm Thursday 22nd December 2016

Framed Prints - please order 10 working days before these mailing dates to ensure we can deliver by Christmas.

Gift Vouchers


NZ Prints also deliver gift vouchers by mail to NZ addresses if ordered by 22 December - and email gift vouchers are even being purchased on Xmas day itself and delivered instantly around the world. Now that is last minute Christmas shopping!

Shipping & Delivery Updates


As we get closer to Xmas we will update any delays or known issues with Xmas delivery on our shipping & delivery page.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Local art publishers have world-wide circulation

2016 has been the 50th anniversary of the founding of our company. This has been a great reason to revisit our history, much of which we have in scrapbooks (actually bound book proofs with blank pages of their earliest publications) dating back to the 1960s.  This article is from 1973 and is particularly interesting as it features the founders of New Zealand Fine Prints Don & Enid Ellis, discussing how they started in the art publishing business with Christchurch reporter David Young.  A note on the name change - in the 1990s the publishing and mail order businesses of Avon Fine Prints and Capper Press were merged into a single company around the time we shifted focus to publishing and online retail when our catalogues went online at prints.co.nz).

Local art publishers have world-wide circulation
"Local Art Publishers" article from 1973
The Queen, the Pope, President Nixon, Emperor Hirohito and Mr Trudeau are among the recipients of the work of a Christchurch company, Avon Fine Prints Ltd.

One of Avon’s more monumental achievements, Cook’s Artists, a collection of the drawings and paintings done by men on Cook’s voyages, became the official New Zealand Government book for 1969.

That year was the tricentenary of Cook’s discovery of New Zealand and the book went to official recipients and private collectors all round the world.

“You name the country - we sent it there”, says Mr D.G. Ellis, who with his wife,
Enid & Don Ellis of Avon Fine Prints
runs Avon Fine Prints.

Both aged about 30, the couple have for the last seven years been publishing reproductions of early New Zealand paintings and prints as well as facsimiles of fine, historical books.

Publishing, not printing, is their line, their speciality being limited, hand-numbered prints of scenes which, while not common, are not unfamiliar sights on carefully decorated walls.

“We are a pirate outfit really,” said Mr Ellis when I telephoned to ask about his operation.

But in a personal interview, this same candour revealed that his and his wife’s interest in New Zealand nineteenth century art is considerable. The couple have an extensive personal collection and it was Mr Ellis’s father’s knowledge of the subject which really led to the establishment of the present business.

World hunt
Returning from Australia in the early 1960s with a bundle of New Zealand paintings by such artists as Hoyte, Gully and Lindauer - all purchased for about £30 and resold here for considerably more - Mr Ellis jun. went hunting for similar material round the world.

His best deal, he says, was a Lindauer which he bought for £20 and sold for £900 - the then top price for a New Zealand painting.

But while the market knew no bounds, the supply of material was distinctly limited.

“So”, he explained, “we had to print our own stuff.”

Mrs Ellis said that in the early 1960s they did a great deal of original research with the help of the librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library (Mr Tony Murray-Oliver), who suggested that they start publishing limited edition prints.

To start with they did three tiny Canterbury prints by Holmes, hand-coloured, each with a run of 300.

Since then the company has published about 160 editions of prints by artists such as Blomfield, Chevalier, Gully, Hodgkins, Hoyte, Lindauer, Nairn, Sharpe and Wilson, as well as a series of early New Zealand town scenes.

Surprisingly, there is little original work of Canterbury, Mr Ellis pointed out. Canterbury was settled later than many other areas and Dr Barker was on the scene with his camera almost before the artists could set up easel.

Again, the New Zealand material that is suitable for reproduction is limited and Avon Fine Prints is now moving into other Pacific countries to continue its work.

It is the only company of its type in this part of the world, so includes Australian and Hawaiian art among the work it reproduces.

“We can do it in New Zealand because the printing works are geared to smaller runs than elsewhere”, said Mrs Ellis.

“We have the advantage of being able to do a run as small as 300 - which other countries just won’t touch - and we can still obtain quality from our printers.”

Why do people buy prints?

Essentially, say the Ellises, they like the picture for aesthetic, historical and decorative reasons. They also buy prints as an investment.

The object of a limited edition is that it will at least hold its value, monetarily, as well as providing an inbuilt reassurance to buyers that not everyone owns a copy.

The prints do appear to be a reasonable investment - a $6 Canterbury print now sells for $24 and others from limited editions show similar upward movement.

An offshoot of the Avon company is Capper Press, which produces unlimited editions - usually about 2000 - of New Zealand paintings, which sell more cheaply.

Capper Press also publishes facsimile copies of such early New Zealand books as Knocking about in New Zealand by Charles Money.

Spectacular
But the most spectacular undertakings have been Avon’s large, historical book productions.

Apart from the Cook publication, which contained much original research and previously unpublished material, Avon reproduced Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand, by S.C. Brees, as a facsimile which sold for $60 and which now changes hands for $125.

Now Avon has just completed the printing of a facsimile edition of New Zealand: Graphic and Descriptive by C.D. Barraud (1877).

The giant book, with its 22in by 17in pages, printed on special paper with 76 illustrations including 24 colour plates and a Moroccan finish is a colossal undertaking. The 1000 copies being printed require 11 tons of paper, and special, unmarked skins for the leather cover.

Subscribers from around the world have paid their $35 deposit on the $150 subscription price and, following in the tradition of the 97 year-old original, will have their names bound into the volume - one of the few departures from the true facsimile.

Interestingly, some of the names in the back are the same as the ones in the front - the descendants of the original subscribers in some cases have followed in their grandparents’ footsteps.

Only a few copies remain of the original volume and many of these are now scattered.

“We’re not interested in publishing new books - writers drive me up the wall. We like our authors dead 100 years,” Mr Ellis said.

Not justified
As far as paintings are concerned: “We’d like to go more modern - a lot more modern - but there are not the sales in this country to justify this. 

“Today people in this country are getting sophisticated - they know what they want.

“We’re not arty-minded or anything like that, but we’re interested in good New Zealand paintings and we are leading people to the situation where they can make a choice,”

Mrs Ellis put in: “We are sales and commercially orientated, but our work stems from an interest and a knowledge in our material. You’ve got to put a premium on these things.”

With one exception - when the work was sent to Hong Kong - all the printing is done in New Zealand.

Avon pays reproduction fees to the individual and the institution owning the material. It is often institutions which constitute a large proportion of the buyers of reproductions.

Its reputation now firmly entrenched in so many parts of the world, Avon Fine Prints could continue to keep Christchurch on the map for some years to come.


But however they develop, the Ellises are determined that their work will never loom so large that their personal touch in business is lost.

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 Prints.co.nz - 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 prints.co.nz 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!

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.