Friday, 29 September 2017

Ends of lines - endangered prints about to sell out

"Boat at the Wharf" by Stanley Palmer
(4 prints left today)
I'm writing about our "endangered prints" collection this month because we have had an unusually high number of prints going into this ends of line category in the past few weeks (a few dozen as opposed to a handful every month or so).  This is probably due to the life cycle of the large number of prints published about 10 years back, when there was a structural shift in the market from artists printing reproductions to be on-sold by distributors to a few commercial publishers printing many titles from a single artist on a royalty basis.  There was a natural limit to this market (the size of NZ means there may only be a few hundred people who want a particular scene on the wall, and once they have it they aren't going to buy it again) so the slightly less popular titles from these ranges are not being re-printed and are now selling out.

Probably the print we will be saddest to see go is the beautiful large reproduction of Ralph Hotere's painting "Dawn/Water Painting".  This was originally published by the Christchurch Art Gallery to co-inside with a survey exhibition of Hotere's paintings while he was still alive (as an aside at times like this often a print is not made for strictly commercial reasons, the artist royalty of several thousand dollars will be paid up-front as a sweetener to get the artist's support to show works from their collection).  We have sold this print for many years and it is exactly what we believe in, a good quality reasonably priced art print by a top shelf NZ artist.  It probably will never be re-printed, so our advice to Hotere fans is please buy it today!

Why is this a thing?  It really has a lot to do with the size of the market for prints
Margaret Stoddart "Violets" (Last 2)
of NZ scenes or prints by NZ artists. Often an initial printing of a few hundred prints will be enough to satisfy demand.  The print may be open edition but the economic incentive to re-print is similar to the book industry, there will only be a second run if demand is there.  So, like books, prints simply go "out of print", and are only available on the second hand market.  This does not mean that their value will increase markedly if they are a reproduction of an original artwork but it does somewhat preserve their value around the purchase price as in good condition a print still has exactly the same appeal to a buyer even if it is not brand new (unlike say clothing).

This reality has changed a bit over the past decade as digital short run printing has become more prevalent, digital printing is ideally suited to a small market albeit at the disadvantage that unit costs do not decline dramatically as they do for offset lithography meaning prices are higher (we have seen the average cost of a large art print rise from around $NZ 50 to between $NZ 70-80 over the same period with the amount paid to the artist staying relatively static as the per unit printing cost is the main component in the cost increase (along with a small increase in GST).

So we have three main drivers for prints ending up in our "endangered prints" collection.

1. Print runs selling out.  A publisher, artist or gallery prints a few hundred prints and when they are sold out either customer demand is not there to re-print, or it was a one-off event such as a touring show/retrospective exhibition.

2. Prints were limited edition.  This is a different category altogether, particularly for original prints (where the prints are multiple artworks, they are not copies of another art form such as a painting) but also for reproductions printed in a smaller number, usually signed and numbered by the artist. These have a scarcity value as well as a decorative value and are not intended to be available over a longer period than a few years at most.  Established printmakers like Tony Ogle or Dick Frizzell tend to keep a balance between editions selling out and new work, with broadly the same number coming out each year as sell out - which shows that the supply and demand for their work is in balance.  It always rings alarm bells for us at the investment end of the art print market when initially successful artists with sold out editions begin increasing editions sizes, then the number of new editions each year, this is a slippery slope to beyond the pale re-printing under the guise of "roman numeral" editions etc!

3. Prints produced by commercial publishers using digital printing which theoretically could stay in print forever but are deleted by the publisher.  This is for two reasons. Firstly sales may not justify the space in sales reps catalogues or in administrative overhead (eg calculating artist royalties), one well known NZ publisher and distributor has a rule that if less than four prints a year are being sold they will delete the product line.  Secondly the artist's contract may not be renewed.  Contracts to make prints range from 1 to 3 years, unlike with offset printing where artist's work would be available potentially for years after the contract had lapsed due to a clause that allowed the publisher time to sell all printed stock with digital printing the lower stock inventories on hand means a publisher may only keep a month or two's supply on hand.

Shane Cotton Print - last one!
As soon as we know a print is running out (no firm and fast rule but less than 20 in stock is usually a trigger) we'll start keeping an eye on stock on hand.  When we are down to a number that is about what we would sell in a couple of months we pop the prints into our endangered gallery.  We also update our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and once a year we do a mail out to every one on our mailing list with every NZ print that is running low, so our special bunch of subscribers never miss out on a print they like but hadn't quite got around to ordering.

One final thought, selling prints online makes it so much easier to keep our catalogue up to date which is a blessing! Unlike our printed mail order catalogue which gradually becomes inaccurate regarding availability (and sometimes price) over the course of its useful life we can remove prints as easily as checking a box at the back of prints.co.nz.


Monday, 21 August 2017

Lindauer print found in US antique shop with background story about this famous painting

One of the interesting aspects of working at a business with a high profile online is the "unpaid helpdesk" kind of enquiries that flow in via email, over the phone and increasingly through Facebook messenger as well.  These are the enquiries that come to us when a NZ artwork is discovered, about to be sold, or just researched over the internet to find out a bit more about the print or artist.  We deflect enquiries about values of paintings to the right auctioneer for the quality of work/artist and can usually help if a person is trying to work out if an artwork is a painting or a print (what they paid for it is a good place to start!).

Most of these enquiries will not lead to a sale but there doesn't seem too much harm in helping out, hopefully the next time they are thinking about prints they will think of New Zealand Fine Prints.

We got a different kind of enquiry over the weekend from the States.  There a couple of kiwis had discovered a Lindauer maori portrait print in an antique store and they were keen to know if it had originally been sold by us.  What was cool about their enquiry however was that they also emailed a photograph of the label on the reverse of the framed print which had a very well researched blurb about the original painting, the artist and the subject (Rewi Manga Maniopoto) which contained much that was new to us despite having stocked this print for many years. Fascinating to learn that the cloak he is wearing is decorated with the tail hair of specially reared dogs that slept on clean mats to "keep their tails as white as possible"!

It was great to be able to say that we probably sold the print some time over the past 50 years and to thank them for sending us the extra information about this portrait, and that we would put this online for other people interested in this famous portrait to learn more about it:

Rewi Manga Maniopoto


Print of Lindauer's Painting
Rewi Manga Maniapoto, born between  l815 and 1820, was descended from Hioturoa, navigator of the ancestral canoe Tainui, and was an ariki of the Ngati Maniapoto. His tribal lands lay to the south of the Waikato tribe, in the rugged territory of the Waipa and Puniu rivers. From his boyhood, Rewi Manga was fully engaged with the Ngati Maniapoto in inter-tribal warfare.

Rewi Manga is remembered as one of the most popular fighting chiefs of the Maori King Movement. It was he, for instance, who encouraged the participation of Ngati Maniapoto and Waikato people in the Taranaki controversy, ignoring the opposition of the Maori King and Wiremu Tamehana. Rewi and his Ngati Maniapoto people also acted unilaterally in their bid to clear European authority out of the Waikato when they took possession of the Court, the schoolroom and the printing press of John Gorst, the Civil Commissioner of the district, at Te Awamutu.

Rewi's most celebrated action in the Waikato conflict was his last-ditch defence of the Orakau Pa in the heart of Ngati Maniapoto country, in March 1864. The gallantry of that defence has passed into legend. A contemporary report of the event provides a tribute to Rewi Manga's leadership of the federated tribes of the Waikato and Ngati Maniapoto, the Tuhoe of the Urewera, the Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Kahungunu of Hawke's Bay:

No human situation can be conceived more desperate or more hopeless   their lands gone, their race melting away like snow before the sun, and now their own turn come at fast; with enemies surrounding them on all sides . . . this is the last peace and surrender: hoa, ka whawhai tonu ahau ki a koe, ake' (Friend, I shall fight against you for ever and ever). 

In the years following the end of the Waikato war, the Ngati Maniapoto, led by Rewi Manga, together with the Maori King, Tawhiao Matutaera Potatau Te Wherowhero, encouraged Te Kooti to take up the work of routing the European settlers from the land. However, Rewi Manga did eventually renounce his support of Te Kooti in return for the assurances of the government that there would be no further military' operations in the King's territory.

Rewi Manga lived until 1894, through the period which saw the enactment of confiscation and the further decimation of the Maori population.

Lindauer's portrait depicts Rewi Manga in his prime, proudly displaying symbols of his chiefly power, and with full facial moko and huia feathers. He holds a hoeroa, a rare weapon carved from the- lower jaw bone of the sperm whale. His dogskin cloak, a kahu waero, was the most highly prized type of the Classical period. It is a dress mat like a korowai, but so thickly covered with strips of white dogstail that the kaupapa of the cloak is completely concealed by the long-haired bushy tails. This type of cloak was made by fastening strips of tail at one border of the mat, hanging loosely to form a heavy fringe. On the body of the mat, strips were placed along the warp and secured by the weft threads.

Colenso has left a record of the high value of this type of cloak, describing in particular the dogs from which the tails were obtained:

White haired dogs were greatly prized, and were taken the greatest possible care of: They slept in a house on clean mats, so that their precious tails should he kept as white as possible. Their tails were curiously and regularly shaved, and the hair preserved for ornamental use. 

Monday, 31 July 2017

2018 NZ Fine Prints Catalogue coming out this week

Glimpse of NZ Fine Prints 2018 catalogue - (artists "A"...)
This was going to be called the New Zealand Fine Prints "50th Anniversary" catalogue but we chickened out due to our anniversary actually being last year and eagle eyed observers might think our catalogue was already out of date.

We already have to print enough catalogues to last a couple of years (we send them out to both our very large mailing list (mail order is still a great channel for us) and include one with every purchase).

Deciding which artworks to include is a huge exercise.

Our paper catalogues don't have to be the sourcebook for every print, poster and limited edition print available from a NZ artist these days - this is the job of our online catalogue at prints.co.nz.  However a physical catalogue is a great showcase to let you all know about new prints and artists who have published/created prints recently as well as an easy way to show what we do for customers who are hearing about us for the first time.

Putting together a new catalogue is not easy production wise, we have to get all the details of every print right as well as to try not to include too many editions that will sell out while the catalogue is current.  That's before we wrangle hundreds of images into order without mixing them up, or, in one memorable case - printing a Doris Lusk painting upside down without noticing!

It also seems that as soon as the catalogues come back from the printers our catalogue manager gets a tonne of wondrous submissions of new work that we wished we could have included!

Our catalogue is now signed off and should be printed by the end of this week, it's a heady mix of fresh ink in the office when the pile of boxes are delivered and so exciting for us when the first sales of never before seen prints start coming in.

You can download your own (7mb) final draft of the NZ Fine Prints 2018 catalogue here - and look out for the paper version in a letterbox near you soon!


Friday, 30 June 2017

Yesteryear Prints - A Christchurch landmark

Christchurch picture framer and art print retailer Yesteryear Prints is to close its doors after 35 years.

This suburban print gallery in Beckenham was very well known in Christchurch both for their unique collection of art prints from NZ and around the world as well as first class picture framing - often with a long waitlist.  Yesteryear's longevity in the competitive world of art retail is a tribute to its current owners Norma and Graeme Elcock who steadily built the business over the 80s and 90s into a very successful store.

The business is not being sold as a going concern, the stock is being put on sale and the distinctive building has sold.  We understand their framer, Anton, is going to another framing shop in Ferrymead.

Yesteryear Prints 28 June 2017

Norma and Graeme had a very particular eye for older style (ok, I'll say it, "yesteryear") prints - classic Pears soap advertisements and Victoriana was a particular strength (they supplied us with many of these re-prints of old public notices in our letterpress posters collection).

We don't have quite the same depth in these specialities but as NZ Fine Prints stock over 2500 different titles of art prints just a few minutes away from the Yesteryear Prints previous location we should be able to help you find the perfect print - please check out our catalogue online at Prints.co.nz. You can collect prints from us if you are in Christchurch or we deliver nationwide.



Sunday, 30 April 2017

Reuben Price's NZ Flora photographic prints

Pohutukawa Portrait Flora Print
New prints just released by Auckland photographer Reuben Price are truly breathtaking.  His game changing new series of "NZ Flora" art prints have an incredibly life-like three dimensional effect that is completely unlike any other photography prints currently available in New Zealand.

We asked Reuben how he managed to achieve these remarkable images of New Zealand plants such as the Silver Fern, Pohutukawa and Kowhai.

He told us that a custom built flower press was the first step in a long and painstaking process to create this series of artworks.  Reuben then placed the plants in a completely light controlled environment of his own design so that all visible shadows were removed.

The next step was to capture the detail of the subject using ultra high resolution photography.

Printing the finished photograph was done by Reuben in house, the series are printed using lightfast inks and offer incredibly good value at $69.95 each.

Every print from the NZ flora series is finished with a hand embossed emblem on the bottom left hand corner.  This series deserves to be very popular with print buyers and we hope that the five initial prints are followed up soon with an extended range of subjects, we would love to see Kakabeak (both white and red), Kowhai flowers and the Chatham Islands Lily given the same high tech meets fine art photography treatment.


Friday, 31 March 2017

Who is Milton Springsteen?

Street art's profile rises in NZ 

Back in 2009 street art wasn't an art movement that NZers were particularly familiar with, we knew about graffiti (and that in general this was a bad thing) and I wasn't sure what to call artworks that were on the street before they were prints (aerosol art anyone?).  This began to change with the phenomenal rise into popular consciousness of the British street artist Banksy, and American artist Shepard Fairey's Hope poster for Barack Obama which became the enduring image of Obama's first campaign that is now symbolic of the mood behind the election of the US's first African American president.

But the rise of popular awareness and widespread enjoyment of street art in New Zealand can probably be traced to the efforts of one man in that year, George Shaw, and this started with the first Oi You Festival of Street Art held in Nelson in 2009.  When Oi You moved to Christchurch post earthquakes (as Rise) this turned into the most popular art exhibition the city had ever had and changed the face of Christchurch city forever.

Arrival of the artist known as Milton Springsteen

Fries with That? by Milton Springsteen
One of the intriguing names associated with the street art festivals was Milton Springsteen.  This anonymous artist created artworks known as the "Corrupt Classics", these paintings were also available as limited edition prints which sold briskly to festival goers as well as being stocked here at NZ Fine Prints.  We rapidly sold out of these editions - although a couple took a while longer to sell out (a riff on Van der Velden's Otira Gorge series did not not have the same immediate appeal as a re-working of NZ's most popular painting).

When the prints sold out my inner journalist got the better of me and I decided to see if I could find out who Milton Springsteen actually was once and for all.

On the trail of the artist's identity

Customers assumed we would know the artist's identity but kept it a secret, however we never dealt with the artist directly, the prints were sent to us from Nelson or we would pick them up from George who stayed at the YMCA in Christchurch while the street art festivals were on.  We had profiled who we thought might be the kind of person who would have the appreciation of NZ's art history as well as the artistic skills to recreate paintings in the style of Bill Hammond or Colin McCahon but although we thought we knew at the time who Milton was there was no name attached.

But should we tell who it is?

It was lots of fun playing the amateur art sleuth and eventually I was pretty sure that we have our guy (yep, we think Milton is male).  But then just as I had got to the bottom of the mystery this week a customer happened to ask us point blank via email if we knew who Milton Springsteen was - and at that moment I realised that although it was a hoot to track him down would revealing who it is spoil the fun once an owner of one of his prints knows the artist's real identity? And aside from that I began feeling nervous that revealing who the artist is would A) annoy George Shaw who we think has been a tremendous force for good in the NZ art world and B) Cause Mr Springsteen any sleepless nights for no good reason.

Dilemma resolved... 

So as with any moral dilemma in the modern age we decided to put this to the vote.  Putting a poll on our Facebook page and on Twitter, 100% of votes cast were to reveal the artist's identity, but the small number of votes meant this wasn't very helpful at all!

And then it came to me, we can reveal who we think Milton Springsteen is without spoiling the mystery of his actual identity.  And here's how we can do it. We think this person is Milton Springsteen.  Are we right?


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Print sales to the UK & US markets changed over Xmas 2016

Our analytics maven pointed out something interesting to us recently.  NZ Fine Prints' revenue from sales into two traditionally strong markets - the United States and the United Kingdom - dropped over the Xmas period 2016 compared to 2015.  This was hidden in our overall figures as sales domestically grew year on year, we hadn't noticed this decline and had been patting ourselves on the back for another Xmas better than the previous one! (The other top overseas destination for NZ prints (Australia) was flat, just a couple of percentage points higher than last year).

As any business owner knows a drop in sales is both alarming and a signal of something - but understanding why a businesses sales into a particular market dropped is a puzzle.

Initially we assumed that political uncertainty (election of Trump in the US and Brexit in the UK) could be the biggest factor in this decline, it's a sentiment that would be hard to measure of course but intuitively when the financial outlook is less clear making the decision not to buy a non-essential item such as an artwork might be a logical response.  The ongoing strength of the NZ dollar against the pound was brought up in our meeting, but the $US has been rising against the $NZ so relative currency strength probably wouldn't be a factor in both of these markets declining at the same time.

But then our analytics revealed something else that neatly fits another theory, not sure how we can test the validity of this without a survey of our customers but bear with me...

We were surprised to note that the total number of transactions had not fallen, and a similar number of prints were bought in an average sale - it was the average value of each sale (ie the cost of each print purchased) that had dropped.

Native Birds poster $NZ 39.95
Our theory:  we are wondering if kiwis living in these two countries are buying a less expensive poster (such as the top selling Native Birds of NZ poster at just $39.95) as a short term reminder of home, wall art that isn't meant to be on the wall for the rest of their lives.  It's an inexpensive large artwork that can even just be pinned on the wall, more temporary and less expensive to display than a framed print.  

Previously an edition by a top shelf NZ artist like Dick Frizzell - one of his tiki series for instance like the "1938 Tiki" pictured below which start at 20x the price of the bird poster even for a small work- was a more typical purchase.  This is an artwork you would buy to have a lasting memento of Aotearoa to treasure for the long haul - perhaps if you did not have any inkling that maybe one day you would be returning home to NZ to live.
D. Frizzell "1938 Tiki" $NZ 650 

Is this change in preference for the temporary decoration over the long-lasting taonga an indication that kiwi immigrants to these countries are feeling less certain about their long term prospects?

And is this an indicator that perhaps even more kiwis are actually planning to be returning home while we are already undergoing a period of sustained record high immigration?

Art that we buy for ourselves reveals a lot about us (yes, even those customers who "don't know anything about art but know what I like when I see it" but who actually do have an appreciation of art that just needed some encouragement) - but we have never considered that the value and intended longevity of a purchase might mean something too.  But we have been left wondering if this (hopefully temporary!) sales blip for NZ's largest art print and poster gallery provides an insight into the current mindset and perhaps future plans for the kiwi diaspora?


Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Back to school

Today marks the start of the school term, a bittersweet time where the kids head back to a new year of learning and parents readjust to having no children around. 2016/17 was a great holiday but after six weeks off both kids and parents are ready for the school term to begin.

The cost in economic terms of NZ's long summer school holiday must be quite large, perhaps offset in GDP terms by increased spending on travel, accomodation and holiday activities but in terms of a productivity hit for a family run business such as NZ Fine Prints the school holidays are a bit of a trial. Business is reduced to the bare minimum of getting prints shipped out the door, there is no spare time for planning, cataloguing or dealing with artists - anything outside of the ordinary is pushed forward into late January when we are back at work without the children under foot.  Looking back the family memories of the holidays are will be a big bunch of good times but we have really tried the patience of some customers along the way - but what alternative there is to tag team parenting reduced to part time hours over the school holidays eludes me.

Glenn Jones' print of coloured
crayons labeled in te reo Maori
Back to school is also part of what NZ Fine Prints are doing in 2017.  Pre-internet we had a division of our company devoted to supplying NZ schools with art education materials, particularly large colour reproductions of famous paintings.  This part of our business has reduced to a fraction of what it was now that teachers can access colour images over the internet for classroom use, basically we ended up selling school teachers with discounted prints for their homes rather than providing educational resources for the classroom!

We still think that kids growing up should be surrounded with good quality prints of paintings that are more than the purely decorative, to learn about art history and to appreciate what a rich visual culture has been created by artists over the past 500 years but we no longer import a purely educationally focussed range of prints.

Posters and prints will always be on walls of kiwi kids classrooms so we are expanding the prints for children/kids art collection in 2017 to include educational posters such as NZ and world maps (including NZ map posters in Te Reo Maori), and we're adding some great kiwiana ABC posters for the pre-school learners as well.