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out due to our anniversary actually being last year and eagle eyed observers might think our catalogue was already out of date.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  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 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.