This week we had a chat to Wellington artist Joe McMenamin, on the occasion of the second print run of his highly successful NZ Native Birds Colouring Book. This publication for adults with the colouring bug takes you on a journey of discovery around New Zealand to explore our native birds. From the rifleman at Cape Reinga to the kakapo on Stewart Island, you can colour your way though twenty-four beautifully drawn birds native to New Zealand. We got a sneak peek into his studio and talked to Joe about his art, Felt, and what it’s like to be an artist or craftsperson in New Zealand.
So, tell us about what you’ve been working on
I have published the NZ Native Birds adult colouring book. I also make hand coloured prints featuring NZ native birds, many of which are included in the book. My signature style is the flowing, organic patterns that I use in most of my work. I make these patterns up as I go along, and I enjoy how relaxing it is to draw them. The idea for the colouring book came about when one of my friends told me that she would love to be able to colour in one of my prints. There were already quite a few adult colouring books, but not many NZ themed ones. It was also important to me to use the book as a way of teaching people about our beautiful NZ birds, so each page has information about the bird shown including weight, size, habitat and current population category.
The book has been very popular with the first edition of 500 selling out before Christmas. The second edition just been printed and is available in my Felt shop.
How was your colouring book made?
All of the pages in the colouring book were drawn by hand, using ink pen on paper. They were then scanned and tidied up with a Wacom drawing tablet in Adobe Photoshop, then transferred to Adobe InDesign to be laid out as a book. Before it went to the printer I had to think about bleed, positioning of the image on the page and the order of pages. Then the printer came back to me with different stock (paper) options, after which it was off to be printed, bound and trimmed.
Beyond having a successful product, what is it you find rewarding about people buying your book?
I really like the idea that people all over New Zealand are using my colouring book to express themselves creatively. I believe there is a spark of creativity in all of us. People express it in lots of different ways such as cooking, gardening, knitting, building and tinkering. I get a buzz thinking that people are using my drawings to access their creative sides. I find drawing and painting really relaxing and quite meditative, and I think a lot of the appeal of adult colouring books is this idea of mindfulness.
How has it helped to have your work on Felt?
Felt provides an invaluable connection between the makers and people who love to buy hand made art and craft. In an increasingly tech savvy culture, makers need to be looking for ways to reach out beyond our immediate circle of friends and family. Even physical markets, although great fun and very worthwhile can only reach those people in the immediate area. Felt has the advantage of being available anywhere in the world. Being so easy to list items, manage sales and maintain a classy looking online shop through Felt is a great help to many art and craft businesses around New Zealand.
Personally I have had a dramatic increase in sales as I have built up my shop on Felt, and I can recommend this as a platform for any art and craft business wanting to break into the online market.
What are the challenges and rewards of being a maker or artist in New Zealand?
I think being a maker or artist in New Zealand is only limited by your imagination. There are so many ideas out there, and we have such easy access to materials that it is really easy to get making for a hobby. When you start to sell that art and craft it does get a little more challenging, but there are so many excellent physical markets and online markets (which of course Felt is leading the way), that if you make a quality product, you will find someone who wants to buy it.
Personally the challenges for me have been around trying to find the time to keep up with the demand for my paintings, prints and colouring books. I have been teaching high school art full time up until 2016 where I have managed to drop down to half time teaching and half time making art. It’s a really exciting year for me as I step out creatively in a more professional way.
There are so many rewards for a maker or artist. I get to do what I love, express myself creatively, take on new and interesting projects and dream big. Anyone who loves to create will know the pleasure that comes from saying “I made that!”.