Three friends wearing Surface Active New Zealand nature t-shirts pose for a selfie beside New Brighton pier. Left to right the designs are Adelie penguins, paua and red-billed gull.

Surface Active—New Zealand Nature T-shirt Company stores

November 2021
Dear Surface Dweller,

We’re excited to announce our two online retail stores, the Surface Active global store and the brand new New Zealand-based store! To celebrate this significant stage in the development of our clothing brand we are rewarding our customers with a discount offer.

🛍 NZ-based store: All goods are 10% discounted, storewide.
🛍 Global store: Use code: “PERFEC” for 5% off your purchase, storewide.

Global store links: Adelie penguins, Jewelled gecko, and Kiwi iconic, light colour variant and the Treefern t-shirt, all-over printed.
NZ-based store links: Adelie penguins, Jewelled gecko, and Dolphins leaping, Kaikoura.

Actively yours,

Shaun Waugh (boss),

Chrissie Terpstra (bossier)

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Birds-eye view portrait of Surface Active t-shirt’s design pARTners, Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh, wearing Harlequin and Jewelled Gecko tees, against a white background, shot in a studio in 1996.

Surface Active: The New Zealand Nature T-shirt Company

Retrospective: The New Zealand Nature T-shirt Company—Surface Active, 1986–2021

South Brighton, Christchurch, November 2021

Dear Surface Dweller, We’re excited to announce our two new online retail stores, the Surface Active <a href=”https://www.surfaceactive.nz/?pr=PERFEC”>global store and the <a href=”http://surfaceactive.digitees.co.nz/&#8221; target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>New Zealand-based store! We are celebrating this step forward in the development of our clothing brand with a discount offer.🛍 NZ-based store: 10% discount, storewide. 🛍 Global store: Use code: “PERFEC” for 5% off, storewide.

Surface Active well made in New Zealand t-shirt neck label.

Surface Active—The New Zealand Nature T-shirt Company, well made in New Zealand since 1986.

Back in 1986, as an illustrative graphic designer; I was a design pARTner with Chrissie Terpstra in our ‘auto printmaking’ garment screenprinting studio and clothing brand, Surface Active Artwear. We learned over the next 17 years together aboard the good ship Free Enterprise, in what began as a shared hobby screenprinting on the kitchen table, that hand-pulled screenprinting is the medium of the hard labouring graphic artist. From the drawing board, to the darkroom, to the shirtfront with squeegee in hand, to folding great drifts of cotton, employing up to four people, manning our stalls at the weekend Christchurch Arts Centre Market, The Waiheke Island market and The Great New Zealand Craftshows from Cape Reinga to Bluff… busy, busy, busy.

Overview

Of course we were big fans of the humble t-shirt. By the mid 1980s they had become hot promotional items, garments on the outskirts of fashion, and a relatively new medium for the Graphic Designer’s art. What had for a long time been considered a poor medium for Graphic Design grew to an almost essential one. All you have to do is walk down the street anywhere in the world since the early 80s to see what a ubiquitous promotional vehicle they have become. Back in the day, if you mailed out 100 potential clients a direct mail brochure perhaps 200 people will see it. But mail out, or better yet, sell 100 T-shirts, and assuming they’re at all decent looking, you launch 100 walking billboards.

‘Paua Aotearoa’, adults and kids T-shirt, four colour print on navy and black fabric.

‘Paua Aotearoa’, adults and kids T-shirt, four colour print on navy and black fabric. Placement print; four colour front, a complementary small ‘blended’ one colour print on back. Piecework; adult’s garment kowhaiwhai print on sleeves.

The trend over the past several decades has been to embrace more casual clothing, to the point of stone-washed, distressed—clothing that appears to have more life experience than the youth who wears it—though, isn’t it ironic (and oh-so bourgeois,) that all of this has in no way meant this sort of hip clothing has become less expensive or stylish. I recall my eyes watering the time I picked up a pair of name brand shotgun blasted and ripped men’s jeans in 2004, NZD$450 for the look of just having been assaulted in an alley! That’s fairly interesting. Brand awareness, including personal brand awareness has been part of this trend—to such an extent that people want, or are at least willing to flaunt, the name of the brand or designer of their shoes, jeans, and bags on the items in question. In short clothing manufacturers made their products promotional vehicles for themselves.

Surface Active T-shirts celebrate New Zealand’s unique assets

Surface Active Mark III Zephyr “Kiwi Space Shuttle” black teeshirt

Surface Active ‘Kiwi Space Shuttle’ tee, mixed media, digital illustration.

Promotional teeshirts take this walking billboard concept one step further by being clothing that promotes products, services, cultural and ideological views in such a way that the wearer is willing to be identified—whether through a sense of aesthetics, humour, social responsibility, irreverence, or loyalty to a watering hole, cultural institution, environmental organisation or charity. People are willing to wear someone else’s message because they feel it says something about themselves—which is the essence of fashion. Initially our T-shirts were retailed by us at our stall at the Christchurch Arts Centre Market, also by direct mail to the list we collected, and at Great New Zealand Craftshow events nationwide. We grew to be wholesalers to environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and the Maruia Society, for inclusion particularly in their annual pre-Xmas direct mail catalogue campaigns and sold in their retail stores. As design pARTners in the visual arts Chrissie and I applied our teeshirt design skills to everything from promoting small businesses and one-time events, to our wildlife art, Kiwiana and nuclear free collections. We wholesaled to the likes of Wild Places and The Epicentre, Christchurch’s two ecostores, and as mentioned, to Greenpeace and the Maruia Society. Our market developed to include DoC visitor centres and similar conservation themed retail outlets in National Parks and in the brand new, prestigious Te Papa store in Wellington. As our business and reputation grew we were commissioned by tourist attractions like the International Antarctic Centre, Orana Park and certain Doc conservancies to design and produce custom ranges of adult and children’s shirts.

The 2021 digital design collection in our two online retail stores, that I have been developing since 2008, is based on the archive of our ‘analogue’ and computer aided Surface Active New Zealand Nature T-shirt Company range produced 1986–2004.

In terms of our T-shirt design itself, it evolved from straightforward application of flat shape illustrations like the Dolphins Leaping design, handcut from Rubylith, to hand separated multicolour drawings, cartoon images, to symbols or logos, all screenprinted by Chrissie and I after work on the kitchen table in our flat in 1986. In the beginning sometimes these prints were devised to be handpainted to finish, or in the late 90s to approaches that treat the shirt as a canvas, involving printing the garments as piecework prior to being stitched up by local seamstresses. Whereas our early designs simply applied graphics to the front of the shirt, our designs developed into appearing on the front and back, wrap around, and encircling the hems and sleeves. Treating the T-shirts as the design of a piece of clothing in the round. We also developed from printing white and light coloured shirts to custom batch dying them in vivid dark hues and speciality, more technically challenging and laborious “dark shirt” printing. The Direct-to-garment digital printing that enables the one-off printing of the Surface Active range of designs today, that is a whole ‘nother ball of wool. In a nutshell it is a process of printing on textiles using specialised water-based inks and inkjet technology whereby the prints form a very strong bond between the garment fibres and the pigmented inks. What follows is a historical record of Surface Active’s methodology.

The mechanics of hand-screen printing fabric do not change

Final heat cure of the print on the pallet, stripping the finished Tees off and reloading the next run of 10. This process start to finish took two people labouring hard-out for 45 minutes

Final heat cure of the print on the pallet, stripping the finished Tees off and reloading the next run of 10. This process start to finish took two people labouring hard-out for 45 minutes. A lunch break from this hard labour on your feet the whole time was essential, sit-down lunches at the table which amazing Chrissie Terpstra cooked for our crew of Screen Gems every single day! Morning and afternoon coffee/tea and snacks were delivered and consumed on the fly.

When you are printing on cotton fabric with seams you cannot get the kind of fine detail you can printing on paper. The fabric absorbs the inks or dyes and the colour spreads through the fibres. With our layered or hand-separated multicolour designs the colour is laid down in areas with the hand-pulled process, with “flash-curing” of the print between colour passes, in some cases up to 10 passes to print one garment one colour at a time.

Fabric colour and the issue of “hand” or feel of the fabric printing inks

‘Jewel Gecko - New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on dark green fabric. ‘Jewel Gecko – New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on dark green fabric. Placement; Eight colour front print, one colour kowhaiwhai print front and back around hem.

The reason for selecting water based inks and dyes as the better printing option, other than avoiding toxic (and highly hazardous) solvents that are used for printing “Plastisol” inks, is that of the “hand” or feel of the ink on the garment. Water-based inks have a nicer feel to them but they are more difficult to work with as they easily cure, “dry in” or clog the stencil especially in peak demand hot summer weather, rendering it useless and in need of remaking. Waterbased dyes have no “hand” to them as such as the screenprint literally dyes the light coloured fabric.

Custom designed and built in-line printing workshop

We developed a custom in-line sequential printing methodology, rather than rotary print methodology in our back-shed “sheltered workshop” to successfully overcome the drying-in drawback of waterbased printing dyes and acrylic Supercover inks. It was achieved by way of additional manual labour and an innovative use of our own design of screen holding humidifier boxes for keeping the ink and screens moist between print runs.

High cover ink system

‘Harlequin Gecko - New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on charcoal marle fabric. ‘Harlequin Gecko – New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on charcoal marle fabric. Placement; Eight colour front print, one colour woodcut print front and back around hem.

If you want to lay down a light colour on a dark shirt you have to use acrylic Super-cover inks, in some cases laying down two light coats to best build opacity while preserving detail. Flash curing in between is the only way ensure print quality is maintained throughout the print run. If your dark shirt design has a lot of solid light ink coverage you end up making something that has the feel of a bullet-proof vest when you’re wearing it. We avoided this by planning our designs to combine both ink and dye passes, colours darker than the fabric colour are dyes, lighter ones are super-opaque acrylics, all required flash curing between. The other huge benefit with water-based inks, aside from wash-up with water, and their “thinners” being water, is that the finished garment once flashed off to the point of being touch dry is given a final cure in just 20 minutes in a domestic tumble dryer rather than a 6m long high-tech curing oven.

Surface Active wildlife collage design fabric print on bedding set. Surface Active wildlife collage design, step and repeat one colour fabric print on custom bedding set.

Optimising the illustration workflow for easy printing and graphic quality

‘Ocean - New Zealand’ one colour children’s T-shirt print on navy blue and jade green fabric. ‘Ocean – New Zealand’ one colour children’s T-shirt print on navy blue and jade green fabric. Placement; One colour front and back. ‘Puff’ printed emboss effect ink.

One of our specialities is one colour “puff printed” designs, the so called puff inks contract when cured and so draw up the fabric surface. This has a tremendous tactile and visual effect on single colour dark shirt prints such as the Tuatara and children’s Ocean and Forest floor designs. I developed a variation of drawing wildlife art based on classic zoology methods, using mixed media, charcoal pencil with pen and ink on coquille board to achieve a crisp “line and tone” effect from one colour “line” images.

Regarding the gallery and our T-shirt models

As with other portfolios on the site Archive the over 40 designs included here are collected from the period between 1988–2002 of our Surface Active printed garment editions.

‘Weta - New Zealand’ T-shirt, adults and kids, on oatmeal and grey marle fabric. ‘Weta – New Zealand’ T-shirt, adults and kids, all-over printed on oatmeal and grey marle fabric. Adult garment a six colour print. High quality custom, workmanship. Cut and sew assembly. Products made in Christchurch, New Zealand, 1999–2002.

A shout-out must go to our T-shirt models from back-in-the-day, the kids are all 20-or-30-something now at time of writing. Our compliments and lasting gratitude are also due to their T-shirt modelling parents, our friends. SurfaceActive employed most of them as our highly-trusted sales crew at our stall at the Christchurch Arts Centre Market, come rain or shine, year-round 1988–2002. Credits Design and Art Direction: Design pARTners, Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh Graphic designer, illustrator, print production/‘pre-press’: Shaun Waugh Hand-pulled screen printing: Surface Active: Chrissie Terpstra and the Surface Active “screen gems” crew

©magentadot brands

Tree fern t-shirt

Feel like a walk in the forest downunder? It’s hard to avoid the familiar sight of tree ferns, or punga, no matter where you go in New Zealand. Cool and bushy, this attractively umbrellarific all-over printed t-shirt design is repeated on the shirt back. Available in adult sizes XS–3XL on forest green or black shirts.

Shop using this link to the treefern design in our global store to receive a 5% discount, use promo code: “PERFEC”.

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A boy in a studio posing in a terracotta coloured weta New Zealand t-shirt.

Weta New Zealand. Insect dinosaur.

Celebrate your love for nature and wildlife with this art print featuring New Zealand’s largest native insect, the weta. Don’t say “oooh!”, say “aaah!” for this is one of the best-looking weta you’ll ever see. The recently rediscovered Bluff weta can be found in scree and on rocky bluffs at Mt Somers in North Canterbury, and all over this t-shirt.

Designed by Chrissie and I and printed in the USA and Europe. Available as an ‘all-over’ teeshirt design for adults, and a two-sided placement print design version for adults and kids.

All purchases storewide made using this link to the weta design will receive a 5% discount that is applied automatically at checkout. Promo code: “PERFEC”.

For our New Zealand customers we have established this Digitees Surface Active store so your weta t-shirts can be printed in New Zealand, with a fast turnaround, shipping in 3–5 days + courier. Sale price: The NZ-based store prices are 10% discounted storewide.

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A woman wearing a dolphins leaping New Zealand t-shirt with her hair all over her face.

Dolphin watercolour print

Designed by Chrissie and I and printed in the USA and Europe. My new absolute fav dolphin watercolour ‘all-over’ teeshirt print. All purchases made using this link to the global store will receive a 5% discount, use promo code: “PERFEC”.

Or shop at our New Zealand-based store: Sale price, the price of all the goods in the NZ store are 10% discounted.

The colourful print of four common dolphins leaping is brought to life with a watercolour splash. Common dolphins (Delphinus delphus) are seen in Kaikoura mainly in the summer time. Kaikoura is one of the best places in New Zealand to view marine wildlife and rated as one of the best in the world to swim with dolphins.

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Spotted shags are the best kind

Storewide 10% off, shop here, use promo code “ARTYKIWI.”

This t-shirt wildlife art print features a trio of Banks Peninsula spotted shags during breeding season, when nature gets heavy-handed with blue-green makeup and punk hair-dos. It is a multimedia design featuring a woodcut portrait of the birds and an airbrushed sky.

With their distinctive spotted feathers, bright blue-green colouring and tufted crests, these spotted shags/parekareka are thinking of romance (and fish.) What else does a shag do in it’s pre-nuptial plumage?

Shop for the double-sided version here with the big print on the back, and the single-sided version here with the big print on the front.

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A young couple wearing two different Surface Active New Zealand nature t-shirts leaning against their VW kombi campervan. He is wearing the jewelled gecko design on a black t-shirt, she is wearing a cardinal red iconic kiwi roundel t-shirt.

Awesome New Zealand nature inspired t-shirts

Surface Active storewide 10% off, storewide, here, use promo code “ARTYKIWI.”

What a way to spend lockdown! As Surface Active’s graphic designer I built this new collection of awesome New Zealand Nature Inspired T-shirts from a mix of our legacy drawings, photolitho artwork and some new hand-rendered digital illustrations.

To celebrate the launch of Chrissie and my new store we’d like to share a storewide 10% discount offer. You can shop here https://surface-active.myteespring.co/?pr=ARTYKIWI to get your Surface Active teeshirts, use promo code “ARTYKIWI.”

The jewelled gecko is available here, and the kiwi is available here.

Surface Active: making waves in a sea of sameness.

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Orana Park Chapman’s Zebra screen prints on front and back of a navy T-shirt

Wildlife Park T-shirts for Africa

Our 1992 competition winners, a range of wildlife art t-shirts that celebrate an international wildlife conservation success story: Orana’s African savannah top five


ORANA WILDLIFE PARK, MCLEANS ISLAND, CHRISTCHURCH


The retail market of the garment trade is tough, for an open range zoo like Orana Park, with one foot in the quality recreational experience sector and the other in the tourism sector, trading is highly seasonal. The competition for the customer’s discretionary spending dollar and the fact the park is a charitable trust that generates 95% of its income from gate takings and their ‘Trading Post’, demanded that the very best way of developing the Park’s new T-shirt range be used for this custom T-shirt design and print project.
Keep on reading!

‘Jewel Gecko - New Zealand’ eight colour T-shirt print on dark green fabric.

Jewelled Gecko: lifelike graphics make a vivid impression

Surface Active | Making waves in a sea of sameness.

Hyper-real graphics like the Jewel Gecko make a vivid impression. Why? Because people relate to them! Dramatic lifelike renderings of wildlife produce a prompt and typically positive response in a person’s mind. People relate to real things and enjoy them most. It is the route to why people relate to many of our eye-catching and impactful “SurfaceActive” wildlife-art-to-wear designs.

How did we do it? The technique of colour separating this design by hand involved breaking it down into eight separate designs, from which the screens are made. The separations are printed over each other, in layers to create the original hand screenprinted design. This crafty route is the only way to achieve the unparalleled vivid impression of the design.

It helps that beauty is permanent

Fashions come and go, then come around again, but the fundamentals stay. The inspiration for the designs came from getting to know superlative alpine/wildlife photographer Colin Monteith, and renowned wildlife photographer Rod Morris. We visited their image libraries to cherrypick the most beautiful jewels in their amazing archives that we could see had the potential to be developed into hand-separated wildlife art screen gems.
Keep on reading!

‘Tuatara - Sphenodon Punctatus’ portrait T-shirt front

Fuss, fuss, fuss: How this Tuatara drawing evolves

This terrific Tuatara illustrative design work evolves by focussing on the details, this is quite common

Surface Active made in Aotearoa, T-shirts main neck label.

Surface Active Wildlife art – making waves in a sea of sameness.

To make digital art of New Zealand’s Tuatara, that has the look and feel of a natural line drawing, the editing, fussing process can take hours and while it isn’t easy it is a great deal of fun. I take pleasure in design and I enjoy using the computer to draw with the stylus, inking over the scan just as easily as I would with traditional pen and ink. The production of design work is an incredible drill when you are doing your utmost to make it terrific. I do my utmost to make sure that every design project I work on is mega.
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portrait with the fetching Stronger Chrischurch ballerina backdrop in Armagh Street, May 2015.

The rise & rise of Christchurch street art

Watch This Space logo design contest entry

Popular Urban Art or vandalism of private property? That thorny contention was settled unequivocally in post-quake Christchurch 2011. What now is considered pro-social and broadly popular urban art has morphed out of counter culture to become one of the totems of the fine art world. The gallery showcases my comp entry and a selection from my Stronger Christchurch, and Rise street art photo libraries.

Front cover Watch This Space logo presentation document

The front cover of my Watch This Space logo presentation document depicts the logo visualised screenprinted onto the back of a woman’s red hoodie garment.

Since the 2011 earthquakes Street Art is emerging all over the central city of Christchurch, like life it finds a way to vitalize empty sections and animate the bare walls that dominate the landscape with vibrant colour and youthful design.
Keep on reading!

Jewelled Gecko Giclée on white background, A1 size. Illustration, New Zealand wildlife art.

Lifelike gecko wildlife art print

Jewelled Gecko limited edition large format art print

Surface Active garment label embroidered

Surface Active | Making waves in a sea of sameness

Surface Active is an auto-printmaking design pARTnership established in 1986 by Shaun Waugh (boss) Chrissie Terpstra (bossier). Between 1986–2002 we were committed to producing original & indigenous designs of the highest design and screenprinting standards.

The technique of colour separating this design by hand involved breaking it down into eight separate designs, from which the screens are made. The separations are printed over each other, in layers to create the original hand screenprinted design. This crafty route is the only way to achieve the unparalleled vivid impression of the design.
Keep on reading!