Surface Active: A Retrospective of New Zealand Printmakers Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh (1986–2021)
Surface Active’s signature techniques were drawing, digital design and collage, an illustration process in which rendering techniques of various kinds are combined to produce “camera ready” finished artwork suitable for hand-screenprinting and ultimately Direct To Garment (DTG) digital printing.
Chrissie and Shaun’s wildlife art works, many of which were two-sided designs printed at the largest size possible with placement printing—by way of having their own custom craft screenprinting workshop in their back shed—are imbued with the direct aesthetic appeal that comes with wildlife art souvenirs of New Zealand not dominated by type and fashionable slogans.
For the Surface Active design pARTners ascendency in the contemporary printmaking world and investigation of a small business encompassing design, the means of production, retail, and wholesale distribution was notable, bold and sustained effort, full-time, for 14 years (1989–2004). Retrospective: Surface Active, a sweeping overview of their most fertile period of artistic creativity, covers Chrissie and Shaun’s graphic wildlife art production from 1986 until the second pandemic lockdown of 2021.
Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh were both born in 1961, Chrissie in Christchurch, Shaun in Greymouth. Chrissie spent most of her early years in South Brighton and three years in Dunedin in her early 20s. Her family moved from Prebbleton to South Brighton when she was four. She attended Aranui High school and Four Avenues alternative school. She was encouraged to draw and to paint as a child, her parents not keen on colouring-in books, encouraged her to express herself with her own art instead. Daphne and Karl liked to make pottery and had a pottery wheel and a small kiln in the back shed.
Chrissie studied ballet from when she was small, an adroit and dedicated young student, she eventually advanced to dance for a few years in her teens for the Southern Ballet.
After leaving high school she trained as a shorthand typist, and she was a very adept seamstress who has enjoyed making clothes for herself and her family and friends lifelong. During 1981-84, she followed her partner at the time to Otago University where she worked as a receptionist at the student Recreation centre and took up black and white photography as a hobby, learning dark room skills, exposing prints. Chrissie also worked for a time as an industrial machinist for the clothing firm Sew Hoy and Sons Limited, importers, warehousemen and manufacturers in Dunedin. In 1984 she travelled to Novato, San Francisco for a holiday with her American friend Cindy Pickett who was a member of the photography club at Otago U.
After the dissolution of her relationship in 1984 she returned to South Brighton and got a job as the receptionist for CELT (Co-operative Enterprise and Loan Trust) at the time when co-operative enterprises were flourishing in the mid 1980s. She was a member of the unemployed workers workshop that provided a shared studio workshop space in the inner city. She also had a part-time contract sewing climbing harnesses for New Zealand mountaineer Lindsay Main, author of Mountaincraft, a bible of New Zealand mountain climbers.
Throughout this time Chrissie was a keen tramper, nature lover and lover of the outdoors, a gardener, a cyclist and a passionate chef/foodie. In 1984 she was sponsored to do a three week course at Outward Bound in Anakiwa.
Shauns father David was a primary school teacher doing his country service as sole charge teacher at the primary school in Te Kinga, a forestry settlement on the shores of Lake Brunner at the time his son was born, his mother Anne had a career as a school dental nurse prior to their marriage. His family moved to Tawa in 1963 where David taught at Tawa primary, while living in the schoolhouse on Main Road Tawa Shaun’s sisters Dianne and Catherine were born. From there the family moved to the new home they had built in Titahi Bay where they lived 1965–74.
Shaun attended two primary schools that his father taught at. One in Porirua East, Corinna/Tahora, one in Elsdon near the Takapuwahia Pa, and Titahi Bay North school just over the back fence of their family home overlooking Mana Island, he was a foundation student at the new Titahi Bay Intermediate school or ‘junior high’ in 1971. He started high school by following his father to Mana College in Elsdon where David taught in the special needs department.
Shaun’s passion for drawing and art was fostered throughout his schooling and weekend tutoring in drawing painting and printmaking. He enjoyed drawing as a hobby, his mum encouraged him to collect stamps from the age of 5, which he still does, and his father encouraged him to take up calligraphy as a hobby when he was 11, which he eventually did professionally. There were a few years of piano lessons too.
Following a teaching promotion the family moved to South Auckland in 1974, David taking a position heading up the new special education unit at Otahuhu College. Anne taking on the position of office manager at Firth concrete, a division of Fletchers in Penrose. They eventually settled in Conifer Grove “the environmental suburb” in Takanini. The teaching of art at Otahuhu was exceptional at that time; Garry Mill, Bruce Treloar and Marty Szirmay were all working artists in their own stead and peerless art teachers.
Aside from her work as a dental assistant/receptionist/office manager Anne was a lover of musical theatre, an industrious seamstress and loved knitting clothes for her family. She was involved in two amateur theatrical productions per year with the Titahi Bay Little Theatre Company, all Broadway musicals. She enjoyed singing in the chorus and was one of the primary costume makers also. His father would contribute as a set builder and stage hand. In Auckland Anne joined the Howick Little Theatre. The family went along to every show, Shaun got a part as one of the boys in the Chorus of ‘Oliver’, and the theatre crowd were very friendly and social. As a teen Shaun was commissioned to design and screenprint posters for his Mum’s shows, using a hobbyist set-up he made at home.
Like Chrissie’s parents Shaun’s family home was one where things were constantly being made and done.
Shaun attended Otahuhu College 1974–78, then he travelled to Dallas, Texas for a year as an AFS exchange student as a Senior J.J. Pearce high school in Richardson Texas. At Pearce Shaun continued his art studies and through the Dallas AFS clubs met the daughter of renowned American illustrator Jack Unruh. That was his first introduction to professional graphic design after Jack organised an “industrial visit” to the then new Graphic Design studio of Rex Peteet’s in Dallas, which in 1980 he merged with Don Sibley to form Sibley/Peteet.
Upon returning to Auckland in July 1979 Shaun aspired to take a break from the education system for a few years, work full-time in the real world and save up to be able to fund 3 years of full time university study in Fine Arts or Graphic Design. In 1980 he attended night classes and the “day release” Graphic Design course at Auckland Technical Institute. His second application portfolio for the Graphic Design school at ATI was successful. The intake each year was strictly limited to 32 students, selected on merit, and usually about 200 from all over New Zealand submitted portfolios to apply.
Shaun opted for 3 years of full time study 1981–83 and at the end of his third year was recruited as a freelance then full time junior art director and production/paste-up artist, under Roger Jarrett and Roger Brittenden at Mainstream FCB in Newmarket.
Shaun and Chrissie met on a camping holiday at Awaroa Inlet in the summer of ’85. Four months later Shaun had secured a job at Claude’s Advertising agency in Christchurch. A few months later he was head-hunted as a senior art director by Dave Siggelkow at Saatchi and Saatchi Christchurch.
Shaun’s colleague at Claude’s, Christine Toner, ran weekend workshops that she branded Toner Skillshops. Chrissie and Shaun attended one on t-shirt painting and printing late in 1985.
During the summer of ’86 and throughout that year they took up the hobby of screenprinting their own t-shirt designs together on the kitchen table in the evenings after work, then selling their “Surface Active” labelled designs through a friend, John Carbines, who had a woollen “rainbow jumper” stall at the Arts Centre Market on summer weekends. They headed off on their OE in May of 1987, with a pair of 12 month, round the world tickets for a working holiday. Before leaving they came up with the plan to develop their Surface Active “Design pARTnership” into a full-time business partnership upon their return home in May 1988.
May 19887 Shaun got a six week contract as a senior art director for Saatchi and Saatchi Wong Lam in Hong Kong. Then, travelling with Chrissie to Reykjavik via visiting Shaun’s sister Dianne and her fiancé Phil in Bahrain and on to stay with friends from Auckland and Christchurch who were squatting in London. The trip to Reykjavik was on the recommendation of an AFS friend, Alda Sigurðardóttir who advised their was a good deal of well paid work in publishing and advertising in Reykjavik. In Reykjavik Shaun landed a 6 month contract as a senior art director/finished artist (auglýsingateiknari) for Reykjavik Ad Agency (auglýsingastofa) Svona Gerum Við (This is how we do it), under creative director Kristín Kristínsson. During their winter over in Reykjavik, August ‘87–February ‘88 Chrissie worked as a seamstress/tailor for local rag trade entrepreneur and creative Gerður Palmadottír.
During their stint in Hong Kong Shaun in May purchased them 2 month, First Class Eurail passes. The months of June—August 1987 Shaun and Chrissie travelled by rail from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, they climbed Mt Ben McDui with his sister Catherine and her fiancé Gordon then hiked the Lairigh Ghru in the Cairngorms from the Lyn of Dee to Aviemore. They began their Eurail journey in Bergen then stayed with an AFS friend in Oslo in Norway, a friend in Gothenburg in Sweden, another in Aarhus in Denmark, on to Copenhagen, then down to stay with Chrissie’s Dutch relatives in Utrecht. They jumped back to the Lake’s District near Appleby for Shaun’s sister Dianne’s wedding to Phil, who they had met in Bahrain. Then sailed to Calais, caught the TGV for a week in Paris in the summertime. Staying with Chrissie’s friend Penny Everson, a baroque flautist, in Montmartre, on the slopes that lead to the Sacre Couer. They visited as many museums, art galleries and ancient ruins as they could.
From Paris they headed south to the Coté d’azure then on to Venice, Florence, Rome, Sicily, Brindisi in Italy, to Patras, Athens, then made a bee-line for the Greek Island of Skiathos to meet up with a Christchurch friend who was working there.
In June 1988 they returned to New Zealand, via a road trip across the USA, catching up with friends in New York, Boston, Dallas and San Francisco. Their last stop on their round the world Journey was Hawaii, where they spent a week camping at the Keahu Beach Park in Puhi Bay on the Hilo coast of the big island. Upon their return home they were intent to form a co-creative partnership that was seriously involved with T-shirt screenprinting as ‘auto printmakers’, and establishing a clothing brand and freelance graphic design studio as a business. That summer of ‘89 they sold their shirts at their own weekend Arts Centre Market stall in Christchurch and the Waiheke weekend market with the help of their friend Mimi Olds and by way of their first mail order catalogue.
In June 1988 Chrissie returned to Christchurch and Shaun to Auckland initially, as there was an opportunity to rent some desk space from friend graphic designer friend Giles Molloy in the Brown Street Studio in Ponsonby. There Shaun had access to an Eskofot process camera. Brown Street was the creative work environment and equipped with the process camera he needed to produce the first camera ready photo-stencil art for the first season’s range of Surface Active New Zealand nature t-shirts. And he laid out their first, photocopied, mail order catalogue.
Meanwhile in Christchurch, from June Chrissie was setting up the first phase of their back shed screenprinting workshop at their home in South Brighton, and getting their first photo positive screens made at ScreenTech screen print suppliers in Sydenham.
As design pARTners they believed that drawing is an essential part of the creative process and all that you see in their Surface Active E-store today began as drawings, many took a lot of patience. They chose the subject matter of New Zealand native flora & fauna, landscapes & Kiwiana for their designs. T-shirts in the spirit of fun—graphic designs that connect to and cherish the nature of their New Zealand home.
From the summer of 1989 until 2002 Surface Active had their own stall at the Christchurch Arts Centre Market. From 1993–2001 every winter Surface Active would tour New Zealand with the Great New Zealand Craft Shows.
Surface Active quickly grew 1989–2000. They took up various commissions to design wildlife art souvenir garments for various DOC conservancies, they wholesaled to environmentally themed stores; Wild Places and the Epicentre in Christchurch, to souvenir stores from Whangarei to Invercargill and every two years created a new mail order catalogue. Their designs were selected for the prestigious new Te Papa store in Wellington, there were commissions for series custom wildlife art designs from the new International Antarctica Centre and from Orana Park.
Hand screenprinting is the platform of the workman artist. It is labour intensive work. Throughout this period Chrissie and Shaun hired two full-time ‘screen gems’ Deborah McDonald and Alan Cook to help them screen print garments for at least 8 hours a day over the busy summer season. Chrissie was the screenprinting workshop manager, she fulfilled orders, did the invoicing. She was passionate too about cooking lunch for their workers every single day. As the business was being run from their home it was important to Chrissie and Shaun that everyone sat down together to eat a meal, as the work itself meant it was not possible to break for morning or afternoon tea.
As design pARTners they would co-art direct all the designs produced in the graphic design studio they set up in the house that they bought next door to their screenprinting workshop. Shaun’s responsibility was the production of all design and artwork and the pre-press phase of creating each design. He would also sell one day each weekend at their Arts Centre Market stall.
As an ethical rule and part of their aim to have as much control of the means of production as possible Chrissie and Shaun decided to use locally made t-shirts only. They also chose to focus on dark shirt printing. Initially this meant Chrissie would batch dye garments but increasing sales meant they quickly needed to move to a professional dye works in Bromley to contract batch dye for them.
In 1991 their friends from Iceland, Emma Magnusdottir and Hjórtur (Hugo) Kristinsson travelled to New Zealand with their young family for a working holiday and with a view to perhaps immigrating. Hugo was a photo-litho professional who worked in pre-press. As it happened desktop publishing had begun to revolutionise the print, publishing, and advertising industries in Iceland ahead of New Zealand. He brought with him a Mac G3. That year Shaun took his first forays into art directing digital design with Hugo as skilled Mac operator. Also with the director of the firm Seritech that supplied Surface Active’s photo stencils and screen printing supplies, Dave Cox, who operated a similar Mac.
Once they upgraded their plant from hobbyists 1cm thick customwood printing pallets to 5mm thick industrial grade aluminium and rubber composite pallets and a rolling flash drying unit the technical quality of their multicolour water-based ink dark shirt printing improved significantly.
Their inline system for hand screenprinting allowed for designs of up to 8, sometimes 10 colours. Hugo helpfully cast a technical eye over the new print workshop and came up with an innovation that enabled the screens when at rest between print runs to be humidified, this stopping inks and screens from drying out when printing multicolour designs on hot summer days, which greatly improved the quality and speed of printing.
The Christchurch Arts Centre Market stall also brought Chrissie and Shaun into contact with a group of younger t-shirt hand painting women artists with diverse styles whose garments they sold on commission.
Meeting cetacean expert and wildlife photographer Barbara Todd in 1990 at the opening of Shirley Matson’s new Maruia Society Eco-store Wild Places, and becoming familiar with her photography of whales, dolphins and New Zealand wildlife greatly impressed upon the Surface Active design pARTners’ artist’s eye. That meeting Barbara led to meeting Dunedin wildlife photographer Rod Morris. Reviewing their libraries of wildlife portraits made a profound impact on Chrissie and Shaun as the series of multicolour works in charcoal pencil and pen and that were inspired by their work from 1990–2002 attest.
Chrissie and Shaun were interested in environmentalism and supported organisations such as the Maruia Society, Forest and Bird and Greenpeace and supplied their retail stores and mail order catalogues with their New Zealand nature t-shirt designs. They were firm believers in the integration of the graphic arts and the craft of screenprinting, the idea of local manufacturing supplying retailers locally and nationwide. To them the design, manufacturing and retailing of auto-printmaking was a ‘whole’ thing, and they worked towards integrating their production with local t-shirt manufacturer Global Culture. They never stopped learning, reading, researching and exploring for new print artwork ideas.
Essentially, Surface Active’s works fall into four broad divisions, as follows:
- Early works. Mix of hand cut rubylith photostencils, and pen, ink and brush hand separated artworks with film work created using Xerography and Eskofot large format process camera. Some designs combined hand painted elements with screenprinting, native, wildlife, fauna, landscapes, seascapes as subject matter.
- Investment of profits from first 3 years of manufacturing and retailing was channeled into significantly improved plant, professional aluminium print platens, flash-cure unit, aluminium screenprinting frames, innovative screen registration system that drastically reduced multicolour print setup. These technological upgrades enabled revolutionary improvement in print quality and production rates.
In turn this brought about pointillism and charcoal drawing 8 separated colour series of finely detailed prints. Large format realistic wildlife art illustrations, precisely registered. The original art was hand rendered at A2 size and reduced in the darkroom to be finally reproduced on shirts at outsize A3 dimension final print size. Using the same methodology charcoal drawings of atmospheric landscapes were also produced.
- Commissioned series of wildlife art works for; the new International Antarctica Centre, Orana Park, various DOC conservancies, the Awaroa Lodge, the Last Resort in Karamea. Charcoal drawings and pen and inks growing out of No.2, but some being more stylised in structure.
- Computer-aided design series, 1995-2002. Surface Active purchase their first Mac Pro in 1995. Shaun trained himself as a creative designer/Mac operator with technical print production support from Hugo. Based on mixed media of scanned image elements, scanned drawings, Photoshop and Painter drawings using the Wacom tablet. Elements of collage, pen and ink, charcoal drawings, woodcuts, Photoshop airbrushing, posterisation of images and pixel paintings. Surface Active’s “camera ready” finished artwork evolved into designs that are a blend of old-school and digital design techniques.
Works from 1–4 all integrated image and type, calligraphy or other artful hand lettering. All works were co-designed and art directed from the best concepts originated by either design pARTner, Chrissie or Shaun. Design, illustration and pre-press of all their co-created works by Shaun. ‘Back shed’ printmaking workshop and all garment manufacturing operations from supply chain to order fulfilment and management of our “screen gems” printmaking staff and sales staff management all run by Chrissie. Weekend Arts Centre Market stall and sales crew managed by Shaun, including frequent days in the retail sales role at the market during the busy summer season.
Click the following links to view the full catalogue for this Surface Active retrospective exhibition.
Global store: https://www.surfaceactive.nz/?pr=PERFEC
USE CODE “PERFEC” for 5% off
NZ-based store: http://surfaceactive.digitees.co.nz/
DISCOUNTS automatically applied based on the quantity of items you are ordering. 5+ items = 5% discount | 10+ items = 10% discount.
Design and Art Direction: Design pARTners, Chrissie Terpstra and Shaun Waugh
Client: Surface Active