David Holzer asks co-founder Meg Gage Williams, what she thinks is the secret to Stick No Bills’ success.
I first glimpsed Stick No Bills’ poster gallery on Costa D’en Brossa in the centre of Palma from the next alleyway down. Perhaps I spotted the word ‘travel’ and was intrigued. I wandered into the showroom and got talking to Meg, charm and enthusiasm personified.
Stick No Bills was founded in Galle Fort, Sri Lanka in 2011 by Meg, a former insurgency and security risk analyst and her husband Philip, an advertising executive and professional photographer.
The couple, who met in the Middle East and had clearly already led colourful lives, first launched Stick No Bills to promote post-war Sri Lanka as a travel destination using the Poster Design Group of London’s collection of exclusively licensed antique original illustrative maps and original vintage posters.
After an epic legal journey to secure unassailable copyright, Philip began digitally remastering their originals to restore them to their former glory and to produce high quality prints of the resultant images in formats ranging from miniature postcards to five metre tall one-off editions.
Although theirs was to be a poster art-oriented business, they wanted to devise a modus operandi that would enable them to ‘be the change we wanted to see in the world’.
Stick No Bills does this by raising funds for vital humanitarian and conservation projects such as Medicos Sin Fronteras, the United Nations Refugee Agency, The Red Cross, The Hummingbird Initiative, the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, 8 Billion Trees and Save The Med Foundation with proceeds from all sales of their prints.
In a more subtle way, the highly desirable, aspirational artworks Philip restores and also creates from scratch are designed to be agents for change in and of themselves.
Meg, Philip and their eldest daughter Farrah visited Mallorca for the first time in 2010, shortly after Farrah was born. The decision to make it their home in the long run was instantaneous, within just a few days of exploring Deià and then Orient prior to a family wedding.
While they were developing Stick No Bills in Sri Lanka, they began to design their way into being able to move here. They supplied Natura on the island with their first 10 Mallorca-centric designs in 2016 and relocated to the Tramuntana mountain range between Calvia and Andratx later that same year.
Today, of all the high end reseller outlets the company supplies in Asia, Europe and the Americas, 39 are open in spite of the pandemic, including chi-chi department store Rialto Living and Stick No Bills’ own flagship galleries in Palma and Galle Fort.
Courtesy of the Poster Design Group Limited, Stick No Bills currently enjoys an exclusive license to print 142 ‘live’ images in their collection across a mind-boggling 1800 unframed and framed product variants. Unframed print prices range from €2.95 to €5,950.
Meg and I planned a face-to-face interview but events got the better of us. She was kind enough to answer my questions by email.
I’m intrigued by the recession-defying surge in demand for your posters, Meg. Can you explain why?
I think the main drivers for our most recent growth lie not just in the preceding ten years of relentless hard work on the part of our core teams on the ground in Sri Lanka, Mallorca, South Africa and England to establish us as an ecommerce business with resilient supply chains and a robust online fulfillment capability but also because of the millions of travellers who have fallen in love with Mallorca and Sri Lanka over the same time period before the lock down.
These globally dispersed Mallorca and/or Sri Lanka lovers are our core market. They hail from sophisticated economies within which the art-loving consumer is still very much alive and where home improvement is now all the rage.
‘Stick No Bills put the soul back into poster design.’ Paul Weller
Would-be returnees, the vast majority of our bricks and mortar customers have been stuck at home for the better part of 2020, far away from the island paradises which we champion, yet pining for a Mallorca or a Ceylon they can’t get to, perhaps more than ever.
The Mallorcan and Sri Lankan diaspora feel homesick while non-native Ceylon and Balearics aficionados dream of the vacation they long to have or the second home they can’t reach. So they come to us online or via direct message to help enable them to substitute a beautiful travel poster depicting the best attributes of the place they yearn for on their wall, for the reality.
There’s also the fact that ‘high net worth Millennials’ and the generations coming after them are increasingly comfortable buying art online, a trend, in our experience, accelerated by the lockdown.
Added to which many high earners – in the booming fintech arena for example – actually have more disposable income to spend and more time to browse online for as long as their physical horizons are limited. I deduce that it is for all the above reasons that we have undergone this latest growth surge.
I’m also curious about the notion that Stick No Bills’ beautiful, highly desirable artworks are somehow satirical. How?
When I use the word satire I employ it in its corrective, aspirational sense. The images might seem simply to be highly desirable but let’s go deeper into why they appeal.
One of our most popular posters is ‘El Ultimo Tranvia’ featuring a lone female leaning elegantly out of the back of the empty tram passing through the Port of Soller. Why?
I would argue it works so well because the girl is free. She has the head space to revel in being in her element on a tram that is, under normal high season circumstances, packed.
In an interview with The Independent five years ago Philip described the images we produce as depicting the holiday people “wish they had had”, rather than the unglamorous experience they may have actually endured.
Many of our designs of Mallorca show our chief protagonists in this kind of ‘peak moment’, captured in a precise split second of a past we all long to recover for its uncrowded and uncontaminated serenity.
(The double irony is that this year we did recover that crowd-free island paradise. But at what colossal cost, both medically and economically speaking?)
I suppose the underlying point we’re subtly making throughout our images is that we acknowledge it’s impossible to disengage art from politics.
Our designs inspire the viewer to hark back to a sort of 20th Century ‘Travel Utopia’, pre-mass tourism. They also stir emotion and inspire hope for regeneration.
It is within these man-made circumstances that Stick No Bills’ travel poster art is intended to help cherish and promote the right type of respectful, sustainable, environmentally sensitive travel to exceptionally fragile destinations like Mallorca and Sri Lanka in years to come.
Can you describe the production process for me?
It all begins in Philip’s imagination. We then start to build on the scene he has dreamt up with a narrative thread and a perspective on a particular, much-adored location or a landmark site which we know will be widely recognised and appreciated – Cala Deià, Es Pontas in Santanyi, Castell De Bellver for example.
We then conjure up a hero and or heroine; stars of the idyllic scene, usually with lots of movement or poised drama, set in a specific year. Philip’s obsession with 20th Century fashion and mid century modern style is then bought to bear on the characters and objects that populate the scene. A perfectionist, our Creative Director is exacting in the historical accuracy of his depiction.
The concept of the image becomes a mood board, then a pencil sketch. We might do as many as 30 or 40 sketches.
It can take weeks of test printing to get the colours right and on trend. We are honoured to be collaborating with Joan Oliver Argelés, the highly knowledgeable director of Joan Miró’s printmaking workshops on pioneering new applications of old printing techniques.
When the illustration aspect of the poster is completed, Philip works on the format, aspect ratio, border style, typography and written content, studying past masters ranging from Toulouse Lautrec to Stan Galli for inspiration and drawing on his experience gained in commercial advertising at the Financial Times to compose the most attention grabbing and aesthetically pleasing poster possible.
Once proofed to perfection we use the latest generation inks on the most state-of-the-art digital printer, giclée spraying the inks onto the very finest archival 100% cotton-based acid free and age resistant fabric in the world supplied by Hahnemuele, a German company that has produced art paper since the late 1500s. Hahnemuele guarantees the image, when printed on their luxury fabric, won’t fade for an astonishing 200 years.
One poster generally takes us around one month to create.
All limited editions come wrapped in acid free tissue paper and accompanied by Certificates of Authenticity signed by us. We frame the prints on a Made To Order basis in a variety of solid wood and aluminium styles, floating the weighty Hahnemuhle fabric in the archival manner and encouraging our clients to invest in anti-reflective UV defence ArtGlass™ as the ArtGlass really makes the images ‘pop’ so much more than when they sit behind regular glass.
Once each final artwork is launched, we move on to producing open edition postcards and A3 sized prints of the final image, printing these on Italy’s finest, fade-resistant matt art board for distribution to the wider market. We then produce high quality posters of the image on satin matt art paper.
Turning to questions of quality of life, what do you and your family love about Mallorca?
There’s so much abundance here. We love the climate and the island’s benevolent flora and fauna (a relief having lived in a jungle riddled with cobras by a crocodile-infested lagoon for eight years). The incredible beauty and the variety of the many microclimates, all packed into an island you can drive across in under two hours, never ceases to amaze me.
As a family, surfing is central to our lives so the occasional surf on the east and southern coasts is also a massive draw. Whenever there are waves we drop everything and run to the beach.
Then there’s the culture, including nearby Catalunya’s major role in the development of art deco style poster art – the music, theatre and arts scenes, the progressive education and health sectors and the fantastic diversity of the people one can meet here.
From a business point of view, Mallorca’s accessibility from the major cities of Europe, helps makes Palma the most cosmopolitan and open-minded place I have ever worked.
‘We love the magnificent way in which children, the elderly and the importance of family and local community are upheld in society here.’ Meg, Stick No Bills
You have an exciting new development happening. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yes, we are delighted to announce the launch of The Poster Design Group Collective.
The collective is comprised of Philip and five other artists who we are humbled to confirm have agreed to come together to take Travel Poster Art to a whole new level.
This will be done under the aegis of The Poster Design Group, the UK based archives company that is custodian of all our artistic intellectual property; of our antique posters and our high resolution images of the designs Philip has art directed.
When we became resident in Mallorca in 2016, with godfather-like expertise provided by the Joan Miro Foundation, we began transforming The Poster Design Group into the fine art division of Stick No Bills. Now all this research and development comes to fruition.
We have done this so we can invent a new genre: truly original travel poster art. As of September 2020 we have recruited a Barcelona-bred gentleman, Carlos Andreu Cantarell, with a Christies’ Auction House training pedigree to help us market this fine art project and expand the retailing aspect of Stick No Bills™ geographically here in Europe.
If you think about it, there’s never been such a commodity as original travel poster art. Posters were invented as a mass marketing tool produced in large quantities to be pasted to walls (in defiance of myriad instructions to ‘Stick No Bills’!) and then torn down once their ‘visual shout’ advertising purpose had been served. However, we have learnt by listening to our clients’ desires that there is a burgeoning market for unique fine art posters that has not yet been well met. Cue Stick No Bills courtesy of The Poster Design Group.
The posters made by The Poster Design Group won’t just show stylish people in stunning settings. We want to be the opposite of reductive in the way we promote the places we focus on; we want to cast a warm light on their unique heritage and we’re going to engage people’s emotions in the most powerful way possible.
For instance, we might make a poster showing Cala Deià from restaurant Ca’s Patro March. Having the privilege of experiencing this raw natural beauty first hand was the ‘peak moment’ that inspired us to move to Mallorca, so we would fundraise for Foundation Save The Med and UNHCR with that image.
Each poster will use mixed media and exquisite typography. We’ve had the great good fortune to meet a craftsman here on the island who has served as yacht guilder to the Spanish royal family. He will guild the name of the destination each poster depicts in 24-karat gold. Posters will also be embossed or stamped with the wax seal of The Poster Design Group.
The original fine art posters will start at €5,950 and will measure 100 x 155cm in width and height. The sale of the original will be followed by sale of ten limited editions for €3,675 each. Our retail division will then sell limited edition print runs of each poster in smaller size.
We’re very excited by this new venture so, as they say, watch this space.
Check out the gorgeous Stick No Bills posters online here.
There are posters and then there are posters, as in bona fide designs, as in Stick No Bills. Antonia Carver, Director, Art Dubai 2010 – 2016 and Director, United Arab Emirates Arts Foundation 2016 to the present