MITCH REVS has elevated the humble puzzle beyond childhood favourite and isolation boredom buster to the sphere of prized artwork.
The Merewether artist, born Mitch Resevsky, has been transforming his colourful creations into puzzles for about two years, but they've become even more coveted during COVID-19 and completely sold out.
He said at least 20 per cent of customers have had their completed works custom framed as keepsakes.
"It's a way people can now build my artworks, rather than just purchase a print and have it framed... it's like a trophy to say 'I completed this'," Revs said.
"I think some people see it as a cheaper alternative to buying an artwork and they can do it as a family."
Revs has also launched family colouring sheets.
"We were thinking, people like my artwork, but how could they be a part of it, as opposed to just buying a premium artwork that is quite expensive to pop on a wall?"
The puzzles celebrate his "relatable" coastal scenes, including the Anzac Walk, the Bogie Hole, Redhead Shark Tower, Merewether Baths, the Cowrie Hole, the Sygna at Stockton, Queens Wharf Tower and Merewether, Nobbys, Newcastle and Horseshoe beaches.
Revs said he ordered 450 puzzles from his Singapore supplier about a fortnight before restrictions were introduced.
He made the puzzles available online as a preorder on April 3, the same day he launched a new website, to arrive within four to six weeks. They sold out in three days.
He said he would have normally expected to sell about half that number to coincide with a new website.
"There's quite a lot of hype around them," Revs said.
"Puzzles are great, I've got a really active mind and I'm always thinking in overdrive.
"Puzzles are one of the only things where you can sit down and all you're thinking about in that moment is looking for that next puzzle piece.
"I guess it's the same feeling people have from reading books.
"To draw your attention to that next puzzle piece is kind of therapy in a way. Like colouring in, it's a way to slow down your mind."
He said 70 per cent were purchased in the Hunter and the others were sent to the USA, UK, The Netherlands and other countries.
He said about 50 - mostly Bogey Hole - puzzles have been temporarily held up at a Sydney warehouse.
"The courier companies are just backlogged with so many shipments that we're just waiting for our turn for them to be put in the back of a truck. It shouldn't be too much longer."
Of the majority that did arrive, Revs himself delivered a handful of the 300 bound for Newcastle.
"I always have and that's something I don't really want to lose," he said.
"I love seeing the customer stoked out by that.
"Even the odd customer saying 'Wow, I didn't expect you to be dropping them off', I enjoy that.
"I also put a call out to people who had either lost their job, or were needing money, and we had some very special people come in and pick up these puzzles and I paid them to go and do deliveries - and that also meant that people weren't waiting."
He's since ordered another 450 puzzles and will wait until they arrive in Newcastle before listing them on his website, most likely in the next four weeks.
"We've learnt from previous experience, anxiety was high in the gallery with so many pending orders and emails coming in from people wanting to know where their items were, so it's a smart option to wait until we actually have the product to make them available online again," he said.
"If people are keen on puzzles we will still be writing down names, phone numbers and what puzzle they want, but we won't be taking any money at this point."
Frontline Hobbies has also seen a renewed passion for puzzles and other items to keep hands busy.
Owner Colin Scott said puzzles were the most popular of his 110,000 products, with sales up 300 per cent compared to before COVID-19.
"Two weeks ago we were virtually empty by late afternoon every day and would have to restock every night," he said.
"It's eased up slightly now, but we're still selling hundreds every day in store and hundreds around the country."
Mr Scott said the 1000-piece varieties were the most popular and far outsold the newer 3D puzzle sculptures.
Sales of board games and model kits are also up by at least 300 per cent.
The store has 40 varieties of Monopoly, with the Newcastle version selling more than 1000 units.
He said he had kits of virtually every aircraft and motor vehicle, except Holden and Ford, plus ships.
"We always comment that if you spend $50 or $100 on a model kit you've got it for a long time, you spend that much on a restaurant meal and it's gone overnight.
"The play value of a model kit is immense."
He said he was seeing lots of new customers.
"They're realising they can get kids off their screens; that it's good value for money and that it's something that gets them all involved."
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
The story Hunter businesses seize moment as puzzles return to the fore first appeared on Newcastle Herald.