Rusty & Ingrid
//Rusty & Ingrid are offering a special Cyber Monday Discount for LOOT readers - read on to find out more!//
Not far from the ocean's edge on Lexington Ave. in Gloucester, there is a printmaking studio and shop. Stop in and you will meet Rusty or Ingrid Kinnunen who will be busy printing, framing, working with their talented staff or playing with their kids. This is the base of operations for their growing collection of limited-edition screen prints which they design and print by hand. What makes their prints special are the subjects they choose - scenes of iconic and cherished places throughout New England that tap into your memories and remind you of the places you love. On a recent visit, I had the chance to talk with them about their process, their designs and why handmade is still so important...
Your designs are so iconic of New England - how do you choose which images and locations you will work up into designs?
The way it started was we would sign up for an outdoor market where we would sell our work and then think what scenes would appeal to that market. So it really was dictated in the beginning by where we were selling. This forced us to make new work and that's what helped us built up our catalog. We also started with places that we are familiar with and that we love like Gloucester and the North Shore. Sometimes when we are not sure what the best iconic scene is to represent a place in our design we ask our friends or customers who will tell us the places they like. That's helpful when we're not as familiar with the place. Our ski series for instance started like this.
How did you decide to start exploring ski resort locations as subjects for your prints?
It actually started with a friend to wanted to give a gift to her husband - he skied at Sugarloaf in Maine so she commissioned us to do something for that location which we then made into an edition and sold at markets. It turned out to be really popular and a lot of people wanted to see other mountains so we started making a few more. We were very quickly able to sell the Sugarloaf line at the mountain and make sales in the wintertime which was a really good opportunity. These designs are also just really fun to do and because they have figures in them and are scenes out of our imagination, I guess it goes back to my roots (Rusty) when I would love to draw comic books and use figures and action in the scenes. It surprises us how popular they have been. Unlike with other prints, it seems that where ever people are from, anyone who skis has a favorite mountain and a connection to it. A common thread throughout our work is how different places bring out a passion and association for people who know them. We’re tapping into a very passionate audience and we want our work to show these places in a very authentic way.
There is so much attention to detail in your work - what is the most challenging part of your production process? What part of the process do you enjoy most?
The most challenging part is mixing the colors. Getting the colors just right takes a lot of time. (We recently bought a Kitchen Aid mixer to help us with this!) We get so many comments about our colors and it’s something that people really respond to in our work so we are picky about it. Working with screen printing inks however is much different than mixing paints, so for us since we both have a background as painters, we're used to mixing colors and pretty much with painting what you see is what you get. But with screen printing, the inks dry darker and colors will shift so you have to work with all those things and spend time with it to get the know the medium.
(Rusty) As far as which part is most enjoyable, it’s all pretty fun, but the designing is especially fun because I start by sketching and there is a lot of freedom to develop ideas. I'll often do a lot of thumbnail sketches and play with the designs in an abstract way and then I do the final line art using pen and ink or brush which is always fun for me because it’s related to painting.
(Ingrid) The printing itself is also fun especially when you get to the last color and you finally see it come together for the first time. Sometimes we will use as many as 4 or 5 colors in a design so it's not until you get that last color on there that you appreciate how it looks all together.
What do you feel people respond to most about your prints? What do you hope customers see or feel when they see one of your printed designs?
Usually the colors are what people comment on first. Our experience with customers is at outdoor markets so people come into the booth and they'll not be looking at any particular design but say “Oh I love your colors!”. People will also respond to specific scenes according to their own experience. There’s definitely a sense of nostalgia that people have and we want them to have, but I feel like what we're trying to do is to create almost like a container for people to project their own memories onto. We try not to be too specific with an image since we want to capture the essence of a place or a theme but leave room for the customer to make their own interpretation. With our print of the grandstand view at Fenway Park for instance, we’ve had people say to us things like “That’s my seat!” or “That’s where I took my son for his first game!”. People really put themselves into the image and we love that. We want our designs to be more than just decor in their house, but also that it brings them a lot of joy - especially when they are giving them as gifts and people say “They will just love this! It is the perfect thing!”. It can be hard to give artwork as a gift, but it’s nice that people can actually feel pretty confident about giving one of our prints because they know this person is going to connect with it.
We are also interested in the interplay between the abstraction of something and someone's memory of it. You never remember things in full detail. Rather the way that you remember something is more in shapes and a little more ambiguous. So when we draw these scenes we are reducing the colors and reducing the shapes and the details which I think relates to the way we remember things. Our designs are not specific to a time point so they can fit into most people’s memories. I think people abstract things in their own mind to retain memories because you can’t remember every detail so you remember the essential elements which is what we are trying to do with our designs.
Why do you feel it is important to keep your prints handmade vs. using a digital printing method?
People today see thousands of images a day and you can produce images with your phones and any number of digital tools, but these images soon disappear or are not remembered. Part of our training as painters instilled this kind of respect for the image and image-making. Any time you see a painting in person it has the power to surprise or impress you or be better than you expect. That’s because you are seeing an image that was handmade and meant to be seen in person. By insisting on handmade artwork, we are trying to work against the culture of cheap images and bring back some value and respect for the image. A lot of people ask us “Why don't you put these on t-shirts? You would make a killing!”. Well if you put it on a t-shirt people wear it for a while and then over over time it will wear out and it gets thrown away. But when we print our art on paper as artwork, people cherish it - they put it on their wall and respect it. We also want to make our prints accessible to people who would like to buy and have original artwork in their home, but for a price they can afford. Our prints really make this possible and allow our customers to own an original limited edition piece and be able to associate with the artist who created it (us!).
//Special Cyber Monday Sale! Rusty & Ingrid are offering an extra 10% off prints for LOOT readers! Use the code: “LOOT” on their website for an extra 10% off (Expires 12/4/16).//
Photos: Melissa DiPalma