52 Weeks of Printmakers: Amos Kennedy Jr.

I met Amos Kennedy Jr. at the opening of his show at Mule Gallery a couple of weeks ago. A self-described “humble negro printer,” Kennedy  is currently turning a 3000 sq ft Detroit warehouse (that, at the moment, only has 1500 sq ft of roof) into a print shop and center for the study of letterpress print. Read on! And if you’re in the Bay Area, see his show before it closes at the end of June!

When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?

Well, I am a printer not a printmaker. People like to call me a printmaker. But I consider myself a commercial printer. But in reality, I just put ink on paper. I really enjoy the process. Oh, I have been know to bind a book or two, make collages, blow a little glass, play with cloth but I spend a lot of time defying the social norms of this civilization.

How would you describe your work?

Messy. Lacking the skills of fine printing. A true reflection of my life.

You describe yourself as a “humble negro printer”. Why?

Because to be humble does not mean you are unaware of your humility. Have you seen me? I tell people that I am “negro” because most people mistake me for africanamerican. There is a profound difference between “negro” and africanamerican. My ancestors were the enslaved peoples whose labor built the wealth of this civilization.

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

In elementary school, I would fold paper and make what I called “books”.

Is there a ritual or activity that is crucial to your practice?

Each day I am in my space, I MUST put ink on paper. Why else go to the space? Problem solving happens at the press for me. I enjoy being in the moment.

What are you currently working on, and why?

I am taking a 3,000 sq ft building with a 1,500 sq ft roof and converting it into a print shop. See the answer to question #8.

Do you have a dream project (or two)?

1) To organize the wood type collection I have and create a catalog of it.

2) Create installations of display in public libraries across the nation.

What’s next?

To build a space for the advance study of the design and production of letterpress printed posters. While more and more people want to design and print poster using the letterpress process, there are few places in theseunitestatesofamerica that allow them to pursue that goal. For the past twenty years I have collected several printing presses and a collection of wood type. Now, I have rebuilding an old auto repair garage in Detroit to house the equipment, so people can come and develop the craft of poster design.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

It is the doing that matters. Lose yourself in the process to find yourself. Keep your exceptions low so you can meet them. As you become experienced in the craft, your projects will reflect that growth.

What do you want readers to know about you or your work?

If I knew what I was doing, I won’t do it. I live in the moment. Generosity is what makes us human, Be generous. I am transformed by the work I do more than the work is transformed by me. Make stuff!!! Do not worry about the quality of what you make. Make stuff.

How can people find you?

My Internet presence is kennedyprints. I keep it simple so I can remember it.

52 Weeks of Printmakers: Arsenal Handicraft

This week, I’m introducing you toe Christina and Dennis Jacobs, the husband and wife duo behind Arsenal Handicraft. Working out of their home studio in the Detroit area, Christina and Dennis agonize over every tiny detail, illustrating and screen printing each piece from beginning to end.

JH: When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?

AH: In college, Dennis was collecting screen printed posters, especially Shepard Fairey’s. He started to experiment with making his own artwork, mostly with stencils and spray paint, and was part of a few gallery shows in Detroit. He learned to screen print as a way to work faster – cutting stencils was time consuming.  It also allowed him to make multiples of the same image.  Once we had a small print studio set up, we sought out opportunities to make gig posters for bands. We also bought a couple of small printing presses and a little collection of lead and wood type. However, we stick mostly to screen printing these days.

How would you describe your work?

Our screen printed illustrations hopefully tell a story or evoke some kind of feeling. One of the best things we ever overheard about our work was said by a mom holding a toddler and looking at one of our prints. The mom wanted to buy it for his room, and the kid asked, “Why?” She said, “Because I think when you look at it, you can imagine things happening in it.”

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

The first thing we made together was our wedding invitations in 2009. They were on boring white paper with navy blue ink that printed almost black. We used a delicate script font that was impossible for us to burn correctly with our setup, which was a shop light from Home Depot hanging over a piece of black fabric on the basement floor. To this day, we still try to push the limits of our printmaking abilities with everything we make. 8 years in, we’re still finding ways to screw things up and learn from our mistakes.

Is there a ritual or activity that is crucial to your practice?

When getting started seems impossible, we force ourselves to work for just 10 minutes even if we don’t feel like it. After that, if we still want to quit, it’s okay, but we usually get in a groove before then. Before getting to work, Christina sometimes lights a stick of Japanese incense that’s supposed to enhance creativity. It forces her to sit there and work for at least as long as it’s burning so the fancy incense doesn’t go to waste. It’s silly, but it works.

What are you currently working on, and why?

The next print on press is a cross between a mountain landscape and an infographic, and it depicts the highest peaks in the Pacific Northwest. We’re taking a trip to the Oregon coast, and doing a pop up shop at one of the places that stocks our artwork.

Do you have a dream project (or two)?

Christina really wants to do a large scale piece of public art. Dennis wants to design labels for a brewery. We’d also love to do a solo gallery show.

What’s next?

We have a proposal in the works for a mural, so hopefully that pans out! We’ll also be one of the artists working on site again at Mo Pop, which is a local music festival. We’ll have a piece in a group show at a gallery in Chicago, a packaging design project, and somewhere in there, we’d like to create a new line of holiday cards for 2017. We do a lot of craft shows in the fall and winter, and we never start prepping for those early enough.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

Work as late into the night as your youth will allow.

What do you want readers to know about you or your work?

We absolutely love to talk shop. If you ever see us at a show, or want to ask a screen printing related question via email/comment, do it! Lately, we’ve been using Instagram Stories more to document our process, and sometimes, when we’re feeling brave, we’ll do a live “studio broadcast” and answer questions. We love to explain how our prints are made, as well as talk with other artists about printmaking. It’s a wonderful, generous community to be a part of.

How can people find you?

Website + shop: http://arsenalhandicraft.com/

Instagram: @arsenalhandicraft

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arsenalhandicraft

Twitter: @arsenalhcraft

52 Weeks of Printmakers: Kelli MacConnell

Portland-based artist Kelli MacConnell carefully explores landscapes, then translates her natural surroundings into richly detailed prints. For her, printmaking serves as a key vehicle in fostering a relationship between humans and the natural world. She is currently working on an ongoing series of prints called Prints for Preservation. She talks about this project – and so much more – in our interview.

When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?

It actually wasn’t until college when I discovered printmaking. I was a drawing/painting major when I took my first intro to printmaking class as a sophomore. I was immediately hooked and shortly after changed my focus to printmaking! I’ve been creating mainly relief prints ever since, however I still enjoy drawing and painting.

How would you describe your work?

Graphic nature inspired impressions of the wild.

What’s the first thing you ever remember making?

The first thing I ever remember making was a piece of art I created by melting crayons when I was 3 or 4 at my preschool. I still remember I absolutely loved the smell of the melted wax and watching it transform into a liquid and then a solid again on my paper as it cooled. Well, and making cookies with my mom… not sure which came first!

Is there a ritual or activity that is crucial to your practice?

Coffee! And I often find myself in a clearer state of mind and much more motivated to create after a hike in the woods.

What are you currently working on, and why?

I’m currently working on a handful of projects simultaneously. I’m just finishing up a small edition of prints for a fundraiser show, a wine label design for an Oregon winery, an ongoing series of 4 ft. native tree linocuts, and I am gearing up for an action packed summer of outdoor fine art shows in Washington and Oregon. I find that I really enjoy working on a variety of projects at once. As an artist, there are so many different avenues to venture down, and I think it’s refreshing to mix things up a little!

Do you have a dream project (or two)?

I have many projects whirling around in my head, but the biggest one that comes to mind is to live and have a printmaking studio in a somewhat remote town or wilderness area. This place would be a studio/art center where I can teach workshops for children and adults, and also an artist retreat destination. It would be a place for other artists/printmakers to come for months at a time to create (artist residencies), find peace and work through their own ideas and concepts for making and creating.

What’s next?

I will be continuing my ongoing series of large format native tree prints (Next up is the Ponderosa Pine), while I travel and participate in a handful of shows this summer.

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

Never stop creating… Learning is a process of ups and downs, and it is with mistakes that we find clarity!

What do you want readers to know about you or your work?

I create these nature inspired images not only because it brings me joy, but I create in hopes to connect others to the natural world as well. I hope that these prints are little reminders of what is out there beyond our windows, phones, computers… I also hope that they may spark interest in a particular place or bring up a memory or connection with a particular tree, for example, and then be the motivation for a visit to a forest, river, mountain or maybe a lake.

I feel like so many of us have become disconnected from the natural world, and forget that our health is affected by this. I believe contact with nature improves our physical, mental and emotional well-being. People need to reconnect to the wilderness around them, and it is then that they will feel fulfilled; It is then that they will live a more satisfying life and feel content.

Also, in response to my strong feelings toward the importance of the nature, as of this year, I’ve started an ongoing series of prints called Prints for Preservation. I will be creating one edition annually that benefits a nonprofit that helps preserve and restore threatened wilderness areas.. This year’s print is the Whitebark Pine and all profits are being donated to The Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation.

How can people find you?

Website: www.kellimacconnell.com

Instagram: @kelli_macconnellprints

Facebook: Kelli MacConnell Prints

 

52 Weeks of Printmakers: Valerie Lueth of Tugboat Printshop

Overlook, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
Log, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
This week’s printmaker is Pittsburgh-based artist Valerie Lueth of Tugboat Printshop. A self-described “prairie gal” (born in Iowa and raised in rural South Dakota), Valerie creates intricate woodcuts of the natural world. Her work is large and stunning; for more photos of her work, and to learn more about her process, check out Tugboat Printshop’s website.
When kids say that they want to be artists, most grownups assume that they want to become painters or illustrators (or, occasionally, sculptors) – but never printmakers. How did you find your way into this medium? What other media do you work in?
I was one of those kids that always wanted to be an artist from the time I was young, very self-propelled to make, and interested in all mediums across the board but especially drawing.  During my first year in university, my drawing professor Lloyd Menard (also the professor of printmaking at USD) offered me a summer position assisting at Frogman’s Print and Paper Workshops and a work study job at the USD Print Department. That summer I took my first print courses and learned a tremendous amount working alongside graduate/high level print students maintaining the shop and assisting their projects. I really was unaware of printmaking as a medium until that summer, but from then on I was hooked! I spent the next 5 years (I took education at my own pace) exploring all facets of print. What interested me most about printmaking was how it furthered my drawings–and I loved the people I met, such a fantastic and upbeat community!
Working exclusively in woodcut came later for me, with the formation of Tugboat Printshop in 2006. Tugboat co-founder Paul Roden and I began collaborating in woodcut at that time. Working on blocks felt very natural from the start, and the work I made for Tugboat with Paul kept me thinking expansively and challenging woodcut’s possibilities daily. 11 years and many prints later, I continue to have a full blown love for woodcut; it is absolutely the medium I will continue to work in for a while to come!
Moth, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
How would you describe your work?
I like to make things that are beautiful, that transmit positivity and bring joy to others. My work celebrates the natural world, with an underbelly of prying at man/womankind’s relationship to it.
Daisy Bouquet, by Valerie Lueth in collaboration with Paul Roden
What’s the first thing you ever remember making?
A crayon drawing of a sky at sunset. And before that many, many forts.
Your work is so striking and so technically complex. Tell me a bit about your process.
I spend a good chunk of time developing drawings directly on the woodblock (3/4″ birch plywood), and then another hefty block of days patiently hand-carving those drawings in relief. Approach is very traditional, no computers, everything by hand. Color work is done on transfers printed from the key, typically not more than 4-5 blocks tops for any one print.
 
What are you currently working on, and why?
Right now, I am working on a new color woodcut titled “EVE” (on pre-order right now, almost done!). I started drawing “EVE” around election time last year; I have been thinking a lot about women’s roles.
 
Do you have a dream project (or two)?
Oh yes! Many! I’d love a vast amount of time to just make and make and make. And then be transported to someplace else exotic and new to do more making and making.
What’s next?
More woodcuts! Drawings! Maybe some ceramics? Planting my summer garden.
 
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Focus on doing work that you love and keep it a priority.
 
What do you want readers to know about you or your work?
Come visit Tugboat if you’re ever in Pittsburgh!  I’m happy to arrange visits to shop prints & talk prints at the T.B.P.S. studio!
10. How can people find you?
instagram: @tugboatprintshop