Rick Allen has been a printmaker for so long now that there's little chance he'll be able to do anything useful for society. He worked as an illustrator for quite a while, which is probably how he started to go astray, with his work showing up in Outside Magazine and the Utne Reader, on book covers for John LeCarre and 50 lbs. bags of feed for dairy cows; we don't know for sure what the cows thought about his art but we did note that milk started tasting odd at just about the same time, didn't you?
About five years ago Rick and his partner and wife Marian Lansky started the Kenspeckle Letterpress in Duluth, MN, for no other reason than to make trouble. Kenspeckle is a Scottish word meaning distinctive or easily recognizable, which could fairly describe Rick and Marian's prints but we're not sure if that's altogether a good thing. Since starting Kenspeckle in a fit of creative desperation, Rick has started to get phone calls and mail for Ken Spackle and he's starting to answer to that name, which is worrisome, to him at least.
Rick works back in the 19th Century and prints his original wood engravings and lino blocks in small editions using multiple hand-cut and inked blocks and applying hand coloring to finish the print off, while over in the 21st Century Marian prepares and prints limited edition giclees of selected Kenspeckle prints, just because she can.
Rick and Marian live in Duluth and are too short-sighted to consider moving.
Giclee (pronounced ‘jhee-CLAY) printmaking was originally developed in the late 1980’s as a digital method of art reproduction. The work Giclee is French for ‘spray of ink’. In the Giclee process, images are scanned and digitally stored in a computer before being sent to a high resolution printer where a fine stream of ink, more than four million droplets per second, is sprayed onto archival paper or canvas. Each image is sent to the printer individually, thus allowing for versatility and experimentation with the hue, value and density of the inks. Pigment based archival inks are used. Giclee prints have and estimated longevity of 140-200 years. Giclee prints are noted for exceptional detail, dynamic color and depth.
Kenspeckle is a Scottish word meaning ‘conspicuous, easily recognizable, distinctive.’ One might say the Aerial Bridge is a kenspeckle landmark of Duluth. But one probably has too much sense to say that.
Letterpress printing is an age-old printing technique; by age-old we mean slow, tedious, and obsolete, at least in the eyes of those who know anything about it. Using hand-set metal and wood type, wood and linoleum cuts and occasionally metal or polymer plates, words and images are inked and pressed into the paper, leaving an impression behind. It may be a good impression or a bad impression, but we really shouldn’t be the ones to say which.
Originated by the Chinese, the technique for making woodcuts by the relief process is the oldest form of printmaking. The principle of the woodcut is similar to the workings of a rubber stamp. Using specialty knives, the artist carves away the areas on a smooth hardwood plank that he does not want to print; leaving a raised image that is later inked and printed, either by means of a printmaker press or by hand. Each print in an edition is individually inked and hand-pulled and is a unique, numbered original.
Single block woodcut: One block is carved and printed to create a monochromatic print. If color is desired, the artist hand colors the image. Multi-block woodcuts: A separate woodblock is carved for each color represented in the design. The blocks are printed in registration so that each color block lines up with the others as closely as possible. Reduction block prints: A single block of wood is used; after each color has been printed, the surface area on the block is further cut away and the printing continues to the next color. The printing usually starts with the lightest color to be printed and progresses to darker colors.
This method is done in much the same way as the woodcut, except linoleum block is used instead of wood.
Wood engravings are created on wood blocks utilizing the end surface of the block. This surface is hard and consistent in texture, permitting finer lines and greater detail. The tools used are fine gravers, identical to those used in metal-plate engraving. English boxwood has long been the traditional choice for wood engraving, with other hardwood such as maple being used as well. Due to the rarity and expense of English boxwood, a synthetic substitute of epoxy on fiberboard is increasingly being used.
While both wood and linoblocks are well suited to graphic images with large areas of flat color and shape, wood engraving is essentially a white line on a black background technique, usually on a small scale. The harder surface of the engraving block allows for finer lines, creating gray tones distinct from the broader tones of woodcuts and linoblocks.