As an Illinois transplant, printmaker and designer Jim Kennelly, has fallen for Wisconsin. Starting as a side project and creative outlet his linocut prints of MIlwaukee neighborhoods evoke a sense of true pride that residents have for their neighborhood. His attention to detail and inspired lettering marries traditional methods with a modern twist. From downtown to the Wauwatosa neighborhood and beyond, Kennelly tells Maker Market how he got here and what hood might be next!
Maker Market: Where did you grow up and were you a creative kid?
Jim Kennelly: I grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. As a kid, I kind of just assumed I was kind of a weirdo. But looking back now, I realize that I was just expressing my creativity in all ways possible. I loved to draw, write stories, create home videos with my friends. That was my idea of fun. Always using my imagination in new ways.
MM: What medium first grabbed you and when?
JK: I have always been drawing, every since I was a kid. Just a simple pad of paper and a pencil. If I was excited about something, I would draw it. If I was sad about something, I would draw it. It was my way of expressing myself. My grade-school art teacher saw potential from the beginning and she pushed me to learn the traditional methods of drawing as well as different medias.
MM: You are a creative professional! How has working in design in the corporate world treated you? Has it put a fire in you to gain a more personal outlet with your side hustle?
JK: Working for a large corporation as an in-house art director has taught me a lot about myself. It has tapped into sides of creativity that I didn’t even know I had! It has pushed me to become a better designer and artist in so many ways. But it is hard work, and can be highly stressful. Anyone who works in advertising or creative services knows the ups and downs of the industry. A couple years ago I realized that I needed a creative outlet outside of my day-to-day. Something that I didn’t need to get approval on. I just wanted to create things that I like and not worry about deadlines and outside pressures. That’s when I got into printmaking. It was more of an experiment at the beginning, but it quickly became a passion. I found myself constantly thinking about it and getting inspired for new ideas everywhere I went. It has been a lot of fun so far.
MM: What about hand lettering speaks to you?
JK: Every since I took typography 101 in college, I have been in love with type. I love letterforms and everything they symbolize to us as a culture. I love that there are endless ways to draw each letter. And each way can exude a different emotional response. I worked at a sign shop all through college. They specialized in large scale vinyl printing for vehicle wraps, but the owners background was in traditional sign painting. He gave me books to study on the art of sign painting. I think this sparked the initial passion for hand lettering. I have a lot to learn, but I love that there is a whole community out there of hand letterers. These are people I can learn from every day.
MM: How did you get into hand carving block prints? Can you describe your process?
JK: It started as a workaround to screen printing posters. I dont have the facilities or space to do screen printing, so I needed an easy way to make prints. My fiance's mother actually suggested linocut to me as a option. I remembered it from art class and decided to give it a shot. And I actually love the aesthetic that it creates. The process basically starts by hand-carving my design into a sheet of soft linoleum. I then roll ink onto the carving surface and transfer it to paper, fabric, or whatever material I can think of. The result is a very hand-made looking print. No two prints turn out the same. There is texture in the ink that is created from the printing process that you just can’t duplicate.
MM: A lot of your printwork is Milwaukee neighborhood based. It’s a great way to rep your hood! What neighborhood do you live in and why do you love it?
JK: I currently live on the edge of the east-side and downtown. I love the vibrancy and energy of downtown. And I am drawn to the art and culture of the east-side. I have lived in Milwaukee for about 7 years and have always lived on the east-side. As I am getting older, I'm starting to be drawn to other neighborhoods. I can definitely see myself moving to Shorewood or Wauwatosa next! I just love that every neighborhood has its own set of characteristics, and there are so many great places to live in this city!
MM: What is special about Milwaukee and why does it inspire much of your work?
JK: I just feel like there is a strong sense of pride from the people who live in this city. It’s apparent in every city, but Milwaukee really exudes that energy and the people show it. Even beyond Milwaukee there is a real pride in the state of Wisconsin as a whole. I knew that I could tap into that pride through my work. This area has been new and exciting to me ever since I moved here, so it just came natural to capture that energy.
MM: Would you ever consider doing a Cudahy print?
JK: Of course! No neighborhood is off limits. I get a LOT of personal requests. A lot of which come from neighborhoods I have never heard of. When I started my neighborhood badge series, I planned on capping out at two total. I now have a four done and I have a high demand for others. So keep your eye out! Cudahy may be next!
MM: Have you been working on anything new and exciting to be debuted at the upcoming Maker Market?
JK: Well, I will be selling the Maker Market poster I designed for this event. It is a 22x30 two-color block print. I also just finished printing my fourth neighborhood badge (Wauwatosa). I have been quite busy this summer so I haven't been able to pound out as many designs as I would like, but hopefully these two new posters will feel fresh.
MM: What is currently inspiring you? Ig accounts? Blogs? Books? Music?
Pretty much everything inspires me! I use Instagram as a inspiration library for sure. There are so many great artists to discover on that platform. I also find a lot of inspiration on the streets. I am always keeping my eyes peeled for vintage signs and lettering out there in the wild!
To see the wonderful Maker Market poster for August and much more from designer and artist Jim Kennelly check out the Maker Market this Sunday August 21st in the parking lot of Colectivo in Bay View!