"Key West is a special place. A kind of melting pot of the crazy, the carefree, the very wealthy, and tons of artists; a place where pretty much any kind of artistic expression is allowed as long as you’re not breaking any laws," notes professional photographer Alan Kennish.
After a summer of vacationing and fishing in Alaska and at the prompting of a friend, Kennish relocated to the southernmost point of the U.S., Key West, FL. It was in 2002 that Kennish decided he was tired of fishing everyday, and needed a bit of income. He got the idea of starting a small business printing for other artists and photographers.
"I was making the transition from film to digital in my own work, studying [Adobe] Photoshop, and bought my first digital camera, a Nikon D100. I also bought an Epson 1280 and was fascinated by the whole digital process, the control it gave me over the images, the ability to print on the spot," says Kennish.
Kennish studied art and photography at Columbia College, The New School in New York, and The University of New Mexico. His photographs appear in a number of galleries, have been used by advertising agencies, and appeared in a number of magazines, including Down River, Outdoor Magazine, and Southern Living.
The Art of Reproductions
Key West Fine Art Printing and Photography opened its doors in early 2003, and Kennish is thrilled with the number of artists that entrust their one-of-a-kind artwork with him. "I started the business in the back of a gallery on Duval Street and it just grew like tipsy," he says.
Kennish first creates high resolution scans of his customers’ work—up to a 185MB file for a 24x30-inch project. With the giclée printing process, he is able to reproduce the captured image on fine art-quality substrates, with critical precision and an expected lifetime of 100 years or greater.
Giclée printing refers to the droplets of ink being positioned on the surface of a substrate such as watercolor paper or canvas. The giclée process began with Iris dye-based printers in the late 1980’s as an alternative to larger edition lithographs. Iris printers came with a hefty price tag that priced many print providers out of the fine art reproduction market.
Over time, giclée printers have been manufactured that compete greatly in price, while still offering the archival quality, professional look, and low print run size. This has allowed professionals like Kennish to jump into the reproduction market.
Once Kennish’s client approves their giclée proofs, the digital file is printed to their specifications, and then stored for future use, which allows them to reorder prints as needed, on demand. "Most artists are amazed at how closely the giclées resemble their original work," notes Kennish.
"Every printing process is different," he adds. "Over the years I’ve worked in color labs, done archival silver B&W printing, dye transfers, seriographs, [and] screen prints. I love them all. I think of digital capture and printing as a logical, highly controllable, mechanized extension of these processes. With the recent advances we now have the added advantage of true longevity."
Setting Up Shops
Since 2003, business at Key West Fine Art Printing and Photography has grown at a rate of 40 percent per year until the end of 2006, and Kennish tells us he is currently keeping pace with last year’s volume. Today annual revenue is in the low six-figure range.
During the business’ peak season—January through April—it is not uncommon for Key West Fine Art Printing and Photography to have ten to 20 jobs in house. Kennish notes, "This could translate to photographing 30 to 50 paintings a week and printing a similar number." In addition to himself, Kennish employs two part-time employees to help manage the steady workload.
The business consists of two studio spaces, comprising about 2,800 square feet. One site houses the computers, digital storage, light table, viewing booth, printers, and other equipment. This is where digital image editing with Photoshop and the giclée printing are done. A shooting studio houses a 4x5 camera with a Betterlight scanning back and Northlight lighting, and in the same building Kennish operates a framing shop and shipping facility.
Printers in Kennish’s studio are all Epson. "I love Epson’s equipment, consistency, and reliability. In my opinion they are really there with this set of K3 inks on the 9800. The color gamut generally handles anything I come across in the original."
Kennish has retired his original Epson 10000, but also has a 9600, a 4800, and a 9800. The 9800 is used most often, while the 9600 is used to print jobs that were originally produced on that printer and don’t translate as well to the 9800.
The shop can special order substrates for customers in addition to the options they regularly use and recommend, which include Epson’s Enhanced Matte and Somerset Velvet; Smooth Fine Art by Crane; Lexjet water-resistant Canvas Satin; and Hahnemüle’s Torchon watercolor paper and William Turner rag water paper.
All of the shop’s monitors and scanners are calibrated every two weeks to ensure that prints represent the closest match to an artist’s work as possible. The Gretag Macbeth Eye One color calibration system is used for this task.
Kennish looks at new equipment to strengthen his shop continually.
"[It] seems like I’m always buying something." His most recent purchases include Buffalo Teraservers and a custom Dell with 8GB of RAM and high clock speed so he can use Photoshop in real time with no waiting. He also expects to invest in an upgrade to his Betterlight scanning back and two of Lacie’s new 26-inch monitors.
Kennish admits he does very little marketing and print advertising to advance his business. "Most of my business has come from word of mouth. We pride ourselves on the quality of work that we do, our ability to work hands on with the artist and give them a product that they are proud of."
With the continued entry of lower cost, high quality printers, competition in this market will grow. Kennish notes, "This will probably be the year when we start marketing the business a little more aggressively."
The company’s Web site does a good job of marketing the benefits of giclée and on demand printing while translating Kennish’s expertise, creativity, and easy-going lifestyle. For those who are new to giclée, the process is described online as making "good business sense." Highlighted are speed and the ability to print with no minimums. This removes the expense of large runs at the start and storage needed with traditional lithography.
Also noted are the archival longevity and the artist quality substrates that give giclée prints the look and feel of an original. In addition, the site notes, "Some artists wish to add re-marques or are interested in a mixed media effect, and choose to hand embellish their giclées." All of these factors allow artists to bring in a higher selling price per print.
The Fine Art Community
About 70 percent of Kennish’s clients are from Key West. "I’ve worked with literally hundreds of artists since I’ve been here. As a group, they’re some of the best people on the planet. Their output is incredibly varied from realistic watercolorists to abstract oils. Their creativity is amazing from political statements, to humor, to just portraying some of the beauty that is found here."
Another 20 percent of clients are from other FL locations, and others reside in Miami, Albuquerque, NY, Columbia, Great Britain, and Switzerland. Among them are Janet Mueller, Martha dePoo, and Peter Vey, professionals who work in oil, watercolor, acrylic, and photography their work has been captured and printed on the Epson 9800.
The promise of giclée printing’s speed, short runs, quality, and low investment offer many artists an opportunity to sell commercially without the heavy financial strain of traditional lithography.
The Keys to Success
Alan Kennish may have moved to the Keys to relax, but his own art and an openness to the promise of digital technology have driven him to a successful career in fine art giclée reproductions.
"I like to go out in my boat and run down the island chain of uninhabited mangrove islands and photograph the water," says Kennish. With the abundant beauty, varied history, and lively arts community of Key West, he has been able to establish a profitable business and a fulfilling life.