Rusty and Ingrid, the couple, got their start when they met as students studying painting at the Massachusetts College of Art. Rusty + Ingrid Creative Company, the business, got its start when the pair decided it was time to turn their artistic training and vision into a way to support their family.
“We kind of struggled with what to call it,” says Rusty Kinnunen, one half of the business’s namesake pair. “We didn’t know exactly what we would be doing down the road, but we figured it was always going to be the two of us together.”
Today, the business produces limited-edition screen-printed art depicting beautiful and iconic scenes from the North Shore and around New England: the footbridge at Gloucester’s Good Harbor Beach, Fenway Park’s Green Monster, a Maine lobster boat. The style is reminiscent of vintage travel posters, but with a more minimalist aesthetic.
The combination has worked; since their introduction, the pieces have been very successful. It wasn’t always clear, however, that this was the direction the business would take. The story begins with the Kinnunens moving to Gloucester so Rusty could take a job designing book covers for a small publishing house in Peabody. They started the art company in 2012, but it was just a side project at first.
Then, at the beginning of 2013, Rusty was laid off, and the pair faced a choice between searching for work and dedicating themselves to the business. They chose the latter.
They began attending every craft fair, art show, farmers’ market, and summer festival they could find. At first, they were producing a wide range of products—paintings, greeting cards, tea towels, even jewelry. As they attended more events and talked to more shoppers, they realized there was an appetite for art that represents favorite New England places. Both artists were excited by the possibilities of representing their native New England (Rusty is from New Hampshire and Ingrid is from central Massachusetts).
The travel-inspired posters were born.
They drew inspiration from vintage travel ads. But instead of the traditional lush details intended to lure viewers somewhere new, Rusty and Ingrid chose to use only a few colors in each poster and pare down the visual elements to more simple shapes and silhouettes. The idea, Ingrid explains, is to create an image viewers can project their own experiences and nostalgia onto.
“The less information there is, the more people can kind of fill in the blanks with their own memories,” she says.
“We’re not trying to advertise places to go,” Rusty adds. “We’re trying to capture people’s memories of places that are very dear to them.”
To make the idea a marketable reality, the pair first had to learn the basics of screen printing; though both had studied art, neither had practiced that particular technique before. Once they were up to speed, they began producing the pieces in their home, a small condo where they were also raising their two children, then 1 and 3 years old.
They made their prints on the kitchen table, and spread them on the living room floor to dry. They often worked late into the night so they would have the time and space after the kids went to bed. The night before their first Festival by the Sea in Manchester, Rusty decided they should have a design specific to the town; he started the artwork at 10 p.m. and stayed up all night completing the prints.
The designs, they say, combine the styles of both artists—Rusty usually puts more detail into his work, while Ingrid tends toward a more minimalist look.
From the beginning, they were dedicated to making and selling only handmade, limited-edition art, rather than reproductions. In their own lives, they had often been frustrated by the high cost of original art; they wanted to create an option for art lovers who don’t have the budget for a $5,000 painting.
“We thought, how do we make fine art affordable for people like us?” Ingrid says.
In 2015, the operation outgrew the confines of the condo, and Rusty and Ingrid Creative Company opened up a studio and gallery space in Magnolia. The new space helped them expand their business and take on employees to assist in production.
Leading into the holiday season this year, however, the pair found themselves working late in the studio many nights, printing and packing artwork as their children snoozed on the couch. They realized that they wanted to return to the advantages of living and working in the same space.
So they went looking for a new place that would accommodate both business and family. They found what they needed in downtown Rockport: two floors of residential space and a ground floor studio and retail shop that they expect to open in late April.
“We’re really excited to be able to combine living and working again, like we started,” Ingrid says.
Though business continues to boom—Rusty estimates sales have doubled each year since its inception—the couple is gratified less by the money and more by the opportunity to center their lives on their art while also honoring the region.
“That’s the most enjoyable thing about our business—it is a means to make art,” Rusty says. “That’s why we do it. Because we love it.”
Rusty + Ingrid Creative Company