Eric Kneeland's job requires a lot of screen time. It's not, however, the type that involves hours staring at a computer: Kneeland is the founder of Black Stamp Studios, a Princeton-by-the-Sea art studio and print shop that does things the old-fashioned way, producing custom screen prints and hand-painted signs, and always taking an active part in the community.
"I don't have a website. I'm kind of a caveman, so it's mostly word of mouth," the proudly old-school Kneeland said during a meeting at his shop near Pillar Point Harbor, just north of Half Moon Bay.
His two-story studio is filled with colorful decor — from vintage signs to brand-new prints — and Kneeland's friendly enthusiasm for what he does is contagious.
Screen printing, Kneeland explained as he demonstrates on one of his presses, essentially involves pushing ink through a stenciled mesh screen (traditionally silk, now more often nylon or polyester), transferring a design to the material being printed on. The more colors involved, the more layers that must be applied, and the more fine detail, the more difficulty in getting it just right.
"I like these projects that are challenging, that keep me up at night," he noted, showing work he recently did with business cards for a cement artist from across the street.
"I'll do anything from commercial projects for restaurants, where they'll give me the design and I'll print it, to sometimes customers come to me with no logo, no ideas. … That's some of my favorite stuff to do because that's really more involved," he said.
"It's a real good way to meet a butcher, a barber. … I get to meet all these different people from the community and that's really one of my favorite parts of it, building relationships that hopefully last for years."
Kneeland has deep local ties, not only to the Princeton area, where he's been based for about 12 years, but also all over the Peninsula and the greater Bay Area.
He grew up in Palo Alto, in "a different era from now. There were a lot of Deadheads back then, a lot of Volvos and a lot of hippies," he said. "There's still a few holdouts."
More recently, you may have admired his painting skills on windows of the Trader Joe's in Palo Alto, where he worked for more than a decade and where his artistic flourishes, especially his Halloween displays, often attracted excited attention. Perhaps you've seen him doing live printing at the Los Altos farmers market, or, across the Bay, caught a glimpse of his charming new signage for the Oakland Library's children's room.
Kneeland started Black Stamp in his beloved grandmother's Redwood City garage back in 2009.
"My grandma — this little German lady — she believed in me. She put up with us," he said with a grin, remembering how she'd sometimes even join him and his "derelict" friends for a beer or two.
After a few years, he was ready to expand, and Kneeland followed his parents out to the Coastside. This summer he's moving back to Redwood City but hopes to hold on to his Princeton headquarters, where he currently employs two part-time assistants and his first intern.
"I took a while to get into this community. I don't want to give it up," he said, looking over his studio, just a short walk from the beach. "I love it here."
Kneeland is also an experienced teacher, having taught printmaking at Foothill College for years until the pandemic hit.
"Foothill's a gem," he said of the Los Altos Hills campus. He now teaches workshops right at the studio, and at public libraries and schools around the Bay. Helping others find a love for art in general and screen printing in particular brings Kneeland a lot of satisfaction.
"I love showing kids this stuff," the father of two said. "Once you figure out how to do it you're, like, 'Ooh, I can do anything!'"
Black Stamp supports artists by hosting exhibitions as well. At a recent visit, work by Maya Ford was on display. Kneeland's daughter, following in her father's footsteps, screen printed her own bags for the homemade cookies she sold at the exhibition's opening. (The closing art party for the exhibit is on May 13 from 1-6 p.m.)
"My daughter was hustling those cookies. She was killing!" he laughed.
Ford is Kneeland's old friend and fellow Palo Alto High School alum, and the former bassist for rock band The Donnas. The music scene has always been another important part of Kneeland's life. As a teen, he hosted a 3 a.m. show on Stanford's KZSU and has long worked with Foothill's KFJC (to his delight, many of its DJs have taken his printmaking classes). His affection for local radio — another old-school medium — led to a popular design, originally created for his annual New Year's card but now available on posters and shirts, that offers an eye-catching, retro-style map of all his favorite Bay Area radio stations, with a blue ear in the middle representing the San Francisco Bay.
"I love college radio. I grew up on it," he said. "We're blessed in the Bay Area."
In fact, he first discovered the joys of screen printing when he was homesick for the West Coast, while attending art school in Boston.
"I didn't have too many friends; no one talked; it was kind of cold. I was so bored I bought a homemade screen-printing kit and just started printing, teaching myself," he recalled.
Soon, his previously standoffish housemates were intrigued by what he was doing, and his new hobby became the perfect way to break the ice, starting with printing shirts in the communal living room.
"It kind of bonded us. I thought, 'This screen-printing stuff, a) it's cool and b) it's a way to relate to other people and bring them in,'" he said. "I got hooked. This is powerful."
Check out Black Stamp Studios on Instagram at instagram.com/blackstampstudios.
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