Local Beer-Label Designs Offer Unique Canvas For Artists

By Allison Ward
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) We don’t often think of the artistic value of that beer can we are cracking open. With that said, you may want to look twice before you take a gulp. For some artists, beer labels have become a terrific way to express artistic creativity.

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

The proliferation of craft beers has yielded a broad mix of art to accompany the scientific brewing process.

The canvas? The can itself — or, in the case of bottled beer, the label.

Brewers, after all, hope to entice customers to choose their brands from among the ever-growing number of choices in the typical supermarket.

“Beer labels used to be an afterthought,” said Mira Lee, a co-owner of the Actual Brewing Co. on the East Side with her husband, Fred.

“(But) brewers and breweries are now taking the aesthetics seriously.”

Some artists spin a story with a design; others tell a joke.

Regardless, the personality prevails.

So, today Life & Arts takes a closer look at the art on a sampling of homegrown brews.

East Side

Designer: Mira Lee, a co-founder of the brewery

Style: “People say it’s art deco, but they often overlook the medieval manuscript,”she said. “I’m merging the 1500s and the 1920s — which is difficult to do. “Each has an animal and a woman and at least one science joke on it. They are all built out of fairy tales — some more than others.”

Inspiration: The influences include silent-film stars and circus performers, burlesque and theater.
“I work from reference photos from the historical past. Some of the girls (on the bottles) are friends, wives, women I have sit for photos.”

Process: With a name selected by her team, she chooses a color and an animal. Research consumes most of her designing time, given the usual difficulty in finding a decent photo of an animal. With ideas in hand, she begins the illustration on a computer.

“Breweries don’t typically design for women, but I think beer is genderless. This industry has been slow to recognize that roughly one-third of craft-beer customers are women.”

Notable designs: The purple design for Eccentricity, a French ale, features an okapi — a nod to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, which boasts a few such animals — and a circus-type performer. She also enjoys the playful Wiener-Munchen, a festival ale — for which she drew a dachshund and a sausage-grilling woman.

North of Grandview Heights

Designer: Dave Butler of Art of the Midwest in Granville, in collaboration with brewery owner Dan Cochran

Style: “The influences I try to project to Dave,” Cochran said, “are gritty rock ‘n ‘ roll and that independence.” Butler tries to ensure that a theme doesn’t become tacky or go overboard with a parody.

“We’re investing time in telling these stories like you would on a leather-jacket patch or a tattoo,” he said. “Not everything has to be guitars and drumsticks. It’s a broad look at the culture.”

Inspiration: Topping the list is rock music, of course — thanks to childhood friends and former band mates Butler, a singer and drummer, and Cochran, a bass player.

Process: “It’s very much a back-and-forth play,” Butler said. “It tends to happen really fast. We don’t overthink things.”

Notable designs: “Suncaster (a wheat beer) has that good vibration, summer feel, that lighter side of rock,” Butler said. “Brass Knuckle (a pale ale) is that everyday blue-collar ale — that grit.”

Marengo in Morrow County, with a brewpub in the Short North

Designer: Thom Lessner, a native of Westerville and freelance artist in Philadelphia

Style: “We’re creating these irreverent, whimsical, nonsensical characters who mean nothing to anyone but us,” said Brayden Volk, head of logistics.

“But at the end of the day, they’re still making people laugh. It’s unadulterated, and we’re just a bunch of ding-dongs who want people to embrace that and have fun.”

Inspiration: References from childhood, which Lessner shared with co-owners Trevor Williams and Jarrod and Ryan Bichon, dominate.

“We loved ’80s screwball comedies — bad movies that were amazing in their own right — or outrageous music,” Lessner said.

“We’re not trying to bring it back but celebrate that it’s in us.”

Process: After “rapping” with the co-owners, Lessner starts drawing.
“Everything starts as a sketch,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a painting; sometimes it’s a screen print. Then I fill in on the computer with color. I used to be a painter.”

Notable designs: One logo has a Dodge Daytona modeled on a founder’s first car, bought with money earned from a newspaper route.

Tub Life, a farmhouse pale ale, depicts rapper Tupac Shakur eating cereal in a tub; Rose Gose taps a love of the film “Dirty Dancing” and bone-dry rose wine.


Designers: various Athens artists — although the flagship cans feature woodcarving designs by Bryn Perrott and the most recent seasonal offerings are traced to cartoonist Chris Monday, a worker in the taproom

Style: Perrott goes for earthy and whimsical — as with a forest goddess-like creature for Mystic Mama, an India pale ale — while Monday draws on sci-fi and comic-book themes. Both looks seem closer to those of soft or energy drinks.

Inspiration: “We wanted to use a woodworker because the juxtaposition of the metal and the wood art is a neat concept,” said Brad Clark, director of brewing operations.

“Wood is a big part of Jackie O’s. There’s the barrel in our logo.”

Process: For the first few cans released, the brewery mimicked existing woodcarvings.

“We started playing with them,” Clark said. “We put a striking color with a black background. Some are exactly what she (Perrott) already had, some we added to, and a few she actually made for us — mainly the Razz Wheat. It’s a buck, and the antlers are raspberry bushes.”

Notable design: For the “far-out” New Growth, a summer spruce-tip IPA with a bold design, Clark and Monday invented a stegosaurus-type creature with spruce trees as the plates on its back.

“It’s one of the most interactive cans,” Clark said. “It grabs people.”

Franklinton neighborhood

Designer: Walt Keys, the creative director — who pursued graphics design before opening the brewery with college pal Adam Benner

Style: “It’s sort of a vintage feel,” Keys said. “We want it to feel like a label you’d see on a beer can from the 1940s. It’s timeless and not necessarily tied to design trends in 2016 or even 1992.”

Inspiration: The two recall their days at Ohio State University, which was formed by the Land-Grant College Act of 1862. “It’s a calculated strategy to tie in the land-grant-college vibe,” Keys said. “We reference sports and things we’re into. I use old football programs and sports illustrations.”

Process: After nailing down a name, he mocks up a rough draft on a computer, then turns to paper and a black marker. “When it’s hand-drawn, it’s nice and consistent. You get similar lines and weight.”

Notable designs: Stiff-Arm IPA, the flagship beer, shows a football player using the tackle-evading technique.

Mister Balloon Hands, a limited-release mixed-berry wheat, depicts “this goofy, sort-of-Victorian man with balloon hands,” Keys said.

“You only get to do this in the beer world — not the outside design world.”

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