Forager Brewing Company’s artist Trevor Sim is in the same boat as Gluesenkamp: he gets a general idea of the label and is allowed to interpret as he see fits, finding inspiration from the fact that craft beer “is artistic in itself.”
Sim recalls that the direction he received from Forager for one beer label: “Give it a ‘lost in the woods feel,’” they told him. The request, he says, posed more of a challenge than doing what he typically does, which is “draw whatever I want.” Sim adds that being local is another factor that benefits both him as a designer as well as the brewery he’s working for. He says that as a Rochester, Minnesota, native drawing for a Rochester brewery, he’s able to really incorporate the feel of the town into his art.
Of course, there are restrictions for label artists above and beyond how much leeway a brewery gives them. Federal laws require certain language to appear on labels, like accurate flavor profiles or the Surgeon General’s Warning. An artist’s work also has to take into account whether the canvas in question is a bottle or can label.
“With a bottle, you’re usually limited to two to three colors at the most, because it’s really expensive to print on those,” Schoonover says. “So Surly just uses white and red on dark brown [for Darkness]. For SeVIIn, we ended up doing yellow and white.”
Bottles also pose challenges when it comes to color palettes and whether an artist will get full bleed or room for wraparound art on the label. Can art, on the other hand, is almost always done on a full wraparound template.
Turman adds that American beer bottle labels are even more restrictive than Canadian ones. That’s because the government requires labels to include the Surgeon General’s Warning, a listing of where the beer is brewed, alcohol content, and even a description that “truthfully describes the style of beer within the container.”
Canada requires beer and ingredients to be spelled in both English and French, but that’s about it. That, says Turman, gives artists more room to work with.
In addition to using local artists for label art, more and more breweries are also turning to them for artwork inside taprooms and custom brewery swag. Indeed Brewing Company’s walls are lined with Chuck U’s psychedelic drawings. Forager commissioned local artist Bobby Marines to paint a mural on an old reclaimed barn wall inside its space. One wall of Tin Whiskers Brewery Company’s taproom features a gigantic Ben Courneya painting of its robot logo tipping a pint to fellow beer drinkers.
Seeing an idea come to life inside a brewery is exciting, but art on a can or bottle is a point of special pride for artists. “When you actually see that can and you can physically hold it—even better yet, you can drink something out of that can or label that you designed—that is the absolute coolest,” Turman says. “Beer is just fun to design for, and it’s a fun product people enjoy.”
With breweries like Surly searching for new artists every year, and an ever-increasing number of craft breweries, the trend of fusing local art with local beer doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Artists like Turman say they look forward to the community culture it brings.
“It’s just a feel-good thing,” he says. “It’s also given more awareness to the arts scene and culture around the Twin Cities. They’ve [breweries] done a really good job of bringing the local community together to promote everybody, not only themselves.”
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