More than 120 artists threw their work in the ring to be this year’s featured artist for Surly Brewing Company. The winner: March 2017 Growler cover artist (and the artist behind the illustrations in the September issue’s Field Guide to Cider), Michael Iver Jacobsen.
Jacobsen created the artwork for this year’s Darkness label (and the three Darkness variant labels: bourbon barrel-aged with vanilla and cherry, rum barrel-aged with coconut, and Tattersall Fernet barrel-aged; this is the first year Surly brewed variants of their popular imperial stout) as well as some event design for SurlyFest, taking place October 13. His work will also appear on merch for this year’s Darkness Day and future Darkness anniversary items.
When asked how he reacted to the news, he said, “Oh, I was ecstatic. I basically just did the “Shooter” McGavin celebration for two minutes straight.”
Jacobsen, originally from Milwaukee, is a freelance artist based in St. Paul. In addition to his work with The Growler, he’s created kickass illustrations for Summit Brewing, Target, Men’s Health Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, Heimie’s Haberdashery, and numerous ad agencies. For this year’s Darkness art, he turned to Greek mythology for inspiration.
“We landed with the Minotaur, which has always been a favorite beast of mine. I think part of what makes the Minotaur scary is the labyrinth, where he lives, and knew I wanted to incorporate that in the label design from the very first sketches,” he says. “The challenging/fun part was getting the Minotaur to be menacing enough to compete with the long line of other terrific monsters created in the years past.”
Jacobsen’s selection came out the brewery’s annual artist search, which began this year with a call for entries on March 1. After a few weeks, and pending a general review of the submissions by creative director Michael Berglund and a select team from Surly, a pared-down list of finalists is sent to featured artists of years past, who ultimately vote on the winning artist.
“I typically send out an email asking, ‘Which of these appeal to you, and [which do] you think would make great additions to the line?’” says Berglund. “It’s completely voluntary, but the past featured artists love to weigh in on who will carry on the tradition.”
Though the theme of Darkness is typically monstrous, the team is careful to not repeat past years’ artwork, and is always searching for a fresh approach. When considering Jacobsen, it was his way with the brush and his obvious love for beer that set him apart from the competition.
“It’s been a really versatile design that is working well on the merch and the variants,” Berglund says. “His Minotaur is big, smelly looking, and something that you would hesitate to tangle with, even if your bottle of Darkness was at stake.”