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Paint, draw, drink: Columbus artists craft beer can art

Paint, draw, drink: Columbus artists craft beer can art

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There’s nothing bourgeois about beer. Even craft beer shuns the hoity-toity set. So when you’re a local brewery trying to make a statement in a crowded market, you don’t aim for refined. You go eclectic. You go bold. You go for what-the-fuck. 

And you find a beer can artist who can match that vision.

Sadly, there isn’t a Yellow Pages listing for that. So Seventh Son Brewing did the next best thing and phoned a friend—a bunch of them, in fact. It helps when co-owners Jen Burton and Collin Castore and head brewer Colin Vent belong to a social circle overflowing with right-brainers.

A graphic designer and illustrator, Will Fugman (long u, silent g) befriended Burton when they both lived in the Columbus College of Art and Design dorms. Fugman was tapped to do concept art for the company before the brewery opened in 2013 and has since designed about 22 cans and bottles, including all the new releases in 2018 and 2019.

Vent went a less-formal artistic route and hired his tattoo artist. Mike Moses was finishing up a yearlong sleeve on Vent’s left arm when Vent convinced him to design a series of 750 ml bottle labels in 2015. 

Evan Wolff, who lived in Columbus for seven years before moving to Cincinnati, met Burton when they worked the Ace of Cups bar together. His lone can design two years ago turned out to be one of the more popular ones, Assistant Manager American golden  ale.

It features Wolff’s take on Old Horatio, Seventh Son’s “assistant manager” tabby cat, who has amassed a nearly 3,700-human Instagram following (@assistantmanagercat). Since the company anthropomorphizes the cat—he’s the director of pest control operations and customer satisfaction—Wolff thought he’d do the same on the can. Horatio is pictured  taking a big swig of “Purrliferous” beer (a nod to Proliferous, a Seventh Son staple) while texting a review on “Yalp.”

Known more for his concert fliers and album cover art, Wolff got the simple pen-and-ink drawing right on the first take.

“The beer can is almost like an LP cover,” says Wolff, who returns to Columbus often with his band Vacation for Ace of Cups gigs. “That’s almost like the next, not logical thing, but in that same vein.”

Castore got to know Meagan Alwood-Karĉić when she tended bar and watched his kid when he co-owned Short North bar Bodega. He asked her to do the Brother Jon Belgian ale can, homage to Jon Putnam, a local actor and friend who officiated Vent’s wedding.

The hardest part was trying to make the artwork fit the can. “I had to think three-dimensional, so it was a different realm,” said Alwood-Karĉić, who by day is a graphic designer in the Ohio Department of Commerce and is a self-taught painter. She never felt she got Putnam’s likeness quite right, but her can proved quite popular too. “I don’t ever know what I’m doing, and I’m lucky to have people who are interested in my work.”

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Seventh Son isn’t alone in supporting local talent. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, at the corner of Fourth and East Hickory, hired design firm Space Junk to concept and design its labels. Also on that Fourth Street corridor, Hoof Hearted Brewing’s owners made their former elementary school classmate, Westerville native and nationally-renowned artist Thom Lessner, their art director. It’s some of the most audacious (and perhaps offensive?) work you’ll see on beer, including a centaur passing gas for the company’s logo (say Hoof Hearted three times quickly…you’ll get it), the outline of a beer bottle down a pair of shorts for Sidepipin’ ale and a crossbow-toting, baby-carrying, denim-clad woman of action for Mom Jeans double-milk stout.

While those brewing companies aim for a consistent look, Seventh Son takes pride in having used a dozen artists with a clash of styles. “It’s important to trust artists and not overbearingly direct them. Otherwise what’s the point in them doing the work?” Burton said.

“And we’ve always tried to work with artists who we felt were unique and talented and did not necessarily make art that fit on beer cans,” added Castore.

Fugman appreciates the latitude and it’s led him to some of his favorite work. His steady income is being a fashion-forward clothing designer for major brands such as Levi’s, North Face and Old Navy. But the beer work truly jazzes his imagination.

Fugman’s first release was on a can for tart IPA Goo Goo Muck, a song by the ’80s punk band The Cramps about a scuzzy dude who always finds  trouble. The problem was, Fugman had already developed a 17th  century scientific illustration motif for his label campaign, but with the can coming first, he had to make the ideas blend.

His crow gnawing on a sour grapefruit in colored pencil and watercolor was a huge hit. Some people bought the cans just for the artwork. Seventh Son plans to re-release it this year.

“The crow was my proof of concept, and that one went over so well it opened up the freedom for me to explore,” Fugman said.

Castore loved Fugman’s interpretation of Bibendum, the name for the Michelin Man and a nod to Seventh Son’s location in a former tire shop. To represent the chocolate stout with Ecuadorian cocoa nibs, Fugman drew a burning rubber plant, which grows abundantly in South America, with the smoke forming the Andes Mountains.

“Will always has a great take on the concept of the beer,” Castore said. Not bad for a Bud and whiskey guy whose taste buds rarely touch the craft stuff. But his great respect for the brewing process shows through in his art.

“I’m a beer moron,” Fugman admitted. “But I wanted to take the look somewhere different, be softer and richer and something you could look at more than once or derive things from it. The artists all have different stories we’re telling, but the idea is to have people respond to it.”

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