Art design

Can as Canvas: Local breweries are increasingly turning to artists for funky, bright and bold label designs

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Amie Bantz

With all the beer options these days, choosing a drink isn’t just a matter of taste, but also the general vibe – the name and design of the can.

It’s not an easy decision when you’re standing in front of a store shelf or refrigerator, scanning the rows of rainbow-wrapped foil. Perhaps for the craft beer connoisseur the choice is easier, depending on the type or flavor. But for a sucker for good packaging, like me, the brighter and wilder the label, the better.

For many local brewers today, the can should be a work of art, almost as important as the product inside.

“We just want really cool things on our cans,” said Scott Richardson, director of operations and market development for Spring House Brewing Co. in Lancaster. “There are so many great beers out there, so packaging is important.”

Each year, Spring House works with local and national artists to create the label designs that make their cans stand out. It’s something that more and more breweries are doing: turning cans into canvases.

But for Richardson, it’s not just about selling extra six-packs, it’s an active choice to support artists by showcasing their work.

For five years now, Spring House has been hosting its “Artist Collaboration Series,” featuring 12 new beers with cans wrapped in original artwork by local and regional artists. The 2022 series received around 500 submissions, Richardson explained. Spring House will accept various mediums, as they have chosen fabric art, sculptures, photographs and paintings, among others. Typically, at least half of the submissions come from AP Central, and all selected artists get paid and retain the rights to their work, something Richardson is proud of.

Once it’s time to sift through everything, Spring House brewers, family and friends get together to voice their opinions, over a beer, of course.

“Some stand out immediately,” Richardson said. “It’s kind of a visceral reaction.”

Spring House’s Class of 2022 definitely stands out, fitting with the brewery’s aesthetic, which Richardson describes as “eclectic, a little off-center and wonky.” There are several animals that do things that don’t look like animals – a photo of a chipmunk playing the piano, a sculpture of a smiling fish with legs, and a painting of a DJ-ing otter. If these don’t catch your eye in the beer fridge, I don’t know what will.

When Zack Rudy, one half of Harrisburg artist duo The Huckle Buckle Boys, applied for the show, he didn’t expect an answer. But soon after, the pair’s piece, “Blah. Blabla. Blabla. Day and Night,” a painting of crows on a telephone wire, was chosen.

“It’s great when our art is recognized,” Rudy said. “We have spent our lives making works of art.”

The collaboration didn’t stop there, as Spring House commissioned the Huckle Buckle Boys to do a large mural inside their brewery and plans to use their art for future can designs.

“Our promise is to provide artists with additional work and exposure,” Richardson said. “It’s one of the best things we’ve done in years.”

Brainstorming

Much like how Richardson selects art for cans based on a gut reaction, Harrisburg artist Amie Bantz does the same when designing cans for Rubber Soul Brewing Co. in Hummelstown.

Based on her immediate response to the beer’s name and ingredients, she digitally illustrates a graphic that she thinks represents it. It usually only takes 10 to 30 minutes to come up with an idea, she said.

“I create designs that I would like to take back,” she said.

Labels tend to be colorful, light and fun, sometimes with a retro twist. Its “Giggle Guts” label, for an Indian lager, uses curvy letters with cartoon hands tickling the word “Guts”. Another, “South Paw”, shows an animated hop flower wearing a boxing glove.

“People love them,” said Jamie Mowery, Marketing Director of Rubber Soul. “They’re always excited to see what the next funky thing is.”

For the most part, Bantz has complete freedom when it comes to label design. The same was true for Bryan “King Prolifik” Hickman when the Harrisburg Family Brewery hired him to do the art of a beer collaboration with Zeroday Brewing Co., also in town.

The two brewing companies have concocted a limited-edition beer to be released for the June 19 holiday this year to celebrate black culture and heritage. For Harris Family’s Tim White, Hickman, an artist from Harrisburg, was the perfect choice to design the label. Hickman typically includes elements around African and African American culture in her work.

While Hickman is known for his striking paintings, large-scale murals, and demonstrations of fire art, designing for a can was a unique experience.

“I had to make sure it translated well on a can of beer,” he said.

Hickman’s design for blackberry cream beer, “Blackr Tha Berry”, features a woman wearing a blackberry-shaped scarf with a city skyline behind her.

“You have to be really creative to stay ahead of the game and come up with a product that gets a lot of attention,” White said. “[Hickman] always surpasses what we give it.

Creativity, Community

What is it about beer and art that go so well together? For Bantz, it’s simple.

“Drinking beer is fun. Art is fun,” she said. “I think it’s a very natural partnership between those two things.”

According to Richardson, brewing is an art form in itself. Crafting a beer is all about finding the perfect combination of color, haze, carbonation, and flavor. It takes a lot of creativity.

“Creating new recipes can be similar to approaching a work of art,” he said.

According to Chris Trogner of Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, the processes of creating beer and art are closely linked. The brewers make decisions about the flavors and bring their ideas to the artists, who start fleshing out a design. Beer and art at Tröegs are not separated. Everything is interdependent.

“It’s a complete package,” he said. “People have to like the beer to come back, but the name and the artwork, the brand, people can fall in love too. That’s just as important.

Although Tröegs has its own in-house designer, the brewery still partners with community artists to design cans, murals and other packaging. Supporting the local in all aspects is important to the company, Trogner said.

This sentiment is true for all the brewers mentioned, who find it valuable to work hand in hand with other members of the community. Spring House goes beyond just showcasing the winners of their “artist collaboration series” on the cans. They sponsor artist shows, donate beer for their events, and promote them in other ways. It’s part of their mission to be “the brewery for the community,” according to Richardson.

“We want to support the people around us,” he said. “If you invest in the community and the people around you, it feels good.”

For the artists behind the can labels, it’s also very nice.

“Dreams are really hard to achieve,” Bantz said. “Sometimes you need other people to tell you that you’re doing a good job. There’s something really beautiful about supporting someone in the community.


Spring House Brewing Company is located at 209 Hazel St., Lancaster. For more information, visit www.springhousebeer.com.

Rubber Soul Brewing is located at 136 S. Hanover St., Hummelstown. For more information, visit www.rubbersoulbrewing.com.

For more information on the Harris Family Brewery, visit www.harrisfamilybrewery.net.

Tröegs Independent Brewing is located at 200 Hersheypark Dr., Hershey. For more information, visit www.troegs.com.

For more information on artist Amie Bantz, visit www.amiebantz.com.

Learn more about The Huckle Buckle Boys on their Facebook page.

Find artist Bryan “King Prolifik” Hickman on Instagram @kingprolifik.

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