Beer, by design: Works of art on labels of favorite brews topic of discussion yet again during Philly Beer Week

It’s OK, we’ve all done it.

That time we picked up a six pack of some random beer, not because we’re wondering how it tastes, but because the art on the label was so damn cool.

But if you only knew just how much that packaging persuasion was by design – in both the literal and figurative sense. For the third year in a row, Art on Beer, the annual panel discussion that takes place during Philly Beer Week, hopes to explain just how much that same artwork was so influential in your decision making.

Hosted by Philly Loves Beer executive director Christina Dowd and moderated by Philly artist JP Flexner, Art on Beer is more than just discussion. It’s a passion project for Dowd, who created the event three years earlier. Dowd ran her own graphic design company for over a decade and has been in love with the fusion of art and beer for even longer. In the case of Flexner, who has illustrated band posters for the likes of Green Day and Foo Fighters, his artwork appeared wrapped around cans of Neshaminy Creek Brewing Company.

Heather Vaughan and Ryan Thibault from Collective Arts in Philadelphia, Andrew Radcliff from Free Will Brewing in Perkasie and Mike Van Hall from Stillwater Artisanal in Baltimore are this year’s featured illustrators on the panel.

Typically, most artists collaborate alongside the owners of breweries, who often give them a concept for an existing beer and allow the imaginations of the artists to run free.

Many times, however, it can easily work the other way around.

“I’ll have this piece of art that I want to go out,” Van Hall, who is the creative director for Washington D.C.-based Stillwater Artisanal, told PW. “[Knowing that], I’ll work to create something in liquid form that kind of complements the visual or complements the concept [the brewers are going for].”

Van Hall has actually done a host of other concepts and pieces for several other breweries, distilleries and restaurants. It’s remarkable, considering this now full-blown creative mind was a practicing lawyer for five years before deciding to take his talents into the world of beer. It’s the awareness of both what is visually appealing and what will keep a beer lover married to a particular brewery that makes this role a constant challenge for minds like Van Hall.

“People are fans of a particular beer company in the same way that they are fans of a musician or a band,” Van Hall said. “The label itself is a way to give [the consumer] more than just a liquid product.”

In addition to working with Collective Arts, Vaughn is the associate art director for video game hub Silverclutch Games. She has also created illustrations for the American Cancer Society and Bravo TV Network.

“Good design and art by extension is the best way to get your product seen by the consumer,” Vaughn said of how art expresses beer. “With all that creativity going on inside of the can, it makes sense to carry on that same creativity to the outside of the can too.”

This event won’t be short of passionate, artistic conversations. In addition to all of the great factors that create art for beer cans, a focus on the challenges that often arise – like working with the shape of the can and deciding how to convey what the beer is – will also be a topic of discussion, followed by a Q&A session, Dowd said.

“I’m looking forward to talking shop about the illustration business in general,” Vaughan said. “Additionally, I’m excited to talk about the format Collective Arts uses for procuring all the great work they use on their products.”

The beauty of Art on Beer is that it’s never been billed as an event for the artsy fartsy. If you have ever bought beer – especially from smaller and local breweries – witnessing just how much thought goes into the intersection of both the visual and the taste is as much entertaining as it is educational.

“I think it’s worth going to things like this because it’s too easy to overlook the work that goes into the individual labels,” Van Hall said.

Art on Beer | June 4, 7 pm. $15. Warehouse on Watts, 923 N. Watts St.


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