Three years ago, artist Heidi Geist was managing a bottle shop in Portland, Maine, when she quit her full-time job to design beer labels.
The first label was for Diavoletto, a super session ale from Bissell Brothers whose can, thanks to Geist, is now decorated with “one of my crazy geometric pen drawings” of what looks like a virus or bacterium. (The beer’s name translates to “little devil.”) A flowy, verdant design for Boothbay Craft Brewery’s The Thirsty Botanist followed. Geist, a visual artist who also does paintings and murals, says Portland’s creative scene made the collaborations a natural fit.
“Portland’s a funny place because it’s a lot of tourism, but when you scrape underneath all of that, there’s so many creatives,” she says.
Geist recently hit the road, embarking on a yearlong journey to design labels and other artworks for breweries in the 48 contiguous states. A mini school bus, purchased off eBay and outfitted (she did the work herself) with a bed, book shelves, a fridge, toilet, sink, skylight, and roof deck, provides her transportation and lodging. Breweries like Long Live Beerworks in Providence and Wyoming’s Melvin Brewing will be her muse.
Designing a beer label is like commissioning any other piece of art. Geist gets to know brewers and their wants, adding her own ideas within that framework. Recently, she spent six days in the parking lot of Burlington, Vt.’s Foam Brewers, soaking in the scene on the shores of Lake Champlain before leaving with a completed work.
“Usually it’s my job to build that relationship with a client so that we can vibe mentally enough to match whatever their vision is for the design and the aesthetic and make it happen,” she says. “But every now and then I luck out and get a company that will give me the full reins.”
Before settling on the 48 Beer Project, Geist entertained thoughts of “living in a van or a yurt or even in a tiny building in Brooklyn,” but the idea of doing something cohesive in an industry she loves appealed to her.
“There’s something about traveling, especially when you’re alone, where you’re more open,” says Geist. “There’s something about what you put off that attracts other people.”
Geist hopes her work will have a positive effect on the beer industry as well as herself.
“I’ve found that brewers who have been doing this for a while become a little bit jaded about certain parts of their job and about the fan base,” says Geist. “And I think that happens no matter what business you’re in. What I’m hoping to change a little bit is just sort of offering perspective.”
For more information on the 48 Beer Project, visit www.diegeistart.com/the-48-beer-project.Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.