Beer & Art – Lewis Ryan


Lewy A.K.A. Lewis Ryan has spent over 25 years in the art and design industry before starting his own business focusing on two of his loves: music and beer. The good things in life. Since starting his own business in 2016 he has worked with a number of Breweries, Musicians and Music Festivals on a host of creative projects. Breweries, bottle shops and bars include: Abbeydale Brewery, Amundsen Brewery, Bang The Elephant, Brewdog, BritHop Brewery, Buxton Brewery and many, many more. Lewy has also painted two murals here in Chesterfield for the Hop Lamp bar, located on Whittingham Moor. Featuring a King Kong/Crooked Spire mashup and a fire breathing Godzilla, if you’ve not seen them, I suggest you drop everything right now and go check them out. Mines a pint of Green Mountain please. Our Editor sat down with Lewy for a chat about all things beer and art

How did you find yourself working with Breweries and the like?

My background is in Fine Art. I did a GNVQ in Art and Design at Barnsley College, then went on to do a BA in Fine Art at Coventry University. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, but when I first finished University in 2002 I needed to get a “real job” to pay the bills.

Fast forward and I eventually spent 6 years at a LED Lighting company and helped grow the yearly business turnover from £400K in 2010 when I started to £1.4million in 2016 when I left. In 2016 the company owner decided to step out of the business and become CEO. He planned to only be coming in every so often, so he asked me to step up as Managing Director. Being very career minded I jumped at the opportunity. I was part way through training when he decided to sell up instead – the new business owner taking the MD position I’d been training for. I found out in an impromptu meeting with all the other staff when the new owner was introduced to us all.  I handed in my notice the very next day without much thought of which direction I’d take. I was so angry that I had put so many years into building that company up, with many carrots dangled over the years (things like shares in the company) which never appeared. I had never felt anger like that before. I knew at that point I couldn’t work for anyone else but myself, and I had to go back to my creative roots. Looking back now it was the shove I needed to get back into being creative.

So to finally get to the answer to your question: I went self-employed and started looking into areas where there was financial growth, but more importantly it had to be in industries I would love to work within. Beer and music were the first things that came to mind. I’ve tinkered with home brewing for years, and drank real ale since the 90s.  I’m the singer songwriter in a Psychedelic Folk Rock band (The Rolling Down Hills). They were both industries I understood and I thought my accumulated skills set could help breweries and musicians get noticed. The craft beer scene was booming with a high demand for bright, stand out can artwork. So that was the first place I started.

I made a few new beer related illustrations (Hopzilla and some fan-art for BrewDog’s Elvis Juice), built a small portfolio and started sharing my work on craft beer forums and on social media, hoping to get it in front of the right people. I took on a few pet portrait commissions and photography work to keep the bills paid until things got rolling. After a couple pieces of work from a newly launched brewery (Rock Leopard Brew Co – Hops and Rain) and a bottle shop (Beer Dock – Beer Kong) I was invited by Matt Jenkinson who at the time was on the team over at BrewDog Sheffield, to do some live art sessions in their bar as part of brewery tap takeover evenings. The live art sessions were a great way for me to talk with the people at the breweries as well as show them what I could do. After each session the brewery would take the art I had created that night back to the brewery to be displayed. It was a great way to network with the kind of people I wanted to work with. That’s how I first met the folks over at Abbeydale Brewery.

I’ve been a self-employed creative since. It snowballed from the first few pieces really, but I think the invitation BrewDog gave me was the trigger point that has led me to the career path I’m on now. The beer industry has changed a lot since those days, and I’ve just tried to stay with those changes art wise.

Is there a specific process you have when illustrating for Breweries?

I think listening to what the client wants is really important, probably the most important thing, in that you have to get to know the client well to fulfil their aims. After that it’s a simple process of sketching down ideas and running with the one that I love the most.

A lot of illustrators and designers work digitally – I’m a little old school, in that I still like to make my illustrations on paper with ink, in the way comics were traditionally created. Those ink drawings get scanned in sections into the computer, stitched together and then coloured digitally in Adobe Photoshop. I’ve been experimenting lately with some digital only work on the iPad, but I think the majority of my work will always stay ink on paper; there’s a feel to the finished illustrations that can’t quite be replicated digitally.

I work pretty big too, even though the finished beer labels are relatively small, I work at A1 paper size and on 1200 dpi files – It means the detail is there If I ever wish to convert the artwork to posters or other things in the future.

After the artwork is all coloured I like to play around with the finishing, often adding metallics or transparencies to really make the labels stand out on the bottle shop shelves or on the pump clips.

Where do your ideas or inspiration for the designs come from?

I try to have a theme/world I create for each of the breweries whilst still working in my own style, It’s a hard thing to do. Breweries need to look unique, If I’m working with loads of different breweries the end customer still needs to recognise that brewery straight away by looking at the can. That’s why I try to create a world for each of the breweries I’ve worked with.

I’m always trying to push boundaries with the illustrations, be that metallic finishing or clever ways to make the artwork fun – I created a make your own Obiwan Kenobi label that people could cut out and assemble for a Collaboration brew for Emperor’s Brewery and Bang The Elephant. Inspiration often comes out of the blue for weird things like that, that one came in a dream.

14738936 – aluminum cans isolated on white

Illustration is certainly a key part of Real Ale and Craft Beer branding.
Why do you think this is?

I think they’ve always come hand in hand – Packaging design has a role to make people want to consume the product within, I suppose beer isn’t any different really in that aspect. People relate to a brand and want to immerse themselves in it, Illustration makes it easy for people to fall in love with the brand for it’s visual aspect as well as for the finished beer.
When I was a kid in the 80s I used to collect beer mats, mainly for the artwork, there was such a wealth of diversity in the styles of art and design. I guess that’s one of the things that got me interested in the design world to begin with.

Any favourite projects you’d like to highlight?

One of my favourite projects has to be the 2 Collaboration series illustrations I did for Abbeydale Brewery – 12 beers in total, 12 Brewery Collaborations brought out over 2 years – All 12 beer labels could be collected and they joined together to make a poster sized illustration. It was a monsterly ambitious project that the idea again came to me in a dream, nothing has been done like that before. The series was nominated for a SIBA design award and we got to the finals with it in Liverpool.

The first part of that collaboration series was one of my first big jobs so there’ll always be nostalgia in remembering it, again I don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it hadn’t have happened, everything snowballed right after it.

What exciting new projects can be expected from you in the future

There are loads of current projects that are exciting.

I’ve recently finished the artwork for Amundsen Brewery’s Alcohol Free Dessert in a Can – Soon to be launched – The original Dessert in a Can series is so iconic for Amundsen, and I’m really proud to have been given the opportunity to design the artwork for the Alcohol Free version.

I’m quite fortunate that the breweries I’ve worked with come back to me again and again, so they must be happy with what I do. I’m still amazed that I get to draw and paint for a living!