May 18, 2010

The Can Revolution's Effect on Art

So there's been a rush of breweries releasing their offerings in cans. Beersage over at estimates more than 80 breweries are doing it. Most of the reason for this is economic; it's cheaper to ship cans and cans are cheaper to buy. There's an argument to be made that aluminum cans are more environmentally friendly than bottles, but I find that dubious.

This includes some large breweries, including Pyramid, whose Haywire Hefeweizen is now available in 16 oz "pounder" cans. I've written here earlier about the brewery's particularly masculine artwork, which would seem to lend itself to cans. But they've toned it down and the bright colors and sharp angles are gone in favor of background texturing on the blue and the logo and text work.

Certainly, cans provide aesthetic challenges for those trying to make design work a priority. Unlike a label, a can is not one relatively small, defined canvas. It is potentially a 360-degree mural that can be seen from many vantages and directions. Of course, many will just continue to see can design and art much like bottles, and so they have small squarish fields of images and large blocks of blank space with legal text or whatever. That's not a problem; plenty of good work is obviously done on labels. But it is definitely not all a can could have to offer in the right hands. Let's take a look, for example, at the new labels for Grand Canyon Brewing Co.'s cans:

There are still clearly defined fields, but they've taken the locomotive theme and expanded it throughout the label, building a backdrop of riveted iron to match the name.

Expanding on this idea is the Sunset Amber design:
The "label" on the right with the name of the beer and the small sunsoaked yellow scene is totally overwhelmed by the gorgeous image of the canyon that is the backdrop for the entire can. It's almost enough to make you wish the little logo field wasn't in the way.

We'll look at two more can labels here, starting with 7 Seas Brewing:
This is more of a traditional approach, with clearly defined areas of art on a neutral monochrome background. In this case, it fits a bit with the British style design. You'll note that the logo is repeated twice, once above the image and once above the descriptive text field on the right.

Okay, the last brewery from that particular crop of updates is Indiana's Sun King Brewing Co:
This is somewhere between the approaches of Grand Canyon and 7 Seas, still keeping defined areas of images and text, but making the background an intentional, designed piece as well that sets off the fields while still incorporating the Egyptomania themes. You'll see the same idea in the can plans for the Cream Ale:
The trend - at least for the moment - seems clearly toward more cans. While some of the uses here are encouraging, I very much hope that we'll see some truly innovative artists use these larger canvases in different ways.

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