August 19, 2010

Samurai Artist's Upright Late Harvest Art

It's pretty rare that I'll devote an entire post to one label, but I will for Ezra Johnson-Greenough, aka Samurai Artist, who does work for Upright Brewing among others. You may remember his Four Play label, one of my first posts, that had the topless woman and butterflies on it. His blog recently posted the process work for the Late Harvest seasonal.

The piece emerges as one of the strongest I've seen in the medium, particularly because it achieves a tone and emotion that most beer label art shies away from. Far from a bright juicy hop or an aggressive skull or a colorful attempt to grab attention, the Late Harvest image holds our interest because it engenders real feelings and sentiment that go with the theme of the beer.

We start with the form, which in this case is a black-and-white drawing. For those of you unfamiliar with art, hands are tough, so a close-up of a hand in the process of opening or closing around grains is not an easy piece. Here, Samurai Artist handles it well. We get three-dimensionality, movement, and realism before we even add color.
Adding some color enhances the realism and depth, and makes those floating grains make a little more sense. It also shows us how he's envisioning this piece in regard to the idea of a "Late Harvest". The straight browns and tans color palette is making this a very fall image already.
So we add more brown, and now this is as autumnal an image as we can imagine. The radiating colors make the hand (now the lightest thing on the canvas) stand out, and the light hand makes the darker grains stand out against it. We see just hints of texture in the corners of the background, but the central backdrop remains a deep, untextured brown that makes the creases in the grasping hand stand out.
In its final incarnation, the yellow lettering frames the hand and (with the exception of the "har" against the wrist) stands out against the brown. We lose a little of the escaping grain, but the hand-drawn lettering heightens the emotional tone of the piece. The realistic reaching hand, the escaping grains, the autumnal color tones, and the hand-carved lettering all work to conjure feelings of nostalgia and even, maybe, some wistful loss (that's me; maybe you see a hand releasing grains in a sort of happy freeing motion).

Either way, the point is that this does what a lot of label design is afraid to do, which is trust a subdued and beautiful piece to stand out against a wall of bright attention-grabbers. Tough to do, but the Samurai Artist pulled it off, and Upright Brewing ran with it (which is just as important; lots of great label art gets scrapped before you ever see it). Cheers to both parties, because work like this is what inspired me to start this blog.


  1. Stumbled across your blog only very recently. What a brilliant idea. This post in particular is insightful and very interesting to read. More power to you.

    Did you get a chance to look at any of Dritftwood Brewery's bottle artwork yet? The Belle Royale and Sartori Harvest IPA are particularly sexy. I haven't been through your whole blog et, but if you missed Driftwood, I hope you get a chance to turn your discerning eye to their artist.


  2. Dan,

    I wasn't aware of Driftwood, but now that you've clued me in, I'll definitely take a look. Sartori's the one on their site right now, and that is some sweet design. Definitely worth a post in the near future.

    Thanks for reading!