November 22, 2011

More Stunning Artwork by Stillwater Artisanal Ales' Lee Verzosa

Okay, I've been saving them up to a point where I can't justify holding back any longer.

Readers of this blog know that my big beer art crush is Stillwater Artisan Ales, from Baltimore, and their label work by tattoo artist Lee Verzosa. It won best art of 2010 here, and honestly I'm considering a ban on repeat winners just to prevent him from becoming a choice every year. But I probably won't.

What follows is a bunch of his work from 2011. Prepare for gushing art geekery.

This is his most recent work, for Bronze Age. Those new to this art will see the pen-and-ink main elements over a watermarked, earthtoned backdrop that is the main composition for Stillwater and Verzosa. The style/motif is almost always a Gothic/Edwardian one, conjuring images of monsters and gaslit laboratories. Also, while there is the occasional move to literally display the beer's name, usually that is eschewed in favor of just putting some great imagery evocative of a character or theme, as we see here. There is no bronze or tools, but instead a binding of fingers, over a faded image of a brain flanked by grain sheaves. What we get is a feeling of a primitivism, which of course fits the idea of "bronze age." One could argue that the bound hand is not as skillfully rendered as could be (the fingers seem a bit too short), but I think it lends itself to the off-putting sense of monstrosity the image gives off. It we're picking nits, I'd focus on the fact that the foreground hands don't pop as much from the backdrop.

The label for Derviched leaves our Gothic theme and trades it for a messed-up mythological one. Here we have something like Adam and Eve surrounded by symmetrical crowds of unruly classical characters. The two wearing animal skins and bearing clubs are threatening, and the tenor of the agitated crowd is palpable. Look closely at the garden behind Adam and Eve; the foliage is vaugely distorted, and there's a skeleton with a scythe wandering through. This visual mashup certainly manages to be off-putting.

Back to some of those old-timey figures we remember so fondly from the Of Love and Regret label. Instead of plotting murder, we've got two ladies throwing down on a field of blood-spattered red. The amusing take on "Debutante" is driven home by the label over the watermaked woman's eyes. The fact that it's so off-center gives the fight a sense of realistic dynamism; the falling woman really appears to be dropping into our field of view. Like many Stillwater offerings, this was brewed and bottled as a collaboration, and the logo of the collaborator, The Brewer's Art, is well integrated into the background.

 In the label art for Folklore, the foreground element is distinguished not by darker lines, but by a striking color change and the fact that only he gets to be three-dimensional. As the angry, creepy jester-satyr steps over the Stillwater ribbon, staining it red on the way, he appears to be reaching out at us. Meanwhile, a closer look at the background reveals it to be without any coherent perspective, heightening the contrast of the main character with his subdued environment.

I have to say that the Jaded is one of the weirdest labels here (that's a good thing). We have a Edwardian/Victorian female figure looking at herself in the mirror, but she's distorted, perhaps by her clothes or perhaps by the rendering. Her arms are too big, her head too small, her waist almost nonexistent before bulging out into a mass of cloth that far too closely resembles organs for my confort. Two skulls look up at her, and a net of tentacles comes out from behind her in what might be a beast lurking or a signal to us that this person is way uglier than we think. The screaming medusa heads around the frame only make it less comfortable. Again, there's a great contrast between red and blue here.

Lastly, we have the tamest of the labels, the green Rule of Thirds. It appears to be a very straightforward, non-grotesque piece with a Van Gogh-like scene in the background. The rule of thirds refers to an art composition term used mostly in photography and design, which holds that ideally, compositional elements  divide a canvas three equal-sized fields horizontally and vertically. Here, Verzosa has literally divided the canvas up with those lines behind the main elements of the image. In a way, he's showing us a playbook for creating this piece: the Stillwater ribbon is along the bottom axis, the Rule of Thirds ribbon along the top, extending out from the woman's eyes. Vertically, the axes are tied to the highest points of the Stillwater ribbon, the end of the woman's face, and the word "of" in the upslope of the top ribbon. Wonderfully technical and enlightening as a process work. Worth remembering: This is on a beer bottle.

Of course, this style only works with Stillwater's brand. Owner Brian Strumke, a "gypsy brewer" who rents unused time in facilities to make beer in Europe and stateside, continually makes complex, interesting beer for those interested in some of the more high-end, subtle aspects of beer. He doesn't have a flagship golden or pale ale; he has farmhouse style beers that often defy style characterization. Because of that, he can afford to have art that is challenging, opaque and even unsettling, in a way that Sierra Nevada never could.


  1. WOW! This art work is really amazing. I really love what you are doing on this site. As a former art student, fellow Pennsylvanian, and new beer blogger ( I would really love to discuss some beer art and link to some of these posts on your site. If you have some time and would want to chat email me at I would love to get some advice and/or talk beer with you.


  2. Thanks for the kind words, Tim. Always good to have more PA beer voices!

  3. Thank you for the art geekery. The linkage helped provide me with info on finally procuring a Lee Versoza print! Last year I sent out emails trying to track down prints of his Stillwater bottle label art as an anniversary gift to no avail.I wish it were some of the work from the bottle art, but beggars can't be choosers. All of his work is breathtaking!