If you’ve knocked back a cold one from our buds at Garage Project, you’d know how seriously the Wellington-based beer and wine makers take their packaging. Rather than just slapping the same logo on brew after brew, they instead call on a whole range of artists to create weird and wonderful labels for their equally experimental drinks.
Mount Maunganui-based Ross Murray is one of those artists. Known for his colourful vintage and comic-book style illustrations, you can find Ross’s designs (along with a bunch of other ace artists) in The Art of Beer – a special Garage Project book celebrating all the rad labels they’ve stuck on their bottles over the years. Below, we chat to Ross about what goes into making an artwork that'll catch your eye at the bottle-o.
How did you get involved with Garage Project? The first label I did for them – a beer called Summer Sommer – was in late 2016. As well as being an illustrator, I make comics. Tim Gibson, the creative director at Garage Project, also makes comics and consequently was aware of my work.
Tell us about one of your favourite designs. My favourite would have to be the artwork for ‘Bliss’, which was a beer brewed in collaboration with Ben Shewry and the team at Attica. Part of the inspiration for the brew was ‘80s backyard BBQs, so for the artwork, I tapped into my own nostalgia for that era’s graphic design.
As a child of the '80s, I enjoyed summoning memories of long afternoons of backyard cricket on un-mown lawns. For the actual beer launch, Ben flew over to Wellington from Melbourne and cooked some phenomenal gourmet sausages on the barbie while I signed prints and tried not to get my greasy fingers all over them.
What are the challenges of designing for a beer can or bottle? The cans have technical things to consider when designing – you often have a limited colour palette, for example. Designing labels for bottles is usually a little more straightforward.
For both bottles and cans, the biggest challenge is to ensure the design has a strong, unique and cohesive visual identity. There are a lot of different beers on the shelves these days so it’s extra important to make sure whatever you’re designing can stand out.
What’s the best thing about designing packaging? So much time, passion and skill goes into brewing a good beer, so it always feels like a privilege to have a hand in its appearance. If someone remembers a great beer, they’ll most likely also remember the packaging. I’m quite fascinated by the relationship between nostalgia and the things we consume, so this idea appeals to me. But obviously, the best thing is the free beer.
Ross's art from ‘Golden Summer’, an exhibition with Greg Straigh in March 2017
What do you enjoy illustrating? I love drawing both the natural landscape and crumbling manmade structures within it. There’s some form of juxtaposition going on there, and the sense of unease that can create is interesting to me.
I also love drawing the human face, particularly eyes. They are a window to someone’s identity, so drawing them feels like you’re capturing something really authentic.
What’s your illustration process and what tools do you use? Usually, whatever I’m working on begins with a very rough, loose thumbnail sketch. A lot of artists are amazing at drawing straight from their heads but I’m not one of them, so the next thing I’ll do is collect some visual references. Then it’ll be a case of sketching and gradually refining until it’s time to add colour. This is usually the last part of the process and something I really enjoy.
I create almost all my artwork digitally in Adobe Photoshop and use a Wacom Cintiq to draw with. I do still love drawing using an actual pencil on paper, but don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like to.
What’s your dream project? The stuff I make in between commercial projects is a mix of personal art and comics and I’m really interested in this intersection. I held an exhibition of artwork earlier this year to mark the launch of my first graphic novel, Rufus Marigold, and I liked the experience of reading comic book panels in a different context (really large and on a gallery wall). So, I think some kind of dream project might involve playing around with this idea.
Where can we find you online? At rossmurray.com, @rossmurrayillustration and on Jacky Winter.