By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Bend artist MaryLea Harris wasn’t a beer fan when she moved to Bend four years ago. But she quickly learned to love the artwork that changes annually on the packaging for Deschutes Brewery’s Jubelale.
“When we moved here, I remember being at the grocery store here in Bend and there was this amazing display of beer,” Harris said. “I was blown away by the artwork on the cases of beer, and I actually bought one because the art was so cool. I had no idea what the beer inside would taste like, but it was so pretty I had to buy it.
“There’s judging the book by its cover, this was buying beer by its box.”
Just four years later, Deschutes tapped Harris to create the artwork for the 30th anniversary of Jubelale, the brewery’s signature winter beer. And for the occasion, Harris accomplished a first in Jubelale history — Deschutes actually commissioned four pieces of art for this year’s beer. Harris’ series of snowflakes appear on different bottles in each package.
“I suggested the idea of doing a series,” Harris said. “Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two beers are alike.”
Harris specializes in mixed media. And while that might be difficult to pick up from the two-dimensional beer packaging, paint wasn’t the only medium employed in creating the art that inspired the labels. Harris’ snowflake series uses plaster, acrylic paint and Jubelale posters glued to the background.
The result was the latest unique take on winter in Oregon for the Deschutes seasonal. Even though Harris is an experienced artist, the project could be intimidating at times. Deschutes approached Harris to do the artwork in April. When she met with the brewery’s founder Gary Fish, she wondered what she had gotten herself into.
“He took me through the gallery of the past artwork and told me what we liked and didn’t like about each piece,” Harris said. “I walked out of it like, ‘Please don’t mess this up.’
“But the best advice Gary gave me was when he told me: ‘We still want you to make it your art. Don’t take it too seriously, it’s only beer.’”
The turnaround time from commission to completion was just under a month, which presented challenges beyond the timeframe.
“I was painting at Easter time trying to channel wintry thoughts,” Harris said laughing, recalling the process. “So I actually psyched myself out by closing the blinds to my studio. I played Christmas music. I burned a candle that smelled like a wood fire. I made hot cocoa.”
She also had inspiration from the Bend art community, to which Deschutes usually goes for the Jubelale commissions. From living in Bend, Harris eventually got to know Avlis Leumas, who did the artwork for the “owl” Jubelale in 2013 that so struck her when she moved here. As she came up with this year’s art, she confided in Karen Ruane, a good friend who did the 2016 label. (The Jubelale art is often kept “top secret” until its release.)
Harris said she approached the process perhaps a bit differently than some past artists likely did. With a background in marketing as well as fine art, Harris said she was very concerned with producing images that would look good on the packaging, even though that part is taken care of by Deschutes’ marketing team.
“My trick when I was painting, I would take photos of the painting, and then hold my phone with the photo up to a beer bottle and see how it was going to look at that size and shape,” Harris said. “It really helped the process.”
Four years ago, when Harris and her family moved here, she said she wasn’t a big fan of beer. But drinking a Black Butte Porter soon after she got to Bend changed her tune. “I became a Deschutes girl from the very beginning,” Harris said.
Now the art of the converted beer drinker is on shelves around the country.
By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
For fans of Deschutes Brewery, the release of its holiday beer — Jubelale — is one of the highlights of the craft brewing calendar.
That’s not just because the winter ale is one of the seasonal favorites of beer lovers in Oregon and beyond. Each year also brings a new piece of original artwork from a local artist, which adorns Jubelale’s label and packaging, a tradition that dates back to 1995. Anyone who has taken a tour of the Bend brewery has seen the Jubelale art commissioned by Deschutes on display in its main offices.
That artwork usually depicts a winter or holiday scene in a fairly traditional manner. But this year, Deschutes went in a totally different direction with an abstract take on “winter” from Bend artist Karen Ruane. She specializes in a fine art technique called marbling, first developed in East Asia more than a millennium ago. Marbling consists of paints being floated upon a viscous surface; the artist then spreads and manipulates the paint to create intricate designs before a contact print is taken.
“The process of marbling is mesmerizing,” Ruane said, recounting how she took up the art form about five years ago after observing an artist at a street fair in California. “For me, it is about taking this art form and pushing it to a place that I don’t see anyone else pushing it to.”
Ruane got the call for the Jubelale artwork by virtue of a happy accident. Last winter, a representative from Deschutes came to a co-working space in Bend co-founded by Ruane called The Wilds, which was home to a number of fine artists at the time. Ruane showed the rep, who was looking for art for a “special project,” around the various studios.
Ruane said she didn’t even intend to show her work, but they passed it on the way out the door. Deschutes fell in love with the idea of putting Ruane’s marbling artwork on the label, and the rest is history.
Ruane said she was mostly left to her own devices in creating her vision of winter, with one exception.
“They threw in the superstition that the amount of snow that you put on the Jubelale label is directly related to how much snow we’re going to get that season. And I didn’t want to let the entire city of Bend down,” Ruane said with a laugh.
The result is a piece that evokes the feeling of winter and snow, along with the warmth associated with the holiday season and drinking a winter ale.
You won’t see the entire piece in any of the Jubelale packaging, which just uses portions of the overarching artwork. The original piece is on display in the tasting room at Deschutes’ brewery.
Ruane said the reaction to her Jubelale artwork has been positive since the reveal and launch party at the Bend pub in October.
“I am still sort of processing it, the initial excitement when they picked me was amazing,” said Ruane, noting it was her first major commercial commission. “Then the elation turned into being curled up in a little ball on my couch for a couple weeks, like I got in over my head, how is this not going to be that label that everyone asks ‘What happened that year?’”
Despite Ruane’s worries, the result of her efforts was a beautiful and wholly different take on the Jubelale theme that will appear on shelves around Oregon and the country throughout the holiday season.
This Year’s Jubelale, at a Glance:
Brewer’s Description: Cocoa, dried fruit and toffee notes. A robust ale with a warming spice.
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