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.
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