Seagulls and Herring - We talk Breweries, Beer and Birds with Stigbergets and Jönköpings graphic designer Neale Payling
This time last year my partner and I went on a week long Scandinavian jaunt, spending time in a beautiful apartment on Gothenburg's Avenyn area. Unfortunately, we'd picked the one day of the month that everything was closed, so spent the afternoon perusing the Universeum, an amazing collection of animals, nature, biology and chemistry in a series of interactive exhibits. That evening, we went for dinner and tasted the most amazing slow cooked lamb, paired with a local beer. That beer turned out to be Stigbergets Amazing Haze, an intensely hoppy but soft number. I was smitten. Gothenburg is awash with amazing breweries with names like Dugges, Stigbergets, O/O, Beer Bibliotek and Poppels calling this city home.
Jump forward 12 months, and after some technical difficulties we finally managed to have a chat with Neale and here's how it went.
Who are you and what is your position?
I'm Neale. Born in Wakefield and moved to Gothenburg five years ago. My day job is as an art director at an ad agency, but I freelance a bit after hours and that's when I do beer labels. Most of the labels I've done are for Stigbergets Bryggeri. I don't do all of their labels, but I guess I've done about half of them. I've also done a handful of labels for Jönköpings Bryggeri.
When did your interest in graphic design/art begin?
Like a lot of other graphic designers it was album covers that got me into it. I spent almost the entirety of my Art A-levels basically just redrawing old pink floyd album covers. Literally just copying them like an idiot. No creative input whatsoever. Needless to say I pretty much failed my Art A-level and swiftly dropped it.
Did you study an artistic qualification?
I did Graphic Design at Huddersfield Uni. Good course with good tutors. Shame I was a bit lazy and a bit too young and didn't fully take advantage of it. But I got a degree anyway.
Do you believe Gothenburg and/or Sweden are good places to work as a creative?
Yeah I guess it is. I lived in Leeds before moving here and to be honest Gothenburg is pretty similar in terms of what's on offer. And if we're talking about working as a creative within craft beer I'd say it's probably pretty good too. There's loads of local breweries popping up all the time.
Is there any piece you’re particularly proud of?
Definitely West Coast IPA. The one with the seagull on it. Seeing that little bird popping its silly little head up all over the place is ace. And if it hadn't been for the seagull, there would never have been a toucan.
What is your approach to a new project?
Ah, it's always different. Sometimes the brewery will have an idea already. For example, I can get a brief that's something like "I want a seahorse" or "do a toucan." But sometimes I'll just get the name and type of beer and go from there. I usually sketch a few ideas quickly to begin with. It's become kind of a thing now that at least one of the sketches includes an animal. Animal labels have been a winner so far.
Once the idea is decided, and if I have time, I'll paint the label with acrylics on a big piece of paper. Scaling down from a large format tends to help hide most of my mistakes, which is nice. Recently I've been a bit pushed for time so the paint pots haven't been out so much. Instead it's been brush pens and loads of scanning.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in graphic design?
Hmm. I have no idea. I started studying graphic design in 2005 and think I only just kind of figured out what I wanted to do about 10 years after that. Everyone's different though. There's people who "get it" before they've finished studying, or they don't even study and suddenly they're celebrity designers when they're like 18. But those kind of people don't need advice from me. If you're a dummy like me though, well, my advice is... hang in there and see what happens... maybe you'll land on your feet in ten years!
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
There was a guy who asked to get a selfie with me the other day, haha. He did say it was for his brother, and in fairness it WAS international selfie day, but still! That was pretty huge!
Otherwise I do tend to keep an eye on instagram, and it's always fun to see what people do with the labels. Some people have staged some pretty creative still lifes. There's also an instagrammer (@59degreesnorth) who does really nice watercolour paintings of beer labels. She has done a few of mine, which has been nice to see. She did make the west coast seagull look a bit meaner than mine though, but in fairness that is how they look in real life. Frightening creatures.
What do you think makes Stigbergets stand out from other breweries?
The beer is really good, which is helpful. I guess I have developed a bit of a style for the labels too. I do almost everything by hand, and seeing as I'm not technically any good at painting (don't tell anyone!) I have to keep things dead simple. Somehow that seems to result in a fair bit of humour too. Not that I try to make them funny – I think it's just naturally how they turn out. Like if you look at a shelf of craft beer and there's all these cool, well-designed labels, and beside them there's a dodgily painted seagull in profile against a murky sky, well, somehow that stands out. It makes me laugh anyway.
I should point out again that I don't do all the labels for them. So there is also a good bit of variety within Stigbergets, which also helps. It makes sense to me that a microbrewery should have just as much variety in the labels as they do in the beers.
How do you feel Art and Beer are interconnected?
I think that beer bottles and cans are a great surface to work with. It's weird to think that they weren't really used for "art" at all until craft breweries came along. But I'm definitely thankful that they did. Even if it's just a small batch of beer that will be gone in a couple of months, I think its deserving of a unique image to represent it.
What is your favourite beer?
To drink? All of Stigbergets IPAs, that collaboration beer between a bunch of swedish breweries that tasted of swedish semla buns (Hetvägg), Stone Fruitallica, Spike Hazelnut Chocolate Porter, 3 fonteinen Oude Geuze and lots of other sour beers I've been drinking lately.
To look at? Everything Mikkeller, Omnipollo and Partizan do. And I also love Orval. That unique bottle shape combined with that little diamond-shaped label is just lovely!
A massive thanks to Neale for answering our questions! We've linked his Instagram below, as well as some of his designs.