"I spend all day drawing pictures of a man with a moustache" - We chat to Paul Reck of Yellowbelly Beer
I literally cannot stop looking through Paul's work.
Each glance reveals new details which builds into what can only be described as a story, building the character of Yellowbelly, our mustachioed hero. I had to get in touch with Paul and ask him about his inspiration and how he feels his labels add to the experience of drinking a beer.
Who are you and what is your occupation?
My name is Paul Reck and I am Creative Director at YellowBelly Beer. I spend all day drawing pictures of a man with a moustache, and it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
When did your interest in graphic design/art begin?
Ever since I can remember I was always drawing, on scraps of paper, napkins, envelopes, anything I could find. I always enjoyed inventing characters and even from a young age I knew that I wanted to work as an artist or illustrator. I was the kid who literally bought books just for the cover art, I would obsess over the work I saw on book covers and in comic books, and video game art was also a huge influence in shaping my visual tastes.
Your artwork for YellowBelly features the same character, how did he come about? Does he have a name?
His name is YellowBelly, and he started life as an avatar to represent the brewery and the team that drive it. Before I started working full time for YellowBelly Beer I worked freelance and was commissioned to design the character featured on the logo for YellowBelly Beer, and at that time he embodied a sort of amalgam of features from each member of the team, since then he has grown into an entity in his own right, he is our figurehead, and our hero. He allows us to continue to reinvent ourselves and tell new stories with each beer we brew. To date we’ve brewed over 250 different beers, and each one has it’s own individual art and story. This has led to a spin-off comic series YellowBelly Tales that you can read for free at www.yellowbellybeer.ie/comics. You’ll see a lot of YellowBelly in the future, and as an interdimensional time traveller, he’s got lots more stories to tell.
You clearly take a lot of inspiration from comics, when did this begin and how has it shaped your artistic style?
Yeah, I’ve definitely been inspired by comics since a young age. Some of my biggest inspirations come from great comic artists like Jim Lee, Greg Capello, Scott Campbell, Joe Madureira, Todd McFarlane, Sean Murphy to name a few, and I could go on and on, but I’ve definitely aspired to capture the essence of the work of great comic artists like those guys. I usually find myself falling short of their greatness, but you have to keep trucking away you know! It’s hard to put a finger on when my love of comic art started, I guess it’s always been there, and oddly enough before working at YellowBelly I had no real interest in working on sequential style comic books, before that I was more of a Character and Poster Artist, creating work better suited to covers and one-shots than the nitty-gritty of the pages. But now, I’m really enjoying the medium, I’ve always been a visual thinker and it’s fun to solve the problems of how best to convey the story in just a few frames. In relation to style in general with regards to YellowBelly I tend to bounce around a bit from traditional comic book, lines and colours to a more painterly style. I enjoy working both ways, but the comic stuff is a little quicker to turn-around and so it tends to feature a bit more prominently on our badges and labels.
Did you study a professional artistic qualification?
Yeah, I have a Bachelors Degree in Design (Communications) I got at Waterford Institute of Technology.
How do you approach a new project?
Each project is a little different, but usually we start with a name, and that’s often the hardest part. We come up with a name and usually it rolls on from there. The creation of the concept is important because it has to be evocative of the name and theme, while also featuring YellowBelly and one of the biggest challenges is to keep YellowBelly interesting, so quite often he gets up to some serious mischief. As a time traveller we have lots of scope to play with, but when we added extra dimensional travel on top, that opened up infinite possibilities so we can have YellowBelly popping up anywhere. The most important thing when embarking on a new project is that is has to be exciting for me - if I don’t find the subject interesting then it’s unlikely that the consumer is going to be thrilled by it. From there I usually boot up Photoshop and start sketching.
I keep the sketches pretty loose and when I get to a composition that I’m happy with I’ll dive straight into ‘inking’ and then add colours. Quite often its at the thumbnail phase when I decide whether I’ll ink the piece or paint it. If I decide to paint it then I work to an almost complete level in grayscale and then add colour, I find I can work faster that way rather than diving straight into colour. I work entirely in Photoshop, so I very seldom make paper sketches anymore, unless it’s for laying out comic book pages, then I feel like I need to be able to touch it.
Have you had any memorable responses to your work?
Probably the most memorable response was when we got some fan mail from a 6 year old. We had just released a limited edition soft drink and that put our artwork into a new market and this kid saw the stuff and became a huge fan of YellowBelly as a result. We still have the hand drawn card he sent us on the wall in the office.
How do you feel art and beer are interconnected?
Absolutely. Craft beer is one of the most experimental and creative industries out there, and with constant advances in labelling and printing technologies there has never been more freedom for exploration in artwork on cans and bottles, so yeah, I think to produce great beer and not try your hardest to stand out in what is a really competitive market is cutting off your nose to spite your face. It’s a jungle out there and there are powerhouse breweries producing great beer with equally good art, and they’re the ones you remember. If you want to stand out you need to shout and you need to have something to say, and art is the very best way to do that. You could have the best beer in the world, but if it’s got a boring label it’s very likely that nobody will pick it up. Going back to the book cover analogy, I buy beers for their cover art too.
We’re seeing a much larger influx of Irish craft beer here in the UK, how do you feel attitudes towards smaller breweries are changing?
I think that people are becoming a lot more discerning about how they spend their money, and they want to enjoy a well made flavoursome beer, no matter where it comes from. The UK has some amazing breweries producing really stellar beers, and as a result a consumer base that is becoming better and better educated. They know what they want and we want to give it to them.
What is your favourite beer?
That’s a pretty tough one. To look at, I’ve always loved the art on Beavertown cans, I find the style and universe that they have created really fun. I’m also quite a fan of the understated classiness on To Øl shrink wrapped cans in particular, and some of my favourite pieces of can art are the bold black & white portraits on Panhead cans.
To drink, thats even tougher. My tastes tend to change depending on my mood. I’ll just go for some of my favourites down through the years; Cloudwater V5, Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break Stout, YellowBelly Electric Dreams :)
Clearly a man of great taste, you can find links to more of Paul's artwork below as well as a selection of his labels for Yellowbelly.