Those of you following along at home will remember Tuckahoe Brewing’s “I Want To See Mountains” label from our Best Beer Labels of 2018. Please welcome artist Mike Bell to the Thirsty Bastards interview roster.
Mike has quite the presence outside of beer labels and his gallery work is magnificent. What I find impressive is how he adapts his style to the character of the label he is creating. The labels for “Arc of Visibility” and “Absolute Bearing” are very different from his catalog of Universal movie monster works, for example.
This speaks to Bell’s versatility and ability to tap into the soul of the beer he’s helping to present. It doesn’t hurt that the art is drop-dead gorgeous.
Thirsty Bastards: My favorite label you’ve done is Tuckahoe Brewing “Arc of Visibility”? Can you tell me the story behind its conception?
Mike Bell: Arc of Visibility is part of an Artist Series of beer releases, so far there are two featured beers that are a part of it with more to come. The artist series concept will feature art done by local NJ artists for limited runs of special beers.
The Tuckahoe Brewing plan is to expand this line to include other themes and different artists. The two that I have done feature paintings of mine in my alternative universe series. A concept that I have been working on in which two or more parallel universes collide resulting in different outcomes: some good, some confrontational.
TB: What is your favorite label you’ve done so far for Tuckahoe Brewing and why?
My favorite is soon to be released on March 7th. The beer is called “Absolute Bearing”. It is a double IPA, and it is the second in the Artist Series.
TB: How did you get started making labels for Tuckahoe Brewing?
MB: I had been frequenting Tuckahoe Brewery for some time and made friends with some of the owners, in particular, Matt McDevitt. They offered to display some of my art in the tasting room and I expressed to Matt and the Sales manager Rob Callaghan my interest in doing some label art.
I was hired to design a can label for the release of a new beer, “The New Old School”. Rob and I became an efficient brainstorming team and good friends. With some basic input from Matt and some of the other owners, Rob and I worked while sampling the new IPA along with tequila from my private stash.
Our collaboration led to a series of sketches, which were approved then ready for production. I did the art and design then pulled in my nephew, CJ Smith from Smithgraphix to do the production work and complete the design.
The finished label was met a positive response from the owners of Tuckahoe Brewing, and the beer began selling quickly off the shelves. Subsequently, over the last year, we have completed 8 labels… and ready for more.
TB: Where are you from and where did you learn to be an artist?
MB: I was born in Atlantic City, NJ and currently live in Northfield, NJ. I have wanted to be an artist since I was a child.
I spent 24 years working in Advertising, working my way up from graphic artist to Creative Director. For the past 9 years, I have worked solely on my fine art with the exception of the Tuckahoe Brewing Company labels.
TB: Can you tell us a bit about your process? Are you all digital? Traditional? A mix of both?
MB: I am an old-school designer and illustrator. For the labels, I do pencil sketches, and I either do ink drawings or paint the art. After that, I collaborate with C.J. Smith and we complete the design digitally. So we are a mix of old- and new-school.
TB: What other art do you make?
MB: I do two types of art, matchbook portraits, and pop surrealism paintings. The matchbook portraits are created with graphite on matches and manipulation of the matches to form “hands”. My paintings are a juxtaposition of pop culture icons and modern day settings and narratives.
TB: How can your fans find you and your work? Can they buy your art?
MB: I am in 24 galleries across the U.S. and my website is full of my art available for purchase.