by Brian Stechschulte... Nov 14, 2014


Walk down the beer aisle or into a bottle shop these days and you’re blessed with choices. You can grab your favorite six-pack or bomber and call it a day, or peruse the shelves on a mission of discovery, like flipping through record store bins, wondering what’s new, different or unusual.

The first thing that grabs your eye is the beer label or package design. Maybe you’re drawn to a bold font screaming IPA, or you’re shocked to see a bottle covered in animal feathers (true story). Breweries vie for your attention. Not only on the shelf, but also with promotional schwag and clothing, all of which helps build their brand. Artists and designers play a big role, like Jim Stitt, who’s been designing nearly every Anchor Brewing label since the 1970’s.

When Cellarmaker Brewing decided to bottle it’s very first beer in 2013, a Brett Drei Saison called Jezebel, they asked Berkeley born artist Nick Fullmer to create the label. Completely self-taught, Fullmer was a relative newcomer to the beer industry at the time. He had only worked for Faction Brewing, creating their logo and beer branding, which was enough to draw the attention of Tim Sciascia and Connor Casey at Cellarmaker.


The Jezebel project went so well that their creative relationship expanded into t-shirts like Coffee & Cigarettes and Are You Afraid of the Dank. Cellarmaker fans quickly embraced the artwork. Fullmer’s drawing style and quirky cartoon characters perfectly align with Cellarmaker’s beer names, brand, and overall personality.

Through word of mouth, Fullmer’s roster of beer industry clients has rapidly expanded. He’s created artwork for Societe Brewing, Marin Brewing, The Hop Grenade, Sactown Union Brewery, and has seven more brewery and beer related projects in the works. He also has an exhibit of framed work on display at Social Kitchen & Brewery. The opening reception is scheduled for Tuesday, November 18th, starting at 5pm.


Fullmer sat down for interview and talked about breaking into the beer industry, his creative process, artistic influences, experience working with Cellarmaker Brewing, and shared his thoughts about the current state of beer label design.

When did you get into craft beer and what’s your impression of the industry so far?

Fairly recently, in 2009. The first craft beer I ever had, other then Sierra Nevada because my dad was a huge fan, was Arrogant Bastard. Craft beer is very welcoming. There’s obviously competition and people butt heads, but for me it was the first industry I entered that nobody cared I didn’t have an art degree. Not one person I’ve drawn anything for has asked me where I went to school.

Who or what has been your artistic influences?

My artistic influences, fortunately, have mostly been what people compare me too, which I always take as a compliment. I grew up on Tim Burton and loved everything he did. I use to be obsessed with Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation. I also grew up on Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. I have every book. I loved the Adventures of Tintin when I was a kid. Not necessarily because the art was amazing, but it was just perfect. In addition to them, Jeremy Fish. He was the first artist that I recognized because of the style and I liked it. I saw it in magazines and obviously in the Bay Area. I really looked up to him. My whole childhood I drew things that looked like other things, or morphed into weird things, and he was very much that style of artist. I thought an art career was either working in a miserable office as their art department, or stressed out as a fine artist painting. Both of those sounded terrible to me, and Fish’s hand drawn marketed art was better. I would never say I’ve ever shadowed him to try and get somewhere, but I really appreciated what he did.


How did you end up meeting Connor and Tim at Cellarmaker?

I met them just by going there all the time. I was there three times a week. One day I was just sitting there and Tim was behind the bar. He said, “Hey I know who you are.” I was like “I know who you are too.” He said, “If it doesn’t step on anybody’s toes we would really like to talk about having you do our first bottle label.” I had never done a label. That was my dream getting into beer art. A lot people have showed interest in my art, and then it never went anywhere, so I didn’t’ want to get too excited. I ended up being there two or three days later and Connor was working. He said, “I know who you are. I think Tim talked to you a little bit.” I explained to both of them that Faction was really up front with me, that as long as things don’t look the same they had no qualms. We met not long after that and talked about what they were trying to do. At this point their only design was the Cellarmaker logo. Like a lot people I work with they didn’t know what they want. They gave me the name, beer type, and asked if I had any ideas. So I started doing stuff, throwing together a few ideas. It was great because everywhere I go people say this it too weird, too strange, or scary, could you please tone it back a little bit. With Cellarmaker I drew the first draft, really didn’t know what they would think, and they flipped out.

Did you find the beer label format constraining at all?

The only thing that’s constraining is that I draw, and I didn’t realize this, I draw a lot vertically. I like tall art, and labels are simultaneously landscape, but you also only see a vertical portion from one angle. It’s a little different thinking about what people are going to see head on, from that angle, and have it work where you can see it no matter where you are. There’s a lot of dimension to it that I hadn’t really considered. So that part was challenging. I use to hate size constraints and now I like them because they tell you when to stop.

After making the Jezebel label you went on to designing t-shirts for Cellarmaker. Could you talk about how that came about?

They liked Jezebel so much, but the bottles had to age for a long period. I think everybody involved was excited and eager to get something out that people could see. Coffee & Cigarettes had already started to become cultish. They had a last second idea to do a run of shirts as beers came out. That design was really easy. Growing up I loved to draw inanimate objects and add a face to them. I’d look at a Windex bottle and see how I could turn it into a face. I loved doing that so when they asked me if I had an idea for Coffee & Cigarettes, I said I was thinking of drawing a coffee mug and ash tray with faces on them, and make one look like it’s caffeinated, and the other like it smokes cigarettes. Tim said, “That’s exactly what I was going to say, this is amazing.” That ended up going so well that they approached me about working on Are You Afraid of the Dank, which was actually a situation where Tim beat me to the punch with an idea. Luckily their really strange names make it easier to draw stuff. When I draw something for pale ale, it’s really hard other then writing pale ale differently, to come up with something, so I like it when it’s a weirdly named beer that immediately makes me think of something.


What makes a beer label successful or stand out to you?

I rarely think that successful beer labels are the good ones. The labels that appeal to some people are recognizable, in that every single one is a template and it slightly changes. Big breweries put a lot of thought into it. It’s the same lettering, the same frame, and I think for people that aren’t  sure how to explore beer, it’s easy for them to see and say “Hey, there’s a new beer.” For me, labels that stand out are ones that make me get mad, because I think, that’s better than me. I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but there’s a lot of labels I see and think, I could do better than that. But, there are others I see and think, how did they fit so much on such a small label and have it visible? Honestly, I buy bottles that I would want as a shirt. Now being involved I look at things in a completely different way. I stare at labels and think, how did they fit that barcode so inconspicuously, so it can be scanned? How did they do vertical verse tilted lettering, and sideways?

What do you think of the positive reaction brewers and beer fans have had to your work? 

I think I’m fortunate to work with the places that make amazing beer. Other then that, I think a lot of what was out there for a long time was so computer generated, and it seems like people are going back to the hand drawn. I think that I was fortunate that people who were making their own beer wanted someone who made their own art. I think brewers consciously started to think that they didn’t want to hire a commercial artist. Word of mouth has been the greatest thing for me and a lot of my success comes from places I work for who say, “I want a local artist. We have an artist, but it’s impossible to get a hold of them.” From what I’ve heard that’s pretty universal in the beer game. I don’t do that. I work really fast and really hard.