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A Magazine for Sheffield

Lewis Ryan: Colourful & cosmic artwork

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Amundsen Brewery - Marshmallow Psycho


Lewis Ryan's colourful and cosmic illustrations first came to our attention when we were supping on a sweet can of Abbeydale Brewery's Laid to Rest Apple Saison towards the end of last year. Keen to find out more about his inspirations and collaborations, we sat down for a natter.

Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into illustration and design?

My name is Lewy and I'm a Barnsley-based creative with a background in Fine Art. I create illustrations and graphic design, mainly for craft beer breweries and the music industry. I always wanted to be an artist but when I finished university I needed a 'real job' to pay the bills.

After finding my feet in the web design industry and doing graphic design jobs, I worked as an Art Director in Doncaster and then as a Design and Marketing Director for an LED lighting company. I eventually realised I couldn't work for anyone else but myself and went back to my creative roots.

I went self-employed and made a few beer-related illustrations, built a small portfolio and shared my work on craft beer forums and social media. After doing a couple of pieces for a new brewery (Rock Leopard Brew Co - Hops and Rain) and a bottle shop (Beer Dock - Beer Kong), I was invited to do some live art sessions at BrewDog Sheffield. They were a great way for me to talk to people at the breweries and show them what I could do. That's how I first met the folks over at Abbeydale Brewery.

Your work has been clasped in the palm of many a Sheffielder as a result of the 2018 collaboration series you did with Abbeydale Brewery. Was there a specific brief for the can design or were you given a free rein, creatively speaking?

Abbeydale are a great client to work with. With the 2018 Abbeydale Collab' Series, there wasn't a complex brief. We talked about creating a piece which could be split into six, so people could collect the can artwork and join each one together to make a big illustration sticker. My first thoughts were that a rough theme of 'the supernatural' would work well and give me scope to push my art style to new levels.

For some of the beers an idea would pop into my head straight away based on the type of beer, sometimes there was a beer name Abbeydale had in mind that would spark my imagination. For example Creeping Brett was a beer name that was already in place, a pun based on the Metallica song "Creeping Death". My first thoughts were of creeping plants that could sprawl over the label.

You've cultivated quite the portfolio and worked with some really interesting organisations. Which has been your favourite collaboration and why?

The projects are all so varied that it would be unfair to pick one particular organisation, although I can pick my favourite illustration piece. I have a rule that I always strive to make my current piece of art the best I've ever created, so I'll say the current piece I'm working on now is my favourite. It's definitely the most challenging so far and it's another Abbeydale Brewery project.

The project is a two-beer brewing collaboration with Siren Brewery which will be named - "Sowing Seeds" & "Reaping Rewards". Like last year's series, the project will be based around collectable can labels and how the passage of time can change something. The first beer will go out to customers when first brewed. The second beer is the same beer that will be barrel aged in bourbon barrels with added fruit and herb flavourings. Both the artwork and the beer will change over time.

There's a strong vein of popular culture references in your work, how do you choose your subject matter?

A lot of the time I do it subconsciously without realising, be it a nod to films I love or something I've picked up while surfing the net, like cats with laser beam eyes. Sometimes I'll add references on purpose but I try to be subtle about it. For example, in the Abbeydale 2018 series there's a hidden theme of the Wizard of Oz throughout the piece. The yellow brick road draws the viewer's eye across the piece to the Gandalf-inspired wizard with a tiny badge that says 'Oz' on his lapel in the bottom left. Hidden in the top corner are a pair of striped legs wearing ruby slippers under a house, with the twister in the background.

What's next for you?

I'd like to do more mural work in the pubs and bars in Sheffield. I also have other craft beer illustration and design clients from as far afield as Norway (Amundsen Brewery artwork - Marshmallow Psycho), so I'd love to do more of that and get my illustration work seen on beers in other countries.

My main goal is to try and get my artwork into a gallery space. To me, my art has always been more than just design or packaging. I'd love to see it on a gallery wall and see people's reactions to it that way. The 'Where's Wally' feel of some of my pieces would make it more engaging when it's large rather than printed at label size. Though saying all that, I'm amazingly privileged to have the vehicle that is craft beer to get my art in front of so many people, I really can't complain.


Instagram: @lewylewylewy

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