ABV is our weekly series that highlights a different beer from a local Pittsburgh brewery every week. Check out our past picks here.
As we continue through quarantine, I wanted to shine a spotlight on some of the collaborative partners that comprise Pittsburgh’s beer scene. Specifically, the artists.
Breweries love to push their creative envelopes – and since we’re all buying pre-packaged beer at the moment, it seems like a good time to show love to the folks designing our crowler and can labels.
Artist Paul Roden Works Alongside the Cinderlands Team
Paul Roden is a local practicing artist specializing in wood block prints. After about 12 years in Lawrenceville, Roden is now based in Troy Hill. Lately, he’s been working alongside the team at Cinderlands Beer Co where his artwork comes to life at the intersection of thoughtful design and craft beer.
We caught up with Roden to learn about what goes into designing the murals, the beer can labels and his creative process behind coming up with each artistic direction.
(Never been to Cinderlands? Check out our story here).
ABV, Volume LXVI
Q&A with Paul Roden
Aadam Soorma: Tell us about your artwork. Is there a certain medium or format that your work is focused on?
Paul Roden: I used to work almost exclusively in woodcut prints – drawing a picture on a block of wood and carving it out into a big fancy stamp and selling the prints.
AS: How did you come to work with Cinderlands?
PR: Quite fortuitously, Jamie and Joanna (the co-owners) quite literally walked through the door one day when I had just opened a new temporary studio down the street from their new draft house [3705 Butler St].
Life was not great for me back in 2018; their appearance was a huge boost – I can’t stress enough how vital they are to my existence as an artist. I had lost almost all of my confidence and motivation. They re-lit that fire for me.
AS: Your work is super prominently displayed at the Cinderlands Foederhouse in Lawrenceville. And it’s beautiful. What was the creative process / motivation for that design?
PR: Thank you, I appreciate hearing that! We worked together through a few different design and execution concepts. At the time, it was really the first not-woodcut I’d made in a decade.
A 30-foot corrugated metal interior surface above a set of (restaurant) booths was a real trial by fire moving from sitting at a desk making tiny marks with a magnifying glass!
AS: Prior to starting your work with Cinderlands – have you ever collaborated with a brewery before?
PR: Not at all I don’t think, but I have talked with several wineries. My memory is rotten though, maybe I worked for Budweiser and forgot?
AS: Do you try the beer before you design can labels?
PR: I like to fully understand a job before I take it on.
AS: Do you have a favorite label / commissioned piece of art you have created for Cinderlands?
PR: The work I installed recently at Cinderlands Warehouse (Strip District) was really transformative for me – another tremendous opportunity to make some epic artwork.
We decided on a ‘double triptych’ – six panels, each 6 1/2 feet by 4 feet, and the idea of snapshots from a chronological landscape, depicting a simplified cycle of habitat through the ages. The fifth of the six paintings is my favorite normally, but it changes.
I was really privileged to have been trusted with this project, and really lucky they were so patient with me, as it took me much much longer than I ever anticipated! But I think we are all pleased with the results. Even though I tend toward serious and dramatic subject matter, I try to use a light, whimsical sort of style, windmills proudly blowing in the breeze, that sort of thing.
Creating Beer-Specific Designs
AS: Do you work closely with Paul Schneider (head brewer at Cinderlands)? Do you come up with designs by yourself or is it more collaborative?
PR: Sometimes the labels have been specific requests that maybe match the design that inspired the original concept for the beer. But we mostly go back and forth, once we’ve settled on a direction for a series (of the same kinds of beers), we have a template, so those are simple.
My favorite is proposing a couple sketches. I tend to work pretty neurotically and laboriously, so doing quick sketches is very refreshing. I usually propose three or four, agree on a direction, start work, do a quick double check to be sure we’re on the same page, and finish up within minutes (sometimes even an hour or two!) before deadline.
AS: Do you have a favorite beer-specific design you’re especially proud of?
PR: I have a lot of fun doing weird amorphic or cosmic backgrounds behind tighter graphic drawings. The immediate capability of mark-making on iPad drawing programs is really satisfying. I made some fun intergalactic patterns and industrial chic textures I think succeeded by layering different effects and colors.
AS: Cinderlands has worked on collaborations with Pittsburgh organizations as well as breweries from all over the country. Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, etc … how has that experience been when another brand or company gets involved on the design side?
PR: Those are really fun! We did one with 412 Food Rescue that was a city built on a fresh loaf of bread. They also hooked me up with the amazing opportunity to make some labels for Phish inspired beer. (I was unfamiliar at first, but got quite the education thanks to their passionate fan base!) I had a lot of fun with the drawings, one of a flock of birds and another of a herd of horses.
AS: Who are you inspired by?
PR: Right now, I see inspiration in a lot of different ways people are responding to our current reality – the mask makers and fundraisers and mutual aid groups and everybody helping each other.
I find tremendous comfort in what I see as proof of humanity’s inherent goodness.
Artistically – the younger, driven, passionate artists are my favorite inspiration.
Locally, Gems and Chu are two ‘reformed’ graffiti artists who are busy all over town with various youth and neighborhood groups; I think of them as really fostering community.
I really love Wavy Wednesday’s work and approach – younger artists inherently understand how social media puts artwork into context, and her work just pops and glows in the environment she presents it in online.
Everything Commonwealth Press does is great – not just their products, but their attitudes and events and involvement, again, are things that really impress me and wish I did more of myself.
AS: Where else do you have commissioned artwork around town?
PR: I have a different style of mural up at the Tryp Hotel in Lawrenceville, and a few things in the works.
Follow Paul Roden online
AS: Where can folks follow you online?
AS: Finally, we love asking this: What’s your favorite Pittsburgh bridge?
PR: I’d have to say the 31st Street Bridge.
All photos courtesy of Paul Roden. See more of Paul’s work at PaulRodenStudio.com