In July of 2009 I got an email from Dave Fox. He said he had seen my illustration work on iStockphoto, and wanted to know if I would be interested in working with him to develop a brand for a microbrew he was putting together. Now you have to understand I get approached with questions like this pretty frequently and unfortunately there are a lot of people that have a good idea, but lack the drive and ambition (or maybe passion is a better word) to make it a reality.
I reluctantly agreed to Dave’s request, and we started to work on concepts. I live in Colorado, and with Dave living in South Carolina it’s needless to say we weren’t sitting down together at Starbucks to brainstorm. Nope, we did everything through email. In fact, I didn’t even hear Dave’s voice on the phone until the designs had been finalized and we were working on printed products. This is no doubt a testament to Dave’s great vision and exceptional communication skills.
Fortunately for me, Dave already had a pretty strong idea of the theme he wanted. He had already chosen the name “Skull Coast Ales” and showed me a couple of examples of images he liked, so this made my job MUCH easier. Many times clients don’t really know what they want and, as a consequence, a lot of time and resources are spent just trying to get that out of them.
So, what goes into designing a brand for a start-up brewing company like Skull Coast Ales? Well, it starts with research. Googling terms like Micro Brew, Beer Label, Pirate, Skull Coast, etc.. Once I gather enough reference, I start doing pencil sketches. A lot of artists these days can start right in drawing on the computer, but I’m kind of “old school” in that the pencil and paper are a huge part of my creative process.
Once I have a few rough sketches that I feel are heading in the right direction, I scan them and send them off to the client for feedback. This was was pretty simple with Dave since he had already given me a good sense of the style and imagery he was looking for. In fact, he approved the first rough sketch, so I started right to work on the pencil drawings that would be used for the final logo.
When the pencil drawings are completed, I put them on the light box and trace them with fine tip drawing markers. For the SKA logo, I drew the skull and cross bones, and leaves as separate ink drawings. The scrollwork in the background of the logo was all drawn in Adobe Illustrator® by tracing a pencil sketch with the “pen tool.”
Once all of the ink illustrations are finished, I scan them as high-resolution black and white images, and I use the Live Trace tool in Adobe Illustrator® to convert the image from pixels into vector paths. Now that the images are all vector paths, I can select what ever pieces I want and paint them or manipulate them without degrading the image. This is the most satisfying part to me. Seeing the concept come to life in full color after all the hours of work. When the final illustration is completed, it is ready to be used in all sorts of applications like coasters, banners, t-shirts, and – most importantly – bottle labels.
At the end of the process, I have helped create a product’s identity – the images and logos by which it will be known. Branding, as this is called, is one of the most crucial steps for any product. Every great product has been branded well: Coke, Apple, Microsoft, and countless others. When you see their “brand” – with or without the product name – you know immediately what it is. With Skull Coast, my goal was to create an unforgettable, instantly recognizable brand. With the passion and input from Dave Fox, I believe that we have done just that. Enjoy!