Brewers are Definitely Artists, But Are They Similar To Muralists? A Project At Rad Brewing Gives Clues

Brewers are Definitely Artists, But Are They Similar To Muralists? A Project At Rad Brewing Gives Clues

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Rad Brewing recently had a Tag Days event at the taproom (414 Dorman in Indy) where a group of artists did a mural on a side of Rad’s huge cold room. By huge, I mean 36 x 24 ft. kind of huge – it could keep a small town cold. The artists divided up the space and a couple of open spots on the taproom wall in order to add some art and support local art education (here are the instagam handles for the participating artists: @blend_creative_minds, @tildeathdousart, @overspray_designs, @ampersand666, @bezol_one, @stuffy_fresh, @forgotenfate, @jkrozby). During the three days of the painting (June 23-25) a dollar of each pint sold at Rad Brewing was donated to youth art programs in their Holy Cross Neighborhood.

Josh Brinson, asst. GM and brand marketer at Blind Owl Brewery on the northeast side of Indy, helped led the effort in getting artists to participate, setting meetings to discuss designs, procuring and setting in place a cherry picker, and then prepping the side of the cold room for the artists. However, he was quick to point out, “I want to make it known that PJ from RAD Brewing (@_pajamapanorama_) is the one that reached out to all of the artists and linked us to the opportunity. This was his concept, and I’m very thankful that he provided us with such an opportunity. Also, a gigantic thank you to Steve Berg from SABERGCO for donating the boom lift to us for this project.” At around 4pm on Tuesday, the first swathes of spray paint went on the walls as people watched, drank, and tried to guess what each element would turn out to be.

The artist knows which lines count. image credit: Walter

I often get to see brewers at work creating their masterpieces, but this was a rare opportunity for me to see painters at work, at least the muralist type of painters. This led me think about the similarities and differences between these two types of artists. Do brewers and muralists have the same kind of work processes? Do they think the same kinds of thoughts?

I decided to make lists of what they seem to have in common and where they differ – strictly from an outsider’s point of view. Once I had my lists, I showed them to an artist (Josh Brinson of Blind Owl Brewery) and a brewer (Ian Boswell, head brewer at Blind Owl Brewery). I asked think about them separately and then discuss them together to see if they agreed I was basically on target or if I truly was only seeing things from the outside. So here are the lists and their thoughts on my choices:

Things brewers and muralists have in common –

Creativity- My ideas: both make something from nothing, or you could say that they transform items into something bigger and more meaningful.

Josh and Ian: We agree with this, but both wanted to highlight the effort that goes into producing and manufacturing the ingredients and supplies that we use prior to us receiving them. For muralists, we get spray paint cans pre-mixed and assembled, caps pre-manufactured, etc. Our job is to combine those “ingredients” to produce something else entirely, but we value those responsible for crafting those products for us a great deal.

Improvisation- My ideas: at times they have to change a design or beer on the fly, and they have the ability to use new tools, media, and ingredients.

This is still just about halfway done. image credit: Walter

Josh: I agree with this fully. As a muralist, I typically have a piece sketched before I begin, but the end product is almost never fully identical to the original concept. Changes have to be made through the process based on availability of paint and adapting to the space. Also, painting a wall often gets my creativity flowing more than sketching at a desk, and I will often have new ideas come to me as the project progresses.

Ian: Yes, I would agree. This is even truer now in current times with the resources we both have access to!

Generosity/Bravery – My ideas: both are giving something of themselves to the world, and have to have the courage to put themselves out there where they are vulnerable to peoples’ criticisms.

Josh: I agree with this. Criticism can either make you or break you depending on what kind of person you are. Through the years as an artist, you learn to decipher between constructive criticism and the type that comes from folks who simply aren’t as open-minded as others. Either way, criticism offers a new perspective, and I thrive on that. That could be the empath in me, though. One thing I would like to point out specifically regarding this project and others that incorporate graffiti elements is that graffiti-style lettering gets a bad wrap. I think as the years have passed, more and more people have developed an appreciation for the style, but in the past graffiti has been associated with crime, gangs, violence, etc. Many of the people who still possess this mentality regarding graffiti are long-term members of communities, if you will. I think if artistic graffiti culture was more well-known, the stigmas from the past would dissipate along with the ordinances working against it. Only time will tell, though.

Ian: Very, true! It’s an expression of our passion. We also love it because of the product but also – it’s all about sparking a conversation.

Look below to see what this turned out to be. image credit: Walter

Science/Engineering – My ideas: Brewing has chemistry, microbiology, and biochemistry involved in every step of the process. Brewers use science and nature to create beer. They also use expensive and complex pieces of equipment that have to be maintained and repaired (seems like daily). Muralists also use science in terms of light, color, math, and geometry. They use engineering in terms of the nozzles and paints they use, as well as a lot of the methods they use to reach their work.

Josh: You are spot on with the science of brewing, in my opinion. I guess you could say that the science behind murals deals in the realm of psychology. Different combinations of shapes, colors, and other elements within a mural contribute to the overall aesthetic of the piece. Muralists often research the scientific effects that different color combinations have on the viewer. For example, red is known to incite desire, passion, and sometimes rage, whereas green illustrates growth, harmony, and tranquility. Overall, I feel like brewing is a far more scientific process, but there is certainly a lot more consideration of scientific strategy that goes into producing a mural than most would think.

Ian: Yes and also adding that they use equipment as well like Josh and the cherry-picker. Although Josh helped me to understand that the way pigments are made for different colors is not an easy thing to do. I just figured he picked up a can of paint and that was that. What type he uses is very important.

Collaborative – My ideas: in a project like the one at Rad, artists have to come together and sometimes subvert their own vision for the good of the project as a whol. This is also what happens in beer collaborations, two or more artists have to combine their talents and ideas to come up with one beer that represents all the participants.

Josh: Collaboration can be tough. It really requires a good chemistry between the parties involved. I have been in several situations where I was working on a project with someone and had to take a step back due to differing ideologies, senses of urgency, organization, etc. As you add more people into the mix, the feasibility of a successful collaborative project decreases exponentially. This isn’t to say I don’t absolutely love collaborating with other artists when the roster is right. I feel really lucky to have been working with such a like-minded group of artists for RAD Tag Days. Being able to access another artist’s perspective on your work is honestly invaluable at times. It really opens up your eyes to so many possibilities you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.

Donnie is just about done. image credit: Walter

Ian: I would agree that this is true but I’ve honestly not done enough collab’s to give good enough feedback. So, let me get a few more collab’s under my belt and I’ll let you know. Josh explained how it can be tough to collab sometimes with making the timing work out or compromising on your initial vision for a piece.

Possessive/Have Egos – My ideas: while they both open themselves up to the opinions of the public, they both do have a tendency to think they know better. After all, it’s their vision they are trying to project, can you blame them if they believe the public “just doesn’t get it?”

Josh: This is certainly true, and it’s a good segue from the subject of collaboration. Sometimes, egos clash. I am certainly confident in my work, you have to be to convince anyone to let you paint their property. Overall, however, I feel I’ve grown to a point where my ego doesn’t get in the way as much as it may have when I first began down the path of art. I love to try new things, so my ego has become a bit of a contortionist: strong, but flexible. I would advise anyone in a creative realm to learn to differentiate between those that don’t make an effort to view things from a different perspective and their more supportive and open-minded peers. Make it a point to surround yourself with the latter. You’ll be thankful.

Ian: I would have to say no you cannot blame anyone for that! You have to be proud of your work.

Physicality – My ideas: There’s no doubt that people underestimate the physical toll that both brewing and doing murals can mete out. Up and down ladders isn’t any better or worse than hauling grain sacks or climbing in and out of tanks to clean them. Plus, reaching up repeatedly is an aspect I see in both brewing and muraling.

Josh: I have brewed and I have painted murals. Hauling all those bags of grain up the ladder to dump into a mash ton is no easy task. The nice part is there are rather lengthy breaks in between those times of heavy lifting. On the other hand, murals don’t require quite as much heavy lifting, but the physicality is constant if you are working diligently. Going up and down ladders and scaffolds with bags or crates of paint every time you need to reposition a bit is laborious, and sometimes you find yourself stretched out from the top of a platform as far as you can reach without losing your balance to reach a spot without having to climb down.

The first work on the cold room wall. image credit: Walter

Ian: That is a good point. I would say we both put our bodies to the test but that’s part of why we love what we do. It’s our passion.

Beholden – My ideas: While both brewers and muralists are their own people with their own vision, it’s foolish to believe that they can survive on their own. Somebody has to buy the beer, and someone has to pay them to do the mural or other art piece. There’s a reason that patrons have existed in the art world for a thousand years and that brewery customers are called patrons.

Josh: Overall, Ian and I agree that murals and beer are both deeply rooted within forming a sense of community. People come together over art, and people come together over beer. The ideal situation is to come together over both. It would be quite lonesome if we never got to enjoy the end product with others. Also, people enjoying what we create is what keeps opportunities to keep doing it coming our way.

Ian: People want to be a part of something; it’s about inclusiveness. Just like how you have regular at a bar. People come together to view their art. It’s a topic of conversation for both of us.

Things where brewers and muralists differ – 

Time – My ideas: Brewers live by the clock. Timing a boil, knowing how long it takes to fill the hot liquor tank, how long a fermentation might need or how long to rest the beer so it turns out its best. On the other hand, muralists (and artists in general) seem to have little concept of time. Perhaps it’s because they need to reflect on what they’ve done so far – but they never seem to be in a hurry or working at max speed. Justin McIntosh (artist and big wig at Rad Brewing and Books & Brews) agreed with me, saying the only time he ever works to finish a piece is when he has a definite deadline to meet.

Josh: The consideration of time is vastly different between brewing and painting a mural. Muralists are continuously juggling new deadlines, the deadline for the finished product being only one of them. We have to order specialty paint in time to have it delivered before we can really begin a project. When working outside, I check the forecast on the hour to ensure I’m allowing paint enough drying time prior to the next surprise bout of Indiana City downpour. If you are renting equipment, you have to factor in the windows of time when you can get into the mural space to set-up or break down the equipment versus when the rental facility is open for pick-up and return. One miscalculation time-wise can cost you an additional day worth of rental fees; $250 per day in the case of the boom lift for the RAD Tag Days project. Most muralists also have a day job outside of art, so factoring in time off from that and when the mural locations are accessible can be a challenge. All in all, Ian said it best, “Brewer’s factor in the minutes while muralists factor in the unforeseen.”

The cold room wall about 75% done. image credit: Walter

Ian: Josh explained to me how he has time sensitivity in other ways. He has to do more forecasting of the sometimes unforeseeable future. Brewers have to do that as well with scheduling, but he have more time sensitive time frames when it goes to minutes on the hour. Especially during a brew day!

The Elements – My ideas: Brewers work in the brewhouse 99.9% of the time. Maybe they go out to pick some ingredients in nature to use, but other than that they are stuck because their brewhouse isn’t portable. Muralists are often out of doors, meaning they have to deal with sun, wind, rain, and snow – it makes their work a bit more of a gamble; they can be shutdown by Mother Nature at any moment.

Josh: The elements are a huge factor on outdoor projects. Rain can take days away from you or even damage progress depending on what step you’re on. Having to re-tape everything because the rain took down the tape you had spent hours putting up the day before sucks. Preparing for the heat is essential. There have been times when I’ve been sun-exposed for such extended periods of time that I find myself tucking in close to the wall hoping to find an area of shade while I finish with some line-work. Wind is also a big factor. It can throw off your balance when you are up high on scaffolding or ladders. Also, I’ve had cans of paint blown down from my platform. Thankfully none of them have ruptured on impact yet or the blast of paint would have ruined a section of my progress.

Ian: I wish I could get more fresh air. My brewery doesn’t even have a window. I envy the outside work and various locations.

Danger – My ideas: Besides the height and the paint fumes (if they choose not to wear a respirator), painting murals isn’t likely to kill you. In contrast, there is little in a brewhouse that won’t kill you if you give it half a chance. Caustic, pressure, hot liquid, CO2, acid, heavy weights…..the ways to die in a brewery are almost as diverse as ways to die in Australia (really, is there anything down under that isn’t lethal?).

image credit: Rad Brewing

Josh: Some artists like to wear respirators for outdoor projects, but I feel like it would take A LOT of paint fumes to truly affect you in an outdoor environment. One thing to consider, however, is where your project is located. Oftentimes murals are being installed to beautify a not-so-beautiful part of town. When you are in such locations, it is important to stay aware of your surroundings. Equipment and supplies can get stolen, stray animals may approach you, etc. I have found myself at the top of a ladder with multiple gunshots going off around the corner from the wall I was painting. I was actually atop the same ladder when a car cut over the railroad tracks behind me and sped past a group of the artists at the site to evade the police.

Ian: Please don’t forget to mention CO2 exposure in coolers. #1 killer in breweries.

Locality – My ideas: This links in to the elements difference, and it is again because professional brewhouses just aren’t moveable. Muralists get to work here, then they work there – sometimes with the permission or at the behest of the owner, sometimes not so much. Unless they are going to destroy their latest work, muralists are by necessity going to have to move to another location. But it goes beyond this – muralists go look for walls to paint, they go see others’ works – brewers don’t get out much. One of the truisms of brewing is that brewers rarely have time to go visit other breweries. It’s basically a solitary job.

Josh: I agree fully with your take on the mobility of muralists. Once, you’re a head brewer, you’re pretty much locked in to your location as you mentioned.

Ian: That is true, but what if you looked at it from the way of not head brewers. All the cellarmen out there that job from brewery to brewery within the same city. They want to learn from the best until they can be the head guy.

image credit: Blind Owl Brewery

Camaraderie – My ideas: This links to the point immediately above. Most brewers work alone, because most breweries are small. Brewers do get along, but besides national/regional meetings or the occasional brewfest, they don’t see much of each other. The muralists I saw at Rad got to talk, wander around, drink together, comment on and help with each other’s work – they really seemed to be the best of friends. I would guess that on murals that they alone are doing they are more solitary, but I bet they have company most of the time.

Josh: Muralists often hang out with other muralists, whether to collaborate or just share the latest progress on their most recent projects. There is certainly a sense of camaraderie in it, which makes it an ideal social outlet for me. I think this is certainly more limited in the brewing community. Aside from events and the occasional yeast-swap, I think brewing lends itself to a more isolated lifestyle.

Ian: I agree. The best networking can be done at brewfests and social gatherings or events for brewers. We also enjoy showing off our hard work and talking to each other about it. Josh had mentioned that they hang on a site more or even attend the same parties. It’s also kind of tied with the previous topic of locality.


Conclusion. Tag Days at Rad Brewing was a great idea to use the space they had to support local art and artists, and to generate funds for local youth art programs. It was also a great way to tie in art to the brewery and to further their “RAD” brand. If you like the direction the pieces were going in the images, they I suggest you make a trip to the Rad Brewing taproom in Indy and check out the finished products.

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