Lawyer turned artist, who deep down was always an artist and just gave in to what made him happy and brought pure enjoyment through his work is the story of Mike Van Hall. We had the opportunity to speak with him and learn about his craft, his story and how through minimalism he is able to bring the two breweries' can and label work to life through vivid and lively art design. His appreciation for the legacy and importance of art was also not lost on us. It was genuine and selfless, which made me want to learn more about it in the process. 

 

AJK: All right.  We are here, this is the 16oz. Canvas, the art of craft beer.  We have Michael Van Hall who’s joining us.  Michael is our first dual artist.  He does work for Stillwater Artisanal as well as Aslin so I want to thank you for taking the opportunity to join us. 

Michael: Sure man.  Happy to be here. 

AJK: Excellent, excellent.  You know if you’re looking to follow Michael online opprobriations.com we’ll have links up there because I know I’m butchering it but we’ll have links up there on his -- yeah, it’s like a -- that’s a tongue twister.  I don’t know why that’s -- yeah, but --

Michael: That’s kind of the idea. Was kind of what I was going for. It’s more for once you get it then hopefully you remember it so.

AJK: So you’re fucking with me on purpose, good, good, good, good.

Michael: Right, exactly.

AJK: Excellent.  So yeah, like I said, we learned about you, actually reverse, you know, I’ve been to Aslin but I actually learned about you via Stillwater and I think that’s -- was really kind of interesting to kind of -- it’s creepy in a way but you’re trying to research when you -- and see what you’ve been up to and go that way so I really think you have a, you know, unique style to you.  I think it’s -- which I really like but can you kind of not maybe elevator level but just kind of give a little background about yourself as an artist and how you started, you know, getting into it, not necessarily the beer but just kind of, you know, 30,000 feet Michael Van Hall, the artist?

Michael: Sure, sure.  So I used to be a lawyer in DC where I still -- I’m still in DC but I just got tired of being a lawyer and always had like a creative bent so I figured I’d try my hand in it and jumping into the art world and, you know, over a couple of years kind of honed what I thought was my style, you know, the thing that came naturally when I was faced with a topic or a problem, what -- the art that came out so that’s where the style came from.  And I guess I had a lot of influence from modernist artists, stuff from the 50s, 60s, a lot of typography and yeah, so once I got the feel I started putting stuff out there, see who would bite and also tried to combine my interest in beer, wines, spirits and food with the art and see if I could introduce my style into that world because I wasn’t seeing minimalism as much as I wanted to and I thought it could at least provoke conversations so yeah.   

AJK: Yeah, I think that -- so a lawyer, wow so you were a suit and now you’re an arts guy that’s pretty --

Michael: Yeah, right.

AJK: Now what was your area of kind of focus for the art -- I mean, excuse me, with law?

Michael: With law?  I worked at technology companies in-house.  I got lucky in that I -- DC isn’t really -- wasn’t at the time, this is probably a decade ago, wasn’t at the time a big tech hub but -- so there was -- I knew there was a lot of competition for jobs but I was interested in doing entrepreneurial things so I just jumped right in-house instead of having to go through a -- through a law firm or something which is scary on the one hand but, because there’s a huge amount of responsibilities from HR stuff all the way to mergers and acquisitions, but luckily I had good teams that knew what they were doing to, you know, support and help and I was able to kind of learn on the job stuff that you don’t learn when you’re in law school.

AJK: Now did your family think that you were crazy when you said you were going to give up the, you know, the law?

Michael: Oh, you know, they thought I was crazy when I went to be a lawyer --

AJK: Oh okay, all right. 

Michael: -- an artist so.

AJK: They’re like what are you doing there?  Yeah, well that’s a good story yeah.  It was definitely the idea of being, you know, an artist is definitely -- it’s unfortunate but, you know, it’s not for everybody or maybe it’s for everybody but not everyone can be successful.  

Michael: Sure, sure.  I’d say the same thing about lawyers though too and case in point for me so I would -- I just got burned out.

AJK: Well, we’re glad that you put the suit and tie up and, you know, and enter -- or creating so the opprobriations is that just kind of your company or is that an overall theme, what’s the story with this?

Michael: Yeah, I think, you know, I kind of use it as like a nom de guerre I guess so it’s a way to create something a little bigger than just myself.  When I started I didn’t want to focus on me as an artist, I wanted to use art to support things that I liked and eventually I guess companies that I liked or companies that I work with.  So I wanted to educate people, use it as a way to educate people about beer because I really like beer.  I think it’s fun and there’s a lot of culture with it so instead of attaching my name to it I figured it’d be easier for people to wrap their head around if they saw it as an entity not as an individual.

AJK: Right.  Yeah, I get that.  Like I was saying to you before I refer to the things we’re doing here as the we but at the end of the day it’s really just me, myself and I so maybe that’s -- use a little de la soul but yeah. 

Michael: No, sure.  But then also at the same time, you know, once you get your hooks in people it starts to make sense to people then you have this umbrella under which, you know, people can associate with you to the degree they want to.

 Michael: And a lot of the people that I work with now, their -- they feel like collaboration so like I think a little bit because that -- just me as an individual, it’s more like this kind of, you know, visual tone that I’ve created that matches with the visual or the -- which whatever that is that they’re doing be it beer or food or something.  

AJK: Yeah.  Now one of the things I really liked is the Single Hop Project.  How did it -- how did that come to be?  I mean I think that their -- the designs are great but I think it’s just interesting in general, you know, to the insight and information about, you know, what goes into the beer and now more than ever -- I think hops are household names maybe in a way in the beer community.  I think people, you know, have their favorites and I know I have a few that I really like but I found that to be like really interesting then to see it visually represented well, it’s really -- I think it’s really interesting.  

Michael: Yeah.  So well, that was my first kind of "Here I am" project to introduce myself to both art and -- the art world and beer world and so the motivation was really just I went like what could I come up with, like we talked about a little bit, you know, what can I come up with that I can overtime produce a body of work that was a consistent theme but also something that combined things that I like so, the art and the beer. The reason that I chose the hops was because when you first get into beer I think those -- that -- not even -- before you first get into beer, just as you’re realizing that beer is interesting, these names, these hop names, you start to recognize them and it’s they’re still esoteric and they, you know, some of them are fantastical and some of them are scientific but there’s so many it’s just really hard to wrap your head around all the variety and then try and translate that into knowledge that you can use when you’re buying beer.  So all these breweries, they can write the name of the hop on the side but that doesn’t do much for someone that’s not well versed in what the aroma or the flavor is and how they may or may not like the beer if it’s got this or that hop in it.  

So the Single Hop Project was a way to kind of create a visual nemonic, is the term that I like use, so it’s -- you see one of the -- I try to translate what I think that hop tasted like and also have like kind of a touch stone visual queue to the name so that over time if you look at it, it’s easier to remember so Simcoe is kind of like the standard hop that people are using in 2,000s for big IPA flavor so that’s kind of a straightforward design, there’s blue and red and if you see a Simcoe label maybe you’ll recall the design and I also put some details on there that as you learn more and more about hops you could get more and more information out of the design.  So there’s like the alpha and beta levels and, you know, home brewers will know those are meaningful when you’re trying to create a flavor in the beer.  So really the Single Hop Project started as a way to educate people on hops and give them something in return too, to continue supporting their interest in beer.   

AJK: Yeah.  I think -- first of all I think that it’s interesting from a learning perspective and I think to see it visually represented is also very interesting but I mean I think -- and folks at home if you’re -- go check it out, singlehopproject.com but I mean I was amazed how many there are that I didn’t know.  I mean I thought that I was fairly versed in that and it’s nice to see where they’re from, you know, just the whole kind of branding of, you know, what countries those are more well-known from and so I thought that was really interesting to see them, it’s -- yeah, like I said you just scroll and scroll and I’m like okay, like I didn’t realize so it must have been kind of a fun project as a beer geek to kind of get into that and figure it out.

 Michael: Oh yeah, yeah.  I didn’t -- when I started it I had no idea how many there were and honestly the -- this isn’t even half probably -- I mean there’s more than 100 on the Single Hop Project but this is -- there’s new ones every year too.  I mean the genetic --

AJK: Right, the cross pollination and the hybrid.  Yeah, yeah exactly.

Michael: Yeah, I mean it’s all -- yeah, they never stop so I just picked ones that I thought were meaningful in some way or another, you know, historically because that one time they were important or -- and then they’ve fallen out of style or ones that you see every day now.  Getting the information was not easy either and, you know, some of the details are, you know, it’s just hard to pin down like the the level -- the percentages of the individual chemicals that are in there, it’s not definite, you know, this or that growth maybe plus or minus a percent, you know, so I try to do averages like information, maybe the information is useful as possible to give you like a basic understanding.

AJK: Well, I have my homework cut out for me but it’s definitely I guess -- singlehopproject.com check it out.  So it seems that pretty early on when you decided to kind of jump back into the art that you really wanted it to be with food and beverage or beer, things that you liked so this in a way was kind of like your portfolio right, your resume in a way to show that you were going. 

Michael: That’s exactly -- that was exactly the idea is to -- it was the introduction and, you know, I think it’s good -- it’s a good way for artists, doing a series or something is a good way for artists or creative people to introduce themselves,  you can create that body of work that is generated by yourself without the need to have another person asking you for something.  So it’s kind of -- it’s natural and it kind of takes you -- I think it helps you understand who you are as an artist or creative person because you’ll find that what you started with, putting in with are very different ideas, you know, and it also gives a lot of practice I mean the amount of stuff, the amount of -- I didn’t go to art school so learning design programs -- I did it through this series in a way, just making mistakes and spending too much time trying to get the little, you know, points and pixels all lined up.  But then at the end I had this body to show off to people and say hey, you know, if you need help on something well, let me know, here I am.  

AJK: Very smart Mike.  I think it’s -- yeah, from all sorts of angles, you know, the learning process but then to in a way, support the future business it was -- yeah, I find it to be really interesting so I think it’s -- and then it’s a good Segway into, your style I think if you mentioned before it’s more of a, you know, modernist style, it’s very vivid,, very clean; one of the things I really like about it.

Michael: Yeah.  I think, you know, at the time when I started that it was just -- I mean beer labeling in particular and Distilled spirit’s labeling as well, they’re always very busy and they look beautiful but it just didn’t appeal to me in the same way as when I look at some, you know, something from like a European grocery store in the 60s, that was what I thought could work on the shelf too and when people would go in that direction just a little bit would catch my eye most.  So since then I mean it’s just craft beer, I think craft beer have just exploded so much that it’s -- there’s so much creativity, I don’t know, anybody has a -- couldn’t say they had a lock on a particular style or design -- with the exceptions.

AJK: Right.  How would you, and this is the cringed question I’ve kind of just prefacing it that way, the -- how would you describe your, you know, I think I try to but how would you describe your, you know, aesthetic for the not art fan?

Michael: It’s minimalist and vivid.  I like that word vivid.  I mean I try and use color in an exciting way and I try to also tell a story always on my -- on the labels.  Did I -- if I can avoid being -- if there’s a joke to be made too, say there’s a pun or something I want to give a second -- I want to give you something if you looked at it the second time and was like a realization that I’ve made a joke or something that wasn’t immediately apparent.  So in that way it’s I guess -- it’s minimalist story telling if I had to pinpoint it.

AJK: There you go.  

Michael: It’s not a style, you know.  It’s like -- it’s loose, it’s whatever comes out of me and when I get, you know, a request.   

AJK: Well, good.  You’re -- yeah, your hesitation or uncertainty of answering that is -- have been the common theme and I was very proud like I said, I was talking to somebody recently, I mentioned I was so proud of like the questions but then asking the aesthetic it was like oh, it just sounds yeah, it’s a little -- because I’m not as artsy and so I don’t necessarily -- I can’t vibe off of that one back and forth and so I’m always like sorry.

Michael: Oh sure.  Yeah, I mean, you know, I don’t think you need to pinpoint a style there.  Yeah, I definitely go for a tone in my work more than anything.  And if you compare the stuff I do with Stillwater and the stuff I do for Aslin, it’s dramatically different.  I mean one’s cartoony and one’s -- well, I guess is more contemporary art so we’ll do anything from -- for Stillwater do collages to pattern work but if you look at the body of my work together I think you could get a feel of, you know, of a style whatever it may be.

AJK: Right.  Now the artistic process I mean before you mentioned having to learn these different programs, is your medium typically digital or is it -- how does that go?

Michael: Yeah.  It’s typically digital because a lot of the digital lens itself is -- to the printing mechanisms that we have to use in beer, aluminum cans in particular require to be good I think to -- or to be accurate require vector artwork and you can do non-vector artwork, you can translate a hand-drawn thing for sure but it always feels a little dirty to me in the result because it’s not -- it’s true to the original than digital is.  But it’s also -- I’m trying to get more back into drawing more I mean that’s where I started and it’s just having the outlet for the hand-drawn stuff is not -- it’s not as readily available for me currently.

AJK: All right.  Yeah, I think it’s amazing.  I mean I think it’s just amazing what’s available to do now and so --

Michael: Yeah, I try all kinds of stuff.  I mean if I can get a good flow going from the hand-drawn stuff over to digital and I’ve tried many different ways it’s just it’s more of like can I get into this headspace and do I have the -- like the dexterity to do the thing I want to do on a screen and paper in the exact same way.  You know there’s -- it’s tough and I can, you know, you can draw something accurately on paper but you try and do it on a screen it just becomes a blob sometimes.  

AJK: Oh and I think it’s amazing.  I mean I’ve -- yeah, I have had a few attempts at Photoshop in a previous go at it and I think it’s just amazing what folks can do with Illustrator now and the ability to get that, you know, to get those -- to get the images created so.

Michael: Yeah.  I think the cool thing is there’s a ton -- there’s online tutorials and like YouTube and stuff.  That’s totally a great way to learn and you make mistakes along the way and you learn what all these different buttons and stuff mean and you can accidentally fall into something cool that way.

AJK: Oh yeah, yeah.

Michael: I’ve definitely found or accidentally done something by pressing the wrong button and it turned out really neat and ended up becoming part of the toolbox that I use.

AJK: Right.  Yeah, yeah I managed a band called Scarecrow Collection out of New Jersey, probably eight-nine years ago and we had an album coming out and so me and the guitar player took most of the creative and so we’re trying to come up with the artwork and I was just kind of like, you know, click here, try this, try that and I remember we had an image that I created that we really liked and then I sent it to him and he’s like yep, that’s the one.  So we need to send over this certain type of file which was like a super high res for printing and I was like what are you talking about, he’s like oh, you know, your multi-layer, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and I’m like oh, I’m like I don’t have -- I’m like what you see is what I got buddy.  He was like what?  And I remember for days trying to recreate that thing and thankfully I think I had saved it at a high enough DPI and whatever the base file format was that it allowed -- it worked when they sent it to test print but we are freaking out because I was like we couldn’t recreate it how we wanted it and so then it was that nightmare in our heads that okay, we’ll have something but we’ll always want what we can’t have and so thankfully it worked out but that was my massive life lesson that was -- it was almost awful.

Michael: Yep.  Yeah, it’s one thing to make it look cool, it’s another thing to get it printable so it’s always there. 

AJK: Oh yeah.  I was like what are you talking about?  He’s like well, the file with all the layers.  I was like I think I just sent you a JPEG man, like for good.  He’s like oh shit, and he’s like this is not good.  He said I gave you the keys of the car and your barely can drive.

Michael: Great.

AJK: So two breweries, how did you come to, you know, let’s start with the progression how did you come to work with Stillwater, how did that, you know, come to light?

Michael: Well, Stillwater was a product of the Single Hop Project in a way.  I -- when I first had a Stillwater beer, I was -- I grew up in Michigan so I was always surrounded with good beer and I -- when I first had a Stillwater though, Brian's beer was just so unusual and interesting not to mention the story he has.  So I again part of the intro to the beer world was I set him a poster and I said hey, I like what you’re doing, it’s cool stuff, here’s a poster, thanks and, you know, just sent it out.  I had no expectations that he would get it or respond or anything but then like a couple of months later I got an email from him saying he thought it was cool, he’s very cryptic and over the next couple of months we were emailing and finally met and then I think he saw that I understood what Stillwater was and could contribute something that he needed to Stillwater and that’s, you know -- now it’s I think -- it’s become such a part of my artistic body of work and I think  the way that Stillwater has changed its look has been driven by the partnership that Brian and I have in our ability to communicate artistically.  So yeah, was just kind of a random piece of mail and a random text that everything fell into place.

AJK: Right, because I mean going back to Stillwater, pre-you, you know, it was definitely a different imagery or branding with, you know, the bottles.  They really weren’t as can heavy if at all but I mean we don’t -- we get some here in Connecticut, we don’t get all of them but I mean I just remember them being more -- having more of a kind of ancient or --  just having a different feel to the images

Michael: Yeah, Lee just -- so Lee was the -- is the original artist for Stillwater and he and Brian grew up together and they had the artistic vibe since they were kids so Lee was translating Brian’s --Brian had his own, you know, the dark themes I guess are -- is part of it but I guess there’s funny stuff in there too.  There’s a lot of tongue and cheek references and things but Lee is the master tattoo artist and his, you know, he translated that over onto the bottles and the cans in such an interesting way.  I mean that’s the -- half the appeal on why I was drawn to Stillwater in the first place was Lee’s art.

The fact that we still do -- we can still be interesting and be Stillwater and look so different I think is a testament to what Stillwater is.  It’s an art project not a beer company necessarily. 

AJK: And so do you have a -- still have a relationship with Lee? 

Michael: Oh yeah.  I just -- I saw him a couple of weeks ago at the anniversary party for Stillwater, you know, their seventh year anniversary party in Baltimore.

AJK: Oh, that’s awesome.  Yeah, I think that -- yeah, his style I would know them as portrait, you know, kind of the art for the tattoos.  I can totally see him being a great tattoo artist.

Michael: Oh yeah, yeah.  It’s cool.  

AJK: Now have you ever had any of your work become someone’s -- a tattoo on somebody?  I always find that interesting?

Michael: You know not that I know of.

I think people have played off of some of the things but I’m not -- I’ve never -- I’m not quite sure.  Somebody told that they got a tattoo, once, but I did never see it so -- but that’s always one -- like it used to -- the rule in graphic design used to be does it -- if it’s a logo or something does it photo copy?  But my rule is always does it tattoo if I was doing a logo?  I want to make sure it looks cool on the tattoo.

AJK: Yeah, so if you’re listening and you got one of Michael’s pieces as a tattoo reach out to us we’ll get you some schwag, some -- wouldn’t that be cool?  Yeah, I just find that amazing.  Like that’s just got to be -- it’s one thing to have your art and you see it come off the can line or from production and it’s like okay, that’s mine but like somebody makes like a life commitment I think that’s just that would be crazy to me.

Michael: Right, I know.  

AJK: Like that doesn’t come off.  Oh, oh yeah.  

Well, so how was the transition, you know, from kind of I guess art 1.0 to art 2.0 at Stillwater I mean because it’s night and day in a positive way I think it’s really -- I think what you’re doing is great and so I’m just, you know, and even though I’m looking at some of the stuff and you mentioned, you know, the humor of it, you know, and the I Miss the Old Kanye, there’s the I Miss the Old Stillwater, you know, bottles.  I think that’s just kind of exemplary of what you are trying to encompass as an artist.  

Michael: Yeah.  I mean it’s -- really I am a good -- Brian is the muse in a way.  I mean he’s got these visions for what -- an individual beer is an art project to him, from the liquid to the label to how we talk about it and present it to the people that like Stillwater.  Yeah, so the evolution is really just -- there’s a -- which is that I would introduce to the mix and had translating his thoughts visually so I guess the evolution was kind of just a natural product of adding a new person to the mind of Stillwater.  It’s not planned or we didn’t like do some market research and come up with a rebrand or anything like that.  It’s more just like our gut feelings on what’s right for a given project.

AJK: Alright.  Was there a hazing period, that’d be a good hazing period?

Michael: Oh yeah, oh yeah Brian and I -- yeah, we live different lifestyles and he’s jet-set and goes all over the world and I sit in my studio and try and solve the problems that he gives me, the design problems he gives me and, you know, we took a while to get our language down so we were speaking to each other in the same way but, you know, it’s -- it flows well now and there’s times where a design has been generated simply by a text from him with the name of the beer and that’s awesome when that happens because then, you know, we both feel like we have -- achieved something pretty cool when it’s so natural like that.

AJK: Yeah.  That’s some next level stuff right there that you’re, you know, connected like just on the same wavelength like that.  

Michael: Yeah, and it’s -- you know, a lot of it’s because Brian’s creative with Stillwater, it is an art project, you know, we don’t let things get in the way that some of -- that might -- we don’t let businessman get in the way when art -- when there’s art to be done and we put that as the primary focus of Stillwater.  It’s putting art out whatever it may look like.  

AJK: Yeah.  Now do you know what the -- do you remember the first, you know, can or bottle you did for Stillwater?

Michael: Oh yeah.  It was a collaboration -- it was two actually.  It was a collaboration with Siren in the UK.

AJK: Oh okay. 

 Stillwater Artisanal Label created by the committee on opprobriations

Michael: And the one was called -- in the UK it was called When the Lights -- When the Light Gose Out, G-O-S-E so it was a pun and it was -- I believe it was a black salt, smoked gose I think and that label was just -- it was a black label with a pinkish hued crescent moon.  There was Hibiscus in that beer and the joke was, you know, if the moon goes out what happens.  And then the other one was Smoke Signals which was a I believe a smoked sour wheat ale and that was the real beginning of the introduction of heavy typography and lots of color.  

There wasvjust that in your face Smoke Signals on the front of the label and then on either side it had some whisks of smoke that were a rainbow gradient color.  It was a challenge because I, you know, I was given a blank slate on what the design should be and, you know, the first time working with Brian and respecting him as an artist it’s a little daunting.  Like okay, here’s a name go at it, let’s see what you can do. 

AJK: Yeah.

 Stillwater Artisanal Label created by the committee on opprobriations

Michael: Right, and I think it started out and we were happy with it.  I liked that, in particular I liked the When the Light Gose Out label.  It’s so minimal and dramatic.

AJK: Yeah.  I love the inter-webs because I was able to pull them both out while we were talking.  I think -- yeah, I really like the Smoke Signal along with, you know, kind of there’s a lot of empty space which, you know, I think sometimes you might okay, do I have to keep this, how busy do I have to make this or, you know, do I have to fill everything?  And so I really like that it stand on its own and the whiteness of it really pops out.  

Michael: Yeah, and that’s the idea was to introduce minimalism to the visual language of Stillwater which was not -- I would -- not part of -- ornateness was what it was all about for Lee and I think I, you know, I wanted to do a compliment to that which was the minimalist.

 Image from Contemporary Works by Stillwater Collection

AJK: And several of them that really stood out to me during -- on the website but it was the -- almost like the polaroid style, the -- I know Vacuum and Projector and there’s a few others and I -- that was -- yeah, early on that those really stuck out to me, I was like wow, what is this beer and it’s just like throwback.

Michael: Those were -- a little art education for you -- those are Da Da inspired and I believe you can look up just the Urinal and you will get -- you get the visual queue that -- or the visual reference that that’s making.  One of the original, I don’t know, joke art but also changed the way people think about what art was, you know, it’s a urinal that was presented as peep art and that was nothing more, you know, earlier 1900s when Marcel Duchamp put that out there and I think it just blew people -- it just changed peoples’ mind on what art could be.  For us we were trying to change what people thought Stillwater was and so calling a beer Vacuum and putting a picture of a dust buster on there was the best way we could do that I think.  

AJK: Well, I think it -- yeah, I think that’s interesting.  I need to look at that and I -- art lesson 101 here so I definitely, I appreciate you dropping that a little bit on us.  I think if I looked it up, it was called The Fountain right?

Michael: The Fountain, yeah, yeah.  Fountain, Urinal I go back and forth.  

AJK: You know it’s just -- I mean it’s pretty amazing when you think over just kind of time like some of these inventions that people make like just in -- of itself of stuff you take for granted it made me -- like you were saying what is traditional art or what’s considered art but like just some of the stuff that makes you, you know, brings you heat in your house and water on the daily, you know, it’s just like it’s amazing.  It’s just like people take that for granted on the daily and it’s just kind of crazy to think about.

Michael: Yeah.  I mean it’s -- yeah, because a lot of stuff we do in Stillwater is contemporary art in just -- that we’re just presenting.  So it’s like we’re showing -- we’re putting a mirror to society and saying here, like this is our -- this is what we see and let’s see what you see when we show this to you in a way you don’t expect so.  

AJK: Right.  And yeah, and I think that if you check out Opprobriations on Instagram one of the things is, you know, it shows that you’re just -- how much of an art kind of fan or -- I think a fan’s kind of a limiting word but just how much you appreciated or kind of a connoisseur, you know, I think recently when you were at the gallery in DC it was just like how psyched you were about seeing  believe it was Josef Albers for lack of butchering but yeah, and just like you’re like I’m in this I think yeah, I don’t know if it was a poster or something but you were just like -- you were genuinely just amped up that this piece of art was there and you couldn’t believe that more folks were like weren’t going, you know, going over there and you just had this -- the moment to kind of enjoy it by yourself which I thought was really cool.  

Michael: Yeah.  Well, I mean I think there’s, you know, the chance to see that stuff and sometimes the guys they don’t get all the credit at a gallery like that they don’t -- Josef Albers is a great example.  He did a bunch of coloring boxes, he doesn’t have the same kind of cache in popular cultures like a Mark Rothko does but for me to find color theory in his work with Bauhaus and stuff is fundamental education for good artists or at least you should learn it and then maybe break the rules later but it’s cool to see that stuff so -- and I try, you know, if I -- say I want to share it with people and meet, you know, stuff like Instagram and Twitter is a cool way to reach a bunch of people and if you happen to catch somebody’s eye that have never encountered it before and it interests them then that -- I feel like I’ve done a good job of spreading good art.

AJK: Keep on keeping on there.  I definitely agree.  I think it’s -- I found it really interesting and the beauty of the internet you kind of do the deep dive, you know, you see that and I’m like oh, let me check out more and then you kind of, you know, I relate or you like, you know, well, you know like what just happened there?

 

AJK: Yeah, yeah.  So Stillwater, you know, I think that’s the great story and now you’re working with Aslin.  I think that’s really interesting; A, the fact that you are creating for two breweries, you know, I think Stillwater is more established, you know, you said yourself they’re in their seventh year and I, you know, and Aslin’s pretty new and I think just over -- I believe they just celebrated their year if I’m not mistaken. 

Michael: Yeah, about a year and a half.

AJK: Yeah, exactly and so I have a good friend who’s down in the Virginia area.  We were going to a music festival and we got to, you know, I got to go there beforehand and check it out and it was really nice to meet some of the guys and kind of see what they were doing.  That was before the cans had taken off so we just had a few crowlers and growlers for the weekend.

Michael: Yeah, they’re great guys.  I like their, you know, they’re working their butts off to get that thing off the ground and they’ve got so much excitement and attention.  It’s cool to be participating at the beginning like this and helping them to find what they look like and, you know, telling their story to their audience and it’s pretty cool. 

AJK: Now how is that for you as an artist to kind of wear the two hats, you know, they’re --  the styles are different.  I mean I think, you know, of the cans but I mean I think they’re both representative of you as an artist so how does that, you know, how has that been for you?

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Michael: It’s, you know, I -- it’s -- to me it’s two different canvases because I do work for a lot of different people and, you know, these are my -- Aslin and Stillwater are like the things that I think people see the most often but they are -- yeah, I just treat them as different canvases and the -- luckily both of them are fairly -- really easy back and forth so I feel that I can be my creative self through the canvas that they provide for me.  It’s a completely different day-to-day experience and the Aslin guys are finding themselves as a company at the same time that I’m trying to help them find themselves as a visual thing.  It’s hard to.  In a way it’s harder than Stillwater because at least there was something to work off of with Stillwater, Aslin I have -- the things that the guys have in their brains and the jokes they make and the things they think they want on the label, try to get to know some people and pull that out of them and show it in -- show them in the best light, you know, it’s certainly a big challenge but it’s kind of cool also when I can help form their opinion too.  

So if I show them something that they didn’t expect to see it’s always gratifying, you know, and when they love something that I show them, you know, I was just taking a guess at what I thought was cool.  The first thing I did with them was The Master of Karate label which is, you know, looks a lot, it looks similar to a lot of the stuff from the Single Hop Project and the same with Mind the Hop they look like the Single Hop Project things but that’s because part of what they knew me for was the Single Hop Project so as we’ve now spent several months fine tuning our back and forth, crazier new stuff comes out like the more cartoonish things with the Johann series is a fun one because we’re telling a story and it’s, you know, it’s my style or what I generally do anywhere else.  

AJK: I think that it’s -- I think it’s interesting.  I’m just trying to visualize the juggling and how did you come to team up with them?  I mean obviously -- or is it -- was this reverse where they had seen your work and wanted to see if you’d be interested in working with them?

Michael: Yeah, so they reached out to me.  I think they saw -- I did a can for DC Brau.  They -- DC Brau had a really cool anniversary project last year, their fifth anniversary I think.  They did a mixed six pack and each beer was a different collaboration and had a different artist on it and I did one of the cans.  It was Pink Pallet Jack which was a collaboration they did with Perennial in St. Louis then the guy saw that label and it piqued their interest and then they reached out to me from there.   

And it was cool because I only -- I vaguely had heard their name, I knew people were talking about them and when I went in to just meet them for the first time I got to try one of their beers and it’s been a while since I tried one of these hazy new England IPA’s and so I forgot what they were like and it just -- it’s so fun to try one of those after a long time being away from them or for your first time you’re just like what is -- this is not a beer.

AJK: Right.  Yeah, it’s so juicy yeah, it’s certainly -- yeah, they’re delicious.  That’s the thing their beers are really great too.  I mean I know you’re a professional but if the beer wasn’t good for either these breweries would that have impacted your work with them?

 

Michael: Well, you know, I get to pick now so I’m choosy in who I work with and if, you know, yeah, I got -- I want to like the project but more importantly I want to like the people and the thing is if the people are good then the culture of the company is good, usually the product is good so yeah, I think it’s -- yeah.  I choose to work with good people.  

AJK:  There you go.  Yeah, you have a good -- you’re a good judgment of character.  So a process from kind of life cycle how are the -- how is that in terms of okay, we have a beer coming out, X, we need you to come up with this, I mean is it -- do you have a system that you try to bring to both of them that you prefer to work in?

Michael: It’s totally, you know, it’s totally different operations between Stillwater and Aslin.  So Stillwater is a gypsy brewer who is contracting out any given place so things can pop up out of nowhere that we got to get done right away it’s because the collaboration in, I don’t know, Italy and we’ve got to figure out how to, you know, get the label right and get it out the door.  Or with Stillwater it can be they’ve got to work with like a big balloon of can manufacturer and it’s a, you know, week’s long process to get everything right because the quantity of the manufacturing or the cans that need to be manufactured with -- I mean like here with Aslin -- it’s regimented in a different way I guess.  It’s, you know, they have beers that come up on the fly but we try and -- they’ll get us -- try and get ahead of stuff as much as possible and plan out their brew cycle is because their brew house is so small and so the planning helps make sure they always have beer.  But collaborations come up out of nowhere too for those guys too, so we just got to try and come up with stuff as quickly as possible.  

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I never -- I don’t have -- I wish I can pull this off but I’ve never been able to have like a reserve of great ideas that I can just pull from when somebody sends me like oh, here you go, like already done.  It does -- it comes up once in a while with Stillwater where I’ll make something and show it to Brian just to be like hey, I thought this looked cool and we’ll sit out on that design for a while until we get the -- we get a beer that matches it and we’ve talked about this a little bit I think in other outlets but like the -- In Setto beer that’s coming out, Stillwater is one of those where I just -- I made -- I had this design and I showed it to Brian, Brian loved it and we just couldn’t figure out the -- you couldn’t get the -- you want to get a beer that was perfect for it and it ended up being an Italian plum beer which should be -- we’re just finishing up all the manufacturing stuff for that but yeah, like dry hop, sour ale with Italian plums in it and it should be -- it should be pretty tasty.  

 AJK: I think that’s really -- I think it’s just really complimentary to the relationship that you do have that he was -- he was like well, he loved what you’re doing but he didn’t feel that he had a beer that represented it so I bet you that you’re, you know, thinking about your artwork he’s like well what -- you probably reverse engineered that and was trying to think of something that would do it justice so they probably got the brain brewing and so that’s --  I think it’s really cool.

Michael: It’s really cool yeah, and I love that.  Yeah, the -- that’s part of the, you know, just the artistic nature of Stillwater but, you know, on the other hand the Aslin guys too they’re always -- they do a good job of pushing me with their crazy beer names and stuff so I’ll -- and their jokes and things that we try and translate over and I think, you know, we’re still early but we’ll -- I think we’ll get there and I’ll be like -- actually, you know, we did have one the other day where I showed it to Andrew at Aslin, we were both like man this is a good one, this is a pretty good label -  we should use this for something so we’ll see, we’ll see if they can reverse engineer on there end too.

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AJK: OK so what are you listening to?

Michael: So I try and get -- use the music as the mood.  When I’ve got to do -- well, I love heavy metal so I listen to a lot of metal especially the dark black stuff, I love that.  But I also really like the, what do you call it, the Yacht Rock I guess and weirdly got into Japanese Yacht Rock I would call it but it’s stuff from the late 70s, early 80s from Japan so I think, you know, I listen to a lot of those, I’m back and forth between those two styles the majority of the time.

Interview: Well, a friend of ours has a good Yacht Rock mix so I’ll send that over to you on Spotify, it’s pretty cool.

Michael: Oh, that’s cool.  Excellent.

 AJK: Yeah, yeah I love it.

Excellent, all right.  Well I wanted to just again reiterate I thank you very much for making the time to speak to us.  I think your story is really -- I mean lawyer to artist, you know, and I think that the Single Hop Project, I think that was such a smart thing to do.  I think it’s allowed you to get your sea legs so to speak but then have a tangible thing that was unique, you know, I hadn’t seen anything like that before and like I said having drank many a hoppy beer there’s so much new hops on there that I had never heard of so that was really educational.

Michael: Oh yeah, it’s cool. Cool, good.  That’s the idea.  It’s good. It's nice to hear that it worked.

AJK: Yeah, no I think that’s really great.  I think that one of the underlying, you know, things I noticed and I really respected is that you’re not only creating but you’re trying to enlighten folks, you’re trying -- and not like in a, you know, a Zen kind of Buddha way but just kind of open their eyes or introduce them to new things that they may not have experienced before and I think it’s -- the way you go about it is really -- it’s really effective.   

Michael: Yeah, you know, good because I mean that’s the idea is basically down to it really brings me a lot of enjoyment and so I want to help other people find that too so.

AJK: Well, hey man it’s working so I mean keep up, we’ll be following along, we’ll keep you updated on how this goes, opprobriations.com I think I got it that time.  Took me a while.

Michael: You got it.

AJK:  Next time I’m in the local area I’ll make sure to reach out but I just wanted to,thank you for making the time.  It’s -- I think it’s a really great story and I look forward to folks hearing it. 

Michael: Yeah, thanks for having me.

AJK: Thanks Michael.  You have a great weekend and no green beer but have a good weekend and we’ll talk to you soon.  

Michael: Right, I agree.  Okay, good.

  

 

 

MIKE VAN HALL BIO

Websites: Opprobriations.com | Single Hop Project
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