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May 27, 2016

Canned Art: Sun King Brewing Canvitational Preview

by @thoughtontracks

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on defunct, Central Indiana arts website Sky Blue Window on September 18, 2014. Some content, style, and formatting may differ from the original version.

Saturday a party will descend on Georgia Street. Beers will be consumed. Good times will inevitably be had. Downtown Indianapolis will be on display for an excited group of out-of-towners. No, it’s not the Super Bowl in September. The second annual CANvitational, hosted by  Sun King Brewing will take place.

“Clay wanted to do this so that it would give us a chance to invite some of our friends to come and play, and really highlight Indianapolis and Indiana as a craft beer state,” Director of Promotions and Sponsorships Beth Belange says of Sun King cofounder Clay Robinson.

Courtesy of Sun King

Courtesy of Sun King

The CANvitational will bring at least 40 breweries from all over the country to Indy for a celebration of craft beer and the aluminum vessels that house it. Previously, cans served as the preferred vehicle for cheap, mass-produced domestic beer, until the craft beer explosion of the last half-decade. “It was sort of a perfect storm of people slowly coming around to the idea of a can. Mobile canning came around. The canning-line manufacturers produced better, cheaper, smaller canning lines. All that stuff just happened all at once. With 2,000 breweries in the country and a lot of craft beer fans, it was kind of the perfect amalgamation,” says Russ Phillips, author of Canned!: Artwork of the Modern American Beer Can and the writer behind

“We were actually the 56th American craft brewery to can when we started five years ago,” Belange says. “Now, there’s upwards of 500 American craft breweries that are canning.”

As one might guess, this influx has fostered a boom of creativity in the packaging and design of cans as independent brewers attempt to carve out an identity in a growing market. “I think cans, over the years, have really changed. When canning first started, you saw a lot of cans with the same logo on both sides,” Phillips says. “There are so many great designs now. Some of this stuff is so creative and so ridiculous at times that it’s almost hard to pass up.”

Courtesy of Sun King

Courtesy of Sun King

With this in mind, Sun King partnered with Arts Council of Indianapolis to further the CANvitational’s focus on the artistry behind the can for its second year. During Friday’s brewer’s reception in Indianapolis Artsgarden, local artists will showcase works aimed at transforming the can designs from several of the festival’s participating breweries. Tickets to the event, dubbed CAN’d ART were available for a standalone price of $10 or $5 with a ticket to the CANvitational. (Though just prior to posting this article, Sky Blue Window learned this event is now sold out.)

“There’s not a whole lot that I don’t like about what I do. I’m able to be creative. I’m able to explore different things, try different things,” Sun King art director Shane Brown confesses. “It’s like I always tell everybody, I’ve got the perfect job. I drink and draw for a living, you know? Come on dude [he laughs].”

Brown’s creative involvement with Sun King began at the ground level when Robinson approached him to design the company’s logo. Since then, he has overseen the design of nearly all of Sun King’s can line and branding of everything from truck wraps to T-shirts. With more than 8 million cans sold to date, Brown’s work has been seen by as many people as any Hoosier artist in the past five years.

“It’s pretty nuts. It really is,” Brown says. “We were in Colorado when we went over there to do the [Ball Corp.] cans for Fistful of Hops. Even there, Clay would introduce me as his in-house artist. They were all like, ‘I love your designs!’ and I was like, ‘Whoa, hold on! This is Colorado for God’s sake, and you’re digging my stuff here?’ That’s killer, you know?”

Courtesy of Sun King

Courtesy of Sun King

Phillips believes beer can design proves much more complex than the process for bottling. “With a bottle, you’ve obviously got a label, but you’ve also got a six-pack holder, which gives you a peripheral billboard to put artwork on. For the most part with cans, the can itself is your billboard,” he says. “The biggest limitation with cans is the way the printing is done. That kind of printing requires the artist to use a set number of colors … You can’t just take a bottle label, put it on a can, and expect it to work out exactly the same. So, there’s actually quite a bit of talent that goes into making something similar or just coming up with something from scratch that uses a limited number of colors. Some of it is pretty amazing.”

For his part, Brown loves the challenge. “I’m an artist, so if I’m not creating or doing something, then I’m going to get bored and go crazy,” he says. “Even on my off time, I’m doing chalkboards at different bars. This weekend I did a big piece for ORANJE. I’ve got to be creating and constantly evolving, otherwise I’m not happy.”

In addition to the artistic offerings at CANvitational, Sun King will debut a collaborative can with Illinois’  Solemn Oath Brewery. It’s the first foray into canning for the brewery, which focuses on Belgian-style beers. For CANvitational Sun King and Solemn Oath partnered on a session IPA, which the duo is calling “30 Minute Coma.” This focus on collaboration is a carryover from the inaugural event, when Sun King partnered with Three Floyds on its Three Kings Pale Ale.

Written by Rob Peoni

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