A year ago, we installed a pilot system at the Alpine Mothership to give our brewers a chance to have fun writing recipes with no regard for how to scale them up. Melvin Brewing had always been innovative, but the restraints of a rapidly growing production system had us feeling somewhat stagnant in an ever-changing craft beer landscape. It was time to go back to the future. We revved up the flux capacitor and started getting weird. This spawned the ongoing experiMENTAL Series, which gave us an outlet to cull some of these diamonds from the rough and bring them to the people in tall can form. The sixteen ounce can is also a perfect vessel for visual art, and we wanted to create another dimension in the Melvin universe. Worlds collided and we connected with Denver artist John Hastings aka RUMTUM, who would eventually grace these labels with his magical work. Frothy Embrace, a Nordic IPA brewed with Kveik yeast, is the latest experiMENTAL Series beer and it’s hitting stores as we speak, so we decided to sit down with the man behind the label art for a little Q&A.
How old were you when you started making visual art, and what inspired you to take on art as a full-time profession?
R: I was always drawing as a kid but didn’t really take anything serious, I mostly just did some random tagging while skateboarding. Senior year of high school I became interested in graphic design and got a small scholarship to art school, but I quickly realized that I absolutely hated everything about art school and the corporate design world. Around this time I got hired at a special effects job in Columbus, OH working for a studio called Unit 70. They mostly made high end props for haunted houses, which taught me a ton about painting and sculpting. That’s when I started to enjoy designing and saw a future in it. I moved around the states working for smaller special effects shops until I got burnt out on that, then focused on my music career for about six years until I got burnt out on that as well…thirty years old was a hard hit for me. I wasn’t using my talent and skills toward something I cared about, nor did I see myself living my true purpose. I remember saying to myself one day: “Living on a rock flying through space is not normal, so why should I ever have a normal job?” I started questioning everything and trying to find myself. I started going to the art museum everyday until I felt recharged. This place recharged my motivational thoughts in my body and brain, so I started listening more closely to that feeling. I worked a full-time job and would come home to work another six hours designing every night. Weekends were spent locked inside, headphones on, slumped over a drafting table with a pack of beer at my feet, and on the weekdays I grinded ever harder. After over two years I started selling enough prints and drawings to pay my bills, so I took the leap and went full-time with art. Sometimes I ask myself why I did this, and I honestly feel like it’s what I was put here to do.
How did you come up with the name RUMTUM?
R: When I was 20 and on vacation, I met an old man that traded me locations of secret fishing spots for a bottle of really good rum I had with me. When the trade was over he laughed and said my spirit name should be Rumtum. I ended up remembering this encounter years later and it just seemed fitting.
We discovered you through your mural work. How is working with spray paint different from your other artwork, and is it more challenging scaling up your ideas, or scaling them down?
R: Spray paint was a huge challenge and took me forever to understand. It’s still a daily process and I’ll probably never master it. It’s an extremely expressive art form that’s totally different from the clean illustration with pen I was used to. This drove me crazy and still does at times, but embracing the character of the materials and working with them rather than against them always helps master the look. Scaling up work can be difficult but I don’t find it to be that hard. I think my sense of depth perception and understanding of perspectives has always been good from studying drafting and engineering. I’ve actually always found color theory and composition are the areas I struggle with the most.
What inspired you to work with Melvin and how did you connect with them?
R: Mostly I would say the Melvin team and who they are as people is why I wanted to connect and work with them, but they’re obviously open to my crazy surrealist style which was also a great way to start the relationship. Danielle, who does marketing for Melvin, found my work from a solo exhibit I was having in Denver in 2017 and she reached out about doing some collaboration work together. Shortly after I was live painting at a wild warehouse event put on by Melvin for the Great American Beer Festival after party!
What was the experience like designing Melvin’s 2019 GABF booth?
R: It was Intensely awesome and kind of insane! The Melvin branding and art direction crew are known for their wildly rad and complex ideas, so when art director Travis Cook came to me with the project I wasn’t completely surprised. It was clear that Melvin was willing to invest in an art piece that was truly different; we all wanted this to be something that set them apart from other booths at the festival. Travis and I put a ton of time into the conceptual work, and after drafting and designing everything on paper I started to gather all the materials and organize the order of operations: how it was to be designed, built, painted, coated, installed and uninstalled. There was a ton of planning for it and honestly it came out even better than it looked on paper! I love that installation and it’s still the coolest job I’ve ever gotten to be involved with. I’m absolutely stoked on it to this day and I can’t wait to see it set up again.
How has the process worked getting your artwork into digital format and formatted for beer labels?
R: Along with being a muralist, I create a lot of digital illustration work for clients. It’s also how I make my limited edition prints, so I’m very used to working with the digital format. Travis and I work out all the concepts for each beer and the series as a whole. Normally Travis has a lot of ideas, and I look at different styles and images together to tune in the best possible representation for each label. They all have a lot more meanings and hidden detail than you would think!
How has the response been to your Melvin label art, and is it extra cool buying beer with your art on it at the liquor store?
R: The response has been shockingly explosive and I honestly had no idea it would be as successful as it has been! I think the concept art for each beer is super wild and fun, which also matches the amazing flavor profile of the beer. People enjoying these kinds of beers not only have a good time looking for the new releases, but they really enjoy posting them on Instagram and showing off their collection, which is cool to see. Buying products from the store with my designs on them is the best feeling in the world! It makes all the hard work I pour into my business more than worth it.
What other goals do you want to accomplish as an artist and how do you see your art progressing?
R: My main goal currently is to become a more accomplished digital illustrator while keeping my fine art career well supported, continuing to grow my business by gaining new outlets and constantly staying current with the times. I can only hope things continue to progress like they have and I’m given the opportunity to showcase my concepts and talent on more amazing projects.
To check out all of Rumtum’s designs for Melvin Brewing’s Experimental Series, visit https://melvinbrewing.com/beers/experimental/
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by Travis Cook