Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Can as Canvas: Local breweries increasingly tap artists for funky, bright, bold label designs

Amie Bantz

With all the beer options these days, choosing a beverage isn’t just about the taste, but about the overall vibe—the name and the can design.

It’s not an easy decision when you’re standing at a store’s shelf or fridge, scanning the rows of rainbow-wrapped aluminum. Maybe for the craft beer connoisseur, the choice is easier, based on the type or flavor. But for a sucker for good packaging, like me, the brighter and wilder the label, the better.

For many local brewers today, the can needs to be a work of art, almost as important as the product inside.

“We just want really cool things on our cans,” said Scott Richardson, director of operations and market development for Spring House Brewing Co. in Lancaster. “There is so much good beer out there, so packaging is important.”

Every year, Spring House works with local and national artists to create the label designs that make their cans pop. It’s something that more and more breweries are doing—turning cans into canvases.

But for Richardson, it’s about more than just selling additional six-packs—it’s an active choice to support artists by showcasing their work.

For five years now, Spring House has run its “Artist Collaboration Series,” featuring 12 new beers with cans wrapped in original work from local and regional artists. The 2022 series received around 500 submissions, Richardson explained. Spring House will accept various mediums, as they’ve chosen fabric art, sculptures, photographs and paintings, among others. Typically, at least half of the submissions come from central PA, and all selected artists are paid and retain the rights to their work, something Richardson is proud of.

Once it’s time to sift through it all, Spring House brewers, family members and friends gather to voice their opinions—over a beer, of course.

“Some immediately stand out,” Richardson said. “It’s sort of a gut reaction.”

Spring House’s class of 2022 definitely stands out, fitting with the brewery’s aesthetic, which Richardson describes as “eclectic, a little off-center and wonky.” There are several animals doing un-animal-like things—a photo of a chipmunk playing a piano, a sculpture of a smiling fish with legs, and a painting of a DJ-ing otter. If these don’t catch your eye in the beer fridge, I’m not sure what will.

When Zack Rudy, one half of the Harrisburg art duo, The Huckle Buckle Boys, applied for the series, he didn’t expect to hear back. But not long after, the pair’s piece, “Blah. Blah. Blah. Day and Night,” a painting of crows on a telephone wire, was chosen.

“It’s awesome when our art is recognized,” Rudy said. “We’ve spent our lives doing artwork.”

The collaboration hasn’t stopped there, as Spring House commissioned the Huckle Buckle Boys for a large mural inside their brewery and has plans to use their art for future can designs.

“Our promise is to get artists additional work and exposure,” Richardson said. “This is one of the best things we’ve done in the past couple of years.”


Idea Brewing

Much like how Richardson selects art for cans based off a gut reaction, Harrisburg artist Amie Bantz does the same when designing cans for Rubber Soul Brewing Co. in Hummelstown.

Based on her immediate response to the name and ingredients of the beer, she digitally illustrates a graphic that she thinks represents it. It typically only takes 10 to 30 minutes to think up an idea, she said.

“I create designs that I would like to pick up,” she said.

The labels tend to be colorful, light and fun, sometimes with a retro feel. Her label “Giggle Guts,” for an India pale ale, uses squiggly lettering with cartoon hands tickling the word “Guts.” Another, “South Paw,” shows an animated hops flower wearing a boxing glove.

“People love them,” said Jamie Mowery, marketing manager for Rubber Soul. “They’re always excited to see what the next funky thing is.”

For the most part, Bantz has complete freedom when it comes to designing labels. The same was true for Bryan “King Prolifik” Hickman when Harrisburg’s Harris Family Brewery tapped him to do the art for a beer collaboration with Zeroday Brewing Co., also in the city.

The two brewing companies concocted a limited edition beer to release for the Juneteenth holiday this year to celebrate Black culture and heritage. To Tim White of Harris Family, Hickman, a Harrisburg artist, was the perfect pick to design the label. Hickman typically includes elements around African and African American culture into his work.

While Hickman is known for his striking paintings, large-scale murals and fire art demonstrations, designing for a can was a unique experience.

“I had to make sure it translates well on a beer can,” he said.

Hickman’s design for the blackberry cream ale, “Blackr Tha Berry,” features a woman wearing a blackberry-shaped headscarf with a city skyline behind her.

“You’ve got to be really creative to stay ahead of the game and put out a product that gets a lot of attention,” White said. “[Hickman] always surpasses what we give him.”


Creativity, Community

What is it about beer and art that go so well together? To Bantz, it’s simple.

“Drinking beer is fun. Art is fun,” she said. “I think it’s a very natural partnership between those two things.”

The way Richardson sees it, brewing is an art form in itself. Crafting a beer is a process of finding the perfect combination of color, haze, carbonation and flavor. It takes a lot of creativity.

“Coming up with new recipes can be similar to approaching a piece of artwork,” he said.

According to Chris Trogner of Tröegs Independent Brewing in Hershey, the beer and art creation processes are closely linked. Brewers make decisions around flavors and bring their ideas to the artists, who begin fleshing out a design. The beer and art at Tröegs are not separate. It’s all interrelated.

“It’s a total package,” he said. “People have to love the beer to keep coming back, but the name and illustrations, the brand, people can fall in love with, as well. It’s equally important.”

While Tröegs has its own in-house designer, the brewery still partners with artists from the community on can designs, murals and other packaging. Supporting local in all aspects is important to the company, Trogner said.

That sentiment holds true for all of the brewers mentioned, who find value in working hand-in-hand with others in the community. Spring House goes beyond just featuring the winners of their “Artist Collaboration Series” on the cans. They sponsor artists’ shows, donate beer for their events and promote them in other ways. It’s all part of their mission to be “the community’s brewery,” according to Richardson.

“We want to support the people around us,” he said. “If you invest in the community and people around you, it just feels good.”

To the artists behind the can labels, it feels pretty good, too.

“Dreams are really hard to go after,” Bantz said. “Sometimes, you need other people to tell you you’re doing a good job. There’s something really beautiful about supporting someone from the community.”

Spring House Brewing Company is located at 209 Hazel St., Lancaster. For more information, visit

Rubber Soul Brewing is located at 136 S. Hanover St., Hummelstown. For more information, visit

For more information about Harris Family Brewery, visit

Tröegs Independent Brewing is located at 200 Hersheypark Dr., Hershey. For more information, visit

For more information on artist Amie Bantz, visit

Find out more about The Huckle Buckle Boys on their Facebook page.

Find artist Bryan “King Prolifik” Hickman on Instagram @kingprolifik.


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