2016 | Kim Leshinski and MC Johnsen

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Pro tip: if you have a passion, hobby, or skill, combine it with beer and there’s likely an audience willing to listen. With craft beer becoming more accessible every day, drinkers are connecting to beer through their other interests all the time. Enter MC Johnsen (Worth 1000 Beers) and Kim Leshinski (Hail to the Ale), two Chicago artists who combined their background in art and design with their passion for craft beer to start a couple of the most eye-appealing blogs on the web.

Designers by day, homebrewers by night, MC and Kim both got their start in the industry designing labels for their homebrews. After realizing they were pretty damn good at it, they continued their journey in craft beer through various roles that have included judging beer competitions, becoming involved in Pink Boots Society, and each starting their own beer-inspired Etsy shops. We were fortunate to catch up with the two of them at Chicago’s Aquanaut Brewing Company to talk beer and art.

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Do you remember your first beer + art project you did?

MC Johnsen: The first beer I drew for my blog was Abraxas because I was in love with that beer. I wrote a poem about it and I illustrated the poem. My husband and I are homebrewers as well (he’s since gone pro), and I illustrate labels for our beer.

Kim Leshinski: Illustrating homebrew labels was the first time for me. I was working crazy hours at a design agency, feeling like I was working for the man, and I just needed that fine art outlet. I loved brewing and beer so it was a natural fit. The first beer that I brewed was a pumpkin ale and I called it Pun-Kim Ale.

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Alright, can you tell us about your blogs?

MC Johnsen: I run a beer blog called Worth 1000 Beers where I taste beer and I illustrate the aromas and flavors I experience into prints which I sell some of those drawings on Etsy. I’ve been doing it for about three years.

Kim Leshinski: I started a beer blog, Hail to the Ale, about five years ago. It started off talking about homebrewing and label design and the industry has grown so much since then. Back then, there weren’t a whole lot of people talking about beer and design. I have an Etsy shop as well which started when I was looking for beer gifts online and wasn’t finding anything I liked. Everything I saw was very “clip arty” very generic, so I just did it myself and started drawing some stuff that I felt was cool. It’s a fun side project.

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Are there many people combining beer and design these days?

 

Kim Leshinski: I think there are sort of three different avenues for it. One is crowdsourcing designs. I’m not a huge advocate of that because I know what all goes into design. Just like brewing beer, creating a label is art and science and I believe you should be compensated for it. Second, are independent illustrators and designers that do work for a number of breweries. And third, there’s the agency route that work for larger breweries, doing rebrands and such. Obviously the agency route is a much bigger financial commitment, but as breweries get to a certain size they start thinking a lot more about shelf impact and what they need to do be competing and connecting with consumers.

Can you describe your creative process?

 MC Johnsen: For my typical posts on my blog, I start off with a style study. So I’ll take a style like IPA, and then I’ll try and find examples of that style and do a sampling of them side by side. What I try to do is pick out common threads between all of them and then I will draw those things. So for IPA I would draw hops, I would draw grapefruit, orange, and I do that with pen and ink so I draw it by hand. Then I scan it into my computer and then I’ll color it digitally and print it from there.

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How would you describe your style?

 Kim Leshinski: I think my style for the printed work that I’m doing is kind of light-hearted and a little silly. I’ve always been drawn to a kind of vintage and hand-drawn aesthetic, almost like an etching. It’s very simplistic.

MC Johnsen: I also have a fine arts background: I studied painting and drawing in college and I’m a graphic designer by day so I’ve always sort of been an artsy kid. I, too, like hand-drawn illustration that looks like it wasn’t made on the computer. Which is ironic because I then take my illustration and put it in the computer, but it’s just easier to produce that way for me. I always had a pension for Victorian-anthropomorphic animal drawings. It’s so specific, I know. I have a couple drawings in my portfolio like that: a bunny drinking a pils and then I have a sheep drinking a dry stout. I just think animals drinking beer is cute and funny. I really like it when I can keep my line quality a little rougher and natural, but have the digital color really pop behind that black line.

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Kim Leshinski: The couple retailers that my cards are in have a display right by the register and I think it’s so fun to cause some to have an unexpected laugh where they see the card and are like, “Oh my God, yes! I need to have this card. I don’t know who I’m going to send it to but that made me laugh.” I really love shopping for cards. It’s one of my favorite things. I love finding cards that make me laugh. I wanted to combine my passion for graphic design and typography and silliness with beer.

MC Johnsen: Same with me. I’ve been in web design for a while now and I felt like all the work I was doing was so internet focused, it was all digital, and I wasn’t really doing anything with my hands anymore. So I thought why not start this blog where I can have a reason to a) drink beer and b) illustrate, so that’s where my idea for the blog came from.

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Do either of you see this turning into a full time thing or do you like it as a creative side project?

 MC Johnsen: I go back and forth. I like a mixture of web design and illustration in my life. My personality is if I have to do something, I kinda don’t want to do it so maybe it’s good to keep it as a side project. But I love every minute of it and it’s really opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve met so many people in the industry. It’s perfect that Kim and I are sitting here interviewing together because she has a lot to do with me getting into craft beer at all. My husband and I entered a homebrew competition at 5 Rabbit that she helped put together and she was one of the judges. Our beer won and so that’s how I got to know Kim and the rest is history. 


2016 BeerHoptacular 

November 5, 2016

Cinaspace Studios - Chicago, IL

Josh Seago