An Interview With Stacey George, Clown Shoes Label Designer

IPSWICH, MA – Last week, a debate ensued over the Clown Shoes label design for their newest offering, Lubrication.

Candice Alstr├Âm, the Director of Events and Promotions for Beer Advocate called some of the labels “borderline sexist or racist.”

Stacey George, the designer behind the labels took some time to discuss the labels with Brewbound. In our conversation with George, she explains how she began designing labels for Clown Shoes, the creative process behind the artwork and her position on the way the controversy played out in the media.

Brewbound: Tell us your story and how you started working with Clown Shoes.

Stacey George: I am a graphic designer and illustrator. Gregg Berman plays poker with the owners of Kamikaze which is a comic book store. I used to visit Kamikaze with my son. Gregg asked the owners if he knew any illustrators and designers to work on a wine label and they recommended me.

I did a wine label for Gregg in 2007 and then he started up Clown Shoes. He called me up to do the Brown Angel label and I have done all of them since then. We went back and re-designed Hoppy Feet, the first beer they produced, so that it would be consistent with the rest of the labels. I didn’t do that label initially.

BB: How do both you and Clown Shoes come up with the labels?

SG: Greg is really involved in the marketing. He has a vision of what he wants clown shoes to be. He will tell me: “I have a name, I have an idea of what I think the visual should be and I have talked to the brewer about what is going to be in the beer.”

For lubrication, he wanted to do a sessionable beer, a black ale, that was a lighter version of the Hoppy Feet. He knew that it would be really dark and so he thought of lubrication in terms of social lubrication and in terms of oil. He wanted to do an oil can looking label — which we are using for the 12oz bottle, and we are using my illustration for the 4-pack carrier and the 22oz bottle — it all worked together.

He usually has everything fully formed in his head, and my job is to take it and throw some ideas back at him and say “have you thought of approaching it this way?”

BB: How does the creative process work?

SG: I am doing hand drawings, reference photos, paintings on paper. The final illustration is usually put together in Photoshop. It’s multimedia I suppose, but digital illustration when it comes down to it.

BB: What is the next step in the creative process for you when he comes to you with a vision?

SG: I am definitely playing off of what he says. With Brown Angel, he came to me with an idea and I brought to him the Blaxploitation angle. I showed him some reference photos that I knew of just from being a graphic designer. I changed a few of the things he wanted to do with it and gave it more of a graffiti look, but even then he was already talking hip-hop and I was working off his original idea.

It is collaborative, but he has a marketing vision for the brand and its my job to execute it.

BB: What has it been like working with him?

SG: Gregg is a really nice guy. He has brought a lot of people into the Clown Shoes project and he is growing a team of people that you like to work with. He is creative, has tons of energy and is really personable. He is such a nice guy and it is frustrating to see this situation blow up around him, but he has handled it with a sense of humor a little bit of grace and that is a good thing.

BB: So What is the intended purpose of the labels?

SG: I think it depends on the label. With Brown Angel, it’s a double brown ale and Gregg wanted to celebrate his wife and he wanted something that was American. So he had an idea for this woman to be sexy and wearing the clown shoes. He wanted it to be fun. The Tramp Stamp is supposed to be tongue and cheek and funny. The thing with Clown Shoes, the brand, is that is has a great juxtaposition of high brow and low brow. There is boys humor, I will give him that — but the beer is really good. We have high-end beer, with goofy labels that are illustrated in a way that’s high end. We don’t want to be beer snobs, we want to bring a sense of humor to it, but at the same time we are doing serious beer.

BB: What are your thoughts on the label controversy?

SG: There a two things that were really frustrating. The first was that I couldn’t respond on the thread because it was already shut down by the time I got home. The second was that the original poster, referred back to comments that I had made when we first released Brown Angel, and took them out of context and made it sound like I supported her. That is why I drafted a response on my blog, because I just felt like people were putting words in my mouth and I didn’t have a voice in it.

BB: What about the labels themselves?

The illustrations by themselves — take them outside of even the names of the beer – they are realistic women. These are actual women who I know, that let me take pictures of them, so I could use them as reference photos and they knew what it was for. Their proportions are natural proportions. I am drawing real women and real women are sexy — at least I hope so. To say that drawing a sexy woman makes you sexist, puts me at a place where I am not sure how to respond, because then what are we left with?

BB: What is your take on how it developed in the media?

SG: I am not quite sure how it blew up in the media. We had people on that forum that liked our stuff and people who didn’t and that is totally okay. You have every right to be offended if you want to be. I think the outrage was not necessarily what she said and our labels but I think people saw a misuse of a position of authority and they were upset about that. For me, I just don’t like people implying that I am racist or sexist. I wouldn’t take jobs if it reflected on me that way.

BB: What other projects, outside of Clown Shoes, do you work on?

SG: It’s funny, I’ve done design work for financial companies and universities. I have done work for lots of very corporate clients, and Clown Shoes is just one of my clients. This is their business, and I am helping them to communicate their vision and I hope that I am doing a good job.

*Stacey George is a freelance artist and her comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Clown Shoes.

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