“I grew up drinking PBRs on dive bar dance floors. I figured that was a shared experience.”
We’re dating ourselves here, but even through cloudy beer-soaked memories we can recall somewhat clearly when Pabst Blue Ribbon started its annual Art Can Contest a decade ago. Needless to say, our fridge was stocked with them back then like it is now, and countless Dig artists have submitted over the years.
For their big anniversary of the competition aimed “to give emerging artists from all over the world an opportunity to have their original artwork decorate millions of cans and bottles of PBR across the country,” PBR picked 10 artists from 7,000 entries to “have their artwork showcased on 140 million cans that began rolling out in markets this fall.”
You know where this is going. Yes, one of the winners—artist Caroline Mallon—lives in Mass. You may have seen her work displayed on the PBR billboard by the Back Bay T station, or on the can in your hand.
We asked the graphic designer and illustrator, who currently lives in the North End, about her winning design and what she does when she’s not designing beer cans.
Believe it or not, we remember when PBR started doing this many years ago. As an artist, was this something you’d heard of or been aware about?
I knew about the contest because I had been following last year’s winner on Instagram. I loved seeing her can in real life. There is a little market next to my apartment that always had a stack of them against the wall, and it caught my eye every time. I saw her post about the ’22 contest being open, so I decided to do it.
What’s most of your artwork like when you’re not designing beer cans?
I’ve always used art as a distraction from overthinking and worrying, so it often ends up being things that make me smile or that I’m daydreaming about. It tends to be a lot of dogs, food, flowers, and furbies. When I’m not drawing, I love painting with gouache.
What’s it like to work with this kind of canvas, so to speak? It’s small, but there are millions of them all over the country.
Unreal. I’ll never get over it! I never imagined something I made would end up on millions of anything across the country, let alone a can of PBR. It’s been so, so fun. Not to mention it’s currently on a billboard, which is the biggest canvas my work has ever been on!
If you’re gonna work with a brand, PBR is one widely recognized as being good people. They’ve supported arts and other cool stuff for years. What’s a brand you wouldn’t want to fuck with though?
It’s been great getting to work with Pabst. It feels really special and allowed me to take myself and my work more seriously. In the past I have been very wary of sharing personal work. To be supported by a brand that values artists in the way PBR does is incredibly validating.
As far as brands I wouldn’t fuck with—I’d like to be among people who are spreading positivity and encouraging creativity, so I’ll be avoiding anyone that doesn’t align with that. But for now I’m just happy I got lucky enough to work with this one.
What was the exact assignment, and how did you go about approaching it?
The assignment was to make a two-color design to be featured on PBR cans. I remember feeling like the creative brief gave me a lot of freedom. They really encourage you to “do you.” The one rule I remember was to include the logo, but even with that, we were allowed to put our own spin on it. Which I loved, because it’s the one thing all the cans had to have in common, but they all vary so much.
When I sat down to draw it, I never thought it would win. I didn’t even think anyone would see it. I just thought it was a fun concept and a good way to be creative for the day. Honestly I think that was a good thing because I tend to be a little pessimistic about my work and would have gotten too in my head if I knew this many people would see it.
There’s definitely a retro feel to your design. What inspired that?
I love all things vintage, retro, nostalgic etc. That probably informs a lot of the work I do without me even knowing it. When I came up with the concept for my can I definitely felt the nostalgia factor. I grew up drinking PBRs on dive bar dance floors. I figured that was a shared experience, so I had hoped it would end up looking like a good memory and resonate with people.
Any ideas you had and scrapped along the way because they just didn’t work in this medium?
I wanted to add more dancing PBRs. I would have loved to have gotten a 40oz on the dance floor, but I had to edit a bit. I knew I couldn’t go too crazy with the details or make the dancers too small or it wouldn’t read well at a small size.
Tell us a little more about how Boston can stand up and support you in this?
This was the 10th annual Pabst Blue Ribbon art can contest. They chose 10 winners to celebrate the 10th anniversary. You can find all the other super talented winners at pabstblueribbon.com/art/ or through the Pabst Instagram account. As for me, feel free to follow @caromallon on Instagram and tag me in pictures of the cans you encounter at your local dive bar. Or check out my website carolinemallon.com where I’ll have various prints available soon.