Bar School

There may not be a better assignment for a college student than to be asked to help create and brand a beer.

Bar School, Watkins College of Art

By Ron Wagner

People attend college in large part to learn skills that will teach them how to work effectively in the real world. And the real world in 2017 can involve 72-hour deadlines with clients in a different country half a continent away—as graphic design student Cameron Lucente found out earlier this year.

“It was a real-life scenario—a three-day turnaround,” says Watkins senior Lucente about his involvement in a collaboration between students from Watkins and the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) in Calgary. “It was a really different and interesting project. Usually, you’re just working against your own timeline, but here you’re working with a whole other team from another country. It was like, oh, okay, there’s a bit more at stake here.”

For several years, ACAD design students have been challenged with creating a new beer brand from the ground up for Calgary’s Village Brewing as part of their instruction. A new wrinkle was added in 2017 with the addition of Watkins undergraduates to the mix.  The partnership resulted from a conversation between Watkins president Dr. Joseph “J.” Kline and Alison Miyauchi, then ACAD’s vice president of research and academic affairs.

“ACAD has a long-standing commitment to providing real-life experiences for our students to help prepare them for life after graduation,” Miyauchi says. “I happened to mention to J. that at the Alberta College of Art and Design, we’d had a fairly longstanding relationship with a microbrewery in the city. For the last three or four years, the students have been adding beers to the brewery’s stable. I told him, ‘Your students are doing great stuff. So you think they might be interested in teaming up and actually working on a real beer packaging design?’”

Kline agreed it was a good idea, and adjunct professor Lauren Lowen’s Illustration III class was chosen to represent Watkins. Lucente and his classmates were required to build and email their professional portfolios to their ACAD counterparts, who had formed teams and had already settled on a pitch but needed others to come up with a logo.

ACAD’s “Team Workhorse” was impressed by Lucente’s resume and “hired” him. Because Village Brewing’s guidelines stipulated that pitches be based on actual people in the community, Team Workhorse’s concept sprang from the grandfather of one of the ACAD students, who worked with horses. Lucente’s task was straightforward—produce an illustration to go with the pitch.

Don’t confuse straightforward with easy, however. Not only was time short, but the direction was also vague. All Lucente knew was that he needed something with two horses that would fit on a beer bottle label. The rest was up with him.

“They sent me a PDF of their initial pitch that they’d sent to the brewery and an itemized list of what they were kind of looking for in vibe and content,” Lucente says. “They left a lot of it open to me for interpretation. That was a bit difficult, but it was a cool challenge to have.”

It was a real-life scenario almost. It was a three-day turnaround

He spent three days feverishly creating as many options as possible in hopes something would work. “I just winced it down and threw as much as I could at what they were looking for,” Lucente recalls. “It was high stress, and then it was no stress.”

The Village-ACAD partnership requires the student teams to work their way through every aspect of creating a new beer, including the beer’s profile and all branding material. The carrot dangling at the end of the stick is more than experience or even a grade—it’s a chance to see your concept brought to life.

The teams are in competition, and once Village eventually narrows the field down to five finalists it actually brews and bottles those beers. A couple of weeks after Lucente turned in his work, he found out Team Workhorse—and his logo—would be in that select group.

Team Workhorse didn’t end up being crowned the overall champion when Village shared the casks at a party held April 28, 2017 at National on 8th, a bar in downtown Calgary, but being a finalist was still a feather in everyone’s cap.

“He kind of went above and beyond, to be honest,” Lowen says of Lucente. “They started talking to him on Monday or Tuesday, and by Thursday he had a final illustration. He busted that out. I had many other students who participated in the challenge as well, but I think a lot of people held Cameron and Team Workhorse up as the best example that came out of this end.”

Lauren Lowery and Cameron Lucente, Watkins College of Art

A professional artist and illustrator when not teaching, Lowen also saw the value in letting the students handle the process independently. After all, every student will face that reality in the near future.

“ACAD’s branding students were sort of in the role of a design firm or an ad firm and used my illustration students the way an independent freelance illustrator would work for a real client,” she says. “As illustrators, we are usually freelancers. In my view, it’s very important to teach students how to survive as freelance illustrators.”

A native of Spring Hill, TN, Lucente transferred to Watkins after deciding he didn’t want a career in musical theater after all. Lowen’s course and his Team Workhorse experience have him ready to make another change, from a graphic design major to an illustration major.

“I’ve been a very digital-focused artist, but over the first two assignments Lowen gave us, I was slowly figuring out that I needed to break out of that box and try to incorporate more traditional media. Over the course of that class, I explored almost every other medium possible,” he says. “I credit her class for helping to push me out of my comfort zone. I think that’s important, because if you lock yourself down to that same style, that same routine over and over again, you get stale quickly. You’re not able to adapt. And once you can’t adapt, you’re toast.”

Miyauchi recently left ACAD after 24 years to take over as vice president for strategic enrollment management at Watkins, so there’s a pretty strong chance the Village Brewery collaboration will continue.

“The ACAD students really enjoyed the opportunity to work with Watkins,” she says. “As far as they’re concerned, they’re more than happy to continue that relationship. It was really considered to be a huge success and something that we’ll keep looking at refining.”

For more on the Village Brewery project, click here and here.