The Art of Beer: Burning Sky

Simon Gane has been creating the artwork for the Sussex brewery from the beginning. We catch up with the artist about how the labels are created

Daniel Neilson

Burning Sky, in the folds of the East Sussex South Downs, produces world class beer and demonstrates a clear sense of where it was made. The evocative label artwork by Simon Gane similarly conveys this idea. We caught up with the illustrator to understand how the artwork is produced

Is a sense of place important to your illustrations and that of the brewery?

Massively so! It’s always something I enjoy trying to capture, while sketching, drawing comics or designing brewery stuff. It lends itself well to beer, I think because it’s a product so tied to certain regions and regional ingredients. It’s funny you should ask because the next label will feature Firle, where Burning Sky is based. Whether I manage to capture it is another matter, but at least the beer will be good.

How did you first meet Mark?

We’ve been good friends since school. I won’t say how long that is. His early homebrewing days never went unappreciated, but we’ve been working together on beer labels and pump clips since 2001 when he was at Dark Star.

Did you find a style that fitted with the beer straight away?

It took some back and forth. We knew we wanted a mix of traditional and new, and Mark was keen for these to feature my illustrations somehow. I was settled on the somewhat mid-20th century feel to the design elements pretty much immediately, but the logo itself was troublesome. It was based on an idea I’d quickly abandoned without showing Mark, but fortunately he noticed it on my computer when he was visiting. The benefits of a close working relationship there, as well Mark’s own artistic eye!

They’ve developed somewhat organically since then. Bringing in cut ‘n’ paste elements is a reflection of our fondness for punk rock, but also allows flexibility at the design stage. Aside from the logo and type style, they are often quite different from each other in terms of subject matter and colour scheme, but this is craft beer, not corporate beer. The Burning Sky guys run with their influences and passions, so it makes sense that the artwork should reflect that.

How do you go about designing a label for a specific beer? 

It usually starts with the beer. After discussing ideas with Mark, I’ll do a rough version of the design so I can see what space I’ve got for the image and take it from there. The Petite Saison label (pictured) probably took the most planning because you can’t cover up a character’s face like you can a haystack or similar background detail. The final images are inked with a brush, scanned and then coloured, always in the hope that Mark doesn’t change the name to something longer!

Where do you get your inspiration from for the Burning Sky labels?

That’s also led by the beer. You’ve got the Grand Place in Brussels on the Belgian-influenced Gaston and the Victorian-style decoration on the Imperial Stout and so on. They’ve gradually encompassed more of my own influences and interests, from the design style to the imagery. Because Mark and I are pals, he’s able to suggest things for the labels from other aspects of my work too. For example, the view on the Anniversaire label is based on a sketch, and the cafe scenes are based on a
comic series I once drew. 

What else do you illustrate for?

Yeah, nerd alert: most of my time is spent drawing comic books. That’s my day job, so to speak. At the moment, I’m working on They’re Not Like Us, a monthly series published by Image Comics in the States, with a couple of other comic projects in the works too. Examples of these, along with process shots of Burning Sky work, can be found on my Instagram and Twitter accounts.

/ burningskybeer.com

/ T: @simongane

/ I: @simonjgane