Behind the Beer Label: Meet Dogfish Head Artist Tara McPherson

The artist explains how she went from making band posters to dreaming up artwork to match Sam Calagione's boundary-pushing brews.

  • Chateau Jiahu, June 2005
  • Punkin Ale, fall 2012 roug copy
  • Punkin Ale, fall 2012
  • Festina Peche, summer 2012 copy
  • Festina Peche, summer 2012
  • Chicory Stout, winter 2012 copy
  • Chicory Stout, Winter 2012
  • Aprihop, spring 2012 rough copy
  • Aprihop, spring 2012

For as long as she can remember, Tara McPherson wanted to be an artist. Despite a year-long infatuation with astrophysics in college, McPherson went on to acquire a BFA in Illustration with a Fine Art minor. An internship at the Comedy Central cult-favorite, Futurama, ultimately catapulted McPherson’s career, and she’s since become one of the go-to artists for contemporary gig posters. Dubbed the “crown princess of poster art” by Elle Magazine, McPherson has created pieces for bands including Beck, Modest Mouse, Alkaline Trio, Death Cab for Cutie, and Kings of Leon.

So how did she end up drawing beer labels and posters for Dogfish Head? Brewmaster Sam Calagione happens to be a music nut (hence his beers inspired by the likes of Miles Davis and the Grateful Dead), and McPherson’s art caught his eye when he saw a poster she had done for the Melvins. He reached out,  and soon enough McPherson was bringing her pop-surrealist style to world of craft beer as part of Dogfish’s rotating stable of artists.

With Sam [Calagione], it’s a real collaboration. He’s really involved in every aspect of his brews, which I really admire

“I have to say that working with Sam [Calagione] is really fun. He has really creative ideas and contributes wonderful art direction to the projects,” McPherson says. “That can’t be said for most business owners. Normally, I like to give the client a round of ideas and work as my own art director, but with Sam it’s a real collaboration. He’s really involved in every aspect of his brews, which I really admire.”

dogfishart inset Behind the Beer Label: Meet Dogfish Head Artist Tara McPherson

McPherson’s work for Dogfish channels her signature style, which is dominated by beautiful women with seductive, fairy-like looks. For the 2012 seasonal posters, McPherson took a particularly whimsical approach: The brunette on the Punkin Ale is dressed in delicate pumpkin vines, while on the Chicory Stout label, a few subtle coffee beans are  placed on the purple haired woman’s hairpiece.

“I also love being able to switch between mediums, it’s one of the things that keeps me entertained with what I do,” McPherson says. “One day I’ll be doing a drawing for a poster, then I’ll be on the computer to do the separations, then I’ll be painting, then drawing for a toy design, then researching for a project, then painting again… it’s definitely not mundane in the least bit.”

McPherson notes that one of the perks of creating designs for Dogfish Head Brewery is getting to try the beer. Although she hasn’t tried all of them, her current favorite is the 60 Minute IPA. Click through the gallery above to see a selection of McPherson’s work for Dogfish, from her seasonally posters to her Chateau Jiahu label.

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