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Beer Portraits artist paints his subjects in beer

A Q&A with artist Kyle Bice about beer-as-pigment.

Photo by Christopher Neseman

Kyle Bice at work on labels for New Holland; Photo by Christopher Neseman

Artists have for hundreds of years known the creative power of a few glasses of something fermented, but Chicago-based artist and illustrator Kyle Bice puts booze to paper: He actually paints with beer. His newly launched Beer Portraits website displays some of his paintings, along with interviews with beer industry notables. Though there are only a few selections up now, Bice hopes to eventually turn the site into a mini publication exploring the creative minds behind beer. I chatted with Bice about how he discovered beer as a medium and which brews make the best paints.

DRAFT: What’s your background in art? 
Bice: I’m from Champaign, Illinois and moved to Chicago to go to school at American Academy of Art, right down the street from the Art Institute. I got a degree in traditional oil painting, but there’s not much of a career in that so I went into illustration. I spent years in advertising , doing storyboarding for commercials and some time in the comic book world with DC Comics. I’d do a little help on pieces for friends of mine that worked for them.  Five years ago, I met Fred Bueltman from New Holland; he’d seen some of my art online and he hired me to redo a bunch of labels for New Holland.

How did you start painting with beer? 
I do a thing here in Chicago called Drink and Draw. It’s mostly freelancers; we chit chat, drink beers and draw at bars. I forgot my paints one day and I was drinking a stout and I was like you know, I’ll try to paint with this and that’s how it started.

Courtesy of Kyle Bice

Portrait of Half Acre label illustrator Phineas X. Jones by Kyle Bice; Courtesy of Kyle Bice

Is it difficult to paint with beer?
It’s very similar to watercolor painting; you’re essentially staining the paper with pigment. It usually takes several layers to get it dark enough so it looks like something. It’s oddly challenging because unlike watercolor or acrylic, if you put too much on the paper, it’ll start coming back off. Sometimes you just have to stop because the paper won’t take any more beer.

Which beers make the best pigments?
You have to use something dark, a porter or a stout. Just because I’ve worked so long with New Holland, I tend to use their Poet Stout. If I’m out at a gig, I’ll do Dragon’s Milk just because I like drinking it.

Who’s your dream portrait or interview? 
I would love to get Sam [Calagione] from Dogfish Head. I’m also going to start talking to people outside of specific breweries, like distributors and maybe a hop farmer.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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