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20 Questions with Ninkasi's Artist in Residence

Jul 22, 2015 Comments (0) 20 Questions with Ninkasis Artist in Residence

When we asked Eugene-based illustrator Neal Williams to create the key art for Ground Control, it was love at first sketch. (Just watch the time lapse video of the inking of the label and you'll see exactly why he was so quick to steal our hearts.)

So when we decided to launch an Artist-in-Residence program at the brewery, we knew exactly who to invite to come on board as our first artist.

When Neal said yes, it was a BIG SCORE. Both for the look of our beer and for Team Ninkasi. Neal is not just a fantastic illustrator and screenprinter who's already making magic happen with our art department:

Exhibit A.

Neal is also a REALLY cool guy. We love having him around the brewery, working on his projects for Ninkasi and doing his outside work, which is primarily designing gig posters for artists like Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Matthews Band, Interpol, The Head and The Heart, Andrew Bird, Soundgarden, Dinosaur Jr., Low, Russian Circles, and Neurosis. (NBD.)


He's such a cool guy, that we decided to find a way to let all of you get to know our first Artist in Residence a little bit better. So we sat down and asked him all of the hard-hitting questions: where he came from, who his art heroes are, and if he'd rather battle a grizzly bear or a shark.

Without further ado, Internet, meet Neal! 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A guitar player in a rock and roll band. One of my earliest memories is being a kid in my underwear and pretending my Thundercats sword was a guitar as I rocked out to my parents’ Dire Straits records.

What was your first job?

Blockbuster Video clerk, pre-DVD.

When and where did you transition into your current (and awesome) career?

In 2011, I was in Atlanta running a small online record store, specializing mostly in obscure and hard-to-find records and CDs. I split my time between that and freelance music composing. Neither course was really going anywhere for me. I was also playing in bands and, because I had Photoshop, I would design crappy collage-based fliers for mine and friends’ bands. Through that, I started paying more attention to the gig poster scene and the more detailed and illustration-heavy posters and I really got hooked. The first step was to learn how to draw and screenprint, and there went all my free time.

Who was the first band you designed a gig poster for?

The first band I got paid to do something for was Olivia Tremor Control. I was a fan of the band and knew the promoter for the show. It was my first attempt at screenprinting and it was pretty rough.

Do you have any art heroes?

Yes! Too many to name them all, but I tend to really love very detailed and painstakingly rendered art. Artists of the past would include Gustave Dore, Piranesi and Franklin Booth. Current artists include Aaron Horkey, James Jean, Walton Ford and Nicomi Nix Turner.

If you had to pick one color to represent you, it would be?

I would say orange. I may not be as outgoing as the color orange, but I generally feel pretty upbeat and excitable.

How long does it take to design one of your posters from start to finish?

Typically about a week, give or take a few days. I’d love to spend three or four weeks on each poster, but deadlines tend to creep up very quickly.

What’s the deal with the screen printing?

I think screenprinting is awesome even though it’s incredibly temperamental and happens to be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever taught myself how to do. The screenprinted poster adds a whole extra level of craft to an art piece. Unlike a giclee, or digitally printed piece, a screenprint is laid down one color at a time. Every piece ends up being slightly different as the colors interact and the registration shifts. I love knowing that, if I needed to, I could create and print one of my posters without using a computer at all.

What are three words to describe your artistic style?

Organic, nuanced, overworked.

If you were trapped on an island with three art supplies, what would you bring with you?

Since I really just need a pen and paper to draw with, I’d probably make my third item an ipod. Music propels me through the day and factors hugely into my work.

What food would you request for your last meal?

Chik’n & Waffle from Cornbread Cafe.

Where is your hometown?


Why did you move across the country from Atlanta to Eugene? (Related: when you lived in Atlanta, did you call it “A-Town”?)

My partner Ketty and I had been talking about leaving the South for a while. My parents had moved to Washington and while visiting them we really fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. One night a guy crashed his car into our house at the culmination of a police chase and we decided it was time to go. We spent some time in Eugene, Portland and Olympia but it was Eugene that really stole our hearts. And for the record, Atlanta is a great city with some wonderful things going on in the arts, but I  don’t miss the traffic one bit. And I did not call it “A-Town” but I definitely referred to is as “The A-T-L” from time to time. Pretty sure I picked that up from an Outkast song.

How do you Perpetuate Better Living in Oregon?

I feel like participating in a form of art that involves breaking away from the computer screen and beautifying the things around us, whether it’s a beer bottle or a concert poster, is one way I perpetuate better living. One of my favorite things to do is to speak to young artists and try to give them real world advice on how to get into the arts and be makers.

Where can we find you when you’re not creating rad art?

I’m either biking around town with my better half, chilling at home with our greyhound, Miles, or at “Gazelle(s)” band practice with my buddies Tim and Terrence.

Would you rather: travel to space, battle zombies, or go on a dinosaur safari?

Space! It’s virtually endless and you never know what you’ll find on some of those other planets. Maybe even zombies and dinosaurs?

Do you have any nicknames?

Nope! I give the nicknames in my household.

Would you rather have the ability to do backflips on demand or speak to eagles?

Definitely speak to eagles. I have so much to ask them.

Mountains or waves?

This one is close, but I’m gonna go waves.

Would you have a better chance of survival in open waters against a great white shark or in the wilderness against a grizzly bear?

I’m gonna go grizzly bear on this one. One time I happened upon a large pile of bear scat in the woods. Shortly after, I heard some rustling in the brush and ran out of there as fast as I could. So yeah, I pretty much fought a bear and won. 

Keep your eye out for more gems by Neal. He's already working hard on some especially exciting projects for the brewery.

(Like a label for IMPERIAL PUMPKIN SLEIGH'R...but you didn't hear that from us.)

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