Offshoot Art Show Presents: Today & 10 Years with Matt Varnish

When you see a Varnish design, two things are clear: there’s cool, and then there’s Matt Varnish cool. Matt Varnish (you can just call him “Varnish”) is a tremendously gifted designer with the right vision for making super-sick can art. Which is why we entrusted him with one of our most exciting double-can releases yet. This month, we released our Highland Park Brewery collaborations: 10 Years (a super hazy 100% Citra juice-bomb DIPA, 8.2% ABV) & Today (a refreshing dry-hopped pilsner, 5.4% ABV.) As our first collaboration with long-time friends, it was a big and meaningful milestone for Offshoot Beer Co. It was only fitting to have Varnish design cans just as exceptional as the beer.

We knew what Varnish was capable of after he designed the branding for Bruery Terreux. But with 10 Years & Today, he took canned beer to another level. The results were two truly mesmerizing can designs that would probably be hung in a gallery if they weren’t on cans. We sat down with the mastermind himself to learn a little bit more about his passion for design and the art surrounding 10 Years & Today:


1. Let’s get to know you a little more! How did you get started as an artist?

I have been creative all my life and found my true creative calling when I took my first design class in college. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Missouri in 1999 (after a wandering 6 years of undergrad “studies”.) The summer of my graduation, I was recruited for a junior designer position at MCA records. After several different positions around LA, my last job working for “the man” before starting Varnish Studio Inc, was at Warner Bros Records, 11 years ago. Since then, I received 5 Grammy nominations and 1 Grammy win, been in a few cool books and magazines and also have had no paid vacation days.

2. Can you elaborate on how you work? Just talk a little bit about your thought process and style. 

Since all my art is commercial/graphic design, I typically create from necessity to communicate a client’s message, goal or vibe. I do of course draw heavily off of my own influences – I grew up around a lot of beautiful player pianos (my dad collects and rebuilds) so I have a fondness for the Victorian Era, arts and crafts and art nouveau, but don’t seek to dictate my own voice. I love to do visual research and utilize what is most appropriate for the brand or voice.

3. Your can art for 10 Years and Today is very symmetrical and almost reminiscent of an old-fashioned style. What was the inspiration and concept behind your designs?

The art is quite symmetrical, yes, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it old-fashioned. The source materials for the collage are all from my libraries of etching and line-cut clip art – I have an affinity for this type of stuff and have a big collection. I suppose etching gives the sense of antiquity there, but the execution is quite new I’d say. I sought to create a tension between modernity and antiquity thru the juxtaposition of the etchings and their bright pastel color palette combined with the weirdness of what is going on in the collage itself.

4. There seems to be a lot of symbolism for age and time. (Today features a skull, flowers, the sun and moon, etc.) Was that your intention?

To me, the titles of the beers all suggest a passage of time or reflections on time. it’s about the impermanence of things, not only moments, not only a reflection of relationships but the temporal nature of beer itself. You will see in both collages the prevalence of things that pass on and have seasons. The flowers, leaves, and flora all remind us of things that fade. The moon executed in colors as a sun combines the idea of day and night turning and repeating.

The can for “Today” is death unmasking itself, as that is certain for any day – future or present. The can for “10 years” shows a tattooed, conjoined man looking in two opposite directions. He could be seen as both past or future. The tattoos are life experiences written on the body and his double gaze reminds us of the choices we are presented with and how those things can lead in opposite directions. The cans “stare” at each other because you can not separate stages of time – present past or future – from itself. The today looks to the future/past and the future/past is a function of today’s gaze. It’s so so heady, bro…or it just looks cool.

5. Let’s talk beer and art! Who are your favorite artists? What are your favorite kinds of beers? Least favorite?

All time favorite graphic artist is Josh Emrich. He’s the triple threat – excellent typography, illustration, and design. In terms of historical fine artists, I love art nouveau – Alphonse Mucha; the Vienna Workshop movement; Josef Hoffman; Gustav Klim; Victorian era works; Dali surrealism; renaissance; and baroque…there is so much great art in the world. I tend to love and appreciate most of it.

In terms of beer, I will take a brewery-fresh hop exploiting Southern California style IPA any day (I’m talking pre-haze era.) I have an appreciation for just about any beer style, although I can’t do rauschbiers so much. I’ll take my smoke from a campfire, thanks.

Check out more of Matt Varnish’s work on his website, or follow @mattvarnish on Instagram.
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