Earlier this year, Maine-based artist Heidi Geist began planning an ambitious road trip: The artist will drive to every U.S. state (excluding Hawaii and Alaska), hitting a new one each week, and will design an original label for a local craft brewery during her short time in town.
The 48 Beer Project has drawn sponsorships from places like the Liquid Riot Bottling Co. and Bissell Brothers Brewing Co., and officially kicked off in early September at Allagash Brewing Co. in Maine. We called Geist this week to check in after her first month on the road.
PM: So which label’s next?
Heidi Geist: I’ll be working with Beer’d Brewing, in Stonington, CT. Number six out of 48—I feel like I have a long way to go.
PM: I bet. How’s it going so far, how are you feeling about it?
HG: Really great. It’s been quite an evolution. It’s just sort of morphed into something much bigger, something a lot more people have become involved in. I don’t really know what to expect—it’s a bit of an adventure every day.
PM: Where’d the idea come from?
HG: Well, I’ve been doing beer labels for a while, working out of a really nice art studio in Portland, Maine. The lease was coming up, and I decided to quit having the studio, and then wanted to be mobile so I could actually create these connections with clients. I bought the bus in February and wanted to make something meaningful out of it. Hence the project.
PM: Tell me about the bus. What kind of shape was it in?
HG: It’s a 1999 short school bus. I found it on Craigslist. A woman had it up north in Maine, she bought it because she wanted to use it for camping with her dog. Her son took the seats out, but other than that it was rubber and metal floors, metal walls, dirty … I had to completely rip it apart and then build it back up. Re-insulated, put in new floors, new walls, and the rest of it all myself through the course of the summer.
PM: Had you done anything like that before?
HG: I grew up in a house where we built things, and I did wood shop in school, but never had I done anything to this magnitude. Especially in a vehicle, which added a whole new element. Like, what screws are you going to use when the whole thing’s going to be rattling around and shifting, and the frame of the bus isn’t super solid? It took a lot of YouTube tutorials, a lot of trial and error, definitely some wrong cuts and frustration, but it’s pretty sweet. I’m glad I did it myself, because I now know every single inch of it.
PM: What else did you trick it out with?
HG: It’s only 70 square feet total, but it has a bed that folds down, bookshelves, art counters that fold up, shelving for all my art supplies; it has a fridge, it has a sink, it has a composting toilet. It’s basically a house and art studio on wheels.
PM: How did you choose the breweries?
HG: It was a long, hard process. Getting ahold of brewers is not easy [laughs]. But I was picky. It was really important to me to find breweries whose ethos follows that of the project, which is collaborative-minded. A lot of these breweries are big into giving back to different charities, having live music at the taproom, or just supporting the arts and being integrated into the community—as opposed to just being some sports bar.
PM: So you get some information from breweries ahead of time, right? What kind of stuff are they sending you before you roll up?
HG: Details on their design aesthetic, or if they already know if I’ll be working on a can or bottle, the size of the label, if the beer name’s been decided on. Just anything to help the process along, because trying to force creativity in such a short amount of time with people that you don’t know very well is a huge challenge.
PM: Do you have to—do you taste the beer to figure out what the imagery should be? Does that factor in?
HG: So usually, yeah—but the thing with this project is, most of the beer either hasn’t been made or is in the process of being made. So mostly I haven’t been able to taste the beer for which I’m making a label. Which is part of why I’m really trying to absorb the culture of their scene. I’ve been spending the night at these breweries, just in their parking lots, and having conversations with the people, their demographic—their following. That’s just as helpful as tasting the beer.
PM: What kind of tools do you use for the art process?
HG: It’s all by hand. For the sake of space, I’ve resorted mostly to drawings. Pen and ink work on paper. I have done a couple that I’ve painted on little Plexiglass panels, just to create layers. Then I’ll scan the art into the computer and manipulate it in Photoshop, as much as I have to, although I’m not a big fan of digital art.
PM: What’s been the most fun so far? Has anything been surprising?
HG: The other day, this couple came up to me and were like, “You’re our biggest idol right now, can we take our picture with you?” And I’m like, “What? Why? I’m just a girl doing art, traveling around in a school bus and having a hard time finding showers.” But I’ve had people come up to me in the laundromat and the grocery store, everyone’s so excited—people that don’t even have anything to do with beer. I ask, “What is it that’s so exciting about it to you?” And they say, “Well, nobody else is doing this right now.” For a lot of women, it’s also that I’m a solo woman who built this myself, planned it myself, and am going on the road by myself. I’m still trying to let it all sink in, but it is exciting to meet all these new people and to see how well it’s being received. I feel like I’m learning more about what I’m doing through those people than by doing it myself.
To follow along, check out on Instagram.