The Dark Side of Karen Eland

The Dark Side of Karen Eland

Karen Eland of Bend, Oregon has expanded the culture of beer in ways unlike any other. Think: Michelangelo and DaVinci, Vermeer, Picasso or Van Gogh.

With the growth of the craft beer industry in America, creative artisans have found ever-increasing uses for craft beer. For those of us who relish hedonistic pleasures, beer-infused products are abundant. Although your evening may begin with Pliny the Younger, it now has the potential for a great finish with Noah’s Ale Beer soap, Bröö craft beer shampoo, Old Chub lip balm, and Manufaktura Beer Massage Oil with hop extract. Think about the warm fingers of an expert masseuse sliding across your muscles after a long day. In fact, my enthusiasm grows with the abundance of products available for personal use. But there’s more …

Karen Eland paints with BEER.

Eland, who has been immersed in the art world for over 30 years, began painting with coffee in the late 1990s. “It started in 1998 at a coffee shop,” she says. “I was thinking the coffee was a nice color and perhaps it would work as a paint, since it stains things. Luckily, I had my watercolor stuff with me and tried it on the spot. It was just a random thought that has taken me farther than I ever expected!”

Using only espresso on high-quality Arches paper, an acid-free fiber-content paper made in Lorraine, France, she layered the coffee, a technique learned as a watercolorist when she began as a portrait artist. Her work has become so well-known that her guest appearances include the 2011 Middle East Coffee & Tea Convention in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

As a coffee painter, she was approached by an ad agency that needed a touch of the unusual for a high profile client, Guinness. She had experimented with other food and drink, so she expressed no objection when they suggested she use beer as a paint-medium for the project. She liked the aroma, too.

Eland’s painting, an advert that merged Guinness with World Cup Soccer (Football, in Europe), was so stunning that it gained immediate attention in the beer world. “Eventually I started playing with all kinds of beverages, and beer is one of my favorites now,” she added.

Eland has painted with many stouts and porters since her first stint with Guinness, as she moves to explore the rich landscape available in her local craft beer scene. Occasionally, she uses a touch of lighter beer, but always reverts to the rich mochas and burnt umbers that can only come from dark beers.

“Deschutes Black Butte Porter is great,” she explains, “but I’ve also tried Boneyard’s ‘Backbone’ with great results. It’s a beer with espresso and chocolate in it – two of the other mediums I paint with. I’m making my way through all the locals this year.”

Eland has passionately pursued developing her technique in the two years she has been using beer to express herself. Sometimes she simply pours beer onto a plate and allows it to evaporate; she has also boiled or microwaved it to speed up the process of thickening. Beer tends to stay sticky, even after it dries, so her paintings require a sealant to protect the image. When framing her beer art behind glass, she uses spacer bars or a thick mat to preserve the integrity of the beer paint, which can crackle and chip under pressure.

Since her first Guinness-inspired work, she has created other familiar monochromatic “Old Masters” in beer, modifying them with her own brand, a link to the medium she is using. The Drinker, formerly known as The Thinker before Eland put her brush to him, sits deep in thought with a bottle of beer in his hand. She has progressed to create portraits of President Barack Obama (behind a bar, rather than in the Oval Office), Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and soccer star David Beckham.

“I love the challenge of painting something to look exactly like what I see, and also to test the capabilities of beer as a medium. If what I’m seeing is an impressionistic style, that’s what comes out, or if it’s a photo, it will look more photo-realistic. I feel I’m still developing my own artistic style, and following the path of masters gone before me is a great learning experience.”


Photos are (courtesy of Karen Eland): Bieres de la meuse, by Karen Eland; An art nouveau piece by Eland; Guinness advert for World Cup Soccer

Did you get the urge to try painting with beer?
Majestic Royal and Langnickel Short Handle Paint Brush Set, Detail, 11-Piece

Simple, but essential for painting with beer:
Art Alternatives Paint Tray Palette, 10 Wells with Thumb Hole

You Should Also Read:
Beer Tips By the Dozen
Quick & Easy Scotch Caramel Cake Recipe
Frank Boon - Preservationist of Lambic Tradition

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