by Brian Clarey
Winston-Salem’s oldest brewery wasn’t always named Foothills, says Kyle Webster, who was there from the beginning.
He worked at the time for an agency, Shapiro Walker Design, that started on the brewery’s account from the time it was barely a gleam in Jamie Bartholomaus’ eye.
“We were throwing around names like ‘Blue Chip Brewing,’ ‘Torch,’ which later became a beer I think,” he says. “At one point they were considering calling themselves ‘Pilot Mountain Brewing.’ That later became Pilot Mountain Pale Ale. I think there were about five or six names we looked at, and ‘Foothills’ is the one that stuck.”
Though he grew up overseas — moving from Pakistan to Singapore to Taiwan, then Cyprus and France — he came to UNCG to study painting, and also because he had loved visiting his grandparents who lived down the road in Raleigh.
He switched to a design major at the last minute — “I was too nervous about graduating with a painting degree,” he says — which is how he found himself, in 2003, charged with creating the look for a new brewery.
There were some considerations for the design: The graphics needed to be bold, and able to be reproduced small enough for a tap handle and big enough for a poster. The color palette would be limited, so that T-shirts could be made.
Kyle Webster’s illustrations, altweekly covers, Photoshop brushes and beer labels can beviewed at kyletwebster.com.
“Every project, you have these parameters laid out from the get-go,” Webster says. “I think it’s a little harder to look at a blank piece of paper and do something from scratch.”
For the Foothills logo itself, he kept it simple with a foot, a beer glass and the letter F. He turned the logo he had made for Pilot Mountain — a stoic mountaineer with the outline of the landmark described in his hat — and converted it into the pale ale logo.
He’s done dozens now for the core brands, seasonal releases and the IPA of the Month offerings, and each one, he says, has a little twist.
“I’m always hiding something in the art,” he says, “either a nod to the title of the beer or something that hints back at the brand, with the F.”
That stylized F can be seen in reverse in a lock of hair on the Jade IPA label, and in the grill of the old truck on the Hopjob IPA, and in the breastplate of the warrior princess who reps the Baltic Porter. The owl on the XXX Foothills Stout has three Xs worked into its feathers. The Torch Pilsner Viking has flames worked into his beard — “It’s also a portrait of my dad,” Webster says — and the label for People’s Porter is actually a portrait of Foothills founder and CEO Jamie Bartholomaus.
“Now it’s easier than it used to be,” he says, “because we have this design vocabulary that we can go back to. It’s like putting on an old pair of jeans for me. I know that brand; I know Jamie; I know his personality and I know his taste. And I know enough to make everything consistent with what came before it.”
He still lives in Winston-Salem, where he teaches drawing classes at UNC School of the Arts and shepherds his sprawling career.
Webster’s body of work as an illustrator has earned him gigs at some of the nation’s foremost alternative weeklies — the Stranger in Seattle, San Francisco’s SF Weekly and other New Times papers among them.
“I have lots of love for altweeklies,” he says, “because they helped me start my career as an illustrator. When I had about 20 altweeklies giving me work every week I was able to quit my design job.”
Just last week he turned around a piece for the Wall Street Journal for an article about an orchestra playing Led Zeppelin tunes. He drew Robert Plant slinking out of a French horn.
“I draw a lot for books and magazines,” he says. “I do logos and identities. I consult with companies about making better digital art software and I create digital art tools for other artists as well.
“[My career] is kind of a weird thing to explain,” he says. “I used to just say, ‘Illustrator,’ but to do so much stuff it’s hard to pin down. I never have a good one-sentence answer for what I do, like at a party.”
But if they’re serving Foothills beer, he can just point at the label.