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Interview: Ryan Trayte – Saywells Design Co.

Anyone in the Arizona craft beer scene has invariably heard of Pueblo Vida Brewing Company based out of Tucson.  Now it’s no secret that the magical elixir inside the cans that Pueblo Vida is producing is nothing short of life changing, but you’d be hard pressed to admit that the design work on the labels is also nothing short of amazing.  Even before I had ever sampled any of the beers in those cans, I yearned to have those cans, those labels in my possession so I could take my time and ponder at the complexity and attention to detail of the amazing designs adorning each and every new Pueblo Vida can release.  Well my crafty readers, those designs are the work of one Ryan Trayte at Saywells Design Co. also based in the Old Pueblo (read: Tucson).  In most if not all of our social media posts showcasing Pueblo Vida, we typically also tag and fawn all over Saywells design in those posts as well.  Personally wanting to more about what makes Ryan tick, what some of his influences were and where he gets his inspiration for his designs was a task that I knew would be fun to delve into.  Ryan was enthusiastically down to participate, sit back and learn more about the man and the process behind those beautiful Pueblo Vida cans, and some of the other things that Ryan at Saywells Design Co has going on.

When were you bitten by the design bug?

When I was in college, I’d do these crappy gig posters for bands I played in. But the summer I started running the box office at The Rialto Theatre, I decided to design a poster for Beck’s show, and see if he’d sign it. It worked, I showed my boss, and he asked if I could do more of these regularly. I started to treat the shows I was excited about as experiments in pushing my ability and creativity. Over the next few years, the Rialto funded some commemorative screenprinted gig posters I designed, so that we could give them to the bands and to our friends. Avett Brothers, Animal Collective, Spoon, Fleet Foxes, Andrew Bird… That definitely honed my style, and got me my first big gig designing for Calexico.

What formal design training do you have?

None, really. I drew comic books and baseball cards when I was a kid, and loved art classes. But I studied music in college. My training was trial and error with the hundreds of show posters I designed for years, before working for myself. If I went to design school, I’d probably have a much different kind of career, with much less interesting work.

Tell us a little about yourself.  What do you like to do besides design killer logos and artwork?

My kids are a big part — I mean, they’re always around… so we go on lots of adventures, mostly outdoors and up Mount Lemmon (just north of Tucson, a short drive to 9,000 feet). I work in the garden with my wife. And honestly I love the wildlife around my area of northeastern Tucson. I swear I’m going to be the guy on the back porch whittling, with binoculars and a birding book. Only it’ll be this spring, instead of when I’m 65.

How did you get involved with Pueblo Vida Brewing Company?

I believe a few years ago we did a one-off shirt design, with the intention to work together more later. They were in their first year, with apparently big plans already to expand and grow. Heading into their 2nd Anniversary, they came to me to design a can for a really small release, with Monswoon to follow up. It was so well-received, they contracted me for the rest of 2017 to redesign the Pueblo Vida brand identity, 9 more cans (which eventually became 17 + a bottle by December), collaborative pocket tees with QMULATIVE, growlers, crowlers, kick-ass hats, glassware, stickers, and more.

Do you have a favorite design that you’ve done so far for Pueblo Vida?

I do, and then a new can assignment comes down. I’m really, really excited for Entropy (just released) and Momentum (releasing mid-February). But as far as can designs that have already been released, maybe Andromeda for its stars. I’m a sucker for anything astronomical. The best pairing of design to beer for me I think was Harvest. I instantly envisioned the layered prickly pear cactus pad design and it came together quickly and perfectly. The colors on the can, the color of the beer… *Italian chef kiss*

Photos Courtesy of: Say Well Designs

What inspires you?  Walk us through your creative process a little bit.

For Pueblo Vida, at the outset we took time to set deliberate, over-arching creative guidelines, inspired by being outdoors, the sky, space… For a can design, we talk about how the name was chosen and a few top-of-mind ideas. Then I start sketching or pour through my design books & Pinterest. I love referencing classic design like Herb Lubalin and Erik Nitsche, or obscure design like vintage stereo system test record jackets. Sometimes I nail it on the first go. Sometimes the design process is more arduous and turns into this puzzle I have to solve, like the process for designing Entropy. The good folks at Pueblo Vida have given me so much freedom that it’s simultaneously invigorating (anything’s possible!) and daunting (fear of a blank page). But my favorite approach is to find something to say, then see how abstract I can make it.

Is there any company or market you’d love to do that you haven’t tapped into yet?

I dream of designing a watch, some day. I’d also love to design a spirits bottle. Whiskey, mezcal, gin… A broader goal is to just keep working on putting Tucson—and Arizona, more generally—on the map. There are so many amazing people creating amazing things here, and I want the world to recognize it.

Any current exciting projects you are working on that you can talk about?

I worked very hard with Calexico on packaging for their new album, “The Thread That Keeps Us” which was just released. In the process of searching for a cover design, we ended up with an aesthetic and enough work that we put together a postcard set. I love them.

I just started working with Ten55 Brewing, which will be moving to Congress St. in downtown Tucson. I’m doing a collab beer can between Ermanos and Tombstone Brewing (hush hush). And a bunch of  work I’ve been doing for the past 6 months for Epic Rides will be seen at all their huge Off-Road Series cycling races across the country this year.

Are you a big craft beer fan?  Do you sample the Pueblo Vida beers before you create the labels?  Do the beer styles/flavors influence your design at all?

Oh yeah, of course, I’m a big fan. I leave with a case every time they release new beer. I take out-of-town friends and family to the tap room. I don’t often sample the beer before I design; the lead-in time to design, submit, print, package, and ship the cans to Pueblo Vida is often too long to do that. But where it really makes a difference, Kyle and Linette give me notes about a special aspect of the beer that deserves to influence the design. Classic Bavarian beer bottles with the Hef, cactus shapes and colors with Harvest, Galaxy Hops with Andromeda…

Who are some of your favorite artists/designers?  Any particular ones you look up to?  Any who you’re more influenced by?

I look up to Aaron Draplin for his kind, no-bullshit, honest embrace of Americana design. I look up to my buddies at Cast Iron Design in Boulder for their ridiculously high standards of quality, detail and sustainability (“What Would Jonny Black Do?” is my mantra). I look up to an ad guy named Erni Cabat, who started the first ad agency in Tucson in the 30s. The Cabat-Gill Agency is essentially responsible for the warm/mid-century modern/dude-ranch/rough & dusty design aesthetic of the southwestern US.

I’m influenced by the authentic, bulletproof, iconic design from decades past, like Maurice Noble (background artist of the Coyote & Roadrunner cartoons), legend Paul Rand, and the brilliant, timeless design of old WPA National Parks posters. Along with some contemporary designers whose work will surely stand up over time, like Simon Walker (responsible for the Modern Times lettering), Riley Cran, Martina Flor, Curtis Jinkins, Tad Carpenter, and Christian Helms (reigning king of beer packaging).

Special thanks out to Ryan for taking the time to do this interview with us.  Looking forward to seeing more of his work whether it be for Pueblo Vida, or any other endeavor he gets involved with.

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