By Dustin Gouker
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The beer was flowing freely at The Workhouse on a recent Friday night.
Bottles and cans were scattered around long tables, as a group of about 30 women gathered at the Bend art gallery and studio. But only some of the beer was for drinking. The rest was for painting.
The women were there for a class taught by Karen Eland, who has gained fame for her ability to paint with things other than, well, paint.
A largely self-taught artist, Eland started painting with non-traditional media back in the late 1990s, when she first experimented with coffee.
She said she started painting with beer about eight years ago, when she moved to the beer mecca of Bend.
“It sort of dawned on me when I was surrounded by all this good beer, and actually, Bend was where I first liked beer. I never liked it before then,” Eland recalled. “And so I started off drinking dark beer and then I realized, ‘Oh, dark beer is dark. I can paint with that.’ Then I tried it out, and it worked.”
Eland’s artwork with beer spans a wide spectrum. She’s done whimsical takes on famous works of art (such as Rodin’s “The Thinker” reimagined as “The Drinker”; reproductions of iconic Guinness posters (painted with Guinness, of course); commissions for Deschutes Brewery and the Brewers Association, among others; and landscapes of iconic scenery in Oregon.
Perhaps her most famous work, at least in Oregon, is an installation than can be seen near the entrance of Worthy Brewing’s brewpub in Bend. For its opening in 2013, Worthy commissioned Eland to do four works of art, one panel for each of the main ingredients in beer: water, hops, barley and yeast.
Eland also sells prints and original pieces of art. And if you want to commission a piece to be done in beer, all you have to do is ask.
But now she is also teaching what she has learned from years of painting. Last fall, Eland started hosting classes where she shows others how to paint with coffee and beer.
Her most recent class was more of a private gathering of the Central Oregon Beer Angels (a social and fundraising group), but usually she holds one public beer-painting class each month.
The two-hour classes are more of a social gathering and an excuse to drink beer and try something new than a formal art class. Participants nosh on snacks and sip on beverages while they paint. (“I do like to at least have a sip of what I am using to paint with,” Eland confided. “But not too much,” she laughed.)
Students get a practice sheet and a pre-drawn sketch to fill in, along with an example piece to follow along with. Brushes and bowls full of beer -- Eland almost always paints with porters and stouts -- are scattered around the workspace.
“I’ll give them a few simple techniques, and then we jump into the actual painting,” Eland explained, noting that everyone completes the class with a finished piece of artwork to take with them. “Usually, it just kind of unfolds itself organically.”
The Beer Angels seemed to be having a good time, as the room buzzed with chatting along with periods of concentration as everyone tried to wrap up their artwork.
“It was really fun, and it felt creative to do this,” Tracey Wierman, of Bend, said while putting the finishing touches on her painting. “It didn’t even feel like I was painting with beer, really. It’s neat how the different shades come out.”
If you can’t make it to the class, Eland offered some advice for trying it at home. She suggested using watercolor brushes and paper -- the thicker the better. You can try using a dark beer right out of the bottle, pour it out and let it air dry to thicken it or microwave it a bit (although that doesn’t always produce a great aroma, Eland warned). From there, you just paint.
“I hope I don’t put myself out of a job telling people that, but that’s all there really is to it,” she said.
For more information on Eland’s art and classes, visit:
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.