Behind the Bottle: A chat with Chris Edser on working with Hither & Yon

Willunga’s quirky-meets-country-cool wine brand Hither & Yon is well known for their beautiful bottles. The iconic ampersand adorning each label has won them a number of design awards over the years, with bottles collected on book shelves as candle holders and decorations by their avid South Aussie fans.

Designed by Voice Design Agency and illustrated, painted and drawn by artists near and far, the universal ‘and’ symbol is reflective of the brand’s focus on art, design and being just a little bit different. Visit the cellar door and you can browse the shelves for all the old bottles. A rainbow of ampersands now marks an array of delicious drops gone by, all once enjoyed by the fire in this cosy home away from home.

While the artwork has been created by artists from all over the globe, the brand has also made sure to remain focussed on supporting local talent through their labels, too. One homegrown artist who’s made his mark on the much-loved labels is illustrator and animator Chris Edser. His first design – an old twisted Aussie gumtree – featured on the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The first Australian artist to have designed a second label with the brand, Chris is excited for the release of the new label – the 2017 Malbec, set to be released soon.

We sat down with Chris to hear his story and learn how he turns tasting notes into a snazzy, smart label design. What a clever cloggs.

How did you come to work with Hither & Yon?

I’d worked with Voice before, and they were looking for an opportunity to work with me on something like this. This was perfect. They hadn’t used any South Australian artists for the bottles as yet, but this wine [2013 Cabernet Sauvignon] was a very Australian wine so they wanted someone local. The tasting notes were all about sitting on the verandah, looking out at the creek and all that, so it just really matched my style and made sense with the Australian drawings I do.

Did you know about Hither & Yon?

I was aware of the wine, especially because of the design. They’ve won a lot of awards for that ampersand as a logo, and just the way they’ve applied it to the bottles…so as soon as I heard, I knew I wanted to be involved.

What do you love about working with the brand?

I knew it was a smaller operation, and that they valued things I liked, like good design…I really appreciate that. I’ve done other wine labels and hardly had any contact with the winemakers…but every time I go down to McLaren Vale now, the Hither & Yon team are very helpful.

They also put my name on the bottle, which is wonderful. Not that many wineries do that, which I’m fine with, but I think Hither & Yon really want to celebrate the artist.

The Hither & Yon illustrations feel the most me! There have not been any wine labels that are so collaborative or reflect what I do really.

How would you describe the brand?

It evokes a feeling of interest…they have attention to style and aesthetic, but are still fun. It’s still friendly, too. It’s a smaller, family-run winery, but they’ve also paid attention to brand values that are really important.

What are your favourite Hither & Yon wines?

I’m really keen to try this Malbec. I really like the Touriga too. The Grenache Mataro is a good one because almost everyone loves that one, but I really like the Tannat, too. I bought some recently because I knew it would sell out.

What’s your process?

The whole process is sort of about three to four weeks, but this one had a bit more time because they knew the wine wasn’t coming out for a while. It was a few days of sketching and then a bit of backwards and forwards talking about it with Voice.

For the new one, we had a few directions, like rusted farm machinery. They got the tasting notes from Mal [Malcolm Leask, co-owner of Hither & Yon], and from that we had that idea of the rustic feel against the nature, the saltbush and the sky. It was about contrasting the nature with the farm machinery, and matching that with the colour of the wine as well. It needs to evoke the colours of the wine, and the earthiness of the farm soil and things like that.

Over about a week or so, I did the final design. I do most of the line work with ink on paper as a larger version…I draw it quite big and shrink it back down, which is why there’s a lot of detail. I digitally adjust the colours so we can go back and forth a bit with that with Voice. It’s very collaborative.

I always admire other people’s processes, like musicians or writers, but I guess we all just do it don’t we…

How long have you been an illustrator?

I graduated in about 2002 so I’ve been doing it for about 15 years really…I went to Italy in 2003 to study more, but I’ve essentially been working freelance ever since as an illustrator and animator.

I’ve always drawn, since I was a kid…it was always what I wanted to do. It was hard to know, early on how to turn that into a job. When you think about it, there are pictures everywhere, but it was hard to explain to my parents initially. Everyone has a different idea of what an illustrator is…it’s almost everything you look at on a day to day basis, so I turned that into a job. I do everything from wine labels, packaging, animations, prints, maps – all sorts.

How did you start out?

I started off with a lot of stuff for bands I was friends with. I wasn’t paid amazingly but when I was at uni, it was great. They were happy for me to be really creative. I had a group of friends from school who had a band called the Beards. They ended up doing quite well for about ten years. I did all their t-shirts and we just had a really good agreement with
the designs. They gave me lots of freedom so I got to draw what I wanted, which led to me
getting a lot more work.

Have you always been in Adelaide?

I do love basing myself in Adelaide, but I was in Melbourne for just over four years. I just came back last year, but I had a lot of Adelaide connections still while I was over there. I’m back now and really happy to be here. I always come back…I have this connection with Adelaide that I like, and lots of people I know. But the nature of my work is that I can go around the world a bit, which is great. That’s important to me.

How would you describe your work?

It took me a while to realise line work was just what I was good at. I think that really developed about five to ten years after I finished studying. I was playing with lots of different things. I tried to paint everything…but I realised all through my life I was into drawing, so starting with lines was natural.

When I do animation, it’s quite a different style – it’s a lot more ‘cartoony’ and stylised, but that’s the nature of animation.

Chris Esder

What are the jobs that stick with you?

I like the jobs where you know the people are really happy with it, and it has longevity. The last label [Cabernet Sauvignon] was released five times so it’s nice to know it was liked and appreciated.

I also like things that come from either a personal relationship or that lead to new work and new relationships. The Beards one is very close to me because they were good friends and it led to a lot of other work. We sort of came up together – they got better and became more successful as I did…that was really nice. We’re all still really good friends and that all worked really well. That’s a really special one for me.

What’s your ‘pinch me’ career moment?

I do a lot of basketball animation which is cool. I’ve always played and liked it as a sport and followed NBA basketball…that started as just a personal project to get better at animation. I just used it as practice, but that’s led to some great work and relationships. I ended up getting some really cool work with people like Nike and some of the NBA teams like the Chicago Bulls. If you’d told me that when I was a kid, I’d say you were crazy. When I was a kid I was drawing pictures of basketball players…

What’s one of the most unexpected jobs you’ve ever done?

I did this big show with Windmill theatre, which was a collaboration with State Theatre -Rumpelstiltskin. It’s going to be in London at the end of the year ow. All the sets were just projected animations I had to design. It was such a great process. I never thought I’d be involved in a theatre show – it was so different to what I do usually.

What do you love about your job?

People. I think people have images of illustrators staying in their room and not talking much,
which can be tempting to do, but it’s important to meet people face to face and build those
relationships. That’s important for me.

Do you listen to music when you work?

A little bit of music but a lot of podcasts and even basketball games playing in the background. It really depends what I’m doing. I listen to a lot of natural history podcasts, but also silly, funny, random ones that people tell you about, too.

Where are you based now?

I have a desk space at a place called Blank Space in Adelaide, even though more than half my income is international now. I have clients in Hong Kong and all over including Italy as well.

What’s next?

I’m looking forward to this London trip in December for Rumplestiltskin, and I’ve also been  working on this big wood carving sculpture so I want to have an exhibition around that. It started as a personal project which has been going for so long.

Naturally, I like pleasing other people so to do things myself, feels very self indulgent, so I’m really slow to do personal exhibitions. So that’s my goal.




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