Getting to Know the Talented Artist Behind the ‘Strange Fellows’ Brand

Scout has been big fans of Strange Fellows Brewing since the day they opened their doors in 2014. We love both their old-world inspired beers and the whimsical branding that sets them apart from any other craft beer in the city. The artist behind the distinct brand is Christine Moulson – a worldly woman with an idiosyncratic talent for storytelling. Pour yourself a pint and get acquainted…

What neighbourhood do you live in and what makes it home? East Van, close to Commercial Drive. We live on a tree-lined street with a view of the mountains, that is only a 20-minute walk to the brewery, 10 minutes to school, 15 minutes to Trout Lake for walking the dog, five to the Drive… Our neighbourhood is very family-friendly, multi-cultural/generational, and everything is close at hand.

Coffee or tea? Tea! Black, with a spot of milk. Preferably strong Assam in the morning and Chinese Keemun during the day.

Analog or digital? Digital, but I would happily go back to living in a simpler time. Think horse-and-buggy.

Favourite artist of all time? That’s a hard one! Marc Chagall maybe, or Brueghel. I love the stories and histories being told in Brueghel’s paintings, and the other-worldly dreaminess of Chagall’s work.

If you had to, you would replace your hands with… 4 hands.

What keeps you up at night? Worrying about my kids.

Dogs or cats? Dogs! Especially my fuzzy sidekick, Basil.

Shoe of choice? Glerups felt slippers.

Your three role models? Single parents, those who stand up for what they believe in, happy content people.

Your favourite superstition? There is something comforting about how, despite logical thinking, we still believe that small acts will save us from ruin. It’s sort of like a subconscious primal safety net lest our belief in the salvation of technology lets us down and we be at the mercy of something greater than our dominance. I like big collective acts of superstition meant to ensure the return of Spring or a successful Harvest. Many of these are the inspiration for the Strange Days we celebrate at Strange Fellows. My favourite everyday superstition though would have to be Knocking on Wood. It’s a pagan habit meant to scare away any malevolent spirits in the wood who might overhear your declared wish for luck and potentially ruin it.

Favourite Vancouver building? I quite like the Asian Studies building at UBC. It has an amazing roof, inspired by Japanese architecture, and it feels in harmony with the landscape, like it has grown out of the ground.

The thing that is bad for you that you will never stop eating? Bread – not that I believe that its that bad for you but I probably do eat too much of it.

The Vancouver establishment you wish was open 24 hours? Urban Source. Not that I ever really need craft supplies or weird recycled things in the middle of the night, but it would be nice to know it’s available.

First album that made you love music? Beatles’ Blue Album.

What was the last live concert you saw? Probably not the answer you are looking for, but my teenager’s school band and strings orchestra concert. Pretty amazing kids!

Your all-time best Halloween costume? My Dad used to make the best costumes and do good makeup for me. Once I was a witch with bright green skin and a big wart on my nose. Looking back now, I can see that he kind of took over the costumes a bit but that it was something he really enjoyed doing. I try not to be too pushy when it comes to my kids’s costumes.

What game did you love as a kid? Kick the Can. I loved playing this on late summer evenings with a big group of kids who all stayed at the same place on Salt Spring Island where I used to go with my family every summer. We would gather in the big field after dinner and play in the woods until it was dark and our parents whistled for us to come inside.

Under what circumstances would you join the army? Um, I guess if people that I loved were in danger and joining the army would protect them somehow.

Your most regrettable purchase ever? I can’t think of anything specific, but it really bums me out when I don’t make a good choice. I am a bit of a maximizer, so I have a hard time letting bad purchases go. Crazy I know – life’s too short!

What was the luckiest moment in your life? Not just one moment but a lifetime of luck so far. Lucky to be born when and where I was, to have always had food to eat; good health, thus far; a good education; the choice to do what I want to; and to be able to believe in what I believe in. I am incredibly lucky to live the life that I have, and to have met all those who I care about. I hope I have not just jinxed my lucky streak by flaunting that – Knock on Wood! I might even have to go smear my face with a bit of ash, or something, so as not to tempt fate!

It’s five years ago. You just clocked out. Where to? Five years ago my kids were 10, 8 and 3, so I never really clocked out. Might have snuck away to a yoga class, or something.

What is the one animal that scares you the most? Bears.

If you had a motto, what would it be? My dad always used to say that, “a job worth doing is worth doing well”. I am sure I rolled my eyes in response on many an occasion, but it must have resonated as now I say it too. It is so true – don’t even bother doing something if you’re going to be half-assed about it!

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in? Years ago, when Iain and were in Turkey, we visited a little town called Uçhisar. In the town’s centre there is this huge tunnel-riddled rock formation called the Castle, known for being the tallest point in Cappedocia. On our way up, a gypsy boy offered to show us the ancient cave paintings and, before we knew it, we were being led deep into a labyrinth of tiny tunnels, followed by an entourage of his little friends. It was pitch black except for the small stub of a candle that the boy held. Eventually he led us out onto this ledge high above the town where there was a group of tough-looking smoking teenagers hanging out. I was silently freaking out as I thought the boy had lured us to his gang leaders, who planned to rob us and leave us stranded with no way to get out (or push us off the cliff). The boy started arguing with the teenagers while I tried to convey my thoughts to Iain without letting them know that I was on to their evil plan. Then one of the teenagers came over and berated us for trusting the gypsy boy – who apparently WAS planning to rob us – and offered to escort us out. The gypsy followed us out, swearing at us the whole time. It was a very scary experience.

Trend that needs to die? Militant or extremist anything.

Your favourite curse word? I am not a conversational cusser, but (apparently) I do swear a lot when I drive. I don’t really have a favourite – just whatever horrible thing flies out of my mouth.

Least favourite word? Slacks. And the phrase “to be honest” – it implies that everything else said up to that point has been a lie.

Mountains or ocean? Ocean! I am from Victoria and as an Islander, I don’t think I could ever live away from the coast. Even in East Van I miss the smell of the ocean.

What object of no monetary value will you keep dearly until you die? Probably my kids’ drawings. They are so expressive and funny, and you just couldn’t replicate that honesty if you tried.

The most beautiful place in the world? Switzerland.

Your first memory? Lights and shadows on a wall. I think I was in a crib having a nap in the late afternoon and there were all these beautiful patterns and colours on a wall above me.

The song that you could listen to on repeat for an hour? I don’t think I could. It would drive me crazy and would ruin the song. There are still some songs that I can’t enjoy as I over-listened to them at some point.

What are you the most proud of? My kids. They are really great people.

What are you the least proud of? My temper.

The best thing about making art? Being in the flow of inspiration and losing oneself in the process.

The worst thing about making art? Having to stop when the creative juices are flowing. There is nothing worse that being in the thick of executing an idea and having to stop to go pick someone up from somewhere, or whatever. Creative blocks are tricky too. That requires a complete change of task or scene. Stubborn inspiration always seems to come in the middle of the night or while doing something completely unrelated or mundane, like driving or grocery shopping.

The strange talent that you possess? I don’t know if it could be considered a talent but I can flare my nostrils while wiggling one eyebrow. Drives my sister crazy (out of jealousy). It comes in handy, as sometimes words just cannot express…

The strange talent that you wish you possessed? Tap-dancing!

Favourite beer in Vancouver? Strange Fellows’ Bayard Farmhouse Saison.

Favourite beer EVER? Orval. Many years ago we visited Belgium’s Orval brewery and were invited by the folks who ran the brewery to have lunch at the monastery. The rectory was a simple open space with very high ceilings, huge windows and long worn wooden tables, infused with a feeling of calm. A tiny ancient monk in a brown cassock served us a meal of food that was all made, grown and raised at the monastery – bread, cheese, mustard, salad, meat. The simple integrity of that meal and the beer that accompanied it made a lasting impression. The funny thing about that meal is that I was (and still am) vegetarian, but it would have been too rude to refuse the meat on the plate when we were honoured with the invite, so I ate it and it was good.

Best branding in Vancouver (besides your own)? I am no judge but I like the Vancouver Farmers Markets’ branding. Their simple, honest branding is clean, light, upbeat and colourful; it really reflects the experience of the markets themselves. Same goes for Earnest Ice Cream which is honest to their product. I also like a lot of what Brandever does. Their branding is always refreshing and fun.

Best branding overall? My favourites are solely based on what appeals to me, rather than the success of the mechanism of branding itself – I will leave that to the experts. I like MUJI from Japan. Everything about the brand is pared back to the essential and there is something very appealing in that. I also like IKEA (product quality aside) for its lure of the experience possibilities. There is a really beautiful perfume shop in Florence – Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella – that has an amazing history that is communicated via its modern day branding. Their products and packaging are so good and their shop is such an experience, that you feel as if transported back in time. I think I really respond to experience-based branding.

Describe your studio/work space in 10 words or less. Wooden table, dog underfoot, CBC Radio, sketchbook, carving tools, computer.

What project are you most excited about tackling in the next few months? Ever since we opened Strange Fellows I have intended to make more masks to flesh out the collection in the tasting room, but I just never seem to find the time. We were in Mexico over spring break and, after seeing so many wonderful masks there, I am more inspired than ever to make more myself.

What’s the one thing about Vancouver’s art scene that you want to see changed the most? A while back I visited Oaxaca, Mexico, and was blown away by their incredibly democratic art scene. Art is absolutely everywhere and is very accessible and affordable, and the street art is both political and beautiful. Vancouver’s art scene is becoming more democratic but it would be great if it was more so. The mural fest for example is cool but limited by its organization – money and permission getting in the way of meaningful expression.

The different career path that you could have gone on? I studied Animation at Emily Carr, so I could have maybe gone down that path. Most of the paying animation jobs were in gaming though, and I sucked at Computer Animation, so I doubt it. Anyway, that sort of animation wasn’t really my thing. I love animation as an art form though.

What was the last thing that inspired you, and how did it manifest? On a recent trip to Japan, I saw some little ceramic brooches that were just so simple and lovely. I have been working with ceramics for a year or so now, and thought that I would like to make something along those lines but just have not been able to achieve the right balance of rustic delicacy that I am after. Just goes to show that sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to achieve!

Tell me about the process of designing a Strange Fellows label. What comes first, the label or the beer? Usually it’s the beer that comes first. Each beer has it’s own feeling, history and story, and I take creative cues from there. Sometimes it’s what comes to mind when I first taste the beer in question. Like when I first tasted Popinjay – a new SFB packaged beer in the pipelines – the image of a Peacock just popped into my head. Sometimes it’s the feeling or tradition of the beer that suggests a name or a story. Occasionally I will make an image that will have to wait for the right beer to come along. The story that follows the image is usually inspired by a collective truth or shared superstition or archetype that somehow relates to the image.

Favourite project that you’ve done, thus far? I really enjoyed designing the 750ml bottle series. I knew that I wanted the design to be bold yet classic. I continued to use block prints as the imagery for their boldness of line and the way it forces imperfections or naivety into the imagery. But with these labels I took a more Japanese approach by balancing asymmetrically cropped images with the symmetry of the text. I have a soft spot for the Beldame can label I did recently. It feels good when the beer, the story and the image all make sense and carry a good message. I don’t know if people ever read the stories on the cans/bottles but I hope so. There are message in there that I hope are transmitting.

How has your artistic process changed over time? Recently, I designed some wine labels for a friend, and the creative jumping point was the colour that popped into my head when I tasted the wine. For many years I was the Creative Director at Tealeaves – a Vancouver-based tea company (beverages!) – and created the imagery used on the packaging. Although the medium was different (watercolour) the process was really the same, with the blend itself suggesting the feeling or experience of the product.

What material haven’t you used that you would like to? I dabble in many mediums. For the past 10 years or so, it has been an on-going New Year’s resolution to make more time to paint in oils. One of these days… also, ceramics and basket-weaving, textiles…

If you could create ANYTHING what would it be? Probably a film. I studied animation at Emily Carr, but since then I have not had the time or means to pursue filmmaking. I am drawn to story telling, and traditional, non-computerized animation is such a powerful visual language that is still so under-utilized. This is probably simply because it takes so long to hand-render a film. But the potential of a moving painting and what message it could carry is incredibly inspiring.

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  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
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  • Beldame - Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson at Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
  • Strange Fellows
  • Christine Moulson branding / artwork for Strange Fellows
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