For most of his professional life he's been known as a 'hired gun,' so it's fitting that Richard Hatter continued the theme into his design company, Hired Guns Creative. After 12 years of being the guy who 'got the job done' at other design firms, he and business director Leif Miltenberger decided to strike out on their own in 2008.
The design world soon took note, and their innovative, moldbreaking creations for distilleries, wineries and breweries in turn helped to put those companies - many of them local - on the map.
As creative director, some of Hatter's most noteworthy work has been the redesign of Longwood Brewery's signature beers. In April, the company won a design award from Applied Arts magazine for Stoutnik, Longwood's Russian stout beer. By the summer they had also won a Dieline package design award.
The design is simple, but disarmingly different: A matte black bottle replaces the ubiquitous brown glass, and an embossed black label boasts the beer's name in a Soviet-esque prismatic foil font.
"I am trying to push bottle and package design into a whole new realm," said Hatter, who said his abilities as an artist and illustrator help inform the originality of his work. "My strength is the ability to tell a story, instantly on a shelf, with my artwork."
The story of the Stoutnik is rooted in history and soviet espionage, said Hatter. It is best exemplified by Hired Guns' signature attention to detail: The subtle raised embossing on the label is actually an encoded story about the beer, written in morse code.
This added dimension of hidden surprises has carried on into Hatter's latest work for new craft distiller Arbutus Distilleries Ltd.
From name to appearance, Hired Guns developed their upcoming line of locally-made vodka, gin and absinthe, and though the booze hasn't even hit the shelves yet, the designs are already creating a buzz.
For Coven, Arbutus' brand of vodka, Hatter created what on the surface is a minimalistic white bottle and label, with embossed red metallic lettering.
However when the lights go out, spirits emerge in the form of glow-in-the-dark comic bookstyle images of ghouls and seductive witches.
It's a bold move, but one Hatter felt was necessary to give the smaller distillery a distinct edge over it's massive competitors.
"It's good, you know? It's putting Nanaimo on the map for the proper reasons," said Hatter.
"We're taking Nanaimo products and giving them world class branding with international recognition. .. before these things are even out there."
Coven is set to be featured in Inked magazine and has been picked up by the website trendhunter.com.
Their design for Arbutus' Emperic Gin was also featured in Communication Arts magazine in the spring.
Effective design has immense power, argues Hatter, and Longwood's head brewer Harley Smith, who allowed him extensive creative freedom over the relaunch of their beers, agrees.
"Sometimes it's nice to have a fresh outlook," said Smith, who added that there's "no question" that it has helped with sales.
"Take the 'Steampunk,' for instance, the (Dunkelweizenbrau). That was one of our slowest-selling beers and it's now our second-fastest."
Part of the willingness to take a creative risk comes from growing up in the lobster town of Lunenberg, N.S., - famous for being where the Bluenose schooner, pictured on the Canadian dime, was constructed in 1921.
It was a modest upbringing; and like many of the other kids in the school of 60 people - "including the staff" - Hatter's father was a fisherman, and they lived in a trailer.
"The best creatives, in my opinion, don't come from an easy lifestyle. We're fighters," said Hatter, who added that he most fears not being able to get enough work out before he dies.
"I don't want to take (my ideas) to the grave with me."
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