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Art is everywhere. It’s on merchandise, in public places, and on packaging. But we often relate the art more to the product, and not the artist who created it. Do you own a piece of Grateful Dead merchandise? Have you seen a Bob Marley tapestry? Here’s an easy one, have you ever bought a six-pack of Terrapin beer? If you said yes to one of those questions, then you have experienced first-hand just some incredible work of Chris Pinkerton.
Chris Pinkerton is the founder of Mackerel Graphics and has an extensive list of clients. Along with the Grateful Dead & Bob Marley, Pinkerton has done work for Pink Floyd, Jimmy Hendrix, Disney, California State Parks, and the Library of Congress just to name a few. But Pinkerton's success does not come from the prominence of his clients, but rather what he has done for them. That’s because these aren’t just one-off clients he did a single project for. These are all long-term returning clients that not only appreciate the artistic designs he produces but the demographic intention he imposes within the work.
Pinkerton grew up in York, Maine developing an interest in art at a very young age. His mother was supportive of his talent, encouraging him to draw picture books in which she would write the stories as Chris told it to her. He also led a pretty active youth, with interests in the outdoors both surfing and cycling. In college, he was the head of a cycling team and was even accepted to go into Olympic training. But he ultimately decided he wanted to pursue a different career. Originally going to college to become an architect, it was there Pinkerton realized his love for drawing and decided to become an illustrator. But Pinkerton wasn’t interested in just becoming an artist. He was interested in everything that surrounds the art, with its intended goal of reaching the masses. Most people are either left-brained or right-brained. In this rare instance, Chris Pinkerton is both.
After college, he ran into some good fortune landing a job with a company called Liquid Blue. It was there he began designing art for the Grateful Dead. Album art, tapestries, plushies, Pinkerton worked on just about everything you can imagine. But when he first came on, all the art being produced was very male-centric. He and his colleagues at Liquid Blue agreed they were missing out on an entire demographic and worked together to introduce a style that would reach a wider audience. “Developing for a female marketplace does not mean making something feminine.” Says Pinkerton. “It means creating a dual aesthetic.” He helped expand the band's reach by creating a style that was more inclusive to all demographics, inadvertently developing some of the iconic imagery the Grateful Dead is known for today.
Pinkerton quickly worked his way up to the top and became the head of the art department within a year at Liquid Blue. While working with the Grateful Dead, he met a freelance artist by the name of Richard Biffle. The two hit it off, and Biffle’s raw artistic talent coupled with Pinkerton's technical knowledge of the market made for a great team. Pinkerton and Biffle would work together on The Grateful Dead as well as several other projects over the years. In early 2004, Richard Biffle was attending a Grateful Dead concert when he met someone looking for an artist. Coincidentally, he was looking for someone who could mimic the art style of the Grateful Dead for a startup company he was co-founding. That man was Spike Buckowski, and that company was Terrapin Beer Co. While Biffle was capable of producing the art, he needed someone who had a technical mind to help make the illustrations market-ready. But more importantly, Biffle wanted someone he could trust. So, he called Pinkerton.
When it comes to designing labels, most breweries hire an artist to produce the art and then have a creative department format the work for packaging. That’s how Biffle and Pinkerton's relationship was when it came to working for Terrapin. Biffle would produce the art, and Pinkerton would make it market-ready. But the big difference is, Pinkerton is just as skilled as an artist as Biffle. While Pinkerton certainly plays the role of taking a product and formatting it for packaging, he has also developed many original labels for the company. Biffle’s signature for Terrapin is his turtles. Anything with a turtle on it is Biffle’s work. Pinkerton's most noted work is the Krunkles series. Ranging from the sketches of the crazy Captain himself on Captain Krunkles, and the intricate mandalas as seen on Luau Krunkles.
Chris Pinkerton and Richard Biffle started out producing artwork for the Grateful Dead. Along the way, they ended up working with a company founded on the very artwork they helped produce. The two still create labels and packaging for Terrapin to this day. So next time you are drinking a Terrapin beer, take a look at the side of the can. It’s guaranteed that you will find only one of two signatures: Chris Pinkerton, or Richard Biffle.