not your average coloring book
You don’t know you’re thinking like another or even like most until you sound off a thought and then it is echoed by another. This seems to be the cultural case with the two-year-old Delaware based coffee Brandywine Coffee Roasters. (BCR) The small team of less than five includes a head roaster who’s been in the game fifteen years and an owner who knows her way around the state with a local coffee chain. But, one of the brands biggest ‘aren’t you the one’ buzz comes from Todd Purse, the man who was hired in the coffee brand’s beginning to illustrate its coffee and brand it. It’s been a short time since he’s been drawing by hand for BCR from a lifestyle of the things he loves onto the hand printed bags but long enough to gain a visual following that has not only eyes on the bag but what’s inside it too.
It is a cold morning for Todd and a warm one for me when we speak by phone across two coasts. There is no question that his warm, infectious personality doesn’t need coffee to get him going, but is only an accent to what feels like a normal state of joy for a person doing what they love and not turning back. Now in Conversation with Todd Purse, in-house artist, marketing and wholesale manager to Brandywine Coffee Roasters (BCR).
c.: Firstly I’m curious about how Todd starts his day and what ritual gets him going.
Todd Purse: I start the day and go into the roastery, do some cupping and then I get back to studio. Do more of art work. For coffee I go straight to a Kalita Wave. I like to go for a coffee that is going to be a hit right away. I stick to African coffee – Burundi’s and Kenyans. And when I don’t want to think about making a choice, I grab whatever is closest..
T.P.: Brandywine Coffee Roasters (BCR) has been around for a little over two years. It’s owned by a lady – Alisa Morkides who owns a local shop chain Brew HaHa! I’d done some work here and there for her; posters and for her café. When I heard they were looking for someone I came in and she hired me on to do some branding. It was about doing some unique illustrations for each coffee and hand printing the bags.
Before this I was doing all freelance – gig posters and stuff and anyone who’d hired me. But this was my first job that someone gave me complete creative control. From the little exposure I had, it didn’t seem like a lot of people were doing this. It was more costly to start up and manage, but I’m so grateful she was in to giving it a shot. It’s just me, the owner and three other people.
c.: Since this was new territory for her and also for you. How did the illustration of the brand identity come to be?
T.P.: Basically she said ‘I want it to be a representation of whatever you want it to be and do what you want to do.’ The more I got into the D.I.Y. punk scene growing up and in and then into the coffee scene it was a really easy transition, the two share very similar values to me.
c.: Tell me about the D.I.Y. Punk scene.
T.P.: It did influence it all. The local D.I.Y. represented to me that regardless of talent or stature anyone can do it and do anything. It’s more an attitude of ‘pick it up and do it.’ I love cartoons, I was raised on the Simpsons and MAD magazine, they both parallel why I got into the local scene. Instead of drawing for myself, I would draw posters for friends and zines. I’d get feedback and then it started growing. Visually there’s all kind of people linked to underground comics from the 1960’s-1980’s, which had a heavy influence on me.
c.: Because we all are, really a composite of our influences.
T.P.: I like to think of art as a filter and that I deem culturally important and I’m putting my unique spin on it. A lot of it harkens to something else I like: 1950 romance comics, cartoon-y things and animation. I wanted to be an animator until I realized I didn’t. D.I.Y. introduced me to silk screening. At BCR we print about 3000 bags a week on a press I built myself. I’ve been able to transition things I learned at 15 to things now. I loved it – instant gratification, blank paper, put down a screen and then it’s the artwork, that’s always been the spark that’s inspired me to keep going – it’s definitely my favorite part. And, Brandywine is definitely the largest audience I’ve had. So it’s awesome to get a positive response.
c.: There’s nothing out there that I’ve seen, especially specialty coffee wise that looks like this branding, it feels like such a lifestyle too. How do you come about this feel?
T.P.: I love how clean and crisp things are. People lean to a modern aesthetic and I love that about the design world. I’ve never had a strong eye or ability to do that. My wheelhouse has been more on the illustrious side of things, that’s where my passion has been. It’s about the things that don’t represent a product but a person behind a product. My main overall goal is that I wanted to have each coffee represented by an image, a colorway and a unique illustration. Every time we drop a coffee, we drop a piece of art work. After getting into coffee and how unique every lot is: the process and farm, it stood out that each coffee should stand in its own little bag. So, I looked how I design a gig poster, I’d want something visually captivating and I depict something I like. Between cats, foxes and 1950’s illustrations, I really like different figures hanging out and you know… listening to records.
Who doesn’t like a good hangout and records? Not I, says the fox.
T.P.: Yea, I like to depict things people do when drinking coffee, like listening to records, reading comics. It also gives me a chance to do a limited release, a one off or even a silk screen poster. I’ve been doing a lot of things that has culturally influence and I put it into a modern context. Like the Stranger Things bag, was a super limited release in October. It was really a small thing and I didn’t think it would go as well as it did.
c.: It’s a great strategy to take your lifestyle and then find a through line to allow people to access something.
T.P.: There are just so much awesome things to find out when people like something, like a band. I grew up on mail order and the best thing about it was that they always through in random stuff. It was a random cross pollination of things that have a similar vibe and feel. I try to keep that in mind when designing – if I truly love it, I try to make sure it’s something I’m genuinely into. There’s a growing trend and people make popular entities by putting something together and then pull it down to make a quick buck. I want it to be that I need to reinterpret it.
c.: Can you take me through those moments of creating for you?
T.P.: There’s a romance to coffee. I wanted something sweet and fruity with a chocolatey taste and to be able to blend that in house. With the new single origin offerings, I get the coffee and then sit with it for a while. For the most part and the majority of the time, it’s coming up with a concept. ‘I want this picture to represent this and the content.’ Sometimes it takes me three hours to come up with something good. I usually say I want to draw a fox today. Once I get the inspiration, its hand done. I do it in pencils. I draw and redraw until I get a pencil sketch. I use a whiteboard and a brush pen – it’s my favorite one. I’ll do a key registration, black out lines first, and then another brush pen, color blocking, outlines in Photoshop, make it super black, throw it into Illustrator, make a vector and then print onto the screens.
c.: When you print those bags with the final image, how do you feel?
T.P.: It’s usually the best feeling. I do a lot less printing these days. I do a lot of the wholesale for the company and maintaining the outside of the café. So, I was like Spencer [another employee] you want to learn a trade Online has been our strongest growth and we want to grow accounts at the right speed without having to overstaff. Our main chunk of wholesale has been the Midwest, the Southern Coast and multi-roaster shops in Florida. People say ‘hey we’ve seen your bag, can you send us samples?’
c.: That’s so cool. I was like ‘hey I’ve seen your bag, can I interview you.” But what is that like, is your creative process, say different, with like a Long Miles Ben coffee, when you have his coffee and are designing for it?
T.P.: I tasted Ben’s coffee the first time at SCAA in Georgia. They were out of this world. His coffee beat all these Kenyans. Ben was like ‘you’re form Brandywine, you have those bags.’ From the get go, I got to talk to him directly. Originally we thought the bag would have more Burundi centered aesthetics. Then Ben emailed me one day and said, “Can you just do all my bags to look like this.” He was referenced the bag where a girl is reading a book.
He wanted all women but he wanted the women doing something besides just being a woman.
I thought that was so cool and it made my job way easier. I have so many people posting pictures of stories that are putting our coffee out in the industry. We worked with a couple of other direct trade coffees, Onyx Coffee Company, Royal, DCS and Café imports. And, if we don’t work directly with the producer, we get samples and then I’ll sit with those and we’ll go with what we think is the best offering for them.
c.: Do you feel as an artist you’re pushing an aesthetic that will become known as part of the current and future of illustrative coffee culture?
t.p.: I feel I have a very small part of a large history of cultural things. I don’t look up very much. I work more than I should. It takes me some time to see what’s going on out there. If I have influence it isn’t on person or how I recognize. But I do think [the art] is a small part of a huge movement in general even outside of the coffee industry.
The internet world says that you can kind of make a living doing art if you can get a thousand people to like it. I was working at a design job for a janitorial redistributor and selling prints online. And if I sold more I knew I could pay rent. It’s easier to cut out a niche into something you’re passionate about and make a go at it. Growing up in the scene that I grew up in, I have a couple of friends who had bands; they’re not blowing up but are still playing. They are the ones that gave themselves no other options. Everyone else who had a back door plan none of them are playing. I kind of look at this like I’m going to do what I care about and put that first.
It’s time to put those records on, like the ones he draws for a living.
Images courtesy of BrandyWine via Todd Purse and Instagram.