Oak Parker finalist in the Pabst Blue Ribbon design competition

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The next time you open a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, be sure to take a look at the can. He could just wear the design of Oak Park and River Forest High School graduate Jeremiah Shalo. The graphic designer is one of 25 finalists in the 2022 Pabst Art Contest. If Shalo is among the 10 winners of the contest, PBR will feature his design this fall on millions of cans. He would also win a cash prize of $10,000.

The 10 winning designs will be determined by popular vote on the Pabst Blue Ribbon website. Adults can see all 25 designs and vote for their 10 favourites. Voting closes February 18.

“I would love to win,” Shalo said.

A humble guy, Shalo didn’t campaign for votes much. Fortunately for Shalo, he has a very proud mother who does not hesitate to promote the works of her son, in particular by contacting the local newspaper. Her friends also shared her PBR design on their social media accounts.

“I’m really shy about sharing my work, but I’m trying to improve myself,” Shalo said. “It’s an honor to have such supportive family and friends.”

Landing a place in the top 25 is a major achievement in itself. Pabst received more than 6,000 design submissions for the competition, according to the beer company. A jury determined the 25 finalists. To increase his chances, Shalo submitted five drawings. Whoever clinched a spot in the top 25 surprised him.

“Honestly, that was the one I didn’t think would come in. It was like, ‘OK, I’m just gonna have fun with it, play around and then submit it because there’s nothing to lose’,” he recalled.

For his other submissions, Shalo tried to create a backstory for the designs. The box design that could potentially fetch him $10,000 and be seen on shelves across the country was more “whimsical.” It was also the last design he made for the competition.

The Pabst name and its blue ribbon logo feature prominently in Shalo’s winning design, which was produced entirely in grey, navy blue and white, according to competition specifications. However, its overall makeup is very much Shalo’s aesthetic. The overall effect of the design is simple yet bold.

A large naval figure, whom Shalo describes as a “trophy cup”, takes center stage. The blue ribbon is attached to the left of the unusual shape. Inside the figure’s belly, a thin white line sits below three almond-shaped shapes, forming a face with a Cheshire-like grin. Four sharply angled ankle boots line up perfectly in the marine form. The creature with three eyes and four boots is strange but intriguing.

Smaller figures, including white four-pointed stars outlined in navy blue, and exclamation marks surround the central figure. A navy blue and candy white striped border frames the composition.

“I like to make things a little weird,” Shalo admitted.

He finds flat, solid graphic shapes more pleasing to the eye when it comes to beer cans. The shapes become memorable and identifiable from near and far. Shalo thinks the intricate lines and details, which feature in many of the other 25 most popular designs, don’t read as well on the cans because they tend to fade into the background.

“I just think it hides the most important elements,” he said.

The most important elements are the brand and the product. Small details, no matter how wonderful, don’t always help a product sell, while large shapes can be more memorable and recognizable, according to Shalo. His passion for design, however, is rooted in Oak Park, where his parents still live. Shalo was one of many OPRF students to take design and art classes under Melinda Novotny and Sandy Campbell. He called Novotny the reason he got involved in graphic design and Campbell the reason he continued to pursue art.

“I really owe them a lot,” he said of his high school teachers.

Shalo went on to study visual communications design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, then worked for about four years as a designer for a small media company called Varyer. He has since gone solo and now has his own studio in Wicker Park.

The voting period is almost over, but there’s still time to vote for Shalo’s design. Pabst doesn’t show how many votes each design has racked up, so it’s unclear where Shalo stands in the competition. However, he is happy to have come this far, especially as the first competitor, and is grateful for the encouragement he has received from his family and friends.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my artistic career,” he said. “And I would greatly appreciate any votes for my box design!”

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