ART. Into the Journey.
Life is full of cool moments. Earlier this year, I had the awesome surprise of meeting artist Brandon Lee Wise and his brother, SOMM Films director, Jason Wise at a dinner in Virginia celebrating Steven Spurrier.
Brandon is the painter behind the art in the SOMM films. While the wine and the company were fantastic, my inner artist-geek was immediately drawn to the dude painting in the corner. I may be a designer and writer by trade, but I’ve always been an artist at heart.
Brandon’s art added something special to the SOMM films brand. The story of how that art came to be is just as special. I’m super grateful we connected and that I get to share some of his story with you.
“WLAA: Let’s just get this outta the way first. Why wine?
What about it inspires you to create art around this magical grape juice? Did you grow up around it?
Brandon Lee Wise (BLW): I’m pretty sure any wine I grew up around came in a Franzia box. Pretty normal Ohio 90’s stuff. Wine would have its beginning effects on my family and I around 2011-12ish while Jason was filming and finishing SOMM. That’s when wine really started spreading and making an appearance.
What inspires me to make art around wine and wine culture is a super loaded question.
I went to school for art. Creating is something I’ve always done in one way or another. After Into the Bottle came out people started reaching out for art. Everyone wanted pieces involving wine. I was still heavily inspired after all the work I did over 6+ months prior so, I kept making wine art.
From then until now, wine’s been a subject I’m inspired by. As long as people are going to keep supporting it, I’ll probably keep creating it.
“I’m pretty sure any wine I grew up around came in a Franzia box.”
WLAA: Speaking of SOMM – Into the Bottle, I was actually watching it again last night … the fun and clever chapter interpretations you infused in your illustrations added such depth to the story telling. The movie just feels so much more alive with the art in it. For example … the history chapter … Pharaoh, a Crusader and a guy in a tie in a boat … clever. I love it.
What was the process you went through to decide what to paint on those chapter pages?
BLW: The chapter art came late in the film process. Jason and I brainstormed it out. He came up with most of it very quickly. I’m pretty sure the chapter art went from conceptualized to complete all within a week. The amount of work we got done in that period still astounds me.
WLAA: The night we met at the Stone Tower Winery dinner for the Steven Spurrier, you were busy kicking out a painting while the rest of us stuffed our faces.
I imagine for some folks, your process must look effortless and easy, but they don’t see the years of hard work, hours of practice and planning that go into pulling that off.
How and when did you get started? What exactly is your painting technique and process?
BLW: I’ve always painted and drawn things for as long as I was able. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a few other schools for art. Before SOMM I was doing more dark, obscure stuff if I wasn’t doing flat out abstracts.
Nowadays, I use watercolor and India ink on watercolor paper. I ink out most of my lines with a quill.
My grandfather was an incredible artist. He is a very celebrated artist in my family mainly known for his watercolors. I’ve always been very into his work, so I stuck close to his mediums. I was never into working digitally. I pretty much use the same mediums he used in the 20’s and 30’s.
“My grandfather was an incredible artist. He is a very celebrated artist in my family mainly known for his watercolors. I’ve always been very into his work, so I stuck close to his mediums.”
still WLAA: What kinds of things did your grandfather paint?
BLW: Most of my grandfather’s work consisted of watercolor landscapes, houses and boats. His early work (late 1920’s–early 30’s) are my main focus.
I have a piece of his from 1931 that is a sinking Navy vessel with tiny sailors panicking on deck. It’s a large piece (3.5 ft by 2.5 ft). It amazes me.
I have another large canvas piece of a conquistador-like figure trekking through deep snow in a village at night. Both of these pieces are very dark in means of the colors he chose to paint with. Somehow they are still incredibly vibrant and deep. They are the most priceless things I own.
WLAA: I love when creativity is celebrated and encouraged by the family. For many artists, it’s not always the case.
What else inspired and encouraged you to pursue painting?
BLW: Growing up, Jason fed me all the video games, comic books, music and movies that would completely shape who I am today. Jason has always been a talented artist and an overall very creative, inspiring person.
WLAA: Speaking of brothers … my oldest son has decided that he once again likes his younger brother … so there’s hope.
You’ve had the unique opportunity to create some really cool things with Jason. What’s it like working with your brother?
BLW: Jason is hands down the most enjoyable person to work with.
We both get overly excited while working. The creative process is the most positive thing I’ve ever been a part of. I wish I had that positivity while working on my own personal projects.
WLAA: What are some of your favorite memories and moments from working together on the SOMM projects?
BLW: There are so many, but probably being cooped up in Jason’s LA studio working on Into the Bottle is my most favorite.
I’ve gotten to meet so many people and be a part of so many things. It’s hard to funnel it down.
The film premiers are also really huge, memorable events. For SOMM 3, the premier at Stone Tower Winery was one of my absolute favorite memories of the past few years. The amount of excitement you could feel from everyone was really special. It’s a happy place for me.
BLW: In-N-Out is an absolute staple every time I’m in California. There were days I would go there twice for a double double animal style. Jason and Christina are incredible cooks though. No matter what I always ate very well while working on SOMM projects in California. Also, drank quite a few unforgettable bottles.
WLAA: When did you know that making art was what you wanted to do in life?
BLW: Always. My Mom and my stepdad had their hands full with an overly excited emotional human. In 2014, I left my fulltime job and focused on art full time since.
It’s been a whole lot of crazy ups and downs but I sit in my apartment/studio very grateful at this moment. There is a lot of pressure to perform so I can keep being an adult living off art. Very lucky to be sitting here still doing this right now.
“It’s been a whole lot of crazy ups and downs but I sit in my apartment/studio very grateful at this moment.”
‘WLAA: It’s not always about wine … foxes, cats, birds, dolphins, etc … animals with attitude show up in many of your paintings.
What is it about them that you enjoy painting? What else do you love to paint?
BLW: I just really enjoy animals. I worked in the animal industry prior to focusing on art full time. Everyone anthropomorphized everything. It’s just something I’ll always find funny. People connect with animals on a very deep level.
When I’m not doing this stuff I’m working on stories or abstracts. Something about abstracts is really fun. I know I’m done working on one when it’s staring back at me. I make those when i’m incapable of getting out a coherent thought. They are definitely more therapeutic for me.
WLAA: I’ve seen a couple of those things on your instagram page recently … sweet textures and color explorations that are very different from what folks may know you for.
What other styles do you enjoy? Do you dabble in any other art forms??
BLW: I dabble in everything. I play drums and really enjoy the process of making music. I used to have a clothing company where I’d hand paint and sew up custom hooded sweatshirts. I have quite a few videos on YouTube if you know how to hunt for them. I just enjoy creating.
I’m very into card and board games. I have notebooks full of ideas for just that. I was fortunate enough to work on Blinders with Jason, Christina Wise and Jackson Meyers. It was a dream come true helping create a physical card game.
WLAA: That’s cool. My wife got me the initial kickstarter version of Blinders for Christmas last year. I need more wine geek friends that want to play with me.
What board/card games are you currently into?
BLW: Spoiler alert, I’m a pretty big nerd. There are many that come and go from the rotation like Heroscape, DND modular tile board games (Drizzt in particular) and a countless amount of pickup up quick games like Inn-fighting.
For me, none of these come close to Magic the Gathering. Most people stopped playing before they got to high school. I started playing in elementary school but mainly started in my 30’s. Magic has become an incredible excuse to get friends together, have a couple drinks and BS for a few hours.
I spend most of my time alone in my apartment/studio so I’m grateful for anything that gets me face-to-face with humans. Wine, sadly is not a strong culture in Vermilion, Ohio. Besides my family, no one really shares that world out here.
On another note, I have a very large collection of retro video games/consoles that I’m pretty proud of. Last year, I shipped Jason an Atari with 15 or so games that paired well with his original Ms. Pacman arcade machine. Genuinely, my brother has the original 80’s stand up arcade machine that me and my siblings grew up playing with our dad. It sits right next to him in his editing bay where he works and edits everything. It means the world to us. It still works.
WLAA: What’s the best thing about making a living as and artist? What’s the worst?
BLW: The best thing is people appreciating the things I’ve created and the journey it’s taken me on. The worst thing is this is still a business.
“The best thing is people appreciating the things I’ve created and the journey it’s taken me on.”
WLAA: Who are some of your inspirations? What other artists get you fired up?
BLW: Aubrey Beardsley, Camille Rose Garcia, Yoshitaka Amano, Shel Silverstein, Bill Waterson, Dr. Suess, and Hieronymus Bosch are some of the most influential..
WLAA: Thanks so much for taking the time to share. As an artist myself, I love geeking out on another artist’s creative journey.
Last thing … What are you working on now??
BLW: I’m currently working on a few wine labels and commissions. I have some SOMMTV art being planned out. I have some art shows coming up. My next one will be in Virginia at Stone Tower Winery July 26th.
The Delicacy is a film directed by Jason I have tons of art in which will soon have a release date.
Should be an exciting year.
Ways you can support Brandon’s art:
If you’re in the DC area, don’t miss Brandon’s show at Stone Tower Winery July 26 2019.
Check out Brandon’s website to purchase art directly from this talented artist
Follow the journey and connect with him on Instagram: