Matt Erickson has mastered the basic rule of K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple Stupid. At just 27 years old, the graphic designer and artist has honed a refreshingly sparse style—one that can be seen everywhere from labels on Jack Daniels bottles to bags of Caribou Coffee to the mural inside the Uptown Minneapolis Target store.
Erickson’s penchant for clean, eye-catching design all began with a passion for drawing in his youth. “I actually started writing graffiti when I was younger, and that got me into letters and typography and mural work. So I started doing murals for my friends and having their parents pay me a little bit to do their rooms, things like that,” he says. “That turned into some commercial work, and that got me into more mural stuff. Then I taught myself traditional sign painting, and it just escalated from there.”
Growing up, Erickson’s dad maintained a collection of classic beer cans and ads—a hobby that influenced the young artist and fueled his affinity for the bold nature of brewery and distillery branding. His clients now include Leinenkugel’s and Fair State Brewing Cooperative, as well as distilleries like Pendleton and John Barr Whisky. “I guess you could say I never really stood a chance,” he says. “I’ve been around it my whole life; it was natural to gravitate toward it a little bit. That’s kind of what also helped me get into design as well.”
Though he creates some art independently to sell at events like ARTCRANK, Erickson says many of his doodles find their way into his work. He’s built an impressive resume of clients who are drawn to his designs, but it’s in marrying his distinctive style with the unique identity of each brand where he truly excels.
“It’s kind of about finding what the exact, central idea of what a brand is, or what the ask is, and being able to capture that idea and the feeling of that idea as simply as possible,” he explains. “It just takes a lot of listening to begin with, and learning about what the client needs, and exactly what that feeling needs to be. And that’s an intuitive thing as much as a strategy thing, so once that’s captured I just have to be able to visually capture that. If it’s the right feeling, they will know it without even [really] knowing it.”
His focus on clean design is what’s most striking about his work—an element he credits to the nature of graffiti and mural painting. “A lot of my work is graphic and simplistic,” Erickson says. “I think the graphic nature or the boldness might come from writing graffiti, because that’s kind of as bold as you can get, and then you have to work your way back.”
Erickson’s most logistically ambitious work to date has been the Uptown Target mural, which took him and several fellow sign painters a few hundred hours to complete. Even so, he says he’s looking forward to completing more large-scale projects like that in the future, as well as continuing to break into the
beverage industry with cutting-edge brand and package design. Currently, he has an ongoing freelance project with 56 Brewing to reimagine their branding and packaging.
Whether it’s the label on the side of a can or a 20-by-100-foot wall, Erickson’s aim is to make a meaningful impact, if only for a moment.
“If you can do something differently than everybody else does, and it’s attached to some meaning that drives what the work is about, I think that’s the strongest stuff,” he says. “Doing something different just to be different maybe isn’t the right approach, but I think something that can make an impact, specifically a product or a package, or even an illustration—if they’re walking by and they get a second to really capture it and have a thought in their mind about it—that moment just makes the biggest difference.”
Name: Matt Erickson
Currently Resides: Northeast Minneapolis, MN
Medium: Digital, drawing, mural