The specialty coffee world has something of a love/hate thing going on with takeaway cups, with an estimated 500 billion paper cups produced, then discarded, each year. On the hate front, most takeaway cups are not recyclable, and they should ideally be offered alongside a reusable solution to help minimize waste. But on the pro side, paper cups provide the possibilities for truly wonderful original art and brand expression from coffee companies, and in the right hands, can produce an experience that augments the beauty of the drink inside.

Later this year, our friends and partners at Coffee Supreme will launch a series of takeaway cups featuring an original series of art commissions from the noted Wellington illustrator Kieran Rynhart, a pop artist whose work includes art for Lindt, Forest & Bird, Mount Riley Wines and more, and is currently represented by the Australasian artist agency International Rescue.

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Image via Coffee Supreme

The goal for these takeaway cups, as stated by Coffee Supreme on the project’s website, is “to create something that would not only be beautiful, but would also inform coffee drinkers about the hard work put in by the many hands along the coffee supply chain.” The cups will be available at Coffee Supreme locations in Australia and New Zealand beginning in late November, and are being teased online through the coming weeks. spoke with Kieran Rynhart from Wellington.

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Please give our readers a bit of background on your work as an artist and your portfolio.

Currently I’m an artist, illustrator and animator who resides in the Wellington region of New Zealand. I live in a great little suburb called Petone. It’s an area with all the perqs of city life but also in immediate proximity to the sea and native forest, which is a great thing as nature is one of my major inspirations.

As for making art, it has always been a passion of mine. As soon as there were things that filled me with amazement, joy or wonder, I’ve wanted to try and capture their essence in a picture. The preoccupation with art and its potential for expression and entertainment began at an early age and has lasted right through to now. In no way do I ever see this interest diminishing.

Often my work is focused on portraying emotional states and moods. Capturing reality as we see it is not always my primary objective. Be it happiness, joy, sadness, fear, anger or peace, my aim is to draw the viewer into these ‘places’ through visual art, allowing them to feel and experience these states in a rich and unique way. As for the aesthetics of the images, my work is often noted for its “earthy” and “character” feel.

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The “earthiness” is achieved through a mix of digital and traditional media. I love traditional media as it always allows for lots of textures, imperfections and brilliant accidents. Be it with pencil, ink lines, brush strokes or paper stocks, a viewer can really feel the humanity in those things. Then there’s the digital aspect to the production of the images. Digital is a wonderful thing. It is a great tool as it has allowed me to do much more than I could have ever done before. Of course there’s a danger to digital, in that it can make things too perfect. This can lead to the natural element being lost.

As for the “character” aspect of my work, I think that’s something I haven’t given great thought to. It could be the storytelling, magical or escapist element coming through or the product of growing up in a culture where cartoons are the norm for children. Even now that I’ve grown up, somehow I still find myself drawn to that strange dichotomy which “cartoonish” work offers, that being a mixture of lifelike representation, yet free from the constraints of real life.

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Looking through your sketchbook, it’s clear you’ve got a range of influences—some of the art feels like looking through “Where’s Waldo“, while other work has like an Edward Gorey feel—who are some of your biggest influences?

Well I can’t say “Where’s Waldo”, or the other name we have for it over here, “Where’s Wally”, has been a huge influence. I’ve simply had a few extremely fun projects where the client has requested that look. As for Edward Gorey, I’ve never heard of him but upon review I see some fairly striking similarities (love that texture and pencil work of his too!).

Some of my biggest influences would have to be the atmospheric, moody works of Caspar David Friedrich, the dream like naiveté of Henri Rousseau, the detail of Albrecht Dürer, the explosive creativity of Picasso and the stylisations of the Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Yes those are all fine artists, but don’t worry there’s illustrators in there too. James Jean, I’m pretty much in awe of this guy’s work. Then there’s Tomer Hanuka, another illustrator I venerate highly. The list goes on to other such notable artists/illustrators such as John Tenniel, who did the Alice In Wonderland etchings, as well as Carson Ellis, who did a bunch of wonderful album covers for the Decemberists (love her pencil work!) and Jessie Le Doux, who for a while worked for Sub Pop and through the sheer fun of his work inspired me to be an illustrator in the first place!

There are many more artists I’d love to mention but I will mention that I’m huge fan of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Be they Western European, Byzantine, Coptic or Persian manuscripts. Often the work within these documents is so outlandish, symbolic, stylized, creative, and utterly beautiful that I can’t help being enraptured by it.

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Designing for a series of coffee cups is really different than designing for a book, or for a print ad, because people will carry them around! They’ll get left places, tossed out, given to the baby, filled with God knows what…what’s it like to create “useful art”? Does that affect how you approach it as an artist?

Working on the set of takeaway cups Coffee Supreme commissioned posed a new set enjoyable of possibilities. Unlike a book, where an individual intentionally purchases it to read and view the images, or a poster where the artist tries to catch the attention of the viewer just longer enough to get a point across, I wanted these cups or pieces of “useful art” to be something akin to a “surprise” piece or art; to imbue the utility of a simple item like a takeaway cup with a whole lot of magic! I imagined the customer/viewer buying their coffee to go, maybe on a work day and being given an extra visual treat to go as well. I aimed to produce something visually enjoyable and engaging which would help break up the monotony of an otherwise very ordinary day. To achieve this, I emphasised the “fun” aspect of the design by simply using bright dynamic colours and applying a little bit of humour, which hopefully would put a smile on the face of whoever may care to have a closer look. Maybe it will end up in the bin (trash), be used for a plethora of practical uses or even be taken home and kept? The goal for this little piece of “useful/surprise art” would have been achieved, if a little bit of extra joy (other than the joy of coffee) was brought to the day of the viewer.

The vignettes on these cups each tell a short story—in a way the art is being kind of serialized. Have you worked in that format before? How does that inform the individual pieces?

This was a new format for me. I’ve worked on children’s literature/publications before, where several key moments in the story needed to be emphasised visually but this was unique; in that I had to tell a rather extensive “story” purely through visuals and to do it in several stages too.

In this case, the narrative was to show the whole process of coffee making and an awful lot goes into getting those beans and delivering it to the café. So the first thing we did was to identify the key stages and aspects of the coffee production process. As I have already mentioned, there’s a lot to communicate, so we broke the visuals up into six pieces/six cups. The majority of the takeaway cups tell the story of coffee production in its required sequence. This takes the viewer on an easy and progressive visual journey through the whole process. Each cup/piece displays these key points; growing in country of origin, drying, hulling and grading the bean, shipping, roasting and then the café. An extra cup is devoted to some of the notable characters within the pieces, simply to place a little bit of emphasis and give a nod to those treasured folk behind the scenes.

Much like creating a very tasty meal and hiding some healthy spinach in the mix, hopefully the viewer can take in all the fun of the images whilst also being informed about the fascinating process which delivers them the elixir of life: that thing commonly known as “coffee”.

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Are you a coffee fan yourself? Does coffee help your working process? Where do you like to drink coffee around town?

Coffee is a very important drink in my life. Love the stuff. When it comes to the working process, taking a coffee break (preferably in the sun) with my notebook, allows a time for any good ideas I may have to pleasantly pop up. Coffee is also one of those daily pleasures I can’t do without in a work day. It’s often a reward for a prolonged time of focus or “hard work”. I’ll regularly tell myself “great progress man! Go have a coffee!” The problem is I end up drinking coffee all hours of the day.

There are some great local cafes near where I live in Petone. A very notable mention is Go Bang and Ripe Roasters. In central Wellington, I’m a fan of going to Midnight Expresso. It’s essentially a café that’s open all hours of the night, and you’ll find great coffee there (Havana Coffee Works) and a very unique atmosphere. And last but certainly not least is Coffee Supreme. Their cafe in Wellington is called Customs Brew Bar , and they do a range of speciality coffee there. It’s a great space to visit during the day. While frequenting there, I’ve been given a little bit of an education, or at least an introduction, to all the different factors that influence flavours in coffee. This cafe is highly recommended!

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Enjoy more work from Kieran Rynhart here. 

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