Botanical Archway & Morning Thoughts; Image source: Decorative Frames and Borders, Dover; Colored Horse Studios pictorial archives

Botanical Archway & Morning Thoughts; Image source: Decorative Frames and Borders, Dover; Colored Horse Studios pictorial archives

As a poet and designer with a background in letterpress printing and book arts, I’ve always had a fondness for the wealth of images to be found in Dover books, of which Colored Horse Studios has a considerable collection in our pictorial archives, both in print and digital forms.

I often see the design studio as a haven for thoughtful design, with references to historical models, especially the Arts and Crafts movement and the Italian Renaissance, both of which seem to be relevant to contemporary California artisans, whether bakers, brewers, designers, winemakers, scholars, or artists. Both Craftsman and Classical typography and imagery have as reference and touchstone a humanist aesthetic, a place that touches the heart.

I have come to design through poetry, and this always sets my work apart from other graphics studios. Not only am I often involved in book projects with texts, but text makes its way into the logos and identities I create. I often think of a visual image with a companion tagline or vision statement. After 25 years as a graphical poet I find that I’m often inspired by images as I write, and have found my most fruitful writing projects to be those that are entwined with compelling imagery. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with many talented photographers and artists as I go about my daily work. You can see some of these associate creative folks on our website


Theresa Whitehill; photograph by Adrienne Simpson 2010

Take one poet trained in typography and history of the book, add amazing beer and some great illustrators, and you would have a distinctive lineup of beer packaging that sets you apart as a craft brewery, which is exactly what North Coast Brewing achieved when they hired graphic designer and poet Theresa Whitehill in 1999 to begin reevaluating their beer packaging.

Whitehill pointed out that while they had terrific illustration for their flagship brews Red Seal Ale (artist Mike Patrick), Scrimshaw (artist J.D. Mayhew), Old No. 38 Stout (artist Mike Patrick), and Blue Star (graphic designer Scott Peterson), the illustration wasn’t being as well utilized as it could be. She proposed a redesign, and the results have grown into a ten-year relationship between the graphic studio and the brewery.

Colored Horse Studios went on to design packaging for new beers developed by Brewmaster Mark Ruedrich, including Brother Thelonious (artist Eduardo Smissen), Old Stock Ale and Le Merle (artist for both of these being Whitehill’s husband and partner, Paulo Ferreira), Cru d’Or and Old Plowshare (organic brews), Black Hart Stout (an exclusive for Trader Joe’s), and their Twentieth Anniversary Ale.

Over the years, North Coast Brewing Company’s patronage of north coast artists on their beer packaging emphasizes a focus on local creative talent. When it came time to redesign the venerable Acme label in 2002, the network of local artists led Whitehill to San Francisco Bay Area illustrator Eric Grbich for an impeccable retro style in keeping with vintage advertising art from Acme Ale’s rich history.

What’s fun about working for North Coast Brewing, according to Whitehill, is how many different products and media she gets to consider in her work, from grand format truck art to tap handles, six-pack carriers, 6 liter bottle neck labels, metal signs, embroidered leather jackets, coasters, enamel pins, and neon. While she’s waiting for the commission to design a baseball uniform or propose some movie titling (two of her dream projects), she’s kept plenty busy on the north coast. In addition to providing artwork for new beer brands, partner Paulo Ferreira’s illustration and sculpting skills are often called on to extrapolate older artwork for new mediums, and to develop the 3D models from which the brewing company’s tap handles are made.

North Coast Brewing COmpany's original Aceme Ale packaging with illustration by Carol Baker

North Coast Brewing Company's original Acme Ale packaging with illustration by Carol Baker

Colored Horse Studio's redesign of the Acme Ale with illustration by Eric Grbich

Colored Horse Studio's redesign of the Acme Ale with illustration by Eric Grbich

For links to the brewing company’s mostly local North Coast creative talent, visit their links page:


To see more of the graphic design of Colored Horse Studios, visit our website at

May you develop an interest in beautiful papers…

Communication Arts regularly features a favorite “Webpick” and the Stags’ Leap website project was their pick for March 18, 2009,

Communication Arts regularly features a favorite “Webpick” and the Stags’ Leap website project was their pick for March 18, 2009,

More About the Project

The Literate Website: Stags’ Leap Winery
A copywriting project by Theresa Whitehill of Colored Horse Studios

Client: Stags’ Leap Winery

Creative & Production Talent
Project Director for Stags’ Leap Winery: Bill Piersol
Project Coordinator for Stags’ Leap Winery: Katie Smithson
Writing & Art Direction: Theresa Whitehill, Colored Horse Studios
Design & Web Production: Fine Design
Photography: Olaf Beckmann, and others
Illustration: watercolors by Dick Cole
Shopping Cart: Inertia Beverage Group

The Challenge/The Goal:
When Stags’ Leap Winery was due for a website redesign in 2007, Bill Piersol envisioned something that would fit the winery’s classic contemporary aesthetic. The original website, designed by Daryl Burch of Freerun Technologies, had been built around the black and white photography of Olaf Beckmann. Piersol went to Beckmann again, but this time challenged him to pursue portraits of the people of Stags’ Leap. From Whitehill at Colored Horse Studios, he described a writing style that would be brief, to the point, and reference the enormous wealth of historical and natural resources for which Whitehill had become a living library over the course of her nearly ten years of writing and developing the Stags’ Leap Estate Book.

The Bonus:
Beckmann’s images and Whitehill’s edited statements from the people of Stags’ Leap ended up becoming a section unto itself that reveals much about the winery’s belief in people as an important aspect of its terroir. Piersol was a pleasure to work with, as always, insisting that we expand beyond our customary styles in satisfying ways. The bonus in this case was the same as the challenge. As archivist, Whitehill also ended up collating the considerable image library of the winery and art directing the design agency, Fine Design, through the web production process.

The Results:
Within six months of the website’s launch, Stags’ Leap Winery’s website wine orders had increased beyond anything that had come from the original site. Wine Club sign-ups had outpaced their projections, and there were nods from wine community scholars indicating that the team had crafted a winery website that stands with the best.

Features & Specifications:
Winery website with secure shopping cart, Flash-animated slideshows introducing each major section, along with a portrait gallery paired with personal statements from the people of Stags’ Leap Winery.


Website Copyright ©2007 Stags’ Leap Winery, All Rights Reserved

The Website

More copywriting projects by Theresa Whitehill

Photographer Olaf Beckmann

Watercolorist Dick Cole


January 25, 2009

When we founded Colored Horse Studios, on Paulo’s birthday in April of 1993, we knew that, as artists, we had something to contribute to commercial design.

As a poet trained in printing technologies—from fifteenth century letterpress to offset lithography and digital web animation—I have often been both writer and designer on projects, bringing a poet’s ability to sense the core of an idea, rendering it in written or graphic form, depending on the context.

My husband and partner, Paulo Ferreira, in addition to his art training and practice, has experience in publishing, theater management, and set design. We tend to think of practical applications for our art. Colored Horse Studios is essentially our own personal masters’ program or laboratory for applied arts, applied poetics.

After fifteen years, this premise has not only worked well for us and our clients, but is beginning to lead us full circle. We are increasingly involved in cultural projects, whether writing and designing an estate book on a winery’s historical legacy, being part of a museum exhibit based on glass plate negatives, or wrapping a scrimshaw illustration around a whale tooth sculpture for a tap handle.

Our lives have always been full of travel, and we take this laboratory with us wherever we go. We have found inspiration for our fleur de equus logo and mission statement in Paulo’s native Portugal, paid homage to the delicate coffee flowers of Kona, slept in the Sylvia Beach Memorial Library upstairs from Shakespeare & Company in Paris, waking to a view of Notre Dame across the Seine.

So this web log serves as a way to document and explore our thoughts on the edge between commercialillustration and fine art, between poetry and copywriting, and the literate letterpress aesthetic that knits all of this together.

– Theresa Whitehill, Colored Horse Studios, 25 January 2009
To see the graphic design portfolio of Colored Horse Studios: