It is a sweltering spring afternoon at the CityBeat Festival of Beers. Nestled between brewery booths pouring libations, a bearded man in a flat-billed cap and sleeveless shirt talks to potential customers perusing his art.
In just a few years artist Rudy Pollorena Jr’s company, Craft Beerd, has become synonymous with San Diego County’s booming brewing industry. Drawing inspiration from the beers and breweries he enjoys, Pollorena has created a diverse line of beer-inspired merchandise, including t-shirts, caps, hoodies, coasters, bottle openers and glassware.
A Hilltop High School graduate, Pollorena attended San Diego State for one year before enrolling at Southwestern College in 1998 to study art and graphic design.
“I never saw myself with any artistic ability,” he said. “Everything I learned was refreshing and fun.”
He spent the next 10 years as a video game developer working out of Atlanta. What he learned at SWC helped him in that career as well, he said.
“I remember collaborating with other people in class when we had team projects,” he said. “I began my career in video games, which was heavy in team-based environments.”
After spending so much time away from San Diego County, Pollorena was looking for a way to get back home.
“There weren’t any game jobs here,” he said, “so I decided to leave the games industry and come back home to do freelance graphic design.”
His big break came after he created “San Diego Beer Matrix,” a poster that named every local brewery in a crossword puzzle-like design.
“I shared that on Facebook to every brewery that was on the matrix,” he said, “and then people started sharing it, then the breweries started sharing it.”
Pollorena launched Craft Beerd in March, 2013, not long after his Beer Matrix design took off. He began to do custom designs for local breweries and eventually created his own line of brew-themed merchandise.
“2015 was the first year I took it seriously as a business,” he said. “The two years prior it was more about having fun and making money off my art.”
With help from his wife, Amy, he said that in 2015 he started focusing more on balancing online sales with working beer festivals to be more efficient.
“Last year we did well because I put more effort than I did in the past,” he said. “We did about 75 trade shows.”
He said his unusual education path was pivotal to his success as an artist.
“Going ‘backwards’ from SDSU to SWC sparked (a) nomadic spirit,” he said. “The freedom to explore and experiment is an aspect I still carry in my current career with Craft Beerd.”
Pollorena draws inspiration from the beer culture in San Diego, visiting the bars and breweries.
“It all starts with beer, the love of beer,” he said. “You feel like everyone’s your friend.”
As for finding a career in the arts, he recommends that SWC artists experiment.
“I never knew I wanted to pursue a career in video games,” he said, “I stumbled on it through curiosity and exploration.”
Going from game design to art and fashion is not a common career transition, but to work as an artist, flexibility is essential.
“I honestly believe there is no set path for any one person,” he said. “It’s up to you to dabble in various interests and something will call to you.”