Artist, Vanessa Sorboen has produced a collection of beautiful oil paintings for our rebrand project, which aims to reposition and unify our range. Her ability to capture the landscape of Norfolk and Suffolk and impart that inherent sense of place, was crucial to the project and delivering our vision. 

Vanessa was born in South Africa and moved to Cornwall when she was about five years old. She grew up in Truro, but now lives in Norwich, and has always been drawn to the coast. It feels somewhat fated that a creative team from Adnams was subsequently drawn to Vanessa. Like us, she’s obsessed with this landscape: “I'm on the beach all the time,” she enthused. “Honestly, I don't think I could live anywhere where I wasn't close to the coast.”

“There are a lot of similarities between Norwich and Truro, because they both have cobbled, historic centres, so it didn’t feel like a massive change, plus my grandparents lived in Woodbridge and my husband is from Norfolk", said Vanessa, as she enthused about our region.

We lived abroad for a few years, so I’ve lived in France – firstly Paris and then on the coast close to Biarritz. We’ve always been drawn to the coastal life and coming back to Norwich seemed like a good move." 

I’ve always loved painting. When I was young it was my hobby. My grandpa was an artist – but not particularly well known. He was also an architect, and I can remember when I was little, he would always take me off painting. We’d take a flask of tea and I’d watch him paint. He would try and teach me perspective and stuff like that."

Vanessa took art at A-level and toyed with the idea of going to art school, but then followed a different path. She didn't really pick up a paintbrush again until she took a couple of courses for fun while living in Paris.

“It was always there. I think I've always been interested in painting because I've always been surrounded by it. Cornwall is an absolute mecca for it. Everyone says it's the light. You don't realise it until you go back, and you think oh yeah, it does look different. And that's the thing I really like. I can't go anywhere without looking at light and shadows. It could even be an uninteresting or industrial landscape, but it’s the way the light catches it - that’s what I find fantastic.”

Vanessa was shocked when Adnams design agency CookChick approached her. Her paintings ended up in The Crown Hotel in Southwold though a friend of a friend of somebody who worked for our pubs and hotels. They must have been drawn to those same intangible qualities that made her work feel like a great fit for Adnams. 

 The team from CookChick saw Vanessa’s paintings in The Crown and thought they had a sense of something special. “They phoned me and asked me how I would feel about working with Adnams, if paintings became part of the preferred creative route - and it all sort of spiralled from there. I was shocked and really chuffed as well,” said Vanessa. 

When asked to describe her style, Vanessa admits she isn’t into the detail. I'm actually quite fast for a painter. I like it to be super loose and fluid. I hate getting bogged down, so whenever I look at something, I always try and oversimplify it. I like capturing the moment. My work is generally loose and not remotely pernickety. Sometimes I'll do a painting and I think, honestly, I could leave it like that. 

“My husband likes his beer, and when I moved to Norfolk, I noticed the Adnams artwork, it's got quite a recognisable style. It’s always felt synonymous with region. Bizarrely, I was once outside an art shop in Norwich that had my paintings in it, and I was listening to some members of the public talking about them as they looked in the window. In the end, I introduced myself and they told me I should visit the local Adnams store because of the colours I’d used in the paintings. They felt my style and the colours I had used wouldn’t be out of place in an Adnams store. It’s funny to think that in the past somebody had looked at my paintings and thought that we’d work well together.” 

Working on paintings that would be translated into all manner of product packaging and on-bar promotional material must have felt like a whole other challenge to Vanessa, what with her compositions eventually having to sit alongside graphic elements on bottles and cans. “It was a fascinating experience. Like genuinely… I originally thought they had the wrong person. I remember we talked about the first painting (Southwold Bitter) and how we might tackle it. It was going to be a trial, to see if it was something I enjoyed doing as well as something they thought I could actually do. 

I could talk about it ‘til the cows come home. Just the idea of the challenge in the first place. With every brief there was something to get your head around. But you can do it. It filled me with real excitement, and I’d think I can't wait to have a go at that. Every time we'd have a meeting where they'd show me the concept, I’d be ok - just leave now so I can get stuck in. Every painting I've stepped back from I’ve felt proud of, and I truly enjoyed the process. 

Ghost Ship 0.5% Pale Ale: Otherworldly sunset colours set our ghost ships apart.

In this manifestation the sun glints on the sails, while the shore is still shrouded in darkness.

Ghost Ship Pale Ale: Our ethereal vessel is seen from Walberswick’s shore.

The ship’s enveloped in fog and lit by the moonlight - a sight that is true to the legend.

Broadside: The sky in this scene takes on a fiery glow, while formidable ships fire their cannons.

There’s an added sense of perspective and place, as you can now spy our town in the distance.

Dry Hopped Lager: It’s a hot, sunny day on the beach here in Southwold, when only a lager will do.

The beach huts and sandy Sole Bay scene reflects the brand’s colours in a view that feels fresh.

Mosaic Pale Ale: Dunwich Forest has a mosaic of habitats, as heathland meets forest then beach.

This setting sun moment shows the light through the trees casting geometric shapes on the floor.

Southwold Bitter: We take a step back to take in the view. Southwold Jack remains our guardian,

but he’s no longer far from home. You now find him in situ, standing proud on the brewery wall.