Katie Mansfield was pacing in her Salt Lake City apartment one recent Wednesday morning, waiting for an announcement — but when it arrived, via Instagram, she couldn’t look at it.
“I was like, ‘I can’t look!’” she said. “I made my partner look at it, and he was like, ‘Yeah. You made it!’ That’s how it went down,” she said with a laugh.
That’s how Mansfield, an artist whose style is influenced by vintage comic books and whose themes run toward powerful women, found out her work would be on display in an unusual place: On cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
In late February, Mansfield’s work was chosen as one of 10 winners of the beer label’s 10th annual Art Can Contest. Some 7,000 artists from 120 countries entered this year’s contest; the field was narrowed to 25 finalists, from which online voters picked the 10 winners.
For her efforts, Mansfield will receive $10,000 from the company, and the 10 finalists’ art will be printed on 140 million cans of Pabst, which will hit store shelves this fall.
Mansfield said she decided to enter the contest last fall, in part because she liked the work of one of last year’s winners, Boise, Idaho, artist Ashley Dreyfus.
Mansfield said she had an idea in mind for her submission: A woman kissing her date, with a thought bubble floating above her head showing her true dream of planting a big smacker on a can of beer.
“I tried different poses, maybe. Just to get the composition down,” Mansfield said. “But that was the idea I wanted to do, and I wanted to make that one work. I feel like it’s a situation a lot of people could relate to at some point or another, where they’ve felt like they wanted to be kissing a PBR can instead of whoever they’re kissing. I just thought it was a funny thing that anyone could relate to.”
Mansfield realized her idea in her signature style, inspired by vintage comics and horror movies. She’s a huge fan of EC Comics, the publishing house from the 1940s and ‘50s that published such titles as “Tales From the Crypt,” “Moon Girl” and “Two-Fisted Tales.”
Her art for Pabst is an example of how Mansfield slyly inverts the often-sexist style of old comics to feminist ends, with a big dose of humor.
When Mansfield’s submitted her work, she said, “I was trying to be very calm about the whole thing.” She told herself she had fun doing it, that it was a great experience, and was just trying to “play it cool and see what happened.”
Voting for the 25 finalists was held for a week in mid-February. The days after the voting, she said, were excruciating.
“That was the scariest part, after the voting closed, because there was nothing more you could do. You just had to wait,” she said.
After her win was announced, Mansfield was flooded with congratulatory notes on Instagram, which she had to turn off for a bit because it was so overwhelming.
“It’s really amazing. I’m really thankful for all the people who voted and supported me on this little journey,” she said.
Now that the agony of waiting for the Pabst results has turned into jubilation, Mansfield is re-focused on her art and apparel company, Tragic Girls, which she started in 2017. At the time, she was working as a video editor, but when she was laid off the following year, she dove into her artwork.
“I decided to really make it a thing, and try to make it work, and so far it has worked,” she said.
Mansfield said she likes drawing “powerful women, with a little bit of evil thrown in there, because I have fun doing that kind of stuff.”
With Tragic Girls, she also wanted to promote social equality and positive mental health, making images that “explore mental health in a relatable way, so people don’t feel alone,” she said. “But I try to make them funny and quirky at the same time.”
One image, titled “Emotionally Drained,” features a woman made of water, flowing out of a tap and literally circling a drain. Another depicts a woman with her head in the clouds — very dark and stormy ones — and is captioned “Debbie Downer.”
Mansfield said she is constantly drawing; the world is her art studio, and she’s always making new work and thinking of new things to make. Her newest project is jewelry design. Last week, she launched three sets of acrylic earrings on Instagram, all featuring her poppy comic-book aesthetic and offbeat humor.
“One is little trash cans on fire,” Mansfield said. “There’s also little space guns, little chainsaws… fun things.”