From coloring books to ArtPrize

GVL / Marissa Dillon
Sean Hamilton

GVL / Marissa Dillon Sean Hamilton

Shelby Pendowski

For each family vacation, Sean Hamilton’s mom would load up on a vast amount of crayons and coloring books to allow for Hamilton’s creativity to disembark on its own adventure. At five years old, coloring was a form of entertainment for Hamilton.

“I have been doing art since I can remember,” Hamilton said.

Now as an illustration major at Grand Valley State University, his journey takes a turn for the better as he displays his work during ArtPrize for the first time.

His piece entitled “Clean Water, Great Beer,” will pose proudly on the walls of the Grand Rapids Brewing Company located on the corner of Fulton Street and Ionia Street. The beer-inspired piece will fit perfectly in Beer City U.S.A. and one of the popular local breweries, he said.

“I love going to breweries and Grand Rapids being the Beer City U.S.A., but I don’t think people know how important clean water is to good beer,” Hamilton said.

The 7-by-5-foot oil painting weaves together mugs of beer and a growler with crisp colors to depict the importance fresh water has on a succulent brew.

“With the Great Lakes around us…not a lot of people know that fresh water is a scarce thing,” Hamilton said.

Originally the piece served as Hamilton’s final in one of his courses at GVSU. Unlike many of his classmates, he decided to take on the challenge of a larger piece inspired by his love for beer and a cause he believes in.

As a first time ArtPrize artist, Hamilton concluded that, “the process of getting into ArtPrize is unique.” And his process of getting into the competition goes beyond that of a typical artist.

Just 30 minutes after filling out the necessary paperwork and submitting his entry, his painting was swept away – literally. Instead of leaving the painting to reside at GVSU during the summer, with the help of a friend, he decided to transport it home. The large painting was strapped down in the bed of truck, but the ride home became much more eventful then expected as the canvas broke free taking to the sky.

“We were bringing it home and this big gust of wind just took it and ripped it out of the back of the truck,” Hamilton said. “It broke the entire stretcher and everything attached to it was flying in the air… I was freaking out. The whole painting was faced down on the cement. I flipped it over and you could barely tell. There were a few scratches. I thought about fixing it up but I think it goes with the story.”

Art is about interpretation. Those without this back-story may believe the scuffs and scratches imprinted by Hamilton’s vehicle were deliberately rendered into the painting, but those marks to Hamilton are just a reminder of the hard work it took to get this point in his career.

After 110 hours of work, a restretching, framing and a slight touch up from the accident, the painting will take its place at the brewing company beginning the second week of September. It’ll remain, alongside three other non-ArtPrize pieces by Hamilton, on the wall until mid-October.

Similar to many of the artists, Hamilton plans on being with his piece during the competition to hear feedback from the countless art enthusiasts that flock to the city, and to give his own interpretation of his work. The opportunity presented through ArtPrize is one that Hamilton most looks forward to.

ArtPrize officially begins on Sept. 24 and continues until Oct. 12. The international competition will feature over 1,500 artists at 174 different venues in Grand Rapids.

For more information on ArtPrize, visit