Swede to design limited Bunnahabhain whisky bottle

Mathila Holmqvist's design will appear on 500 bottles, and is inspired by the Fishermen's Mission. Picture: Contributed
Mathila Holmqvist's design will appear on 500 bottles, and is inspired by the Fishermen's Mission. Picture: Contributed
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A NATIONWIDE design contest to create a limited edition malt whisky in aid of a leading fishing industry charity has been won by an artist from Sweden.

Mathilda Holmqvist’s label design - inspired by the work of the Fishermen’s Mission to care for families of those lost or injured at sea - will be featured on 500 bottles of one of Scotland’s leading single malt brands.

The Scotsman helped choose the design of the label for Islay’s Bunnahabhain bottle - the first one to ever be created to help raise funds for the Fishermen’s Misson and raise awareness of one of the world’s most dangerous occupations.

The London-based freelance illustrator, who studied at Goldsmiths and Central St Martins colleges, hails from Skelleftea, a remote rural town close to the Arctic Circle. She said she was inspired to enter the contest - which drew hundreds of entries from both professional and amateur artists and illustrators around the UK - as her father, brother and partner are all huge whisky fans.

The artist, who travelled north to oversee the production of the label at a design studio in Edinburgh, will be a guest of honour at the island distillery when the one-off release is launched there in the spring.

Released to coincide with the start of the perilous winter fishing season, the design for Islay’s Bunnahabhain single malt shows the brand’s iconic “Helmsman” figure, who has featured on its bottle for decades, dragging his boat into the shoreline in front of the distillery, which overlooks the Paps of Jura.

The limited edition bottles are expected to be hugely sought-after by collectors when they go on sale at Islay’s annual whisky festival in May, which attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the world. A proportion of the proceeds from the bottles - which will only be available from the distillery - will be going direct to the charity.

Ms Holmqvist, who has won a £2000 cash prize, said: “I’m fascinated by storytelling and love how images can help convey stories in a more personal way.

“I am interested in the direct relationship that illustration has with the viewer, how an image can offer inspiration, comfort, joy or even an element of surprise and how it communicates an idea in a different way than words alone.

“Drawing and painting were always a big part of my life while I was growing up, as there wasn’t much to do in my hometown and that forced me to be creative.”

Entrants to the competition, which attracted submissions from students at Glasgow School of Art and Edinburgh College of Art, were asked to incorporate a nautical theme inspired by the prospect of the Helmsman returning home to Islay.

Judges included Alison Godfrey, director of fundraising at the Fishermen’s Mission crime author Ann Cleeves, the writer behind the BBC’s Shetland series, Malcolm Stewart, creative director of the Edinburgh-based Tayburn agency, and Zoe Patterson, programme director of graphic design at Edinburgh College of Art.

Ms Holmqvist added: “The Tales of the Sea brief appealed to me, as the objective of the competition was to help support the Fishermen’s Mission carry out their important work. I felt honoured to have had the opportunity to work on a project with such a great cause behind it.

“Growing up in a very rural landscape, it has been rewarding to work on a project that supports a community that works so closely with nature and lives with its changing ways; and the everyday dangers that can come with that.”

Ms Godfrey said: “We are thrilled to be part of this project with Bunnahabhain. Their enthusiasm and commitment to helping promote and support our work has been wonderful.

“The image selected is an exceptional depiction of some of the realities of fishing; being exposed to the elements of the sea and the weather and the physical efforts still involved in being a fisherman are well represented.”

Michelle Lansdowne, senior brand manager at distillers Burn Stewart, the firm which produces Bunnahabhain, said: “The winning design was chosen for its atmospheric representation of the Helmsman returning home to the shelter of Bunnahabhain and the clear message it portrayed of the challenges faced by fishermen. Islay’s link with the fishing industry dates back centuries.”