A close-up look at one of Ian Vandenberg’s pieces of artwork, constructed from beer bottle caps. (Courtesy Ian Vandenberg)

If you tour the Abita Brewing Co. in Covington, LA, there is a piece of art to the right-hand side of the bar that stands out. It’s a pelican, that grand bird, standing in a pool of water looking out toward the horizon. It’s made entirely of bottle caps—1,800 to be exact. It’s the work of local artist Ian Vandenberg, and on a recent visit to the Bayou State, All About Beer Magazine was able to see his work up close and then engage him in a conversation about his stunning art in a nontraditional medium.

A close-up view of Ian Vandenberg’s pelican made from beer bottle caps (Courtesy Ian Vandenberg)

All About Beer: How did you get started working in bottle caps?

Ian Vandenberg: I was actually touring the Abita brewery about four years ago and saw a piece of bottle cap art there. The guy had just laid caps down side-by-side in the shape of the state of Louisiana. I had always collected beer bottle caps and almost exclusively drank Abita beer, so I thought I would give the bottle cap art thing a try. I have always been artistic, although more of a graphic artist by nature. I wanted to do something with my Abita caps and Louisiana-inspired, so I thought about doing a pelican. I started laying out caps and figured overlaying the caps would give the piece more detail, and the only way I could overlap them is to flatten them.

What’s the difference between using flattened and unflattened caps?

The problem, I guess you could say, with overlapping caps is you have to use a lot more than you would if you just put them side-by-side. So that state of Louisiana piece is really large (36 inches by 33 inches) but only has 350 caps. If I overlap caps, like the crawfish for example, that piece is only 24 inches by 24 inches but has about 1,200 caps.

A crawfish made from beer bottle caps (Courtesy of Ian Vandenberg)

Flattening caps sounds exhausting.

At first I just used a hammer to flatten them. I actually flattened all 1,800 caps for the pelican one at a time with a hammer on a metal plate. After that, I bought a small arbor press and was using that to flatten them, but still one at a time. Now I use a modified rolling press with some metal plates I had cut, and can flatten 6-10 at a time. Unused caps are the best, because the edges are already flared out. When I’m working with used caps that were taken off a bottle, I have to use needle-nose pliers to bend the edges out before I can flatten them. Another reason why the pelican took so long. I used mostly used caps that I had to bend the edges out prior to flattening them.

You’re talking about a lot of caps. You can’t possibly be drinking all this beer, so how are you sourcing caps?

I had a collection of caps from the start, but when I realized that I would need much more than that to make the pelican, I was asking friends to collect their Abita caps for me. I was also going around to local bars and restaurants and begging for caps. I remember going to an event that Abita sponsored, and going around to all the bar areas and collecting caps. I left that night with a couple hundred caps, I think. Then I emailed Kathy at Abita and asked if she could give me any caps. She ended up mailing me hundreds of them. She is why I do bottle cap art today and why I love Abita beer the way I do. It’s more than just a good beer. It’s the people that make it.

But I remember the weeks before I finished the pelican, I would run to the store and get beer and specifically get certain brews because I needed that color cap.

A duck made from beer bottle caps (Courtesy Ian Vandenberg)

This is a side project for you right now, but do you hope to go full-time with bottle cap art?

My grand plan would be to one day truly do this for a living. I make some money now with my artwork, but I also work a 9-5 day job. My ultimate goal would be to do my artwork for a living and make enough money and stay busy enough to quit my day job. I’d love to have a small studio one day.

An average piece takes me usually two to three weeks to complete. I can do smaller pieces in just a few days if I need to meet a deadline, while some of my larger pieces that have no set deadline, I have spent a year on a single piece. But normally clients come to me with a set deadline, like a birthday or Christmas, and I get it done in time, as long as it’s within reason.

See more of Vandenberg’s art—Pelican Cap Works—on Facebook or contact him at

John Holl is the editor of All About Beer Magazine. Contact him via Twitter @John_Holl or email.