The artists of the Cedar Coffee Co. exhibit in Two Harbors don't have to worry about mixing up their coffee mug and paint water. That's because Duluth-based artists Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur created their North Shore-inspired watercolor paintings entirely out of coffee.

"We wanted this show to play with the themes of coffee, connection, the North Shore and we always like to add in our own nuggets of fun," Angel said. "So some of them are very straightforward local landmarks or beautiful nature scenes, but done in hues of coffee and featuring a cup pouring into the scene or maybe a hidden gnome."

Angel and Andy started their coffee art business nearly 20 years ago. The couple was dating then, shortly after they graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth, and spent a lot of time at Beaner's Central (now Wussow’s Concert Cafe) in West Duluth.

"They always had revolving art shows and we just admired the art a lot and thought it would be fun to have some of our artwork up," Angel said. "So we checked with Jason Wussow (owner of the cafe) and he said yes, but we don't have an opening for eight months. We decided we needed to come up with something fun in that space of time."

When duo set their sights on using coffee as the medium, they had to go through some trial and error before discovering their technique.

"At first we tried using the beans directly, like sharpening a bean down and using it like charcoal," Andrew said. "It didn't go well."

Artwork by Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur feature well-known Lake Superior landmarks, such as the Breakwall in Two Harbors, with a bit of whimsy and a lot of coffee. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
Artwork by Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur feature well-known Lake Superior landmarks, such as the Breakwall in Two Harbors, with a bit of whimsy and a lot of coffee. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)

Eventually, the pair tried the watercolor approach, brewing the coffee first, then using it to add layers of stain to the canvas. The first project the couple worked on was a sample cat painting to give to the cafe owner as a proof of concept.

"When we told Jason what we were planning, he said, 'Maybe I should see a sample first,'" Angel said. "So we did up this quick random cat painting. It wasn't very good, but apparently good enough to show what we were thinking."

"He took a chance on us," Andrew said. "And we're so glad he did."

The pair worked to create 30 paintings for that initial show. All of them sold within the first two weeks.

"So we were like, 'OK, people like them. Let's keep going,'" Angel said.

Over the past 20 years, the couple have enhanced and refined their techniques. Their paintings have been shown in many various cafes and restaurants around the area and internationally.

"We've done everything from restaurants and coffee shops to shows in museums in Finland. We did live demonstrations at the Birmingham Museum of Art, then in Milan and Greece later that year," Angel said. "One thing that was particularly fun was the time we were flown to Times Square with Starbucks to do live demonstrations for International Coffee Day."

Both Angel and Andrew have painted and worked with various other artistic media since they were children. Andrew grew up in Two Harbors and went to UMD for graphic design. Angel grew up in Gilbert, Minn., and attended UMD for business administration and a focus on marketing. They work separately on their individual paintings, but also collaborate on pieces.

"Sometimes, we'll see something the other won't," Andrew said. "It helps to have someone with fresh eyes for your piece. Someone to add just a couple more strokes to make a piece complete."

The coffee art show at Cedar Coffee Co. will be up until Aug. 31.

The art show at Cedar Coffee Company until August 31 features coffee artwork by Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)
The art show at Cedar Coffee Company until August 31 features coffee artwork by Angel Sarkela-Saur and Andrew Saur. (Teri Cadeau/News-Chronicle)