A New Hue
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit New York City on a handful of occasions, and I recently spent a weekend there visiting family. Thanks to some airline difficulties my brother experienced exiting Chicago, I wound up with an entire morning in Manhattan to myself. I’ve checked off most of the popular tourist attractions over the years – Statute of Liberty/Ellis Island, Time Square, a Yankees game, etc. – but I’d never possessed enough time to simply walk about and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells (yes, some sections emit better odors than others) of the city. And since I’ve been working for a magazine that covers signage and graphics for over 18 months now, my senses are tuned to spot stimulating signs.
Naturally, the largest city in America featured signs of all shapes and sizes, but my main takeaways were the skill and artistry of the painted signs appearing everywhere – on storefronts, sides of buildings, sidewalks, vehicles and more. Those visuals served as a charming reminder that the more things change, the more they quite often stay the same – like delays in air travel.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Life is full of chance encounters, but Adam McNeil’s injection into the world of signpainting was particularly random. McNeil was browsing the paint aisle at a home improvement store when a Caribbean restaurant owner solicited his opinion on the best color to paint her restaurant. McNeil thought teal would be an appropriate choice, and then followed up his suggestion with an offer: Did she, by chance, need someone to paint her restaurant? “She said no, so I said, ‘What about a sign – or something like that?’” McNeil recalled. “She said yes, and I said to myself, ‘Now I have to become a signpainter.’”
In McNeil’s words, his first few painted signs were “not very satisfactory,” but he kept working and improving; the Minnesota native credited Minneapolis-based sign painters Phil Vandervaart and Forrest Wozniak for providing bits of advice here and there to aid his progression. After three years painting under “Signs for Dimes,” McNeil ditched that moniker. “It implied that I have cheap work all the time,” he said, and the Atlanta transplant founded McNeil Signs in 2013.
McNeil enjoys his newfound balance between corporate clients (such as Chick-fil-A and the Atlanta Hawks) and local Atlanta businesses like Woody’s CheeseSteaks (where he met and talked signs with OutKast’s André 3000) and rapper/activist Killer Mike’s Graffiti’s SWAG barbershop. “The corporate clients can be dream jobs; you get large-scale and consistent work,” McNeil said. “At the same time, helping the local Atlanta businesses is nice for staying in touch with the community.”
One of McNeil’s recent projects was painting a repurposed Serro Scotty trailer for the Atlanta Braves that the club took to various non-major league cities in the Braves’ footprint. McNeil used a pounce pattern to map out his work, mixing white and blue chalk when applying the pattern, a sequence he generally employs for light surfaces and/or painting with colors other than white. The paint of choice was a custom-colored 1 Shot enamel (to match the Braves’ navy blue and red colors), mixed with a small amount of boiled linseed oil. “I would add a drop or two of boiled linseed oil every 15-20 minutes to keep the paint an ideal consistency with the high heat that day,” McNeil said. The Braves were pleased with the final product, and via social media McNeil noticed that Braves fans were taking pictures with the van. “It was a dream client to work for,” he said.
BRUSHING UP TO BOSTON
Providence Painted Signs (Providence, RI) is establishing itself as a specialist in signpainting, whether it be on glass, vehicles or the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Launched in 2012, Providence’s burgeoning profile helped it land a job painting the exterior of the new Studio Allston hotel in Boston. “This [job] actually came through another sign company,” said founder/owner Shawn Gilheeney. “We’ve been getting work from larger sign companies in the Boston area because they can’t do what we do, so they recommend us.”
Situated in Allston, a Boston neighborhood named after Washington Allston, a 19th century painter and poet, Studio Allston required an intense transformation from its previous life as a past-its-prime Days Inn. Boston-area creative agency Proportion Design was tasked with generating the aesthetic vision for the arts-minded Studio Allston, wanting to reflect “the creative spirit of Boston’s offbeat Allston neighborhood,” per Proportion’s website.
After combining Proportion Design’s elevation measurements with their own dimensions, Providence set to work, using Nova Color Artists Acrylic Paint applied with a mix of rollers and ALLPRO brushes. “They get really sharp lines on really rough surfaces and work great for lettering,” Gilheeney said of the brushes. Providence used neon nylon mason twine and sheet-rock screws to pull 100-ft. straight lines across the building. The massive black lines were painted using lining sticks provided by recently retired billboard and mural painter Johan Bjurman. “They have a bevel on them, so paint doesn’t collect on the underside when you drag your brush along them to get straight lines quickly,” Gilheeney said.
Proportion Design praised Gilheeney & Co. for their experience and professionalism. “Providence Painted Signs has been an excellent partner with us on this project and others at this scale, given their portfolio, ability to handle large-scale situations, and above all, their attention to artistic detail in the execution,” said Blake Goodwin, president of Proportion Design. Providence is balancing larger, more corporate projects that fetch consistent income with the smaller passion-projects that push signpainting as a craft. Gilheeney operates Providence Painted Signs with Greg Pennisten, the company’s other full-time employee. After a long journey that included stops in art school and in Seattle learning signpainting techniques, Gilheeney believes Providence is gaining positive momentum. “We’re starting to build up clients, and that takes some time,” Gilheeney said.
LONE STAR GIANT
Located in a state that makes no bones about its enormity, Signco America (Houston) bills itself as “the largest fabricator of custom signage, architectural elements and large-format graphics in the Southwest.” And for their recent project for Generator Supercenter in Tomball, TX, Signco America backed up its talk by designing, fabricating, installing and painting a 50-ft. monument sign.
Generator Supercenter contacted Signco America after observing similar sign structures they had erected alongside state Route 49. “They wanted to do something taller than those other signs,” said Tony Eoff, senior account executive for Signco America. According to Eoff, Signco America had to permit Generator Supercenter’s sign as an unoccupied building in order to reach a height of 50 ft. (That may not sound like much of a highpoint, but Houston is a very flat city; the downtown area is only about 50 ft. above sea level.) Ladders were installed inside the sign structure for service purposes, and, naturally, the “sign building” had to meet fire code, which did not require a sprinkler system but did necessitate an exit door and a fire extinguisher.
Because the structure is so large, Signco America dug 24 ft. into the ground to ensure the sign was properly supported. Prior to painting the structure, they sanded the aluminum to remove scratches and other imperfections. After cleaning the sign, Signco America applied a coat of Matthews Paint primer to the outside and Star brite on the inside. The sign was sanded again with 600-grit sandpaper, wiped down with a tack cloth, and then the final coat of paint was sprayed on. Signco America used Matthews Paint; the orange a custom mix, and the silver colors were 18128 Saab Silver Metallic and 18084 Palladium Silver Metallic. “We try to maintain a 2.5-3.5 mil thickness on the paint,” said John Graff, Signco America vice president of operations.
A 10 x 18-ft. Watchfire Signs electronic message center was the last piece of the puzzle. “Generac,” which is a national line of generators, appears atop the sign because Generator Supercenter is the largest distributor for Generac. Eoff said Generator Supercenter had been yearning for a different kind of sign, something “that would pop.” “Not a lot of sign companies in Houston have the capability to build a sign like this,” Eoff said. A Texas-sized example of well-executed design, construction and a savvy choice in paint color.
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