Small Shop, Big Talent
Rusty and Amanda Gibbs own Gibbs Graphics (Leavenworth, WA), and are competing in the 2020 Sign Invitational, a signmaking contest already underway and with the final judging to be held at Signs of the Times’ booth during April’s 2020 ISA Sign Expo in Orlando, FL.
How did Gibbs Graphics come to pass?
RG: We met in art college. After we each earned a [bachelor of arts] in fine art and graphic design, we moved to my hometown of Leavenworth, WA. We were in our early 20’s and had no real plans other than traveling the world and painting canvases for fun. The local signpainter, who was a family friend, contacted us and asked if we could help him with some signs. He was ready to retire, and so he taught us how to hand-letter. He set us up with paints, layout skills and several of our first jobs. About that same time, a few local artists hired us to help on several murals and ended up teaching us the art of mural painting. Businesses in town soon realized we were talented and reliable, so we formed our business and basically learned on the fly. As we look 16 years back at that early work, it’s hard to say we’re proud of it, but we’re very grateful for the direction it led us.
What has Gibbs Graphics evolved into? Where is the company now?
RG: Now, we’re a small, creative business that does full-branding services for other businesses. We’re focused on one-of-a-kind graphic design and murals. Our main focus is 3D, handmade, custom signs.
AG: We rarely do duplicates of the same job. We started catering to our small town. We’re capable of doing a little bit of everything. Since our town isn’t normal with its demands on signage, you’re almost forced to be creative.
RG: The town has a design and review board that doesn’t allow plastic or vinyl signs.
AG: And no neon or lit signs either.
Are those restrictions good or bad for business?
RG: It’s kind of good for business because it allows us to be more creative.
AG: We generally love it. They also require us to do certain German fonts.
Could you elaborate more on your new Custom Signs 3D venture, and what you’re looking to get out of that?
RG: We are focusing on this side of the business because creative three-dimensional signage is what really gets our juices flowing. There is just something pleasing about mixing wood and metal with HDU – and maybe some laser engraving – all together in one sign. We’ve become good at it because of the rare sign regulations in our town, and now we want to share these types of signs with a larger audience. We recently built a new website (customsigns3d.com) and have started to take orders. Our hope is that we can consistently do these types of signs for people around the country, including wholesaling to other signshops.
For day-to-day tasks, do you separate responsibilities? Or is there crossover between the two of you?
RG: I do most of the project management and design work for signs.
AG: He’s brilliant at company branding and logo designs, and refining the design work.
RG: Amanda does some project management, but she focuses on murals and sign design, and production also.
AG: I like to get my hands messy – painting and 3D work. I’m in the back of the shop most of the time.
Why did you decide to enter the Sign Invitational this year?
AG: Because Dan [Sawatzky] and Jim [Dawson] told us we had to. [Both laugh]. No, they didn’t say that. I think Dan triple-double-dared Rusty. And we thought it would be fun. I highly respect all the guys who entered last year. It gives us an opportunity to hang out and learn from them. It’s a fun, creative project for us. We’re used to doing work for other people, so it’s fun to come up with our own thing.
How would you describe your entry for the contest?
RG: It’s a mix of all types of signs and materials that we use. Wood, metal, HDU, sculpt epoxy. It’s going to showcase all of our talents in one piece.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.