Makers of Tomorrow: Jennifer Konanz

Konanz is a graphic designer-turned signpainter inspired and educated by the old guard.
Makers of Tomorrow: Jennifer Konanz. Photo by Matthew Anhalt.

Jennifer Konanz

Age: 31

Job: Owner, Konanz & Co. (Calgary, AB, Canada)

After work: Konanz lives near the Rocky Mountains, so she enjoys visiting the hot springs as well as canoeing on nearby lakes.

Quote to know: “It’s tactile; it’s a thing. It’s not just digital and exists on a screen. That was probably the biggest attraction.” – Konanz on signpainting

Increasingly weary of her career in graphic design, Jennifer Konanz caught on with an acquaintance in Calgary who was painting old signs for movie sets. “That’s how I found out signpainting was a thing,” she said. “Once I got into gold leaf and doing reverse-glass signs – I was already into it, and that was the cherry on top. I was like, ‘This is next-level stuff.’” Konanz had been reading books to teach herself signpainting, but an inflection point occurred when she attended a gilding workshop in Boise, ID, two years ago. There, Noel Weber of Classic Design Studio (Boise, ID) and Dave Smith of Torquay, England, a pair of industry legends, imparted their decades of experience to attendees. “We learned all these techniques and things I didn’t know existed. Acid etching. Glue chipping. Mother of pearl stuff. Blending the paints,” said Konanz, who has also attended two Letterhead events and traveled to her first Walldogs meet in 2017.

Konanz & Co. started in late 2013 with its namesake leaning on her digital background. Now, it’s 80-90% painting, with Konanz still doing print work for longtime clients. “The focus has totally changed to anything painted,” she said. “I’ll do logos, but only if people want it to start with hand lettering or have that painted look.” Operating mainly in Calgary and Western Canada, Konanz completes work for small businesses (such as antique shops and framing stores) and large corporations like Telus (a Canadian telecommunications company) and Rogers Place (the home of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers).

Konanz has advocated for the protection of painted signs under Edmonton’s permitting process. “If a person buys a building with a ghost sign on it, they don’t need to check with the city before deciding to paint over it,” she said. “Right now [Edmonton] is documenting the signs and we’re waiting to hear if they want to go about trying to restore or preserve some of them.” Pro-preservation action would see Konanz possibly acquire more work, but she’s also simply a fan of bygone objects, cars, museums and history in general. “[Old signpainters] were really cool people and to see how they worked through the’70s, ’80s and ’90s when this was sort of dwindling … that was really inspiring to see people who have stuck with it because they felt it was important,” Konanz said. “That left an impact on me, too.”

Signs of the Times September 2020

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