The Event

Photo Credit - Joanna Dawson

40 years ago a group of sign painters in the United States formed a little group to share some their tricks-of-the-trade, paint together, and of course have a little fun. Since then, the meets have grown from a handful of painters to hundreds. The marked difference at this year's event was the prevalence of a younger generation in their 20's & 30's making up the biggest chunk of attendees to date - and boy were we in our glory! What could be better than a bunch of eager artists just starting out, getting to work shoulder-to-shoulder with old pros who were happy and willing to share their knowledge and love of the trade? A short-lived slice of heaven is the best way I could describe it.

The Museum

I had the pleasure of meeting so many painters - some like me who are rather new to the trade and others who have been painting for 40 or 50 years. This year's event couldn't have been hosted at a more appropriate venue - The American Sign Museum. The museum alone would have been worth the trip. Jam packed with signs from all eras - neons, to mechanical moving signs, to gilded glass. The eye candy was overwhelming!

The People

There was a particular uncanny feeling of walking through this "hall-of-fame" sporting the work of American sign painting legends while walking among many of the painters themselves. I did manage to have a few embarrassing encounters with lettering legends I've looked up to since I started and whose work I've studied. I was happy to later find out that I wasn't the only one who became tongue tied and a little stupid when getting to meet my heroes face-to-face. The best part about meeting these people is you find out how genuine and down to earth they all are. And they sure know how to have a good time!

Joanna was nice enough to lend me a number of her photos she took over the weekend so I'd like to thank her. She does commission glass work and is based in the Los Angeles area:

The Classes

Although I wanted to take every class offered at this year's event, I chose to take the 2 day workshop with Bill Hueg and Anna Weber on pictorial painting. Bill was a billboard painter for the most part and painted many large-scale pictorial pieces and murals. It was great going back to where I started myself- realistic painting - which I hadn't touched since art school. Listening to Bill and watching him paint reminded me of all the good things I liked about pictorial painting and renewed my interest in getting back into it once I got back home. We painted a monochromatic and colour version of the same still life, working off his paintings which he did from life. What I was really interested in was hearing Bill describe the difference that scale makes in your approach to a pictorial painting. You have to be a lot more methodical on the wall - you can skip all around a small painting, but if you're working at wall scale, you can't be skipping all over the place. Most anyone can become a good painter, but equally important is becoming efficient at it.

Mural Projects

Over the course of the weekend, six murals were painted around the American Sign Museum. The design and organization for each mural was led by certain individuals in the planning and design stages. During the event, teams organized to help execute the painting and see the murals to completion. I got up on the scaffold myself and roughed in a hub cap which was later perfected by Alton Gillespie (in other words, completely covered over. Thanks Alton. In years to come I'll be the crazy old lady bragging about her buried hubcap on that mural from way-back-when.) Each mural was designed based on something related to Cincinnati and captured a part of the city's history. It was a gruelling task and the level of detail and craftsmanship on the murals was really astounding to see it all completed in only 4 days. The best sight was Bill Riedel, nearly 90 years old, sitting in a chair 8 feet up on scaffolding, mahlstick in hand, painting in the numbers on a radio dial. A close second was watching Bill Hueg paint his 20 foot tall baseball player alter-ego with matching moustache.

Pinstripers & Panel Jams

If I were to list the areas of painting I'd like to work on this coming year, pinstriping would be up there next to improving my pictorial work and learning to paint Roman Capitals. I had previously thought pinstriping was two things: 1. painting straight lines, which didn't seem too interesting 2. ornamental zig-zags on the hoods of cars which I wasn't really that into either. Turns out that as I was dismissing it as something I really didn't have a use to learn, I found all sorts of occasions where I wished I knew how to pull a long, smooth and steady line - outlines on large letters, borders on signs, skinny highlights, and my new personal favourite - skinny, bouncy script lettering. Spending some time with the pinstripers was a really eye-opening experience which made me realize it was all about how to pull a brush with control - beyond that, you could apply it to so much more than vehicles! At the back of the museum, locals pulled up their hotrods for the stripers to work on when they found out these guys were going to be in town. I had the pleasure of watching over Alan Johnson's shoulder as he worked on one. I got to also meet DeWayne Connot and Darrell Roberts - both really great gentlemen who were nice enough to give myself and Joanna pretty much a full seminar and demo on the basics of striping and brush handling while we were wandering around.

The Sights Around Cincinnati

Cincinnati was an interesting city - pretty much bordering the northern border of Kentucky so for a city in Ohio, has a lot of southern influence. What I've figured out though, is that everywhere I travel in the states, most everyone is originally from Chicago - either a true statistic, or just some strange twist of fate. In lieu of the traditional sightseeing, I did a tour of downtown. Every trip I make to the States I marvel at the amount of old architecture they have standing. What was particularly striking about Cincinnati was the amount of Victorian-style buildings - beautifully ornate houses as well as tall skinny commercial shops. The most interesting part of my self-guided tour was the Over-The-Rhine area just north of downtown where many city blocks of abandoned and low-income housing were in the midst of being transformed into a trendy district of shops, markets, and condos. I managed to get some shots of the old apartment blocks soon to be gutted. I also took some shots over by the Ohio River, which was massive, some Art Deco era skyscrapers downtown and of course, a few signs and murals.