Even in an age of emoji, when people revel in communicating online using a shared set of colorful icons, it makes sense that there are still those who are able to eke out a living painting signs for businesses by hand. What is more surprising is that many people do—all over the country, from Utah to New York. Indeed, an art form that seemed moribund as big-box stores and chain restaurants multiplied is relevant again, and lucrative. And although much has changed about the enterprise itself, the essentials remain largely the same.
“People want [their small businesses] to be individual, to stand out,” explains Jeffrey Sincich of J&S Signs. He and his partner Josh Stover, both originally from Florida, now run their business out of Portland, Oregon. “There’s a boom right now. Hand-painted is popular,” he says. A hand-painted sign suggests that a store has a personality, that its products aren’t mainstream or mass-produced.
Appropriately, the pricing structure for signs can be as variable as the signs themselves. Some artists charge by the project and others by the hour, and one sign can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars. An industry pricing guide helps set and maintain baseline standards.
Most small businesses turn to local artists, since work often has to be done on-site and sending large or delicate items through the mail can be dicey. Still, “there are tons of communities that could support this,” says the visual artist Stephen Smolinski, who is encouraged by the success he and his compatriots have found in Goshen, Indiana, and who is segueing from making signs part-time to full-time. “Lots of creatives starting businesses look to other creatives,” he says.