Santa Ana Painters and Businesses Revive the Art of Hand-Lettered Signs

Hand Made / The advent of digital technology, which is cheaper than handcrafted signs, led to the art form’s decline / Edgar Ornelas and Karla Ornelas / el Don

Hand Made / The advent of digital technology, which is cheaper than handcrafted signs, led to the art form’s decline / Edgar Ornelas and Karla Ornelas / el Don

By Itzel Quintana

As you walk around a local shopping center you will notice the hand painted sign that looks like its fading into a brick wall. Or maybe you stop and admire the gold leaf lettering glistening on the windows of the barbershop offering to cut your hair for $20.

As you continue down the shopping center you notice the uniformity of the other stores displaying their advertisements on something that look printed on a birthday tablecloth. With the emergence of digitally printed vinyl letters in the 1980s the demand for hand painted and crafted signs decreased. Stores opted for the efficiency of vinyl lettering, which put many hand lettering businesses out of work, ending many careers.

It wasn’t until recently that the hand painted sign business has made a come back, most notably in Southern California.

Everlasting/ Gold leaf letters have decorated the door of the Custom Auto Service building in Downtown Santa Ana for 20 years./ Itzel Quintana/ el Don

Everlasting/ Gold leaf letters have decorated the door of the Custom Auto Service building in Downtown Santa Ana for 20 years./ Itzel Quintana/ el Don

Usually an artist or company is hired by a business to do their lettering. From there, the artist is referred to neighboring businesses by word of mouth.

That leads to one artist doing the majority of the hand lettering in an area, which is currently the case in Downtown Santa Ana.

One of the few, Revival Sign Painting studios is based in Orange County.

Brady Martinson, the owner, started his business in a studio in Downtown Santa Ana five months ago. Since then, he has done the lettering at businesses such as Crave, The Frida Cinema, Lockout Music Studios and the LGBT Center on 4th.

Occasionally volunteers approach Martinson to help and gain experience through informal apprenticeships.

But he does all the work most of the time, from marketing and meeting with clients to making the signs, it’s been a one man show.

Revival/ The art of lettering won't be lost as long as Brady Martinson has anything to do about it./ Itzel Quintana/ el Don

Revival/ The art of lettering won’t be lost as long as Brady Martinson has anything to do about it./ Itzel Quintana/ el Don

“I do pretty much everything, that’s why it’s tough,” Martinson said. “I could use somebody else.”

With few sign painting shops offering the traditional style of hand lettering Martinson specializes in, he didn’t have much of a choice other than to start his own company.

“There aren’t many options to join companies. There’s a few sign painting shops but most of them use vinyl,” Martinson said.

Martinson hosts workshops at his studio for anyone interested in learning the craft of sign painting. He also plans to sell paint, equipment and signs at the monthly artwalk in Santa Ana.

 

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