From the preface:
“My initial idea wasn’t a coloring book, it was a tattoo I wanted to get of a sign painter friend. From there I had this idea to get traditional style tattoos of all my sign painter friends. First it was Mike Meyer, really just as a joke. Then it got more serious. Norma Jean Maloney. Then who else but John Daly? From there I realized that there were so many people who influenced me that I didn’t have enough room left on my body to fit them all in. At the same time I liked how the drawings stood on their own. Plus I was enjoying drawing them so much that I couldn’t wait to get back to my shop and do more.
I found myself writing down names to keep track of them all.
Along the way I had this other idea: sign painter trading cards. They’d be like the baseball cards I grew up collecting, with names, stats, hometown, how long they’ve been at it. Veteran sign painters, thirty years in the trade or more. There’s plenty of new talent coming in, real talent. More than I’ve ever seen. But let’s not forget who made it through the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, when sign painting wasn’t a thing — before it was cool. Back then, sign painters had little support and had to do all they could just to survive. We are now in luxurious times, when sign painters are recognized as true craftsmen. In this digital age the demand seems higher than ever — certainly more than most of us have ever seen.
So a set of trading cards. How many? I had six drawings. I was busy with projects. It seemed like too big a task. But I kept drawing. Four more, so then I had 10. Then 23 drawings. And the names kept coming. Some you’ve heard of or maybe seen in the sign painter movie, some not. Some were dead, some were ancient. No one would have ever heard of them if not for social media.
To all those sign painters who came before me: you defined the look of the towns where we grew up. You colored the streetscapes with hand-painted signs, billboards, wall signs, and commercial vehicles. You painted the trucks driven by our plumber, the ice cream man, the guy who delivered home heating oil, and our municipal workers. You created the sign at the edge of town that said WELCOME in the most beautiful script we’ve ever seen.
I was lucky to have grown up during that time. In my hometown, Troy, NY, there were hand-painted signs everywhere. That “alphabet” is stuck in my brain: the thick and thin block letter, the script. As I drove around looking at the work, I knew who had done it. There were two guys: John Snyder and John Daly. Snyder was older than Daly. One day as Daly walked home from school, he saw Snyder lettering a window on Hoosick Street. Ten-year-old Daly stood outside the window, amazed at Snyder’s patience and steady hand. Daly became Snyder’s apprentice, coming into his shop after school and at night to second-coat the signs and trucks his master had lettered earlier in the day. Their business relationship and friendship lasted over 50 years.
In 1986 I saw John Daly lettering a window on 5th Street. I stood and watched him, just as he had watched John Snyder decades before. Little did I know that asking him a few questions and listening to his sage answers would set me on a path I would follow for the rest of my life. I’ve enjoyed sign-painting so much that I can’t imagine considering other options. Someone once said to me, ‘You know at some point you’re going to need to cut your hair, put on a suit and find a real job.’ They couldn’t have been more wrong.”