The Lost Art Of Sign Painting

by | Apr 8, 2013

I had the afternoon off, so I wandered down to the bike shop and set up camp on one of the car seat couches out front. Halfway through my copy of “Carry on, Jeeves” on a sunny afternoon, I was not bored.

But Ryan said, “Hey Shannon, can I give you a job?” So far in my life I’ve never said no to that sort of question. “I think we need a new sign for the shop.”

I looked at the current one. It’s mounted on the roof of the building, a red, yellow and blue announcement of “Recyclistas Bike Shop”, brown and mouldy from ten years of weather. “Sure,” I said. “It’ll be fun.”

There's the sign in the top left corner.

There’s the sign in the top left corner.

Ryan pulled a ladder out of somewhere. I scampered up to the roof to measure the sign, taking a few minutes to appreciate the view, the rusty hulks of antique bikes scattered around, and the plastic laundry basket that was caught in chicken wire around the edge of the roof. “The wind blew it up there,” Ryan called. “Toss it down.”

With measurements in hand, I went off to buy paint and canvas. First I went to Cloverdale Paints. “May I have a 6 by 12 piece of canvas, a pint of red One-Shot and a pint of black One-Shot?” I asked.

One-Shot, for the uninitiated, is the stuff professional sign-painters use for lettering. Ryan thought it would be $13 per can, and gave me $60 for it and the canvas.


One-Shot Paint. Illegal in Canada.

I guess canvas is a pretty crazy thing to ask for at a paint shop. They were startled. “But we can get the paint for you, for sure!”, the young lady assured me.

“Okay, red One-Shot first?” I said.

“Oh, we don’t have One-Shot.” About halfway through her list of every other paint shop in town, I said “Thanks, I’ll figure it out,” and ran for the door.

Industrial Paints and Plastics was the next stop. They had no One-Shot, but were able to sell me a massive white tarp for 12 dollars. Cool. On to Michaels, the craft shop. They had never heard of One-Shot.

I’d been tramping around town on foot for over an hour at this point. Time to toddle back to the bike shop and ask Ryan what the hell is up with this One-Shot stuff.

Ryan was busy. I got on the phone and started calling places. Dulux Paint explained the mystery – “One-Shot isn’t sold in Canada anyone, actually.” What. “Yes, I’m afraid so. There was an environmental concern, and it’s illegal now.” What. “Sorry about that!”

As I sat there stunned, Ryan came in and said, “This is the wrong stuff. You need cotton canvas.”

“Did you know One-Shot is illegal in Canada now?”

Ryan didn’t believe me. He’s seen it in a shop, he swears. Lee, the other mechanic, claimed he saw it at Lordco recently. I called Lordco, and O Miracle! they have it. “Don’t sell any, I’ll be right there!” I say.

I hop on my bike this time. Back to IP&P, get rid of the canvas. On to Lordco for the paint. “Put Rocketships on the bill,” I say smoothly. Yeah, I’m so rad I have an account at Lordco. The total is $42.50. Whoa.

On the way back I pass Dulux, and figure I might as well try them for the canvas.

“Canvas?” the young lady stares at me quizzically.

I need to get a job in a paint shop. I’m the master of staring quizzically, and that seems to be the main qualification.

“OHH you mean drop cloths! Sure, we have those!” She sells me one for $25, now Ryan owes me money.

And finally, 3 hours after the silly adventure began, I’m ready to start painting. And stop, 30 minutes later, because the half a pint of primer that Ryan had left over turns out to be enough for only 2 square feet of canvas. I call Dulux again.

This time I have to give the young lady credit, because she kept the shop open after 5 waiting for me. Quite nice. But I didn’t manage to do any more painting that day.

I guess this is why people always want you to have experience when you apply for jobs. Wasting your time running around town looking for paint isn’t something any boss wants to pay for. But then again, professional sign painters are in short supply. Well. Maybe this week at least I’ll be able to finish the sign, and put that on my resume. Hurrah!


Update: the sign eventually completed on July 5th of the same year.