Profile: Jeff Wisdom
By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2015
1100 sq. ft.
I began my career in the sign industry in 1987 as an apprentice/assistant at LA Signs and Graphics, under the tutelage of John Studden. I lived in Venice, California, at the time and was in search of a new job opportunity. John’s shop was a classic sign shop—filled with panel projects and exceptional glass projects created by John, many on easels that lined walls of the shop.
I remember the scent of paints, glues and wood. I was intrigued by this new world, and I observed and learned as much as I could—basic layout skills, working with various sign materials and, most importantly, John’s techniques in sign production.
In 1992, after marrying my wife, Julie, I decided to relocate to the little town of Talent, Oregon. My experience with LA Signs paid off, and I was hired to help launch two new sign companies over the next two years. In the process I made the acquaintance of Tom Towler. Tom had a history of working with Pepsi in the early days, hand lettering and producing artwork for Pepsi and ICEE. He did banners for the Professional Rodeo Circuit Association and I helped him.
Setting up shop
Not long after, Tom asked me what it would take to set up my own equipment so that I could continue providing vinyl lettering for PRCA banners. I figured out the needed equipment and materials— computer, software, plotter, vinyl, mask and office equipment. The total came to $8,000. Tom offered to purchase everything I needed to get started in trade for labor. In January 1995, Wisdom Signs was born.
By June of that year, I had paid off Tom in full and had developed enough clients to work full-time from home. We set up the office in an extra bedroom, and had a two-bay garage shop and small shed for a table saw and materials.
In 1996, I had the chance to attend a sign industry conference in Long Beach. Taking workshops in airbrush, gilding, sign layout and vehicle graphics was extremely helpful. While in Los Angeles, I drove over to Rick Glawson’s shop to meet him and see his amazing work.
Custom dimensional work
Meeting Rick and gleaning ideas and inspiration from SignCraft helped me formulate a new direction for my company. With all of the quick service vinyl sign shops out there, I wanted to focus more on longevity and creativity. I also wanted to move into custom dimensional work and build monument signs.
Fox Run Farm was my very first attempt at a hand carved and gilded lettering sign project. With each new project inquiry I offered clients the option of dimensional signage. My ability and reputation began to grow, and I was soon creating more and more custom signs.
Learning from other sign masters has helped me tremendously. SignCraft regular Dan Sawatzky has been extremely encouraging and helpful. I have gleaned countless valuable business and sign techniques from other SignCraft contributors, too.
One day I returned to a monument sign project I was working on, and I found a note attached to the sign: “Nice work, call me: Vance Galliher.” I gave Vance a call and soon met Vance at his home shop—filled with beautiful glass projects and the great smells and feel of an “old school” sign shop. He is both a mentor and friend.
Starting over again
In October of 2003, Julie and I moved to my hometown of Eugene-Springfield. Starting Oregon Signworks from scratch was challenging. It took two years to gain enough clients to be self-employed once again.
During this time, the most worthwhile investment was website development and search engine optimization. Oregon Signworks gained nationwide recognition for clients seeking custom dimensional signs. Molly’s Pub in Pennsylvania [see page 59] was one such project.
Locally, Oregon Gardens contacted me in 2008 with a massive sign project in Silverton that included an 85-ft.-wide log structure, custom stone pillars, custom lights and a double-sided entry sign below for the resort. This project continues to bring in attention and clientele.
We purchased a 1928 Craftsman Bungalow home, moved in and spent two years in renovations, designing the ground level basement around the sign business, front office, workshop and two-bay garage shop.
Since I have always had a home-based business, our kids, Jill, 19 and Asa, 13, have the opportunity to help out. Jill works part-time and Asa works on an as-needed basis in assembly, production and installation. Jill is outgoing and thorough with a ready smile for our clients. Asa is great at designing, weeding vinyl and using tools.
Having a business at home is a tremendous blessing, with lots of family time. Every day I shake my head in disbelief that I get to do something I absolutely love, be creative, interact with clients and be with my family.