Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2019
This year marks thirty years in the sign business for John Liptak, who was first featured in SignCraft’s July/August 2012 issue. His shop is on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island, which is home to Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport. (If you search for Portsmouth, Rhode Island, on Wikipedia. com, you’ll see John’s “Welcome to Portsmouth” sign on that page.) The island’s population is just over 60,000.
Signs on an island:
1000 sq. ft.
ShopBot 4×8 CNC router
30-in. Graphtek plotter
This is a relatively small island, and almost all my work is done on the island. I have a lot of repeat customers, which really helps. Newport is known for its waterfront district, and the signs down there are nice-looking, with plenty of gold leaf. It’s a good market for me, because that’s what I like to do best.
Focus on 3D:
I have a good niche here with my 3-D signs. I do a lot of them—storefronts, wall signs and freestanding. People around here like that look and that keeps me pretty busy. Usually January is a slow month, but this year it’s been steady. I look forward to the slow time to catch up on things but it’s not happening this year. I’m not complaining, though.
Seventy-five percent of my work is 3-D work that I do with the help of the ShopBot CNC router. The rest is mostly vehicle lettering— trucks for contractors and other businesses.
I stay focused on what I can do most efficiently. I’m really set up for what I do, so anything else just doesn’t fit very well. It’s more manageable this way than trying to do a little bit of everything. Years ago I did a lot of boats, but it really pulled me in the wrong direction. You can only do so much, and I wanted to do mostly 3-D signs.
I’m still in the same shop, which is in a tradesman’s center. It works really well for me. I have a welder and an electrician right next door to me, and we help each other out. It’s very convenient. I get some help when I need it for installations, but I do most of the rest myself. When I need a hand or have to sub part of a project out, the help is there.
My main goal in my designs is plenty of contrast. That’s why I like gold leaf on a black smalt background. You have contrast in size, in color, and texture. Right now I have a customer who thinks they want a light blue sign with gold leaf letters. I’m trying to help them see that they’re going to sacrifice a lot of legibility because there’s so little contrast between the two. When I first started, I would sometimes make the sign only to discover that the graphic or the main copy just wasn’t big enough. Where did it go? It looked okay on the drawing, but on the sign it got lost.
I’ve learned to make one or two things really jump out and let the secondary stuff be just that—secondary. I usually oversize the primary copy, because you really have to splash things right in front of people so that they can’t miss it. I try to explain to people why I do what I do, and usually they get it. But I still like it best when they say, “You’re the professional—you handle it.”
Staying at it:
I really enjoy doing a sign from scratch to finish. You work up the design, carve the letters and fabricate the sign, then you get to drive by and see it out there doing its job. You feel pretty good about that. It’s a rewarding business.
I’ve got no plans on retirement. I hope to work as long as I can. I like what I do, and my customers seem to like it, too. I plan to just keep on doing it and enjoying it.