By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2019
1400 sq. ft.
Roland SP540 printer
Summa S-class 48-in. plotter
Roland EGX-350 engraver
Race cars and custom paint have led more than one person to a career in sign making. That’s the path Art Amerman has followed—learning the wide variety of skills along the way that make you successful in a custom sign shop. Ultimately it has brought him to a “day job” handling the graphics for the New York Waterway—the ferry boats, buses and informational signs for this very busy transportation system. We’ll let Art tell you how he landed there:
As a young man, I always had an interest in cars and trucks, but how they look has always captivated me more than what makes them run. My interest led me to spend many of my early working days in auto body shops. There I developed skills as a welder, painter and Bondo sculptor. I also spent a lot of time doing fiberglass repair and fabrication while working as a mold maker with an automotive aftermarket company.
I especially enjoyed the opportunity to do custom body and paint work, and it became pretty evident that this was the direction I wanted to go. My eagerness was further bolstered by the visual overload I experienced after seeing my first Bob Gerdes “Circus” drag car lacquer paint job, complete with lettering by the ever-stellar Glen Weisgerber. I felt like I wanted to eat that thing!
As I worked towards becoming a customizer, I had reasonable success. I did whatever show car projects I could muster, including a custom show truck I built for myself in the 1980s. It was a trophy winner and was featured in a national trucking magazine.
Long hours, low pay
My enthusiasm was eventually tempered by the reality that cutting one’s teeth in the custom painting world often required painstaking perfection at “Earl Sheib” prices. (Do you remember, “We’ll paint any car for $39.95”?) It always seemed to be easier to make money repairing broken stuff than creating custom stuff, but that is what I really wanted to do.
On to sign work
The frustration of that reality led me to the pursuit of another passion, my love of letterforms and sign work. I had an abundance of inspiration from New Jersey’s hotbed of innovative sign talent and SignCraft alumni I had become acquainted with: Jules “Mr. J” Braet, Rich Dombey, Russ Mowry, Glen Weisgerber, Bob “Cos” Cosgrove, Mike Frederick and Bert Quimby (who introduced me to SignCraft magazine).
After a stint in an electric sign shop, and armed with a ton of can-do naiveté and just enough money for my security deposit and the first month’s rent, I opened my sign shop in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in the fall of 1989. This was a challenging endeavor. I wrestled with it for about 15 years and eventually moved the business to my home.