By SignCraft Magazine
Posted on Thursday, April 30th, 2020
Tim Bauman’s roots are in the fertile sign design soil of the Chicago area, where he served a union apprenticeship at the legendary Foster & Kleiser outdoor advertising company. He attended the union sign school, Washburn Trade School, in the same program that trained Bob Behounek and many other young Chicagoland sign painters who went on to inspire and influence the trade. SignCraft talked with him about his 40-year career, which has landed him in California’s wine country:
All Signs & Graphics
2500 sq. ft.
Mimaki CJV print/cut
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All Signs and Graphics
It’s been an interesting adventure. My background is in fine arts and graphic design, and I’ve built my career around those interests. Though I started off as an apprentice at Foster & Kleiser, I was more interested in commercial and custom work, so I eventually moved from billboard work to commercial signs.
From Chicago, Emily, my wife, and I went to Portland, Oregon, in 1989. We lived there for 15 years. I worked as a journeyman for several shops there and was then recruited by an environmental graphics firm. They designed signage and wayfinding programs, and I worked as a designer there for a couple years.
Then it was on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we opened a bed and breakfast. Emily has a background in food service and is an amazing cook, and we soon had a very good reputation. We did that until 2012 when that market changed and I got back into signs, working at a few shops there.
When we learned this shop in this beautiful area of California was available in 2014, we bought the business. Emily and I have always worked really well together, and this has worked out well for us. We are pretty efficient, so we can turn out quite a volume of work.
Dividing the roles
Emily handles much of the production along with all the office work. She is an artist, so she is my critical eye when it comes to design. She can tell when something is a little off in a layout, and we can bounce ideas around.
I handle all the sales and do the larger design projects and logo work. We have a third person here full-time from March through November, then part-time the rest of the year. They handle the everyday sign design work and some of the production. We work with colleagues in the area on large installations and big graphics projects.
Sign design vs. graphic design
There’s a lot of classism between the graphic design and sign design worlds. Many of us have run into this, and it’s unfortunate. Some graphic designers are very condescending towards sign people. They seem to think that you have to have a college degree to be successful at design. That’s simply not so and you need only look at the work of creative sign designers to see that.
The shop and the work
Our shop is half office, design and print area, then the other half is for production, including a 25-ft. bay where we do our vehicle work. We do a lot of vehicles— mostly cut vinyl and partial wraps along with the occasional full wrap. Emily has done the Roland wrap installation training.
We also do a lot of aluminum pan faced signs. We partner a lot with other businesses in the area, and work with a sheet metal fabricator on those. We also have a nearby woodworking company to do our CNC work. I prep the CNC files and they handle the router work. For a small shop like ours, it’s great to have craftsmen like this to work with.
We do brochure designs and flyers and postcards as well. We’re looking forward to getting back into more hand-lettered work. We have a good market for that, and the interest in hand-lettered signs is growing.
Sign making in wine country
Within a 25-mile radius of our shop there are 325 vineyards and wineries, from small one-person facilities who buy grapes from other vineyards, to multimillion dollar operations. The wine industry is really the area’s main economic engine.
The wine industry is very image-conscious and marketing driven. Some of our best work is for the wineries, because they’re so insistent that their signage reflect the quality and uniqueness of their product. There are always at least a half-dozen projects in the shop that have some connection to the wineries.
Many of the wineries already have a logo in place, and they need help with getting a creative sign that uses that design. Other small wineries come to us very early in the project, and we get involved with their logo design as well. We do some rebranding, too, as folks upgrade their images.
The signs need to be appealing and also very legible, since most of the traffic is on twolane roads rolling by at 45 miles an hour. The wineries depend on their signs to lure traffic in, so the designs have to be clean and simple, yet appealing.
The wine industry also brings in a lot of people who tour the wineries then head for the galleries, shops, restaurants and bars. We do a lot of work there, too.
We also have the advantage of seeing a lot of inspiring sign work here. We have several colleagues nearby who do outstanding work, folks like Southpaw Signs and Avila Signs. Seeing such impressive work pushes you to do your best.
Ramping up sign structure design
We plan to move up a few notches on our design of sign structures. As sign designers, I think we often focus on the sign and overlook the potential appeal of its mounting. We want to work on that.
Peter Poanessa [Keene Signworx, Swanzey, New Hampshire] is a friend of mine, and I really admire how the structures that he designs to hold his signs are as beautiful as the sign itself. That adds a lot of appeal to the sign. To do that I need a little more woodworking equipment in-house.
Ironically this has historically been a low-wage area, yet the cost of living is quite high. When they factor in average wages, our county is considered the most expensive place to live in California. That makes it hard for working people to live here, and hard for employers—including sign shops—to find good people. And there’s also the inevitable hassle of sign prices varying a lot due to inexperienced people in the trade.
But overall it’s a great community here and a great place to live, and we appreciate that. We get to do a lot of creative sign work for interesting clients. We stay busy trying to keep up with the demand and pay the bills, doing what we do best and keeping the lights on.