The San Jose Style: The Bay Area approach to sign design

How a handful of signpainters developed a powerfully effective approach to sign layout

By signcraft

Posted on Monday, November 2nd, 2020

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Mike Stevens

Before the Internet made it easy to see signs from all over the country—and the world—sign design often developed regional styles. Chicago’s painted signs, New England’s carved signs and New Jersey truck lettering are good examples. Another would be the San Jose style, developed in the ’70s and ’80s by a group of sign painters in the southern San Francisco Bay area—and exported to the world by the late Mike Stevens.

In late 1981, Harrison Todd of Sign Classics in San Jose, California, dropped SignCraft a note to tell us about a sign painter he thought we needed to know about: Mike Stevens. That led to an article by Mike in the next issue of SignCraft, Spring 1982. It featured sixteen of Mike’s incredible hand-lettered showcards and his explanation of his approach to sign design. Many readers were struck by the appeal and effectiveness of Mike’s work.

The San Jose Style has its roots in the work of Don Sturdivant, a San Francisco showcard writer and lettering artist, and his contemporaries like Duke Wellington, Bill Boley and Jim Hill. Mike Stevens, Harrison Todd, Terry Wells and Ted Maddock refined it throughout the 1960s and ’70s. They were later joined by a young San Jose sign painter, Joe Curtis.

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