Doc Guthrie: 1943-2022

By signcraft

Posted on Sunday, September 11th, 2022

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On Saturday, September 3, Ralph “Doc” Guthrie, sign painter and legendary instructor at the Los Angeles Trade Tech College Sign Graphics program, passed away. He was 79.

We have known Doc since the very birth of SignCraft. In 1979, when we sent out the first letter to 1000 sign shops saying that we had this idea to create a magazine for sign painters and commercial sign shops like ours, one of the first replies was from Doc.

He was full of encouragement, and sent some photos of the work of Fran Alrich, an LA showcard writer. The very first interview with a sign artist that we did in that very first issue was with Fran—and it happened because of Doc.

At the time, Doc was a sign painter and shop owner with a reputation for hosting weekend workshops at his shop for interested sign people. They worked on their layout and business skills, swapped stories and ideas and built friendships.

A graduate of the Sign Graphics program of Los Angeles Trade Tech (now Los Angeles Trade Tech College), Doc went on to become the instructor there in 1993. I doubt that any one person has helped more people learn to paint signs than Doc. Ever the SignCraft supporter, the magazine was the only “textbook” used in the Sign Graphics program.

He saved the Sign Graphics program when it was in danger of being terminated when enrollment declined 15 years ago. He went on to grow the program into the largest training program for sign people in the US. He explained the program in “Los Angeles Trade Tech: Still training sign makers” in the September/October 2003 issue of SignCraft.

Doc was a lot of things—kind, tough, direct, practical, funny and above all, caring. He changed the lives of many a student and fellow sign person. And he was humble. Despite many attempts, we were never able to get him to go along with us doing a feature on him and his work. He always turned the conversation in the direction of the program, his students and his friends.

I could go on and on about Doc and his contributions to the sign industry, but I can promise you he wouldn’t like it. We here at SignCraft are just a few of the many sign people who are grateful for Doc’s life, energy and friendship. Thanks, Doc.

—Tom McIltrot and all at