Posted on Monday, January 15th, 2024
Lisa Hutchinson remembers the day in 1979 when she walked past the sign painting class at Boston’s Butera School of Art.
Shop name: Daydream Designs
Location: Danvers, Massachusetts
Graphics equipment: Roland CAMM CX24 plotter
“I went to get coffee,” says Lisa. “And as I passed the door of the sign program’s room, I saw a young woman practicing her hand lettering. She was so focused on her work and seemed so content. I told myself I wanted to learn how to do that. I’ll never forget that day.”
At the time, Lisa was enrolled in Butera’s commercial art program. After graduating, she went to work as a layout artist at a newspaper. She soon realized that she wasn’t passionate about the work and wanted to pursue sign painting. She started saving and in 1984 enrolled in Butera’s two-year sign lettering program.
“When I graduated,” Lisa says, “I went to work at a sign shop, where I did everything from vinyl graphics to gold leaf and carved signs. Computer software was still pretty new so I was still doing a lot of hand lettering. When that shop closed in 1991, I decided it was time to go out on my own. I got a part-time job waitressing and spent the rest of my time building my business.”
She worked out of her home studio, bought a computer, Flexi software and knocked on doors looking for sign jobs. By 1996 she had built enough of a clientele to do signs full-time.
For the next 20 years, she did a lot of hand lettering and a lot of vinyl graphics. She works primarily as a sole proprietor, but partnered with Bob Varney, a local carver highly skilled on the Gerber Profile CNC router.
“In 2017,” Lisa says, “the contractor who managed installations passed away, so I began marketing hand-lettered signs on Etsy.com. In 2018, before the pandemic, it just exploded. It’s kept me busy ever since.
“I’m old school. I absolutely love holding a paintbrush and crafting custom signs by hand. It’s fascinating to see the variety of work that is generated from Etsy. I get everything from gold leaf address signs to Airbnb, farm, lakefront property and new business signs.
“I often include illustrations in pictorials in my work. I guess it’s because I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I particularly enjoy painting lake scenes, animals of any kind, house portraits and anything floral.
“When possible, and with client consent, I try to go beyond laying letters on a board. I try to elicit a memorable experience—signage that makes the viewer feel something inside. If I can do that, I’ve done my job.”
Lisa’s shop is a 900-sq.-ft. space in a large mill building built in 1886 and has been converted to workspaces for artists. 90% of her work is hand lettering on MDO plywood, 18-lb. HDU or exterior PVC board. She does very little cut vinyl lettering. She says her website needs a bit of updating, but since Etsy is her primary marketing platform, she uses her site mostly to direct visitors to her Etsy store.
“Every day is an adventure,” she says. “You never know what’s next. I’m fascinated by the requests I get and I love the variety. Every job is different and that’s pretty exciting.
“I’ve been a sign painter for more than 30 years. I’ve always enjoyed working and doing creative things. When I start painting, I go to my happy place and life is good. This is right where I want to be.
“I’m not saying that I don’t face challenges and on certain days feel a little burnt out. That’s part of the business. But there are so many positive experiences that go along with it that outweigh the occasional setback.
“The best thing is when someone is watching you letter and says, ‘You’re not doing that just by hand, are you? Don’t you use a stencil?’ They’re even more amazed when they hear you do it for a living.
“And they’re right. It’s a wonderful thing to be making a living doing what you love to do. Life doesn’t get any better than that.”