In the 40 years that hes been in business as a sign painter, Patrick G. Smith has created plenty of iconic signs in Southern California - some of them right here in Old Towne Orange.
From Heavenly Hostess and The Bite Market to Cherry on Top and Rays Barber Shop, Patricks signs convey an old-fashioned artistry that is increasingly rare in this day of digital technology. Specializing in hand lettering, calligraphy and gold-leaf techniques, Patrick is also a woodworker who can build, restore and install antique and storefront signs.
When living in Orange, he got drafted into the Army in 1967. After arriving in Vietnam, his artistic talent with the brush was discovered, and he was asked to paint directional signs and more for the military, establishing the first sign shop at Cam Ranh Bay. After his tour of duty in Vietnam, he returned home and took a correspondence course in sign painting from ICS. Thats when he discovered that sign painting could lead to a fulfilling career.
As a boy, I always loved calligraphy and the Speedball lettering books, but I never knew I could make a living at it, Patrick said. After Vietnam, I met up with my Army buddy Bob Babcock, who still owns RWB Party Props at the old Sunkist Packing House in Old Towne. I did the signs for the building and still do occasional work for Bob.
Self-employed for 30 years, Patrick couldnt resist the opportunity to become a Disneyland sign painter. He worked there for seven years, making signs that can still be seen today at the Blue Bayou restaurant, all along Main Street, throughout Tom Sawyers Island and more.
Disney has a great sign shop, he said. We did amazing stuff, like the Golden Anniversary signs we made with 23-karat gold leaf, and the many hand-lettered signs throughout the park.
In addition to creating sand-blasted signs crafted of redwood or hand lettering for trucks and cars, Patrick also restores old signs, including ghost signs.
Ghost signs are old signs that are faded, Patrick explained. You see several of them in Old Towne on historic buildings. I have repainted these kinds of signs and have painted new ones, creating an aged look so they appear old.
Patrick says that computers (and he uses one) have allowed professionals to create their own fonts and designs for signs, but a hand-lettered sign will always occupy a special niche.
When hes not creating signs, Patrick enjoys playing the accordion and performing rock n roll in a band called The Rockits. But theres nothing like the feeling of seeing one of his iconic signs still gracing the façade of a business or residential community.
When I drive past a sign Ive done thats become part of the landscape, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, he admitted. A good sign is something that stands the test of time.
Published in the Mar/Apr 2012 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Karen Anderson, Photograph by Jeanine Hill
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