If you visit Omaha, you will see the hand of Sharon Davis. Her sign work brings distinction and personalization to the walls of many businesses and neighborhoods.
BS: What do you do for a living, and how did you get there?
SD: I’m a sign painter and hand letterer, doing hand painted signage on walls (interior and exterior), mounted signs on a variety of substrates, and hand lettered chalkboards. I did my first hand painted sign when I was 16 for a small upholstery shop I was working at over the summer. I had very little guidance but my best friend’s father owned a sign shop and was able to recommend some good materials to get me started. After graduation I ran a sign shop in an East Coast grocery store doing 100+ chalkboards a week, logo replication, window splashes and foamcore signs to be hung on display around the store. There were no projectors and no ways to “google” examples to show the managers so it pushed me early on to find other resources and rely upon my own creativity and editing.
BS: What are the risks you take with your work?
SD: The biggest risk I take with my job is being self employed itself. I’ve had side businesses for nearly 12 years (running a floral and event design business with my best friend, Buds and Buttons) but I’ve always relied on a full time position to pay the bills reliably. This coming spring will be 3 years that I’ll be completely on my own. Besides the risk of self employment, I am also physically at risk on most jobs, especially in the spring, summer and fall. The vast majority of my work in those warmer months require me to be on ladders, scaffold and lifts to complete most jobs. Setting up and tearing down equipment alone, in and around other workers/customers can be nerve wracking to say the least. I’ve gotten around some of those issues by working off hours or weekends. I lost vision in one of my eyes about 14 years ago so my depth perception is very poor but even still, I prefer to spend most of my time on ladders and lifts. Once you get this type of work in your blood, you just don’t want to do anything else. There is an incredible amount of excitement and pride for every job I do, I’m humbled daily by the work I get to do.
BS: What do you carry with you every day?
SD: I carry everything I own with me everyday! My car is a rolling sign shop. At any given time I have an extension ladder, a step ladder, drop cloths, extra brushes and rollers and trays, multiple levels, a variety of paints and thinners and a few extra changes of clothes, and TONS of empty coffee cups! I’m still learning to find balance and organization and along that path is still forget a million and one things at the shop so I’ve found it helpful to pack up bins for jobs early and also keep a core mix of needed items in the car at all times. Needless to say, my car is NEVER the one taken when more than one person needs to ride with me.
BS: Who are your collaborators and co-conspirators and how do they influence you?
SD: I’ve spent the last 3 years predominantly working by myself besides a few months that I’ve been able to bring someone on for an extended period of time. I’ve had two incredibly talented local artists come on and work with me and I can’t say enough about how great it is to have an extra set of hands and eyes to catch things I wouldn’t have and inspire ideas that I couldn’t have come up with on my own. They have both left to start their own businesses and I look forward to seeing work from them in the future. Other than that, I would say much of my collaboration comes from working with some of the most talented artists in Omaha in the design field. I’ve been blessed to work regularly with Secret Penguin, Grain & Mortar, Oxide Design, DayCloud Studios, and a variety of local real estate companies and restaurant chains. All of these people have asked my thoughts, opinions and advice on certain aspects of projects and it truly creates a sense of ownership with every project that I do. That inspires a sense of pride in every letter and brushstroke, it may not be MY design, but it is most definitely my work that the customer will see. Since I’m self taught for the most part, having a community to reach out to for specific advice on materials and methods to attack a project has been essential. I could name a hundred painters from all over the world that inspire and instruct from their Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, YouTube videos and books or articles. Sign painting is a very old trade that will die out if the love and knowledge isn’t passed on to following generations. I’m blown away constantly at the brotherhood/sisterhood I’ve found in this work, it’s like nothing else I’ve experienced!
BS: What lesson keeps appearing in your life?
SD: This question is what made me hesitate from flying through this little interview. I’ve learned so many lessons this year that it’s hard to pick just a few. I would say #1 is “don’t be afraid to say no, or not now”. As a self employed artist (which still doesn’t even seem real), I’m terrified of the work drying up, that it will all be gone in the next 2-3 months. I say yes, and right away to almost everything that comes across my plate. This has led to my #2 lesson- time management. I’m blessed to continue getting some of the most fun, creative and crazy projects in my life. BUT I need to learn to say, “yes, I would love to do this, let’s talk about a time frame that works for everyone”. The past 3 years I’ve been so “busy” I’ve let myself and my personal life take a toll that can never be repaired. Going forward I’m trying to learn how to communicate better personally and professionally so I can keep this business growing but not lose out in other areas because work has taken priority. That said, I’m more than happy to do the occasional overnights and weekends because if an ice cream shop needs to open on time, they need their signs and menus to be done before the open sign goes up!
Check out Sharon’s Instagram feed.
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