April 04 2011

Drawing on the Job: Ever Wonder Who Draws Those Cool Hand-Made Signs in Restaurants and Grocery Stores?

Originally posted 8/19:
Hand-drawn, artistic signs make our wait at the deli counter or navigating the produce department a more pleasurable experience. But who are the unknown artists behind the countless chalkboard and ink signs we see in our neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops?

Above photo: Erin Piester draws signs that are functional and fun to look at

Combining the Love for Drawing, Lettering, and Retail Service
Sometimes incorporating elaborate drawings of vines and veggies or just a simple flourish of lettering for the day’s price on tomatoes, Erin Piester’s signage abounds in the isles of Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The 30-year-old pastel artist studied nutrition and dietetics and works as a landscaper, but her drawing skills come to life during mornings spent creating the colorful signs at Guido’s.


Above: Erin’s thoughtfully drawn, creative signs can bring a smile to a customer’s face.

Author Steven Heller writes, on the New York Times blog, that Erin “has raised a mundane craft to alluring art.” He goes on to say that her soothingly naturalistic yet engagingly abstract signs “are so joyful and jolly that you don’t mind the often high prices — which are usually rendered in white chalk.”

Chalk It Up to Success


Above: Claire Watson’s menu boards display the power of solid drawing skills.

Claire Watson has taken her love of chalk art to a delightful extreme. While working in restaurants Claire started drawing chalkboard menus. What started as a side job became a bustling little enterprise called Chalk It Up Signs and Graphics, located in British Columbia. Her husband crafts the wooden frames on the smudge-proof, hand-illustrated menu boards hanging in markets, pubs, and retail establishments across the globe.

According to her company website, Claire recalls, “I’ve been pumpin’ out signs full time for about five years now, about 400 in total. But it started about 12 years ago. Working in the food and beverage industry, I was the one who wrote out the menu boards.”

Nowadays, in her busy studio, music plays and the espresso machine is always on as the self-taught artist has diversified with new projects such as fabric banners, brochures for clients, illustrated ESL children’s books, and her own pastel art exhibits. Focused on balancing family and work, Claire Watson has attained a lifestyle that many of us sketchers only dream of. She says with confidence, “I get to design and draw every day.”

So, next time you’re waiting for the morning brew at the local java house, toss an extra tip in the jar to show your appreciation for those whimsical hand-crafted signs on the counter; they may have been created by an enterprising young employee, honing their drawing skills for a colorful future.

I’m always looking for examples of how people use drawing in their everyday work life. If you use drawing on the job please contact me, I’d like to post your story on this blog. –Rob

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