As the artist behind Sure Hand Signs, Ross Trimmer’s work is all over town. High Point Barbershop, Y & H Mercantile, Harvest and Portrait House, to name a few, all feature Trimmer’s hand painted signage. In this day of quick and vinyl, there seemed to be little room left for disappearing trades like hand painted lettering. But Trimmer’s work is a testament to the lasting power of craftsmanship. Both vintage and modern, hand painted signage is experiencing a revival of sorts here in Richmond and beyond at the steady hand of Trimmer and Sure Hand Signs. To get a better idea of how Trimmer approaches his craft, we sat down with the artist at his studio.
Was getting into signage as a tattoo artist a natural transition?
I think so, mostly because I come from a design and lettering background. Tattooing gave me the ability to work with my hands. I’ve always enjoyed tattooing because it’s customer oriented and a constant turnover with new clients. You have brief meetings and then you get to it. Signage is a lot like that and it works well for me.
There are a lot of challenging skills to master – such as painting backwards on glass. When did you become comfortable with the process?
It all came with practice. Unless it’s something that I don’t think I can handle, scope-wise, I take pretty much every job. It’s easier to make yourself learn quickly when you absolutely have to. The first few windows were nerve-wracking, but at this point, it’s just like anything else. I go back and forth between the surfaces that I work on: windows, wood, walls and transoms. These days, the majority of my work has been on glass. I feel really comfortable with working on it now. There’s something really cool about the look of a hand painted sign through a windowpane. It gives the paint a really nice brilliance.
You work with a lot of small businesses from around town. What do you think attracts small business owners and local entrepreneurs to what you’re doing?
I think the signs make the businesses look more cared for and that some time and thought went into creating the storefront. A lot of my working with small businesses also comes from having decent roots within this community. Now that I’m getting older, my friends are getting older and they’re opening businesses of their own. That has definitely helped and there has been a lot of word of mouth happening. I’ve done zero advertising. I quit my full time job 3 months ago to focus on this full time. It still feels strange that I can support a family and pay the bills through painting signs for people.
You have a strong Instagram presence. Have you noticed any positive effect on your business as a result of this?
I know the majority of the sign painters that I know through Instagram. There are a lot of us on there, which is pretty cool. I definitely work to get people to find me on Instagram because I get a lot of business from the people who follow me. People have called and said, “Hey, we’re opening up a restaurant and our friend follows you on Instagram. Would you be interested in painting a sign?” People who follow me often recognize and stop me when I’m buying supplies or working a job. It’s a new experience for me. Instagram is as close to advertising as I get and it’s completely free. The platform works very well for me. It’s has been a slow buildup kind of thing, but I never thought it would get to where it is now.
You’re certainly operating in a niche market. Why is keeping the art of hand signage alive important for you?
It helps to give a neighborhood personality. It used to be that you would see entire city blocks painted by one painter. I think it’s really neat to have that element of history and have signs that have been up for 30 or 50 years. People notice those kinds of things, but no one notices stickers that are halfway peeled off of a window. Hand painted signs feel more permanent and less temporary. When I go to a new town or drive through an unfamiliar street in Richmond, I’m always finding a new sign. I find their history interesting. I do a lot of transom rehabs in houses that are being renovated. There’s something really cool about that because I’m up in a window, scraping away at something that was done 80 to 100 years ago. Someone cared a lot about making it the first time, and I’m getting to redo it again but trying to keep it as accurate to the original that the elements have taken down.
When driving around the city, we’re spotting more and more hand painted signs. Chances are that they’re probably yours. Has Sure Hand Signs changed the way you experience the city in any way?
I’ve lived in Richmond for a very long time, off and on. After doing the signs for a couple of years, this is the first time that I feel like I’m doing something that’s a part of the city. It’s been cool to have my work out there and have people noticing them.
You’ve been doing this full time for a few months now. Where do you see Sure Hand Signs heading to in the future?
If interest stays where it has been, I’ll be happy. It’s almost like every other job I’ve had. When it’s busy, it’s busy. When it’s dead, it’s dead. So I’m just trying to keep it up, make it through the winter and keep going. I’ve started doing a little commercial work and I’d love to do more. I did some signs for an Oreo commercial that ran this summer. I’ve also been traveling and working throughout the East Coast. I’m still trying to figure out how to make a market for myself, more than just what people need. The business is progressing well and I’m excited about that.
To keep up with Ross’ work, follow him on Instagram and visit the Sure Hand Signs website for more information.