My name is Rodney Vicik and I am a sign painter, pinstriper and graphic designer. But there is a dark side of me that only those closest to me know about. You see, I am also a letterholic and a typophile. While the sign painting and graphic design fills my days; my fixation with letters and type, especially of the vintage variety, consumes all the time in between.
I first realized I had a problem when I kept stopping and starting a Three Stooges movie just to see the hand lettered opening credits. This trend progressed to the point where I was snapping pictures and video footage of Turner Classic movies to rewatch the credits later. Once, when a long sought after 1871 first edition copy of Sign Writing and Glass Embossing by James Callingham became available, I talked my wife into letting me purchase it for myself as an early anniversary gift. It has since become a standing rule that I am allowed to purchase a rare, collectible sign book each year as my anniversary gift; my wife lacking both the knowledge and know-how to make the purchase for me. This wouldn’t seem quite so odd except that I was purchasing rare sign and lettering books each month anyway. While you are at Barnes & Noble with your family looking through their newest offerings, I’m at home scouring ebay, Oak Knoll and Abebooks for anything to do with lettering published prior to 1960. My obsession with ephemera has grown to include posters, matchbook covers, post cards; indeed anything with vintage type. I am always in search of that next rare find. Will it be on an old tool at a yard sale or will I find it in a stack of yellowed magazines at a flea market?
I wasn’t always this way. In fact, my childhood seemed pretty normal. I grew up in the small rural town of Warsaw, Virginia located in the region known as the northern neck. From an early age it was obvious to my mother that I had inherited her ability to draw, but I didn’t see any real advantages to my gift until I started school. When the teachers found out that I was artistic they let me make posters for the classroom while my classmates studied. Soon I was being pulled from my classes and loaned out to other teachers to design and letter posters to be hung in the school’s hallways. I guess this is where the problem started.
In high school I was drafted by the school newspaper as their cartoonist. During this same period the local paper, The Northern Neck News, began publishing the sports related cartoons I had drawn for the school paper. I began to see the posibilities of pursuing art as a career, but how? The public schools I attended didn’t offer any art education and being raised by a single parent I felt I could not afford college. As fortune would have it, a scholastic test taken my senior year of high school revealed that I was well suited for the trade of sign painter.
I knew a sign painter in the city of Fredericksburg named Al Zackus of Al Zak Signs. After spending time with him at his shop I was inspired enough to purchase some painting supplies and began practicing at home. In time I gained the confidence to pursue some small sign painting jobs locally. I started buying any books I could find on lettering. Most were found in art supply stores and offered enough instruction to at least get me started. It wasn’t long before I knew this was what I wanted to do for a living, but I also knew that I still had a lot to learn. About a year later my wife and I decided that if I were to pursue sign painting as a career then we needed to move to a city. She was from Hampton so Hampton, Virginia is where we headed. I was 22 years old at the time and my wife was only 19.
I beat the pavement, visiting the local sign shops, carrying pictures of the amateurish looking signs I had made back home along with a showcard demonstrating my artistic ability. My first day out, Fred Dowis, the owner of Sign Engineering in Newport News, VA offered to hire me as a subcontractor and set about teaching me the right way to paint signs. Apparently, I had been using the wrong kind of paint and the wrong kind of brushes. But, after months of practice my muscle memory took over and I was able to form acceptable letters. I have been very fortunate. I learned to hand letter signs just at the brink when computer sign making equipment was hitting the market. Another couple of years later and the skill would have seemed obsolete. Also, I have endured in business long enough to see sign painting come back in vogue.
Well that’s my story. I am good at what I do because I am passionate about what I do. I constantly study letterform and type to see how it is best utilized. Why would some alphabets be better suited to a bakery as opposed to a bank? Why is a classic roman letter almost always preferred on a yacht when a sans serif font will fit the space as well? The answer often lies in knowing not only the fonts but also the history behind the establishment, the trade or even the vessel where the lettering will reside. I see each job as an opportunity to solve a problem. I look forward to working with you to provide solutions to your sign and lettering needs.