SIGN PAINTER OF THE MONTH: ED PEAHOTA
Ed Peahota is the epitome of an old school walldog. The guy’s been in the game for longer than than some sign painters have been alive. Ed’s seen it all, and has managed to create a niche for himself after the vinyl surge toward the end of the 20th century all but wiped out our craft. Using his skill as a sign painter and matching it with his knowledge of the outdoor advertising business, he began managing the sales of vinyl advertisements while using his hand paint techniques to correct errors or add flare to vinyl giants. This gave him a leg up in the business when sign painters were getting pushed out of their livelihoods. He evolved with the market to create new ways to apply his talent.
But Ed’s an artist who wears many hats. Aside from his gig in sales and advertising, he’s an entertainer who performs acts referred to as “speed painting.” The man can paint a 6x6 foot portrait of a giant eagle in under 5 minutes. With depth. Read our interview with Ed below.
What is your actual job title? It seems like you’re sort of a musician, an artist, a sign painter, and so many other things.
That’s true. You can’t really nail one down because I’ve been doing all of those things all my life. All my skills I use for my clients’ needs. So if I take a video, I play music, and I’m good at editing music into a video. I do speed painting. And then as far as sign painting, that’s a rarity nowadays but I still do it and I still make lettering or patterns for water towers. I sell advertising space. So this all evolved over the years. I’ve been 30 years in outdoor advertising. I didn’t start out like this, but I had to evolve because things change, especially when the painting ended right around the turn of the century. What was I to do? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
So how did that work?
I started selling vinyl advertising. I did that for about 12 years and then lo and behold, here comes digital advertising taking away my livelihood. You gotta adapt. I really started getting into sales, and I have so much experience with the billboards in general. So that helped me with that learning curve as well.
Are you a one-man operation?
I’m an LLC so there are times I have six employees under me. There’re other times when I don’t need anyone and I just do the entire thing myself. It depends on the size of the job.
It’s interesting that you’ve managed to make the most of the changing environments of signage. You do both vinyl and hand paint, but normally it’s one or the other.
The thing is, I have my “ins” so to say because of my history with billboard painting – I did that for over 20-some years. When that ended and I had the opportunity to do the installations, I came across a lot of things in the field. There’d be a problem now and then when someone would make a mistake and for time’s sake, rather than having some sticky back vinyl made up to patch up a mistake or make a new layout, I could go up there very easily and just paint it out or paint it in. I have those skills, whereas the people who just do vinyl don’t have that in their arsenal.
The landscape of out-of-home advertising has changed quit a bit from when you were hand-painting billboards regularly. For instance, you can’t advertise a pack of smokes on a billboard anymore.
I hate to say it, but it really was mostly cigarette, tobacco, and alcohol ads. That was most of the work out there in major metropolitan areas. When they finally started having all these reports about it being linked to cancer for real and all those hearing, they did away with all those tobacco ads. That was a major upset in the outdoor industry because they had such a large piece in the tobacco ads. It changed. There’s certainly no one putting up tobacco ads now.
It sounds like you’ve worked solo for a good portion of your career. You’ve probably seen some wild stuff.
I can say this: I don’t know any artist or painter who has been doing it for 30 years and hasn’t kicked over a can of paint. The real thing that’s dangerous is the weather. I’ve been caught in storms over the years. One in particular I was by myself. I worked by myself for over 20 years. I rigged it. I would use spans of rope and I would just pull every piece individually and took my time. That’s how I did it for all those years.
Can you explain that?
Back in the days where signs were hand-painted you’d use block-and-tackles or a swinging stage. I hear that’s still used up in New York [as Colossal does]. There’s a lot of stuff to bring up there by yourself. Let’s say you’re doing a 100-foot billboard by yourself. You’ll have to figure out how many ropes you’ll need or how many pulls you’ll need. You don’t want to be dealing with a ladder. You want to get everything ready before you go up, and you don’t come down until the end of the day.
Our guys still do it that way, so we certainly understand the necessity for proper preparation. What happened when the storm hit?
You can track the weather a lot better than we could even ten years ago, but the shore is the area where you run into storms that really pop up quickly. There’ve been quite a few, but the worst one I’ve ever been caught in was in Bristol, PA. I was blocking out the board and getting it ready and I looked behind me and the sky was getting dark because there was a storm coming. I thought, “I gotta get out of here.” But there wasn’t even time. I was caught right in the middle of it. I had a safety belt on, but there was a line that came down from the board that I would use as a safety line when I was on the swinging stage. I was trying to walk to it because these winds were building. But there was something wrong with the foundation of the billboard. There were, no exaggeration, 80-100 mph winds. In those winds when you’re 70 feet up, this billboard was rocking back and forth 5 or 6 feet both ways. I was certain the billboard was going over. I didn’t have time to lock-in to the rope so I was holding on to it with my hands, and I lost it. I couldn’t hold on to it. There was a piece of the board that got loose about three feet and as the billboard was rocking it kept banging, just banging above my head. I was watching the ground and I kept thinking “I’m going to die.” It was so powerful. I thought this was it. I was going to be taken. And then it just stopped. Talk about accidents, I had paint that I didn’t secure and in all of this, none of it moved. I got down as fast as possible, but I must have been right in the eye of it.
That’s just one day of it. That was before OSHA really cracked down. I was one of the only ones who wear a safety belt.
You do another form of painting that’s arguably far safer than what you just described. What’s the deal with speed painting? It seems like this kooky thing, painting a giant tiger in four minutes flat.
[Laughs] So that evolved from me always having a boombox with me while I painted. I always had loud music on. If I got into a song, I would pick up the pace with the speed of the song. The longer I painted billboard, you really had to find shortcuts. Time was money, and you wanted to paint that billboard as quickly as possible to get on to the next one before some of the other painters did. So I guess I got curious one day and went on YouTube and lo and behold, other people are doing this. It sort of lit a fire under my feet.
This blog is part of an ongoing series by Colossal Media that spotlights local businesses and sign painters worldwide.