Only twenty years ago, a young artist could find paid employment painting pictures. Fresh out of art school or with a good portfolio an artist could find a job that increased their skills at the same time they made a living. Sign painting shops, billboard companies and printing shops used hands-on techniques and tools to make their products. That reality is now a thing of the past in all of those businesses. In 1988 I was one of those young painters. I knew when I got the job of being a billboard painter in 1988 that the field was quickly being extinguished by computers, I didn't know that it would happen as fast as it did. On that note, I am sharing with you my piece of the history of outdoor advertising in the years 1988 until Jan. of 1991. In 1988 in Bend, Oregon, I took the job as the lead and only (it was a small town of 17,000, though the largest town in the region) billboard painter for Carlson Sign. Carlson Sign, owned by Dick Carlson and his family was the dominant sign company in the entire Central Oregon region. They owned leases for billboards as far north as Madras, Oregon, south into Crescent and Chemult and east into Prineville. This meant that on the billboard business alone, Carlson Sign was well financed. Though billboards today are far less numerous than they were years ago, on that foundation, Carlson Sign company continues to be the largest sign shop in the region (and Bend has grown to almost 90,000).
So how did a 28 year old woman, afraid of heights get the job? Not because I had a newly-minted university degree in Painting, but because I'd been painting merchant's windows with sales promos for 5 years throughout the region and become the go-to-painter for this type of work. College degrees were a bit suspect in a painting shop, but my boss put aside his doubts to offer me a temporary job until they could get a real billboard painter from a big city. . . . READ MORE