Customer Profile: The Sign Shop, Mendocino, CA

Interview With: Rick Sacks, Owner

How did you get into the sign business?

First, I wanted to learn to letter. I wanted to know how to make beautiful signs. I had no idea about wanting to be in business; that came along much later. I got an apprentice position in a three man shop and went from sweeping floors and washing screens to cutting panels to coating and then to filling in letters. These were guys that came from a former world where paint wasn’t already mixed and they saw the advent of rollers. It was an honor to straddle that history.

What types of work do you do?

We do mostly carved redwood and sandblasted signs. We also do the painted MDO and aluminum and banners, but mostly one of a kind stuff. We have a vinyl cutter and on a busy day it might see fifteen minutes of cutting. I do use it for making pounce patterns though.

What is your favorite kind of sign work? Why?

My favorite work is picking up a brush and going for it with a very fast scratch layout. This gives room for spontaniety and what comes out feels like making music. It has rhythm and when it swings, it feels good. Sometimes it feels forced, but the times it works makes everything worthwhile.

What are your biggest challenges in the sign business, day to day?

Charging for the time I put into the work. I bid projects in what seems to be a reasonable time, but then apply so much extra that comes out of my pocket because I need to be pleased with the result. Little things like putting down another coat of background color because the hue didn’t work quite right.

Do you have any funny customer stories?

I was young and hungry and got a call from someone with a strong accent asking “You make leon sine.” “What? can you repeat that please, ” I asked.
They did and then asked if I could make si on wan. I asked who are you and when they mentioned a Chinese restaurant I understood. I went to their place and pulled the 4×8 acrylic panels from their sign, which they needed in two days for their opening and took them beck to my little shop to start the stripping process. Now this was long before vinyl, and lacquer thinner, rubber gloves and rolls of paper towels and a broad knife were the tools for this. It was raining outside and my ventilation was poor, but the big fan helped a lot. I worked all night and coated them with that liquid rubber masking we used to use, cut and peeled the letters and sprayed the translucent colors that afternoon. By evening I got the panels into the sign and went in and handed them the invoice for the agreed sum when I was told that they were too busy to pay me. Well there were two or three people in this large restaurant and I needed the money for groceries, so I sat on the floor in their entry by the cashier station and started singing. I sang loud. I sang “These people don’t pay their bills, they’re trying to cheat me, they might poison you….” and within a minute they had a check for me. At a later time I made a set of temporary signs for them on Masonite and saw them bungee corded to the sides of their van.

What’s your favorite thing about the sign business?

Making our community more attractive and feeling good about my work.

Your least favorite?

Needing to talk money and charge for what I love to do.

What equipment / software / materials do you work with every day that you couldn’t live without?

Paints, brushes, chisels, table saw, assorted hand tools and planes. Since we are now in the time of computers, I need FlexiSign and Photoshop.

How do you use EstiMate on a day to day basis?

Estimate gives easy pricing on the routine jobs and provides uniform pricing quickly.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the sign business?

If you don’t love it, leave it alone!

If you wanted to be known in the industry for one thing, what would that be?

To feel the rhythm of making a beautiful letter with a brush.

Where do you want your business to be in one year? Five?

15% more lucrative, in five years, I’ll probably want it to be someone else’s. I’ve been doing this forty two years.

Tell us something personal about yourself – your hobbies, interests?

I like people more than things. I like to be where there are people gathered that want to share segments of life; cafe’s and small events.
I like fixing things and doing things that are simple and show immediate results like mowing the field. I like eating what I catch and walking along the remote coastline and forests. I like going to towns that retain their character and don’t look like everywhere else. I like my family and friends.

A Gallery Of Work By The Sign Shop (click to enlarge)

Wind And Weather - The Sign Shop
Fort Bragg Cyclery - The Sign Shop
Old Coast - The Sign Shop
Latre - The Sign Shop
Joy Ranch - The Sign Shop

Atlantis - The Sign Shop
Family Health - The Sign Shop
Rick Sacks, The Sign Shop, Headshot
Rick At Work

The Sign Shop
43197 Road 409
Mendocino, CA 95460

My favorite work is picking up a brush and going for it with a very fast scratch layout. This gives room for spontaniety and what comes out feels like making music.


  • Hey Rick….

    Nice work there buddy. I see you are still hanging in there….good to see. :)

    Hopefully one day we can meet at your shop or mine or somewhere in between and break bread and tell some stories. As dinosaurs I am certain we have a few.

    Always your fan……


  • Glenn Taylor says:

    A great profile on one of my favorite people.

    I love the “La Tre” sign!

  • Shane Drew says:

    I feel I’ve known Rick a fair while after reading this blog. We have a few artists like Rick here in Australia too, and its great just sitting down and hearing about the ‘old days’. One of my favourite sign clients is of that ilk, and we spend way too much time talking to get much done when we work together.

    I reckon I’d enjoy a good chat with Rick too.

    I enjoyed this profile immensley. His work shows his artistry.

    Thanks Rick. You need to sit down and reflect on your past in a book. It would make great reading :)

  • David Wright says:

    The Atlantis logo script is fantastic, is it hand lettered by you Rick?
    My feelings about towns retaining their character also. I live in one like that.

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