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Enjoy Magazine

Heidi Tullmann’S Handsome Hand Signs

07/21/2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Signs of Life

August 2019
Story by Megan Peterson
Photos by Taryn Burkleo

SIGNS ARE EVERYWHERE  – designed to catch our attention, help us navigate landscapes and shape the aesthetic character of our communities. At their minimum, signs are functional. At their best, they have the power to elevate the ordinary to the exceptional, merging form and function, art and science. “The questions I ask clients all the time are first, what type of information are you trying to put out there, since a sign must be functional. And then secondarily, what’s the vibe? Because a good sign serves as a threshold that sets the tone for whatever comes next, “ explains Heidi Tullmann – artist, traveler and sign painter who arrived in Scott Valley roughly two years ago and has since been transforming storefronts in Siskiyou County one handcrafted sign at a time.

Tullmann’s work is handcrafted from start to finish, without the use of computers. “I find painting very meditative and doing the geometry by hand is mentally therapeutic for me.” Her process involves scaling up a design with pencil and paper before ever getting to paint. Prepping for a window sign is much faster, but with a wooden sign, the designing, sanding and treating can sometimes take weeks. “Throughout the process there’s lots of trial and error, and lots of back and forth so the client has to be up for that. But I find it also empowers the client and gives them ownership because ultimately it’s their pride and joy.”

Tullmann was first drawn to sign painting during her youth in Brooklyn. “I grew up in the punk scene so I’ve always been attracted to punk rock, skateboarding, graffiti, music and rebellion. I wasn’t ever super destruction-minded, but my love of typefaces brought me to actually notice all the different tags around Brooklyn. I’d be like, ‘Oh, look at that hand style,’ always amazed that it had probably been done in a few seconds.”  But Tullmann confesses she was the last one to realize she had her own artistic gift, dabbling in several other mediums before stumbling into sign painting. “Sign painting happened by necessity. I was traveling in Central America and ran out of money and needed a skill to trade. So I made some signs for a local hostel and the rest of the community caught on. I never thought about it as a career. I was just doing it and then was like, wait, there’s a thing called sign painting?”

A similar thing happened when Tullmann first arrived in Scott Valley in 2016. “I did my first sign for Mary Heffernan at Five Marys, then she passed me on to the Berry Patch, and it just kind of caught on from there.” She’s since moved into a Main Street storefront in Fort Jones and calls her business “Handsome Hand Signs” – entirely appropriate when you consider synonyms for handsome include good-looking, well-proportioned and well-formed. Tullmann’s work now graces a wide variety of businesses around Siskiyou County, from cafes and breweries to the restoration of antique rail car lettering at the Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture in Weed. Tullmann loves the variety – just don’t ask her about coffee. “I don’t like painting the word coffee. It’s kind of a sign painter joke, but double F followed by double E is a design challenge with two sets of repeating letters and not a lot of variety to work with.” 

For Tullmann, the biggest challenge is balancing the organic process of her work in a marketplace that’s used to quick turnaround with standardized fonts and vinyl. “People generally just want a really quick quote, which is how we’ve been operating as a society for a while. But it’s a little more involved than a standard price and service. Sometimes I have to sit down and think about it for a bit before I know what the exact process will be.”

But the phone keeps ringing, and new clients keep walking through the door looking for something more personal to represent their business.  Tullmann isn’t surprised. “It’s like anything in life. The more time you spend with something, the better it’s going to be. That’s what makes it valuable.” •

Handsome Hand Signs • 11959 Main St., Fort Jones

(504) 975-6235 • Find them on Facebook and Instagram