This Duo Makes Some of Portland's Most Eye-Catching Signs

J&S Signs paints the town.

By Kelly Clarke February 26, 2019 Published in the March 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

BACK TO THE FUTURE Since the 1980s, businesses have typically slapped up vinyl signs or shelled out for expensive 3-D lit signage. But, increasingly, local spots eschew premade computer-font logos, opting for the human touch of signs hand-designed and painted by the city’s tight-knit cadre of a dozen or so sign painters (a big number for a city of our size). “Sign painting died out in other towns. In Portland, the older generation of painters never stopped [working]; the younger generation comes from graffiti, tattooing, and graphic design,” says Sincich. “We all have meet-ups. We’re friends. We all have a niche, our own styles.”

Jeffrey Sincich and Josh Stover have their hands all over Portland: the friendly, fat-lettered signage that welcomes eaters to Pip’s Original Doughnuts & Chai, a faux ghost sign–style “Take Courage” frieze on Cargo’s Central Eastside warehouse, Sterling Coffee’s curvy script logo, or a mural at cannabis clubhouse the Commune. They’re everywhere.

As J&S Signs, the pair meticulously designs and hand-letters the front doors, outdoor walls, and windows of some of the city’s most well-loved shops, restaurants, and venues. With little more than a paper pattern, some cans of 1 Shot lettering enamel, and steady hands, the duo transform dull storefronts into bold, clean, retro-inspired works of alphabetical art.

BEYOND THE GRAVE A J&S favorite? Their Ouija board wall mural inside Woodlawn’s Tough Luck bar, featuring little vignettes of skulls and tree stumps, and a curious pair of hands shaking—inspired by a carving the painters saw on an 1800s-era gravestone in Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery. “We accidentally put one too many fingers on one of the hands. The bar owner texted us when he noticed the sixth finger,” remembers Sincich. “We apologized, but he told us to never change it. He likes it.”

A pair of slim, chill Floridians who finish each other’s sentences with the ease of longtime friends, Sincich and Stover moved to Portland four years ago from St. Petersburg, where they studied ceramics before transitioning to painting large, type-centric outdoor murals. Their bright, cheerful art mottos—like an instantly iconic blue and yellow “You Are My Sunshine” mural that graces St. Petersburg’s Morean Arts Centerwere Instagram hits, garnering the painters local renown that snowballed into a sign painting business.

OLD SCHOOLED Antique signs, packages, and fountain pen lettering manuals clutter J&S’s small Northeast Portland workshop, informing the pair’s throwback works. “There are different eras in lettering. We usually like the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s: bold, simple, and with weird letter shapes,” says Sincich. The pair scour vintage shops for new finds: a 1920s can of Apex Moth Vaporizer provided the spark for Westmoreland Liquor’s distinctive art deco lettering and faux-dimensional wall texture (at left), painted in J&S’s signature shades of mint and deep red.

The cross-country move upped their profile, with lively commissions from big outfits—Adidas, New Seasons, and the Blazers—plus gigs doing clever, drop-shadowed signage for everything from Coava Coffee and City Home antiques to a midcentury-inspired design at Vancouver’s Lucky Loan pawn shop and a Movie Madness drop box at the Hollywood Theatre. Next up? A logo and mural for Zinger’s Ice Cream in Seaside.

“The cool thing about making signs is that our art is out in public,” says Stover. “You usually have to go inside a gallery to get to art. With us, you just drive by and there we are.”

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