|What’s your sign?|
|Wednesday, August 29, 2012|
Sun Graphics will color your world
WATERTOWN -- The effervescent, artistic duo of Patrick Jackson and Donna Delmas has been painting Watertown red for the past 13 years.
And far beyond the city limits of this town of 1,400, their colorful sign work as well as their murals, video props and gym-floor patterns are being viewed coast to coast.
A pair of their larger signs for Historic Watertown and Jim’s Antiques adorn the side of a brick wall just up the way from their studio, while smaller signs help customers scope such businesses as Nona Lisa Pizzeria in Watertown and Shenandoah Mills and the Lebanon Antique Mall in Lebanon.
The husband-and-wife team, who operate Sun Graphic Signs out of the old Oakley Hardware Store building, just a bucket kick or two off of Highway 70, also has created props and signs for scores of country music videos, commercials and TV shows including “Nashville,” a family soap opera, starring Connie Britton, Hayden Panettiere, Powers Boothe and Eric Close, which debuts Oct. 10 on ABC.
But their biggest and best secret may be that they create logos and graphics and make patterns for gymnasium floors including everybody from Southside Elementary and Lebanon High School to the Memphis Grizzlies and the University of Alabama. Thus, they get national exposure every time one of their college clients plays a home game on television.
“Sun Graphic is ‘an art studio with a sign problem,’” said the jovial Jackson. “We’re both more like artists, but reality says it’s more productive to do sign work then sell your art.”
So, while this odd little commercial shop specializes in hand-painted and lettered signs, gym-floor designs and patterns for flooring companies, murals, banners, hand carvings and props, the two are also artists for hire who can create oil and acrylic paintings and fine art, and even naked chickens.
The couple met under a good sign at a Nashville business called Dollar Signs in 1991. They were both painters and even worked together for six months before Delmas finally talked him into taking her to a Sounds baseball game. In 1996, they exchanged wedding vows and began to dream of starting their own business.
Previously, Delmas, a native of Pascagoula, Miss., designed Service Merchandise catalogs and made restaurant props at Pacific Design, while Pat, a Chattanooga native, worked for a Nashville sign company.
Why did they migrate to Watertown?
“We were looking for a commercial building, so we came up here to look around. I stepped out our car and somebody called my name. It was quirky. It was a designer for Opryland for whom I had done some signs,” Jackson said.
“There were many commercial buildings unoccupied and for sale at a really great price. We bought a building on the square and moved here a year later,” Jackson said. “It was like moving to Mayberry.
“The gym floor stuff has really worked out for us because we can do this through the mail,” said Jackson, who had been working for a sign company when someone called asking if anyone there could paint a logo a gym floor.
Jackson was the guy. So, he painted a lion on the gymnasium floor of Lighthouse Christian School in Nashville and found his calling to some degree.
“The salesman sold a lot of logos and kept calling me. So I got into the gym-floor logo business,” Jackson said. “When we moved up here, I just hoped people would follow me. So sure enough, they followed me.”
The Delmas-Jackson duo has seen their work go into thousands of schools. Locally, they include Watertown High School, West Wilson Middle School, Southside Elementary, Lebanon High School and Mt. Juliet High School, among others.
Their handiwork adorns collegiate gymnasiums in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana and Florida.
In the beginning they often were faxed an image of a college mascot but nowadays the artwork comes via email. The artists would project the image onto a 12-foot-wall in their office and pounce it out.
On occasion, Delmas said, “We come up with the whole concept of the gym floor, the colors, the fonts and the mascot itself. We make a large format pattern. It’s a large paint-by-the-numbers.”
“We design a replica of the floor on our software,” Jackson said. “We connect into a vectorized image and make a paper-pounce pattern that they can then apply to a gym floor.”
Sun Graphics also makes props and signs for videos, TV shows and movies. “That’s my favorite,” Delmas said.
The business is housed in a building that went up in 1951 as a feed mill and in more recent decades was Oakley's Hardware Store. The couple’s dogs, Archie, a miniature Schnauzer, and Gomez, a Pomeranian, have the run of the place and serve as mascots.
“The kids love Archie. He’s the greeter,” Delmas said. “He will stand there and let them pet him.”
Their office and studio bursts forth with their technicolored paintings, signs, buckets of paint and tools of the trade. The phone rings constantly, and a sign on the desk alerts visitors to “keep chit chat to a minimum,” while a pink alarm clock lets you know how long you have been talking.
Meanwhile, Delmas has found a niche for her creative passion, works that she titles her “naked chicken paintings.” She has painted dozens of these and even sold three of her nude poultry paintings to John H. Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods.
Delmas found it much cheaper to simply buy a $2.50 chicken, pose it and paint it, and her instructors were agreeable to the notion.
“About seven years ago, I remembered doing that, so I bought some baking chickens and posed them like ladies. I just think they’re sort of human,” Delmas said. “Figure drawing is still my favorite, and the chicken is a model that only costs $4.50 and stays perfectly still. It’s a challenge,” she said with a laugh.
More seriously, the couple has found their Watertown friendships to have become, perhaps, the best part of their move from Nashville.
“There were 20 people we met inside of a year, very like-minded, other artists. We just all fell in love with each other. I compare it to a marriage,” Delmas said. “We got to know each other so well. We had to work through the human problems over and over. And a few tragedies have brought us together.”
For Jackson, he figured launching their business in a Tennessee hamlet would give him the opportunity to do what he loved most: paint landscapes. Alas, he almost never gets to tote his easel outdoors and apply the paint.
“When I first moved up to Watertown, I thought, 'Now I’m gonna have all this free time and will be able to stand out there in the country and paint all the time.' That’s not what happened. What happened is we became part of a community.
“That was something we had never experienced before, and it’s a very fulfilling experience. It’s very satisfying. You can see that you are a part of a community and play a role. It’s a little world, and you’re a part of it. I had never lived in a small town before, but we are really enjoying it,” said the man who can paint you a sign or color your world anyway you wish.