Writings on the Wall: The Hand-Painted Signs of Joe Swec

While the age-old tradition of hand-painted signs has slowly faded from most American cities, to be replaced by mass-produced plastic or twitching neon, Austin has experienced something of a signage renaissance over the last half-decade. And while it would be easy to mistake the bevy of striking, classic designs cropping up as the work of some lingering old-timer, the city’s renewed interest in such things can largely be attributed to a talented and dedicated young man by the name of Joe Swec.

And far from taking the traditional route of apprenticeship to an established sign painter, Joe mastered the craft largely on his own. With a background in structural engineering and a degree from California Polytechnic State University, he hardly fits the profile of a typical visual artist, let alone a sign painter. But Joe realized several years out that he sought something more creative for his future, and upon arriving in Austin in 2008, began dabbling in mural painting alongside his sister, who was already an established artist in town. His interest in murals coincided nicely with a burgeoning bar and restaurant scene, and suddenly, a person who could produce artistic, colorful signage was in high demand. It took time, but thanks to hard work and considerable natural talent, Joe was able to build a reputation as the preeminent painter of classic American store signs in Austin. His work would not only allow him to take up his trade full-time—it would play a pivotal role in defining the aesthetic of a booming city, and give that much more personality to a town that was already all but bursting with it.

To see Joe's work in person, stop by our South Congress location in Austin and check out our "Willie For President" mural, or visit any STAG store - his handiwork is right on the door. To follow Joe Swec’s work on Instagram, click here.