The Attraction of Signs: Part 1

by Ross Cartwright

In this blog series FASTSIGNS® sign expert Ross Cartwright shares his passion, expertise and professional experience about signs and graphics - from collecting vintage signs to designing and installing large scale signage projects.

FASTSIGNS Family: Ross Cartwright

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an interest in signage and printed graphics.  As a kid, I used to go with my parents to Riverfront Stadium to watch the Cincinnati Reds play. I kept one eye glued to the "new", top of the line, (now prehistoric) digital scoreboard and impressive billboard signs. Banners of all my favorite players were everywhere, larger than life. On car rides with my family, I would study and compare all the lighted signs along the Ohio highways; those were the ones I really liked! To me, anything that lit up was pretty much the coolest thing ever. When I was 12 years old, my grandfather gave me an old traffic light for Christmas. My dad helped me wire it so I could plug it into a 120 volt socket in my room. That traffic light definitely ranks on the top of my “best gifts ever received” list.

A couple of years later, I was visiting family in the Cleveland, Tennessee area.  I had a few buddies down there that I always looked forward to seeing when we would travel south for holidays; we rode four wheelers in the woods, climbed trees and built forts. Once, we stumbled across a pile of old signs in the brush. I wasn’t sure what my family would say if I let them know I wanted to take one or two back to Cincinnati, but I cleaned off a couple and brought them back to the house. Surprisingly, they didn’t have a problem transporting them back with us. My collection had been started! Any time I found a sign, at a flea market or in a trash pile, I would inspect it to see if it met my “take it home” criteria. With every inch of wall space in my bedroom covered with large posters, signs and a variety of cardboard stand-up characters, never did I think I would become the one creating them.

When I was 16, I got a job as a ski instructor at a local ski slope. It just so happened that my supervisor, Keri Holthaus, owned a large sign company in downtown Cincinnati. I would always ask him about different signs I’d seen, how they were created, how I could get my own printed, or I’d joke with him about ways I could get my face on one of those billboards. Keri took note of my interest in signage and graphics. After I graduated from college, I mentioned to him that I was looking for a job and was interested in the sign business. He said if anything opened up he would give me a call.

Keri called me about 6 months later and asked me to come in for an interview. I got the job! I started with the company the following week, working in the printing and production department.  I was so excited for the opportunity. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be really great at printing and production!

FASTSIGNS Family: Ross Cartwright

My first day on the job, I made so many different mistakes it was ridiculous. From bubbles and wrinkles in vinyl, to head strikes on the printers. I never thought this would be so difficult. Steve, my counterpart, assured me that it would all fall into place with practice and training.  It took a few weeks for me to start getting the hang of it. As a result, I became a lot more confident. Before I knew it, I was out in the field, rising stories high in a bucket truck and applying large printed graphics to the sides of skyscrapers in downtown Cincinnati. Best of all… I was installing signs at Great American Ballpark – the new home of the Cincinnati Reds.  

I was hooked!

Stay tuned for part 2 of Ross Cartwright’s blog series with more details about his career in the sign industry.