Lost art: Sign painter Dave Beatty an old-school guy in new-tech biz

Artist Dave Beatty has finished painting a replacement face panel for a Front Street mural of St. Clair tunnel engineer Sir Joseph Hobson, after the former piece was removed and later lost. Glenn Ogilvie

Marco Vigliotti

In an age of digital uniformity, Dave Beatty stands out.

The lifelong Sarnia resident represents a dying breed; a skilled sign artist who eschews mechanized automation in favour of his own handcrafted designs.

And his rare talents will soon be on display in the heart of Sarnia’s downtown.

Beatty recently finished painting a new face panel for the Front Street mural of St. Clair tunnel engineer, Sir Joseph Hobson after the former piece was removed and later lost.

“They were talking about getting a digital printer (but) it would never have lined up, so I said, ‘I can just take the brush out and paint it,’” said Beatty, who is awaiting city approval to attach the replacement panel to the mural on the Grace Brothers Antiques building.

He added that familiarity with the “squiggly line, dry brush technique” of original artist Dan Sawatsky allowed him to effectively recreate the panel.

Beatty, 58, has managed to carve out a successful niche over 40 years in the business as one of a dwindling number of old-school sign artists.

He has created numerous eye-popping, high profile signs in the area, including the municipal entrance sign for the village of Point Edward and the colorful sign for Sarnia’s Mike Weir Park.

The small business and workshop he runs sees brisk activity these days and manages to attract a wide clientele. Beatty spent most of October working on several projects in the Ottawa area.

His art is even more remarkable by the fact he has no formal training and got his start by applying to work at a local sign shop after high school.

Beatty acknowledges his manual crafting method is “a lost art” and says the dominance of technology in the industry is creating a huge learning gap.

“Everyone is digital and computers but none of them can even paint a straight line, mix colours or know how to do things (by hand),” he said.

“I’m the last guy that carves stuff and does it by hand.”