TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — It would be hard to walk 100 feet in downtown Truckee without noticing the artwork of Rob McCarthy. A sign maker by trade, the artist has been creating signs and painting murals around the lake for more than 30 years.
“I like seeing the signs still around, hopefully we did something right in capturing what we wanted,” Rob said. “I like looking at the signs that are still bringing business.”
A PRACTICAL START
Rob made his very first sign in the garage of his own home. After his wife’s car had been towed from the bank parking lot, Rob argued the sign was hidden behind a bush and needed better exposure. The bank owner hired him on the spot to make a “No Parking” sign.
“She said, ‘You do signs? We need signs!’” Rob remembers.
The artist’s very next job was for 24 Hour Tow, the tow company that had taken his wife’s car away.
“The next thing you know the chain monkeys needed signs and then the wood cutters,” Rob said. What began in his garage became McCarthy Signs — the artist’s business and livelihood.
THE CHANGING WAYS OF ART
Rob has seen sign making and industrial art change from drafting table to computer screens. He said the business really started to change in the late 1980s.
“You either joined it or fought it. We felt intimidated at first because we thought we were being replaced by computers.”
Rob McCarthy said he still uses the techniques of the artist “from 2000 years ago,” and operates about 60 percent hands-on and 40 percent on his computer.
And when a snowstorm moves through and the power goes out, Rob doesn’t fret too much.
The artist said he lets the sun in on his drawing board and does it “old school.”
“I call him a dinosaur because he can still do all these things the younger ones can’t do,” said his wife Jeanie.
SKILLED HANDS, SKILLED FEET
Jeanie is Rob’s number one cheerleader and his lifetime dance partner. The couple met on a dance floor in Austria.
Rob is a signmaker by day and a dancer by night. He and Jeanie love to swing; they teach Jitterbug and Lindi Hop too. Although focusing these days more on paint and less on steps, Rob said he does still teach private lessons in his warehouse on Donner Lake. He and Jeanie moved McCarthy Signs to the “Big Blue Building” a few years ago after many years being located in downtown Truckee.
ART AROUND TOWN
A lightening bolt through a water drop that has come to be easily recognized as Truckee’s Public Utilities District’s logo is the work and creation of Rob. Cartoon polar bears ducking from falling snow and ice on signs around town also came from the design of the former Disney World artist.
“I thought people could relate to a pictorial,” Rob said. “A cartoon picture paints a thousand words, we’re always being bombarded by all these words.”
Rob and his brush also painted the Downtown Truckee mural of a skier and classic car that covers the bricks at the entrance to Brickelltown. With the view of the mountains in the distance, Rob said he hasn’t lack for inspiration.
SIGNS OF A GOOD SIGN
What makes a sign a good one? Rob said simplicity, theme oriented, strong lettering and a logo that reflects the business, and something that works well with the architecture. Paying attention to his customers’ needs, Rob said, is one of the most important parts of his job.
“I listen a lot and get an idea of what the product or service is and go to the layout table and I concept,” Rob said. “I’m a one track thinker, I put all of my concentration into one thing.”
Jeanie says Rob enjoys working with customers who have a vision for their signage, but also enjoys a bit of creative freedom.
“He’ll take it and run with it,” she said. “He goes for it and that’s when I see him get excited and just run with it.”
“I like looking at the signs that are still bringing business.”